Making it better

I’m finding that making things helps. Last week I made a cake, an entirely unnecessary cake, but one H. would have liked and one I could share, not to mention eat slowly myself. I’ve also been “making” in the form of a visual grief notebook, pasting and painting and noting, the book getting fatter as the pages stiffen and crinkle with watercolour and glue. I’m not sure why it helps, maybe it’s the fiddly effort of it, which makes grief “work” tangible, or maybe it’s the fact of a record (allowing me to trace where I am/was), or maybe it’s just that it holds down, however temporarily, something otherwise internal and unpredictable and uncertain. Also, the doing is enjoyable. (And as I’ve said before, having finally grasped this for myself, it’s not the artistry that matters but the process.) Whatever the psychology involved, it reminds me of lines from a Sandra Birdsell story in Night Travellers:

…crying made everything worse. But she’d discovered that crayons and paper made it better. Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.  

Here are a few pages from the book to show what I mean. One early page contained “ordinary little” reminders of him.C1C6E3BB-8AB2-4361-A791-E7215D30841F_1_201_a

Another told a story about his clothes. (Yes, I’m afraid I actually went to the thrift store and bought back a shirt I’d donated!)379E668D-6CC3-439E-9406-9D450757AD32_1_201_a

 

There was a small regret to note. During the last years, he wasn’t allowed grapefruit because of a heart medication he was on, so we never had them in the house, though we’d both previously liked grapefruit a lot. Once in hospice, off those meds, why didn’t I bring in some juicy triangles of grapefruit to let him taste again? It never occurred to me! Now that I’m back to eating grapefruit myself, I wish, oh I wish, I had!

99693B69-DD74-40D9-BDDA-9B35223AEACA_1_201_a

The most recent page I made was prompted by something I saw in an illustration of Covid loss, which I recognized immediately as a powerful description of absence — space filled with a life summed in obituary. I worked from happy photos of our 46th anniversary last August when we had our morning maté (yerba tea) at the bay, sitting on our favourite log. I walk there still and sometimes sit on that log beside the unbodied shape that memory makes.

FB7832FC-C6B2-4E01-ADAE-42A350F99C70_1_201_a

Afterwards

A year ago, January 2020, pre-Covid, my sister and I met for lunch and she asked me, over fettucine alfredo, did I think of life afterwards? Alone, she meant, though I can’t remember exactly how she put it. We knew H.’s cancer would not be cured, though he was relatively comfortable and even relatively active for his circumstances, thanks to radiation and a regimen of meds.

I told her I’d had thoughts, yes, but I didn’t elaborate. I remember that I imagined pulling everything out of the closet and re-organizing the whole thing and that it would be emptier, tidier. I imagined taking a dream trip, starting from Beijing on a train, through Mongolia and Siberia and on to Moscow, which, given his diagnosis and restrictions on travel, would not be possible for him but which he encouraged me to pursue if I could.

But these were tasks, or single events, and in truth I didn’t know how it would be, and thoughts of the future, when they came, perhaps while cooking or staring out the window at the quiet street at night, were mostly tinged with dread. Sometimes the dread was a kind of fear, feeling that once his death happened, it would be time to get ready for my own. Some nights, falling asleep, I found myself thinking about having to sleep alone in that unknown stage ahead of me, and I comforted myself then, that for now, he was there, I wasn’t alone, and that it was good not to have to sleep alone, I felt safer somehow, and that even sleeping, he was good company.

As of this February 6, I’m in the afterwards of my sister’s question. Here. The living that turned into dying has so many stories, and so does grieving in the wake of it, I don’t know where to begin telling any of them, or even if I should, because, really, loss is ubiquitous and telling is more like joining a song already being sung in many places. But since I’m a writer, and writers show up in words, I figured I should drop by my blog and say Hello. Hello, everyone.

My Lenten bowl

Last fire

My husband H., diagnosed with his current cancer nearly three years ago, is now in hospice. On the day of admission, my daughter and I were sitting at his bedside and he mentioned–again–a wish he’s expressed at various times recently. There’s not much he still wants to do but he wished he could be sitting with others around a fire.

Sitting at a fire has been a favourite activity over the years, whether while camping or in the back yard of homes in which we’ve lived. He’s a good fire maker. One memorable fire was a New Year’s Eve on a very cold night in Manitoba. He was generally just as happy to be in bed on that night as up toasting the new year, but he’d had this idea to make a fire at Birds Hill Park and he surprised and pleased me with it, so off we went, dressed thickly for the weather, with a small load of wood and hot chocolate and snacks. We had a certain fire pit in mind and as we pulled near, we saw, with some astonishment, the golden red glow of burning coals. Someone had obviously just left the site. I knew that logical explanation, but it felt almost miraculous, as if lit just for us.

When he spoke wistfully of a fire from his hospice bed, I murmured sympathetically, but our daughter said, sure, she could bring him a fire, and next thing I knew, there was a beautiful fire burning on her laptop, complete with wood crackle and pop. We sat companionably around this YouTube miracle, enjoying the sight and sound of it, his wish fulfilled.