It’s Always the Little Things

Thursday March 1, 2012

There’s a dusting of icy snow this morning. The kind that fills in the yards, but stays grass green under the tree canopy. It gives a white definition to the flower bed borders and tops of the fences. The streets are clear. Cold and silence permeate the air.

I ventured out for a haircut yesterday, to a new stylist who has her home salon overlooking the lake I walk around weekly and a perfect view of our State Capitol. The snow had been coming in short bursts of big flake flurries threatening my peace of mind about getting errands done. As my hair dried under the old fashioned hood dryer (Mom, I recalled the days going to Betty’s each week with you and her two room “beauty shop” and her kids coming in after their classes) another client arrived for a quick trim. Her silver hair and features indicated she is probably 10 to 15 years older than I. Chit-chat turned to the weather and she referred to the last snow storm. She made a sweeping statement about how comfortably, easy I think she said, it was for everyone she knew to get though the recent snow storm and power outage. She paused, and I could imagine she was recalling other more difficult storm experiences just as I was remembering this same one she referenced, with a twinge of pain.

Her neighbor had a wood stove, she continued, and she had lanterns. They played games and had a good time. She talked about her husband and his competitive nature playing Scrabble, and how fortunate they are in balancing each other in their lives and personalities. She had a good and happy affect and couldn’t possibly know what was going through my mind and life in this moment.

There was a part of me that wanted to say (or yell out like a mad woman), “not all of us had such a good time. Some of us were looking for oxygen and trying to literally survive the night.” The thoughts ran quickly, “Me too. I had a person just a couple of weeks ago to balance out my life, to share my thoughts and dreams.” I briefly considered the pitiful me story, even if that isn’t my usual style. But I listened instead (thankfully) knowing that life and death isn’t fair and there is no reason to ruin her sense of security. It’s not my job to warn her that she too may face her world solo again someday.

So I find myself counting. Two weeks. I am in a surreal state of mind, mixed with reality, practicality and disbelief, and just beginning to know in my heart that he isn’t coming back. In the past 28 years this is now the longest time we have been separated. Noted.

Over the weekend the family gathered for food and to outline plans for the memorial service. It will be held late this month at the College Longhouse, a fitting location spiritually and logistically to honor Dave’s life and teaching. I am glad that we have some time between death and celebration. Denise and I went to meet with the gracious staff at Evergreen, who of course knew and love Dave, who walked us through the Longhouse and steps for making this a great and memorable event. I can put on my “work hat” for most of time, but when my mind drifted to hearing and seeing the memorial and recognizing that this event is the ritual for ending, I well up. I don’t “do” memorials. Exit, quickly, before I lose my tears.

Funny, there was a quick snowfall as we stepped out of the doorway to leave.

Is the snow some kind of sign from beyond? Naw. Dave doesn’t like snow, and even less with that last storm. But we did spend our first night together because of getting homebound after a snow storm. Coincidence? February, more likely!

However, like many people after loss, I do like finding, or maybe creating, meaning in the little things:

  •  When Dave died, that morning I heard the early birds outside the window, first time for this season. (We lived in a rental house after getting married and there were birds nested in the wall behind the bed. Boy, did we wake with the sound of chirping!)
  •  The wind chimes on the front porch have been ringing their music often. It takes a bit of steady wind to get them going because of their location and size. But each new melody rings lovely for me because they are a Mother’s Day gift and a symbol of Dave’s honoring me as mother to our daughter. I’ve always felt an internal warmth and calmness from their sound. (“Oh-klahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains…”)
  • When my dad died I started finding pennies and coins. So I called them my pennies from Heaven. I haven’t found a penny in a long, long time. (Does anyone use pennies anymore?) Last week I was washing and vacuuming my car at the car wash (seagull poop, also from the Heavens) and saw a single penny laid on the ground a few feet from me. Yes, I know people lose money from their cars all the time. It was “tails up.” I hesitated because I think it is supposed to be “heads up” for good luck. I thought of my pennies from Heaven and slipped it into my pocket anyway. I turned to drop some trash into the can and finish cleaning. When I came back to the car I noticed another penny nearby I hadn’t seen before. This time it was “heads up.” Good luck.
  • I am going through lots of memorabilia and photos for inclusion in Dave’s storybook and his memorial DVD. (I have been working on this for years off and on, but now the story can be written and completed.) We have a stack of love letters written during our engagement when I still lived in Dallas and he was in Olympia. So I randomly picked one he had written to me to read. “I’m never going to die on you —” he wrote, “I want to live in us forever!” I saw a side of him  more sentimental than most people had access to. Why would I find such a statement in the first thing I read? Perhaps to remind me that he lies in my heart and the memories of many others. That’s what a memorial is designed to reinforce.

In two weeks since Dave’s death, I mostly feel able to be in the world bravely (sometimes too well adjusted?). I knew Dave would die; I know he is now gone. I can make that declaration. I can get through the big things. I can plan and announce and even soothe others in their grief over Dave’s death when they call on me. But in the smallest flash comes an overwhelming tug. The songbird, the wind chime, the found penny; The snowfall, the memorial hall ambiance, the thought that “Dave would like this” – these are the rough edges of loss. They come seemingly from nowhere and grab me by the throat. They take my breath away momentarily without regard to where I am and who I am with. They show me how my being has been entwined with Dave’s through days and years, and how they will be forever to come.

Yes, I can face this big picture of love and loss, but it always the little things that will matter.

* * *

P.S. Writing is such an important tool in this grief journey for me. After the last writing on looking at the spaces, particularly on the photo of the bedside, I have a choice: leave it as is or give it attention. As I go forward in the big picture of my life I am choosing to fill those spaces with something that has meaning and happiness. I took the ivy plant – life and nature – that I brought home after Dave was admitted on hospice service and placed it along with a candle gifted to me. The candle holder is solid glass, both reflective and heavy. Of course, candles are recognized in grief ritual for their light and spiritual symbolism, but this one does double duty for its protector factor. It is just right in weight and size to throw and knock someone out if needed! Topic for another post, part of the angst of evening is that that the loss of my husband also means losing my protector.

In grief work, and the work of Storybooks for Healing, I believe that first we have to look for and acknowledge our own spaces (whatever they are emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally; tangible or not) and then consciously decide to either fill it or leave it as is. Sometime we have to rearrange what we already have and know. There will be some things that no one or nothing can fill, but for the most part I can choose to fill my spaces with love, meaning and direction.

5 replies
  1. Nancy Jamison
    Nancy Jamison says:

    I’m only 3 months into the loss of my David. It was unexpected and I’m having trouble adjusting. I feel frozen in time. Your writing is beautiful and I look forward to arriving at the place you find yourself.

    Reply
    • Joan H
      Joan H says:

      I’m so sorry for your recent and sudden loss Nancy. Frozen in time, being in a fog, just trying to keep moving are normal processes to moving forward in small steps. Be gentle on yourself. Peruse the articles here, or if you are local you are invited to the Olympia Discover-Create-Share Center. Just call or drop me a note from the contact page. ~Joan

      Reply

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