I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane

I know I’ve been quiet this past week or so, and I’m afraid the next week or so won’t be any different.  I leave tonight for my trip to Massachusetts, my first since Tony died.  I have decided that if I don’t go to the cemetery, I will regret it.  So I’ll go.  I’ll see his name carved into stone, and I’ll stand there and know that what’s left of his physical body is in the earth.  Of the earth.

It’s not just a fear of regret that makes me go.  I have to lean into that too.  Lean into the grief.  It’s going to be awful, I’m sure. 

What I’m trying to focus on now, as I do my last minute packing, are the parts I look forward to.  Seeing my best friends, seeing my surrogate mom and dad, seeing my relatives.  Finally getting to look my mother-in-law in the eyes and tell her how very sorry I am, how much I wish things could be different.  And doing some acts of kindness in Boston, the city where Tony and I met, and a city that could use some extra kindness right now.  I may blog a bit from there, but chances are I will be too busy talking and visiting and just being.  I am borrowing my sister’s camera, though, so when I get back… there will be pictures.

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The Only Way Out Is Through

wildfire

That’s the thing with grief.  It’s not that there aren’t shortcuts – there are.  I could numb my grief in various ways.  I could compartmentalize my feelings.  I got awfully good at that over the past ten years, at putting my feelings aside so I could deal with the next crisis, and the next one, and the next.  I could take drugs of one kind or another.  I could just open my arms wide to denial, become one with it and pretend that none of this ever happened.

What I know to be true about that is that it won’t work.  It never does.  Sooner or later it will catch up with you.  It will backfire on you.  It’s like that scene in When Harry Met Sally… when Sally finds out that her ex, Joe, is getting married.  She goes on a crying jag that includes all of the crying she didn’t do when the relationship ended.  She tra-la-la-ed her way through the breakup, saying that she was fine, and convincing everybody in her life, including herself, that she was healthy and fine and great and NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS.

Except she’s not.  She’s far from great.  She’s sad and traumatized and hurt and confused and lonely and betrayed and scared.  It all hits her at once, a tsunami of emotion. 

The only way out is through.  It’s awful.  What it is, is this.  It’s waking up every single day, seeing a wall of flames in front of you, and deciding that you’re going to walk through it.  It’s going to hurt like hell, you say to yourself.  You don’t want to do it, you say.  You want someone to come along and put that fire out for you, to show you a different path.  To airlift you out of there, to safety, to a place that’s peaceful and beautiful and easy.  You want that, but you make that decision, every day, that you’re not going to take the easy way out.  You’re not going to numb it.  You are going to walk into that wall of flames, right into it, and you are going to let it burn you.  You are going to let it hurt you.  You are going to lean into it until it feels like it will consume you.  You’re going to cry your way through it, scream your way through it, run and claw and kick and shout and curse and sometimes you will lie down in the middle of it and find yourself wishing that it would just reduce you to ash, because then at least the next day you wouldn’t have to face it again.  But somehow, from someplace you didn’t even know existed inside of you, you find the strength to stand back up.  You square your shoulders. You head back into the flame.  You lean into it.  You let it burn. 

And you trust, you don’t even know how but you do, that there will come a day when you will wake up and there will be smaller flames.  Flames that maybe spring up and catch you unawares sometimes, but not a wall, not something that can swallow you whole.  Brush fires, not a raging wildfire.  Not an inferno, not anymore.  And when that day comes, you will think, this is manageable.  I can pick my way through this.  And maybe your world will never be completely without fire (is anybody’s?) but maybe it can be a world where fire is something you don’t need to fear, not in the same way.  Where it can be a source of warmth, of solace.  Of light in the darkness.  Maybe it can be a reminder that you survived it, that you are stronger than anybody knows, not even you because when you look back at the wall of flames, now behind you, you wonder how anybody ever passes through it.  And yet you did.  You did it.

I hate this fire.  I walk through it anyway.  I lean in.  I let it burn.  It hurts.  I hate it.  I just keep saying it, over and over.  The only way out is through.  The only way out is through.  The only way out….

Seeing the Truth Carved in Stone

In less than two weeks, I will be flying to Massachusetts for the first time since Tony died.  I did not go to his funeral because I had just had back surgery and couldn’t fly.  Part of me hates that I wasn’t there.  I was represented – my friend Jodi read the eulogy I wrote, and her parents attended too, and my aunt and uncle, and some of my cousins.

I’ve seen a picture of Tony’s headstone – his sister emailed it to me.  She asked first, and I said yes.  I bawled when I saw it.  I’m not sure I’m up to seeing it in person.  When I picture myself walking up to it, knowing that his body – which is after all, only a body and not the man I love – is buried there, I imagine myself falling to the ground and crying until I am buried in mud made by my tears, crying until the earth swallows me up and takes me to him.

Some of that is fear.  I have been in the grips of such strong emotions for so long.  I don’t fear them, usually.  But when something like this, that feels so big, approaches, I find myself paralyzed by it.  My trip to San Diego was one example.  It was hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be.  Somehow, though, this feels different.  Massachusetts is where we met.  On some level I want to believe that he’s really out there somewhere.  That he left me, but not in death.  That he just left, that he’s living somewhere else.  That he’s happy and healthy and not afraid.  If I see it in stone, it’s real.  He’s dead.  Nothing I do can change that. 

I think I probably will go.  I think if I don’t, I’ll regret it.  I already have so much loss, so much to regret.  I can’t bear to add to the list.  I don’t know what my being there will accomplish, if anything.  Maybe it will bring some succor to my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law.  Maybe it will help me in some way I can’t imagine, yet.  I hope so.  What this tells me is that I am still wrestling with denial.  I still want to believe this is all a horrible nightmare, the worst of my life, and that I will wake up and he will be beside me, warm and breathing.  Alive.

Holiday Anticipation, Holiday Muffins, and Joy

fireworks

I am a holiday person.  I love holidays.  I would say I don’t play favorites, but I totally do.   I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas the most, but the Fourth of July is a close third.

Tony was… not a holiday person.  He and I were opposites in that regard.  I anticipate holidays, love preparing for them, and relish them when they’re here.  Tony I think feared anticipating anything.  During the time we were together, that was always a conflict between us.  I wanted to watch the Macy’s parade and cook a turkey.  He wanted to have something non-Thanksgiving-y and skip the parade.  We did end up watching it, and the National Dog Show, but I did it eagerly.  He did it because they were on.  I guess in that sense he accommodated me, but a lot of the time I felt that my excitement and anticipation made him anxious.  I always wondered why, and I’m not sure that Tony even knew.  I think now that it had to do with his general worldview.  The world was scary to him.  If he anticipated or looked forward to something good, something bad would happen to undo it, or prevent it. 

Our first Fourth of July together was in 2003.  It was also his father’s birthday – his father, who died in 2002.  Tony and I watched the fireworks in Boston on the 3rd – the Harborfest fireworks – from the roof deck of my apartment in the North End.  The next day he went to have lunch with his mom and sister, and then later I took the train to Dedham and met them for the first time.  So tomorrow, it’s ten years since I met Mary Ann, my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law.  It was broiling hot that day and Tony’s mom took us out for ice cream. 

We moved to San Diego in late October of that same year.  Every year after that, I told Tony that I wanted to go see fireworks.  Every year there was some reason he didn’t want to go – usually some variation of the crowds, the heat, having to park the car amid the crowds, etc.  I don’t think that his intention was to ruin my holiday, but every year I was bummed out.  It’s not that I enjoy crowds.  It’s not that I feel that fireworks are essential to my joy.  What it is, though, is that I have such fond memories of going to annual Fourth of July parties in Plymouth.  Our friends had a house right on the parade route, so we would go down early in the morning before they closed the streets, bearing a pot of my mom’s famous chili and other food for the day.  We would eat breakfast there, watch the parade.  Play games and talk and grill lunch; and play more games and play with the dog, and get sunburned.  Grill dinner, and then walk over in the mosquito-heavy dusk to sit on Indian Hill, listen to the Plymouth Philharmonic, and watch the fireworks explode over the Mayflower.  Then we would walk sleepily back to the house, and wait for the traffic to clear a bit, and then get into the car for the drive back to Weymouth.

I loved it.  I loved it every single year.  All I wanted was to recreate some small part of that feeling with my husband.  The closest I ever came to that, the one thing that he allowed himself to anticipate, was that we got into a tradition of going to Bristol Farms the day before a holiday and buying muffins for breakfast.  Tony hardly ever indulged in anything sweet, so getting him to agree to such a thing felt like a victory – and not that I had won, that HE had won, over himself.  He would get blueberry, usually, or sometimes cranberry.  His eyes always lit up when he ate his holiday treat.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate my first Fourth of July – my first Independence Day – without Tony.  I live in a small town now, but they have a parade and a fireworks display.  I haven’t decided about the parade yet, but I will be seeing fireworks this year.  I wish that Tony had been able to feel the joy that I felt on holidays.  I don’t know if I can describe my feelings as joyous this year – that seems like a stretch – yet I feel that I can best honor him by trying to reclaim something from my past.  By watching the fireworks, oohing and aahing with the crowd, and hoping that somehow, he knows now that it’s okay to feel joy, set dread aside, and watch flowers bloom in the night sky.