03 June 2011


Julia and I drove down after seeing Marilyn to spend the weekend in Indianapolis to watch Matthew graduate from 8th grade and Sycamore School (the same grammar school that Cheshire went to) and to visit with a few friends. It is a long drive but easy tonight avoiding Chicago as much as I could and hitting very little traffic. We arrived while our hosts were picking up family (including Cheshire) from the airport and as it is very late for Julia, she is beside me in bed trying to sleep while I type. This was so much our nightly pattern in the fall -- her trying to sleep while I typed or read for my course work.

Now, not so much and I am hoping she falls asleep before people come home. She will be better for it tomorrow morning.

It has been a strange week. I’ve been very diligent about constructing my massive chrono-log of all of our family papers. The papers are from boxes and file drawers that I’ve already gone through and thrown away much. I’ve decided to put all of our papers -- David’s, mine, Cheshire’s, and a few of Julia’s as well -- into a folders marked by years. I don’t know whether it is the best organization but because our lives have been so intertwined, it is hard to separate many things. This way, someone -- that distant, future descendant I see in my mind’s eye -- will be able to look at a particular year and see what each of us was doing -- David’s publications, a bit of my work, Cheshire’s school work -- plus a few letters written to us, some Christmas cards, and maybe a flier for a house sale or the program for a play. Some years have my old journals tucked into them. I want to make this an intentional savings -- baggage to be sure, but if I am going to carry it around for the rest of my life, I want to know that I have arranged it so that someone will be able to look at it and get a feel for our lives. I have longed for such a record from my family of origin who did not leave any record outside of snap shots and certificates. No one even saved letters, or no one wrote letters. And I have always wanted more. And I figure that if I want more, there will be someone with enough of my DNA one day who will feel the same.

But it is slow going, all this filing, and it stirs up so much emotion, more emotion this time as I handle the papers for a second time and put pieces that David saved together with what I saved. I will have to go through all of the material another time before I am through -- go through each year and organize the materials a bit -- do I dare think that I will leave notes? Maybe I will identify people in photographs -- already I look at photos of David’s relatives and I am not sure who some of them are. Was I ever sure?

And so this work, which feels very right and correct to do now, occupies my time. That and the garden are my tasks of the days and nights. The work draw out emotion and memory, leaving me vulnerable and raw. I am less presentable, less able to blend into the traffic of my days.

And movies. We saw Kung Fu Panda 2 on the weekend, and then I watched The King’s Speech last night. Both, in their own ways, are very intense and very personal for me/us.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is all about adoption and coming to terms with Po’s early life. Julia liked the movie. She recognized that Po, like herself, was adopted in China. She also recognized that the bad guy, Shen, needed family therapy. On the way home, she suggested that Shen and his parents should have seen Marilyn -- and really, Shen could be diagnosed with a good case of RAD. And Julia started to ask about a “China Mommy” for the first time. She did not want to talk much about it -- stopping me from doing more than answering her direct question of whether she had a China Mommy, but it seems to be the beginning of an self-awareness that I have worried she might never have.

And then, last night, The King’s Speech. It is a good movie and I am so glad that I waited this long before seeing it. It is painful and brave and beautifully done and well acted. It was intense. I cried for the king’s pain and his triumph. I have not had to be as brave as he needed to be but I understand the feelings in a profoundly personal way. I was very happy that they made this movie because this is how so many stutterers feel, feel every day. We may not need to address a nation on the brink of war, but ordering a dozen bagels at the corner deli can take just as much courage.

And then, this evening, driving from Madison to Indy, Julia played with her leapster in the back while I listened to Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It is the personal account of the year after her husband’s death. I had read it a few years ago and been stunned by its beauty and insight. I thought about it constantly when Julia and I were in England and my own year had begun. I thumbed through it often after a friend sent it to me last fall, never able to read through it completely but now and again, searching for passages that I remembered. Now, today, listening, I was again struck by the vulnerability and gut wrenching pain of the writing. Listening to every page instead of thumbing through looking for paragraphs, I was aware of the repetitions, the circlings around and around the same scene, the same words, the same facts -- looking from different angles, or the same angle at slightly different times. I too have scenes that I play over and over in my head. I see that process as my grief and as hers.

The opening words which I cannot quote here but go something like -- you sit down for dinner and everything changes in quite ordinary moments, echo through this last year for me. Yes, yes, yes -- I want to leap through the pages, I want to call Didion and tell her that I too . .. I too was in the midst of an ordinary day, a day during which David was getting better, when he died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Without advanced notice.

And like Didion’s husband, of course, there was notice, but it makes no difference. There can be no notice. The magical thinking is wanting him to come home. Still, I know. There I times and parts of myself that believes that David will be home soon.

I remember that when I read the book for the first time, I was left unhappy. I don’t know what I expected but I saw her as not having “recovered” after the year. She was as miserable at the end of the year, as she was the day after her husband died. I have not gotten to the end this time -- I will listen on my way home to Madison. When I read it the first time, I wanted the cure, the revelation that one day she was whole and happy again. These days, I understand too much of where she was at the end of her year. I am no where near whole and happy and it is almost 11 months.

For myself, the shock has worn thin. The denial may go very deep, but my rational brain and conscious spirit is intent on healing from the loss, not preserving some nostalgic sadness. I am no longer surprised by days so blue that it takes all of my energy to plod through until it is time to go to bed. On those days, if I can do useful tasks, some at least, I am very satisfied. I wonder how long those days will continue, they are less now than 10 months ago. I expect they will diminish further. I do not expect to ever be completely free of them. But each is a step, and I feel at times acutely aware of the process. And I grow more in spirit, I learn more about myself and my journey, and I learn as well to celebrate the steps and the journey. And for this, and not only this, I have great gratitude.

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