“Who am I? Why am I here?” was an uncomfortable rhetorical device at a 1992 Vice-Presidential debate.
Today we bloggers have been asked to address that question.
Jean Valjean posed the musical question. Just weeks before my husband Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we had listened to the song with our daughters in a London theater.
Who am I? What am I doing here on a blog about love and loss?
I’m a mom of sons and daughters, a widow at an age at which I never previously could have imagined losing my husband.
I’m a friend, a teacher, an attorney, a quilt designer and maker.
I’m a terrible, verging-on-dangerous, cook–not so much for the content of my frequently failed culinary creations, but due to inattention: I am likely to wander off with water or worse boiling on the stove or something blackening to an unrecognizable state in the oven. Not much of a domestic goddess either. And I can’t do math.
I started out here almost two years ago, mainly for therapeutic reasons. I discovered early on that I needed to write about our family and about our loss. Most important, my husband entrusted me with his story.
Writing helps me remember and preserve what is important. Like a first-to-fall domino, a flash of a single scene with all of our younger ghosts can lead to a cascade of the extraordinary ordinary, thoughts and feelings recaptured, pieces reassembled. Wanderers returned home.
Sure, I could have kept my own grief’s open wounds to myself–perhaps hand-stitched quilts in shades of black; stayed in a darkened room and sipped amber tea; and in wee, sleepless hours scratched my illegible looping script thoughts in journals for my eyes only. With a house full of children and beagles, that wasn’t really a winning option.
I certainly could have kept to myself the shame of having fled a surgeon’s office in panic when he and my husband began animatedly discussing his labyrinthine pancreatic tumor, pointing to it on a laptop as if it were a piece of abstract installation art and not a killer poised to take my husband from us.
I need not have travelled to more than thirty hospitals to talk to health care providers about what it is like to receive such news and to live and love in the space between diagnosis and death and thereafter.
But then no one who didn’t know my husband–with the possible exception of the medical and dental students who knew his first name as they worked with his body–could have learned from the remarkable way he lived his too-short life.
The people who travelled those three seasons in hell with us might not have known how important they were, or appreciated the many things they did which were so important to us.
So here I am.
I like to think I’ve evolved a little over the time I’ve been blogging, pressing the “publish” button on more than 260 posts.
Now I think I’m here at least in part because writing, and receiving feedback from people all over the world, has helped me see both the “size of the cloth” of sorrow and the persistent presence of kindness.
Jim had his own way of sending me on this path: “You’ll get through this,” he told me. “Lots of people do.” He, of course, knew I would have unflagging help from our friends and family.
He saw the whole.
It’s easy to get consumed by one’s corner of the cloth, wrapped tightly in an overwhelming loss.
It can be daunting to rejoin the world still out there, whether it’s the front path or the internet blogging community. Above and below are pictures I took near my front path today, in a gathering blizzard. I’m glad to be in both places.