Sunday, October 4, 2009

That's Life

My grieving process reminds me a little of when Jon and Patrick were little. Susan and I were aware that we were always moving from one parenting phase to another. Just as we got used to one, it seemed another was upon us. It required flexibility and patience. Through it all, we experienced life with its full range of emotions. That’s what this feels like now.

The last few months have been very busy and active. Everyone, including me, anticipated that “busy-ness” would be good for me – and it no doubt is. But my active involvement in things outside home and work has brought with it a new intensity of emotion that I didn’t see coming. I am experiencing Susan and her loss in a variety of ways, triggered by a variety of – well, activities. I guess that’s what you get when you choose to live life actively.

Susan and I had no idea of course, how we would connect after she died. We discussed it often and both of us believed that we would – somehow. The only model that I had in my head was the scene from “Sleepless in Seattle” where Tom Hanks interacts with a vision of his dead wife in the living room of his houseboat. But I’ve discovered that I can connect with Susan in a wide spectrum of ways. I have difficulty explaining it or offering examples other than to say that it reminds me of the “Where’s Waldo” books that we read with our children. We find Waldo amid a kaleidoscope of colorful, busy images, often difficult to spot – but always there. I have only to think of her and I know she is with me. It is bittersweet. I deeply appreciate her spiritual presence – and I deeply miss the tangible interaction. She will always be with me and she will always be gone. One of my daily meditations reminded me of the great irony of grieving: the more loss we feel, the more it means that we had something worth grieving for. Other entries remind me that she is “in the air that surrounds us, the sunshine that bathes us with its warmth and light, and the life that surges within us”. Like water that might have boiled “away”, it is still water in a different form and still “there”. Like God, she is in nature, she is in others, and she is in me.

The “busy-ness” began in August with a trip to visit Susan’s family and celebrate the shared birthdays of Jon and Susan’s mother. It was a little weird and a little sad to be there without Susan this first time. As soon as we returned, Patrick got immersed in student teaching, Jon got ready to go to China for the school year, and I got involved in my first show in six years.

Rehearsing for shows has always been intense. But I discovered that memorizing dialogue, lyrics, and movements is now much harder than it seemed before. I can’t imagine that aging has anything to do with it! Eventually I learned my part and had an enjoyable experience. But I was performing without Susan for the first time in over 30 years – we always supported and encouraged one another’s performances even if we weren’t performing together (which we did a lot). There were a variety of emotional triggers for me with this production. The show was dedicated to her memory. Opening night was on my birthday (another “first” without her). A very sweet teenager whom Susan had helped in earlier performances came up to me to express her appreciation and sadness. Before the Saturday night performance in the traditional cast circle, our good friend and director, Dennis, remembered Susan in an emotional tribute. They all combined to create not just a busy activity, but an experience that made me feel fully alive.

In another touching event, a long-time choir member and friend, Don Elliott, made a shadow-box display for the glass hummingbird I gave the choir in memory of Susan. He finished it in time for the first choir rehearsal in September. It will be mounted on a wall in the choir room. Don died very suddenly and unexpectedly a few days ago, making his effort even more special.

I have become keenly aware of this “year of firsts”. Jon, then I, and now Patrick (today) have all experienced our first birthdays since Susan died. In addition to the date of Susan’s death, our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her birthday are still coming up. As we approach the darkening season and the memories of intense care-giving, decline, and death just one year ago, I know that the sense of progress I felt earlier this year was an important “phase” to help us get ready for these milestones.

Very soon, I will be immersed in church committee work for the foreseeable future. My job with the City of Denver is professionally stimulating. Plugging back into life in these ways is better than being idle – and it is also creating more powerful feelings of appreciation and sorrow.

But I guess - that’s life.

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