March 22, 2018
I was awake long before you would have hoped for me. It snowed yet again, though a far less fearsome Nor’easter than this month’s past three. This morning I was in one of my favorite places, just beyond ocean dunes only miles from home. Somehow we never stopped there together, although we brought our children just north and south of this stretch of the Atlantic.
The sun broke through bruised clouds like a spotlight, unveiling in a vast murky marsh a single gold-eyed snowy owl who turned to look straight at me before promptly closing his eyes to resume napping.
Subtlety still is not my strong suit. A few years ago I picked up a novel because of the lacuna embraced by its title, The Inheritance of Loss, and discovered an author I wish I’d found in time to pass along to you. She described a mother whose son had left only for another continent, who “was weeping because she had not estimated the imbalance between the finality of good-bye and the briefness of the last moment.”
Seven years since the hospice nurse came into our home to check signs she knew would be absent. “Dr. Glennon, I’m just going to check your pulse now….” I can still hear her speaking in the same gentle cadence she would have used with a living patient.
Of course, I’ve seen you quite a bit since then. I saw you at our children’s graduations, at Jazz’s wedding, at my father’s bedside. I see you wherever I wander alone taking photographs. I listen to the music you left me and to music you didn’t have a chance to hear in the traditional way.
There’ll be no value in the strength of walls that I have grown
There’ll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown
But I’d be yours if you’d be mine
Take what you like, but close my ears and eyes
Watch me stumble over and over
I’ve taken your place as best I could for all you would have spared me. I’ve learned, if sporadically, to do the less backbreaking chores you did. Finances still give me agita, but I muddle through. I’ve raced to emergency rooms with our kids–and our dogs. I had the conversations you would have had with my dying father. I stroked sweet Brady’s caramel fur as you would have done with much steadier hands while he peacefully breathed his last breaths and I told him he’d get to run off leash with you. I see you doing that right now: my mind is treating me to a full-color view of you two in what seem to be the fields of Northern Ireland just short of Giant’s Causeway.
After work last night I found tangible evidence (easily capable of definitive forensic testing) that Rufus had been a very imperfect boy during my absence. (You might have noticed the new return address, the scene of that recent crime. After I’d moved, your sister told me you knew I’d need to.) This morning he looked dolefully at me–though I recognize that’s a fine line away from the “are you sure you haven’t forgotten my mom-is-going-to-work treat?” face.
I told him, “Be good. Be the beagle master would want you to be.”
I’m sorry I didn’t work harder on being the person I should have been when you were here. I’m sorry I was such a blubbering mess from the moment you were diagnosed. I’m sorry I didn’t find your photographs for you. I’m sorry for everything I didn’t adequately treasure.
But of course you didn’t think there was anything to forgive, because that’s the stuff of which you were made.
Surprised to be shining just like diamonds in the wind
When we find ourselves staring in God’s golden eyes
That day you came home for the last time I told you I’d miss you every second of every day. I caught the micro-wince flashing across your eyes.
I think I understand now: it’s not that you thought I was exaggerating; it’s that you knew I wasn’t.
You didn’t want the yawning space of the rest of my life to be defined by the constant undercurrent of missing, the pull of dark negative space.
You hoped I’d find a way to understand you’d still be with me, keeping me imperfectly afloat.
Love always and always,