Trace went at the height of summer, his most favorite season. Verdant morning-glories climbed the fences, extending out their energetic tendrils and sky-blue petals to fill empty space and catch hold of something, anything, on which to define a new direction. Entwined were red-runners, his sister’s favorite, her presence still vibrant after all these years gone by. The ‘why’ of her loss never settled well, if at all for him. Still, every season her image arose as bright red blossoms growing in chaos on the fences in the heat of summer.
Tall stands of evening primrose, bright yellow and full in July moonlight greeted the dawn with a cry of dew, a sad delight to the eye, which embraced the transience of them. Despite the summer’s heat, they presented cool and hinted at a distant spring to bring relief to those somnambulant days. There was no escaping the ways of stepping into the space between life and death, even the most natural beauty seemed a dream. So, it remains these days when the living haunt their own life and cannot let go of the whole.
The large open window brought in the luxurious scent of old world roses, honey-wafts of buddleia and the lingering traces of honeysuckle. His first words on arriving home for the last time, looking out that window, taking in all that wonder was saying, “Oh wow.” Did he know he was home at last? Did he realize it was his garden that brought such delight? His last words still fill the room, which once radiated larger-than-life energy and merged with that of a little, old cocker named Bodhi, whose gentle steadfastness matched his own and whose death preceded him by only a few weeks. Terribly painful is the toll of absolute absence. There is nothing, no one, on which to define a new direction, when a broken heart has no vision.
It is autumn now and the garden goes fallow. The blooms are gone, pruning leaves branches exposed and barren. Trace disliked this time of year, the loss of hot sunny days and summer delights. For me autumn has always been a favorite season, but now it is filled with sadness and the analogies my tiresome mind creates to torture loss and piquant regrets.
It doesn’t seem possible that only two months or so have passed since his death. I go into his empty room and expect to see him and Bodhi asleep on the bed, or hear him in the kitchen making coffee for breakfast, or returning home from the dawn trail walk and finding Bodhi at the door to greet me and Trace not far behind. Most of all I miss him singing to Bodhi as he puttered about the garden. He once said to me in our early days, “I liked you immediately because you listen to lyrics.” Sometimes I can see them at the top of the hill waiting for me to climb up after a long walk. I wait for the nightmare to end, to wake up and find that all is well. But it’s not.
Friends, neighbors and acquaintances ask me how I am doing. I say “OK, one day at a time.” I say that because people want me to be well, care about the sorrow and truly hope I am OK. I’m not OK and wonder if that will ever happen. Every day is a challenge. There are small, simple pleasures to embrace such as the beautiful light at dawn that rakes at an angle through the garden and sparkles the dew. Kind words and gentle people appear here and there to assuage the pain and convince me that while the spirit is gone, love persists. A good cup of strong coffee, a ginger scone convinces me that the senses can still delight. But, it is true for now that joy is gone and a future irrelevant.
After twenty-four years together, the break of death is almost unbearable, challenges sanity and gives full meaning to a broken heart. Millions of shared moments, growing two as one, the complexity of it, the merging of brother spirits—–gone forever. Living as a singularity has no attraction, lost is its richness, purpose and meaning now. From all accounts, this terrible pain is perfectly normal and for that, I weep for the world. I still cannot accept it, will not let go and keep my tears at home where they nurture the past. I am one with he who said,” all those moments are like tears in rain.” It was time for Trace and Bodhi to die. I was caught by surprise of such absolute extinction.
I see the event horizon and embrace my time. The ashes of my love will nurture the future so, meanwhile, I will plant hundreds of tulips for a spring that may yet come.
Postscript: September 2017
Years have come and gone. The tulips came and went, then tomatoes, then zinnias; strange how the future unfolds moment by moment and in that simply vanishes as if it were a mobius strip and not some eternal line forever advancing. Andie and I celebrate our daily life with love and purpose. I’m ok now, in the small sense. I face the event horizon with peace of mind. The first draft of the new book is ready. It will be an echo of a life lived with adventure and gratitude. I have learned the true purpose of existence and that is to love and be loved.
I reprint this story and dedicate it to a mother whose son was murdered by a cop, that she may know that each death is unique, each grief unique and that she is joined with love and comfort in that universal sea of loss in which so many of us sail.
‘Shanah Tovah’ My friends
With love, Michael and Andie
Re-reading this three years later and feeling all the love that still remains.
We never really get over losses but we cry less at their memory. It’s hard to concentrate on the good times when they are followed by the loss. I work at it.