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Raw

I am alarmed by suggestions that I am handling the loss of my mother with anything approaching grace. I worry that there may be people reading my words and thinking that they should be all philosophical, and find silver linings when they are doubled over in pain. I worry that I am, by shaping my stories to reflect the highest and most presentable of my thoughts, creating guilt in fellow sufferers.

So this time, I will try harder to tell the truth in its most raw and unfiltered form. This is just a report from the trenches. There is no tidy wrap up at the end. If you are looking for that, for some kind of reassurance, I am not your girl today.

Five weeks ago tomorrow, my mother died. Last night I found out that my father’s cancer has returned. There’s more, but the other stories are not mine to tell. These are heavy things, and by last night I was crushed by their collective weight. I went to work when I should have taken the day off. I went to work because I’m worried about losing my job, and because there is always this brisk, loud and unwelcome Puritan in my head prattling about bucking up, doing the needful, and being a Good Girl. I should have throttled her. I should have taken the day off.

So after work, physically exhausted and not really in my right mind (assuming that such a thing exists) I decided that my situation called for certain numbness. Food usually works, but I was absolutely not hungry. Besides the which, my refrigerator is filled with leftovers from Monday’s memorial service, and there was an irrational wrongness in using that food to throttle the Puritan and numb my grief. This grief, you see, refused to be contained any longer by the benisons of lovely manners and native stoicism. It leaked every time I had a moment’s pause, tears flowing, breath ragged, pulse racing.

So I decided that I would get drunk. This was problematic for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that I don’t ever drink, and don’t tolerate alcohol very well. I tried, though; I mixed myself a vile combination of Crystal Light and Jack Daniels and drank it all, remembering every story I had ever heard or read about the moment when alcoholics began to feel calm, steady, and generally better.

There was no click. I did not feel drunk, numb, or better. I felt as sad as I had felt before, with the additions of nausea and a death-dealing headache. I will tell you, because we’re being honest, that in those hours I thought about how it might be okay with me if I died. Nothing intentional, nothing that would upset my family inordinately; I would just make a mistake – take some pills on top of the alcohol and slip away from this brutal, vicious mess. I’ll tell you something else: I took one of those pills you are never supposed to take when you’ve been drinking. I took it to fix the headache. I was pretty sure that enough time had passed that I would not stop breathing and die, and I was also pretty sure that more than one pill would be required to knock off a person of my size. But I wasn’t completely sure. It was my own little game of roulette, a private thing in my head as I lay on the couch not laughing at TV comedies and leaking eyeliner-black tears.

So much for grace. There’s really no need to monitor me or send me for counseling. It was one wretched evening, I’m better today, and maybe most important of all I think that what happened was perfectly normal in the course of coming to grips with a shit storm of loss, terror, readjustment and the terrible fatigue that comes from being well-mannered and stoic when the soul requires nothing so much as an epic tantrum followed by cocoa and a reading of “Goodnight, Moon.”

(That was a really long sentence – clearly part of the revolt against restraint and convention. Next thing you know, I’ll be splitting infinitives and using “task” as a verb).

I just wanted you to know that while it often suits me to portray myself as a smooth, marble bust of Calm and Hope in the Face of Grief, I am frequently more like an abandoned scarf unraveling in a puddle of dirty water. Not smooth, not calm, not hopeful, just pathetically floundering around, not showering, watching hours and hours and hours of whatever appears on the television and eating dry cereal out of the box at 2:00 in the morning.

And if that’s where you find yourself, I’m right there with you.

And, probably, I love you. Because all of us living raw need to stick together, and make each other cocoa and read each other “Goodnight, Moon.” Because otherwise, this world is just intolerable.

 

The Year of All Good Things

This was supposed to be a great year. According to me, anyway. It was the year I turned 50, the year my house turned 100…what appeared to be an auspicious, glorious year of celebrations and milestones observed with love and care. Those numbers seemed to mean something, to be a sign, as if I were an ancient parsing the phases of the moon or the turning of the tide. There was some cosmic order, and as far as I could see in January, that solid and reassuring order would stand as bulwark against disorder and pain.

From January through March my father fought cancer. There was surgery, radiation therapy, exhaustion and irreparable alteration. We adjusted as well as we could. In April, our old dog died. It was not a terrible death; she died at home, where she felt safe, in my arms. We were sad, though, and there was a hole where she had been. A month ago my mother died, again, not a terrible or shocking death, but leaving an even greater hole. The night before her memorial service yesterday, we learned that the wife of my parents’ best “couple friends” had a brain tumor. Before, and in between losses there were a million tiny paper cuts of failure, injustice, and unkindness. It was just life, really, it’s just what happens, but it began to feel like we were living in a country song.

“Gloom, despair and agony are me/Deep dark depression, excessive misery/If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all/Gloom, despair and agony are me…”

So the Year of All Good Things has fallen and shattered like a cheap, plaster statue and I’m sitting at my desk listening to the saddest songs I know, worrying about what I need to glue together in the next month and a half. Like Thanksgiving. Because really, I don’t care about Thanksgiving this year, but I feel obligated to carry on. Will my father want to celebrate his birthday at the end of this month? What about my mother’s birthday on December 14th, and Hanukah, and Christmas, and why do I have to be a fucking grownup and keep everything going and be sensitive to everybody’s assorted needs and be polite and good and do laundry and peel potatoes when all I want to do is take Xanax and lie in my bed in a sort of twilight sleep, letting someone else do all the heavy lifting?

What if what I really want is to have my mom back? Because frankly, if you knew her, and especially if she was your mother, you’d want her back, too.

And of course I do, and of course this is all Normal Grieving, in the clinical sense, and of course it happens to everybody and of course no two people grieve the same way, and unfortunately I live in a culture that is uncomfortable with grief. I can get all warped and bitter very quickly projecting this dour assessment onto everyone I see: he thinks I’m milking it. She was back at work three days after her husband died. Everyone else can just Get On With It and I am some kind of immature emotional cripple who fails to process in a timely and acceptable manner, crushed by waves of sadness when I should totally be peeling potatoes.

But then there are these things, call them grace, silver lining or cosmic alignment – they are good things. Because my father was so sick in a hospital 60 miles away, I spent hours in the car with my mother driving back and forth, listening to Pete Seeger, talking about Obama’s chances, people we knew, books we had read. Because Maisy died, we adopted Guinevere who is a magnificent addition to the family. Because my mother died, I have reconnected with my only two first cousins, who I really, really like and would choose to befriend without a single blood tie. Not just in a Facebook way, but with real hugs and laughter and the promise of more. And, because they are her brother’s children, and she adored them, I know that my mother would love that.

So as I sweep up those crumbling bits of plaster, wishing just a little that I had worn waterproof mascara, I can see some gleaming patches of hardwood beneath the mess. It looks solid, and seems more trustworthy than the beautiful illusion that was The Year of All Good Things. It even kind of reflects me as I am right now: a mess, a work in progress, a woman in need of some potato peeling vigor and some twilight Xanax sleep.

A human, just another human, caught up in the irrational maelstrom that makes a mockery of our firmest plans and still offers us much that is wonderful.

When my brother told me my mother was really going to die, that there would be no amazing reprieve this time, I got the answer to a question I’d been asking most of my life. I always wondered if, when my parents died, I would pray, talk to God, and find some comfort in something outside myself. It was the worst thing I could think of, the death of my parents, worse for me than any physical threat. As a small child I stood at the window and wept if I heard sirens when they were out for the evening, convinced that they had been killed. The loss of either or both of them, although inevitable, was the hardest thing imaginable, the complete destruction of all that I believed to be stable and good.

It was never clear whether I would be atheist or believer in that unavoidable foxhole of loss. My spiritual life was shaped by my believing-but-not-very -observant Jewish mother and my lapsed Catholic-turned-atheist father. My brother and I experienced everything from Passovers, chopped liver and menorahs with my mother and her family to Catholic mass with my father’s mother. We received information about religion and spirituality that was contradictory,non-directive and honest. Organized religion, according to my father, was the root of most of the evil and suffering in the world. He believed that “religious” people unwilling to question doctrine, or to offer real help to those in need were sheep and hypocrites. He also took my grandmother to mass every Sunday, and genuflected before entering the pew at her funeral.

My mother believed in God, and she placed great value on keeping Jewish traditions and history alive. She was also as open and ecumenical as my father was not; in the later years of her life she and I discussed everything from Jesus to angels. She and I shared the belief that faith can be a great blessing, but that religion was absolutely not essential in raising moral children who felt a duty to serve. My brother and I turned out pretty well, we are both personally and professionally dedicated to helping other people, and we did it all without threat of hell, excommunication or judgment of any kind. We did it because our parents modeled it, demanded it, and made us want to be good people.

Left to my own thoughts and choices, I experimented, sampled, and studied. I believed there was something greater than our little lives. It could all be a series of accidents from The Big Bang forward that created the beauty of spider webs, seashells and snowflakes. Everything could be science, all gravity and stardust and evolution. I believed in the scientific facts, but I, personally, wanted something more.

So I flirted with Catholicism, Judaism, Wicca, some vague amalgamation of Taoism and Other Asian Stuff. I joined a Protestant Church, of which I am still a member, and while I love the community, the good works and the exhortations to follow Christ’s example, it was only a couple of years before rebellion stirred. I had problems with The Bible. I loved the language and poetry in The Old Testament, and there were lessons of universal usefulness in both Testaments. If everyone actually did the stuff Jesus said to do, we would have peace, justice, and enough love and food and support for everyone on earth.

On the other hand, I did not believe in many of the stories in The Bible. I think they are exquisite metaphors, but then you get into the whole business about whether or not you have to believe them literally to be a “real” Christian, and the whole “literal interpretation” thing makes my stomach hurt and causes all kinds of harm throughout the world.  A lot of the contents of the Bible also seem calculated mainly to terrify people into behaving morally, and I think people should behave morally because it’s the right thing to do. I am horrified by dogma, and depressed and discouraged by the internecine squabbles within my own church and the entire world of organized religion. I don’t believe in heaven. (And I’ve tried). I just don’t. I find it hard to understand why we would spend our lives on this beautiful earth trying to get someplace else. I envy people who believe in an afterlife where we are reunited with our loved ones, because it is a beautiful idea that gives great comfort. I don’t think it’s silly, I don’t judge it, I just can’t quite get there in my mind.

When I found Buddhism, it fit like an old slipper. It made sense, and it focused on presence and compassion instead of dogma. There is dogma, and a lot of theology, and different branches, and you can worship gods and goddesses, and follow lots and lots of rules…but none of that is essential any more than confession or tithing is essential to following the teachings of Jesus. It’s stuff humans made up to accomplish their own goals. “Buddhism is a religion which teaches people to ‘live and let live’. In the history of the world, there is no evidence to show that Buddhists have interfered or done any damage to any other religion in any part of the world for the purpose of introducing their religion. Buddhists do not regard the existence of other religions as a hindrance to worldly progress and peace.”

The basic belief of Buddhism is that life is suffering, suffering comes from attachment and desire, and the way to end suffering is to extinguish attachment and desire by following the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is basically being a good human being, with an emphasis on peace, compassion and awareness; it’s entirely compatible with the morality rules of most other religions with rather less crime and punishment. You can be a Christian who meditates, a Muslim who believes that your charter is compassion, or a Jew who believes that all we have is this moment, now, this breath, this sky, this soaring joy or stabbing grief.

And as it turned out, the answer to the question “what will I do when my parents die?” was answered with effortless grace. Sitting next to the hospital bed as my mother’s breaths grew farther and farther apart, I held her hand and found that I had focused on my own breathing. When I breathed in, I imagined myself drawing in her suffering, her fatigue and her long struggle. When I exhaled I sent her a wave of peace and. It was a version of Buddhist Tonglen, or “giving and taking,” and for hours I did nothing more than sit and breathe as she breathed, not begging, pleading or clinging, simply focusing on her transition.

There may be atheists in foxholes, but apparently I am not one of them. During those last hours, I believed that the universe breathed with me. It was neither the stark atheist nothingness of stardust and gravity, nor the embrace of some omnipotent God.  It was current of love and humanity that flowed second by second, like the air beneath a leaf or a river in its bed, connecting us as long as we were both breathing, finally trailing off to leave me fully alive, present, and at peace.

 

Although I try not to take it personally, it seems lately that the universe has turned against me. The year that came with so many milestones – my fiftieth birthday, the 100th anniversary of the building of my house – has turned dark, jagged and bitterly cold with a hierarchy of losses to be dealt with, and body blows to absorb. My mother died, a family member is behaving badly, my sister in law is facing the second loss in her own immediate family, and my father’s grieving manifests mainly in a series of worries that break my heart and fill my days. I promised my mother that I would take care of him.

Last night, reeling from a day that started out well enough but ended on a bleak, hard note, I read that the Orionid meteor shower would peak early this morning. I read about how it would be visible from anyplace in the world, and that it was caused by earth’s passage through debris from Halley’s Comet. Centered mostly around the star Betelgeuse in Orion’s belt, the shower was likely to show us a “shooting star” about every four minutes.

I understand what is really happening during a meteor shower, but to me it has always, really, been magic. As a small child I spent hours in the back yard with my father looking at a wheeled gadget that showed what we should see in the night sky above our location at any given time. He taught me to find The North Star, The Big Dipper, Orion, The Pleiades and other stars and constellations, always telling me how it was that people thousands of years earlier had come to see the hunter Orion with his belt of stars,  or the seven sisters that comprised the Pleiades.

In August, my father, my mother, my brother and I watched the Perseids fall bright through the sky, wherever we were. Once we watched lying on our backs on a dock in Maine, turning occasionally to see the streaks of light reflected in the still surface of the lake. More often we lay in our own backyard on blankets, thrilled to be outside late at night, hearing nothing but the cicadas and the voice of someone we loved telling us to “look! There’s one right there!”

So at 1:00 this morning when I found that I couldn’t sleep, I put on my slippers and my coat and went outside to see what I could see. The house is surrounded by trees, and finding a patch of sky to monitor took some time. I could hear the college students who populate this town; many were still out, still walking in groups, still calling to one another about rides and bars and plans that stretched on into the next day. I tried to shut out the noise, tried to ignore the electrical wires and telephone wires and street lights, pleading with the universe to show me something for my troubles.

I bargained, as I often do when I am looking for sea glass on the beach: let me find just one piece, one good piece and it will be a sign and I’ll be happy and I’ll stop hunting and just enjoy the sky and the sea and the sand. Just one. The stakes were higher than they had ever been; I had never felt so strongly that I needed, irrationally, pathetically to know that the world had not really turned against me. I saw something then, maybe a streak of light beneath a heavy cloud cover, but it was not the brilliant and breathtaking spectacle I had waited for. I was cold. I was tired. I went back into the dark house and climbed into bed.

This morning I awoke while it was still dark. I remembered that the article I had read about the meteor shower said it would peak just before dawn. Again I put on my coat and slippers, and again I trundled into the dark, this time with two cats who were keenly interested in my activities. I went into the side yard, hearing nothing but the crunch of fallen leaves under my feet and the occasional soft landing of an acorn falling onto the street. I looked up through the tangle of branches and wires to see dark sky with a few bright stars. It was not the open, easy night sky of my childhood, a sky waiting to delight me with belted hunters, water dippers and breathtaking streaks of silvery light. This sky was in pieces, it required more vigilance to monitor the odd triangles of darkness between obstructions.

The sky was lightening, the stars were fading a bit, and I was not begging, bargaining or even expecting anything much. It was good to be outside in the quiet, and I thought of all the people who had watched the night sky in the history of time, and how amazing it was even to have the possibility of seeing debris from a 100-year-old comet. It was continuity. No matter what we invented, polluted, changed forever, we were still looking at the same sky that inspired the ancient Greeks to name the constellations, the same sky that’s provided a backdrop for Halley’s Comet every 75 years for millennia. The people looking up at that sky all lived, and died and suffered and rejoiced as we do. Their mothers died, their family member behaved badly, their fathers grieved, their hearts broke, and healed and broke again.

Teddy the cat was watching me from the top of the fence, looking wise and indulgent. I walked over to stroke his dear gray head and looked up to see a point of light moving rapidly across the sky.

I wanted to see more, to see some of the one-every-four-minutes that the universe owed me. I would wait, even though my neck was sore, my feet were cold, and the sky was growing lighter as I watched. Then somebody, maybe Teddy, maybe my mother, maybe my own voice said “it’s enough. It’s good enough.”

And it was.

 

 

Channeling

A couple of weeks before my mom died, I became obsessed with a television show called “Long Island Medium” about the work of a woman named Theresa Caputo. I started watching because I was fascinated by the medium, a woman who could easily have been the mother of any “Jersey Shore” cast member, and who reminded me of Carmela Soprano with her long nails, high hair and frequent use of  “Madon!” as an interjection. I was a skeptic, it was all ridiculous, and I had seen and read so many debunkings of psychics and mediums that I watched the first episodes looking for strings, tricks and manipulations.

If you go into a room filled with middle-aged people and say “someone here lost their father…” odds are that several folks will fit the bill and react in a way that makes them easy marks. Then you go on to say “there’s something about a dog,” or “he’s saying something about his car,”and it looks like you’re communicating with the Great Beyond rather than using your wits to put on a good show.

The more I watched, though, the more I came to believe that even if Caputo was not channeling anybody, she really, really believed that she was. The cynical side of me supposed that TLC could be pulling our collective chain, giving her information about the people she “read” and editing out hours of failed encounters, but the side of me open to all things spiritual and magical began to believe there was something there. I also noticed that her motley mix of angels, Catholicism, sage smudging and common sense left people feeling better, at peace about their losses, less guilty, less raw. Pragmatically, the results were so positive and created such healing that it really didn’t matter whether Caputo was talking to the dead friend, mother or child. It mattered that she had helped someone who was grieving.

Last night while I was not sleeping (which is becoming a “thing” for me) I thought about Theresa Caputo. I had no desire to have my mother “channeled,” and I wondered why it was so important to those other people and why I had no interest. My mother is dead, I loved her dearly, and it seems like I should be at least intrigued by the possibility that someone could talk to her and tell me that she was fine, watching over me, and worrying about how Obama did in last night’s debate.

I am not intrigued . Not at all.

My first thought was that many of the channellees (is that a word?) had been parted from their loved ones suddenly, particularly where the departed was a child or a young spouse. There is no more grief for those people, you can’t weigh out relative portions of grief like flour, but grief  isn’t the important variable. What’s different is a sense of wrongness, a feeling that the universe has cheated you out of something you were promised, and  had every right to expect.

I knew my mother was very sick, and in some ways it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. It was not a shock to lose her, except in the sense that it is always a shock when someone who is as essential to you as air is just…not there. It does not defy the rules we have invented for our lives if a parent dies in her 70s. Those rules are torn asunder by the death of your toddler, or a neighbor’s 18-year-old daughter. They are violated by deaths unexpected, violent, unexplained and otherwise “unfair.” I know from experience that those are the losses that puncture, persist and prevent peace, resolution, and healing. The sucker punches of death. I can see why, after such a loss, the salve of answers, reassurances and confirmation of a continued bond would go far to soothe the staggering pain of open emotional wounds.

The thing is, I don’t need anyone else to mediate a conversation with my mother. We were good, she and I; we talked every day, fought about silly things, spoke of our deepest emotions and her fears about the end of her life. I am damned lucky to have had that time, and I have almost no regrets. I suppose that if Theresa Caputo appeared by my restaurant table and told me that my mother wanted me to get my hair cut, I wouldn’t turn her away. But I’d already know.

I’d already know because I am the person who will channel my mother, because she will be in my head and informing my daily plans until my own death. She was, in life, an opinionated, sharp-witted and determined woman, a person far more assertive and confident than I have ever been. She lives on not only in my DNA but in my soul, her stronger will and optimistic spirit binding my broken parts around my weakest parts and holding me together.

I hear her, clear as day, telling me that I don’t have to do anything for anybody but my father right now. She knows so well the spinning and jiggering I do in my mind because I am only worthy if I am making other people happy all the time. She tells me, without benefit of psychic intermediary, that I am her beloved child, the insecure and anxious doppelganger of her insecure and anxious husband. That I deserve rest.  That I have to make sure he gets some rest. That it’s okay if I don’t get dressed until noon.

So maybe I believe that the Long Island Medium channels dead people, and maybe I don’t. All I know, right now, is that it’s unlikely that I will ever need or desire a third party to communicate with my mother.

We’re good.

Day Three: Denial?

It’s the third day. If my mom was Jesus, she’d be getting up right about now. That seems unlikely.

I have become uncomfortably numb. I don’t like Pink Floyd even a little bit, but that is the best description possible. I have seen “All That Jazz” enough times to know that I am in the first stage of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model of grief response. Denial is described as follows:

“I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.

Well, I’m kind of in denial. I am preoccupied with her things, using her Chanel Lift Extreme, transferring my own wallet and keys into her yellow Dooney & Bourke. It isn’t because I want stuff, per se; had I asked her for money to buy my own Chanel and my own purse she would have given it to me. She always did. It’s about wanting her around right now. The person who always comforted me most was her, she is unavailable, and I am making do with things she touched.

I am also experiencing “heightened awareness” of people who need to be called, and particularly of my father. He ruminates about business things that need to be set in order, and I tell him again and again that it will be alright, that we can’t really do anything until the death certificate is released to us, that he should relax. After telling him to relax I pay the bills at my house, change the laundry over, clean the counters and e-mail her picture to the funeral home so that they can be sure they are cremating the right person.

Which stops me cold. And I sob. And then a shield goes up, a kind of psychological Xanax defense that blocks all thoughts of a process which was her wish, but which I find horrifying and brutal. I sit for a bit, reminding myself that a body is just a shell.  I say it to myself over and over like a mantra: a body is just a shell. It means nothing. Nothing.

Then I make myself some soup for breakfast. It’s very good; my friend Diane brought it over so I wouldn’t have to cook. Her own father died recently, and I know she gets this. Then I think about what “this” is, this grieving, this loss. I am not sure I’m doing it right. I am a person who, many years ago when I was in therapy, used to check my watch periodically to make sure I closed the session before the therapist had to say “I guess our time is up.” I didn’t want to be a bother, a babbler, a person so out of control that she lost respect for the feelings and needs of other people.

I imagine those women who keen over coffins, and I think about every movie, every book in which someone responds to a loss by losing themselves in alcohol, regret, or irresponsibility. I like that idea, the idea that I could just sink in and be with the pain for a while, lie on my couch and cry and watch movies, but the override is too strong. I think it is part of the psychological Xanax defense. This voice says “you can’t leave your dad alone all day in that empty house. You have to fold the laundry. The house has to be clean because people might come over. If you’re going to miss work you have to make sure they all know how to cover for you”

I don’t feel bad enough to stop doing these things. I don’t feel like wailing, at least not all the time. I am cocooned in a thick swathe of Stuff Doing, looking out for other people while a small part of me wants nothing more than to fall away and let other people do everything for a while. My husband does a lot, he’s a rock, I am lucky.

I am confused.

I am so freaking tired.

I think this is denial?

After Great Pain – Well, During…..

So on Friday my mother died, and of course I have feelings about that but they are still private, tender things that I prefer to hold close. I am sad, I am busy, I am overwhelmed, I wish people still brought casseroles, and I am destroyed by finding an article about a favorite writer of ours in her drawer with a Post-it that says “Annie.” Of course I am terribly worried about my father, and taking seriously my mother’s last lucid sentence to me which was “take care of your father.” Well, actually, her last words were “I’m a grown woman and I can use the bathroom by myself,” but you know, the other sentiment seems like a better thing to remember.

There are all kinds of things about faith, and literature that fill my head incessantly – “Stop All the Clocks,” “Death Be Not Proud,” “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes,” and ideas about heaven, reincarnation, and the spirit world. As a Jew she did not believe in heaven, and as a person I don’t believe in heaven, so I’m pretty sure she isn’t sitting on a cloud in a white dress playing a harp. Because that would absolutely bore her to tears and infuriate her beyond all endurance.

Right now I think she’s around, because that poor, battered body wasn’t really her, and the canister of ashes we will eventually be offered in the hideous gold and green hush of the funeral home isn’t really her, either. The real part of her, the part that we loved, is in my hot, wet eyes and in my leaden heart and in the things I now do that she would do – like making my dad take naps and eat food. I think she sees me, and I feel her, and it’s not as good, not nearly as good as when she called me every morning, but it will have to do for now. There isn’t much of a choice.

I also know she’s here because this morning I thought to myself that I really needed lip balm because I had two sticks and I had accidentally washed one with the laundry and lost the other one. I was rifling through her 27 purses trying to find her Social Security number for the funeral home, and there, in the last one, was a brand new Crème de La Mer lip balm. Because I needed it.

Later, I opened the plastic bag of “personal effects” from the hospital and found a pair of Uggs slippers. She and I had matching pairs, bought during a wonderful day of shopping at a shoe outlet somewhere in the Florida Panhandle. My pair was lost almost immediately, and I left Florida after that trip knowing that I would never see them again.

For no particular reason other than wanting my feet to be where her feet had been, and the fact that I was wearing flip flops in October, I slid them on. They fit. They fit because they were mine, a size 9, far too large for her tiny size 6.5 feet. Apparently she had been wearing them for years, since that last trip south. Maybe she alternated between her own small slippers and my larger pair. All I know is that my feet were cold and she gave me my slippers back.

I’ll write more, some time. I might feel like it tomorrow, or I might spend tomorrow sitting on the floor of her closet and wailing. It’s hard to say, because I’ve never done this before. Right now, I’m pretty sure she’s here, looking out for my cold feet and my dry lips, in and around me as we start this new part of our relationship.

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