This past June, in the tenth year since Liam died, I was riddled with deadlines. Corporate ones, for my job, and the final manuscript deadline of the next book I’m writing. It’s a book about grief—the after-life of loss—and it’s not like all the other deadlines. To finish, I read-aloud; consolidate; time-travel; delete; cry; respond to my editor’s queries. What do you mean by ‘Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls is my spirit animal,’ she comments in the margins. Can you clarify.
I fret about the ramifications of being publicly honest; the vulnerability of stirring up so many long-integrated feelings; getting all the nihilisms right; sharing an imprint with Pema Chödrön while perhaps not being Pema Chödrön-ish enough. And this year, in the midst of all this, I completely forgot the day of Liam’s death.
Not like a few years back when I looked down at a plane ticket in my lap, in an airport terminal, and realized it was June 15, his day. This year, I forgot-forgot. I didn’t realize it had passed until three weeks after.
So this is ten years, you dick.
Contemplation and a reprimand—what a shit mother I am to him!—then a glimmer of relief that I am far-out enough to be afforded the privilege of forgetting. Although, of course, there is no ‘forgetting’. I will never and wouldn’t want to. I remember all the time, my laborious grief mosaic, and I miss him constantly. But June 15, the day, blew by with nothing but mortgage machinations and a grocery list. Then the next day and the next week and more blew by, too.
“I had never considered bereavement as a permanent state,” wrote Dave, when I told him in passing. Dave, a rabbi, has written here at Glow before, and his wife Gal was a regular contributor for years. I met Gal on a beach in North Carolina, and she was just as I knew she would be, in that way when you connect deeply with someone who’s been through the same explosion.
“Life is so fleeting,” Dave wrote to me, explaining why he doesn’t attach the word ‘bereaved’ to himself anymore, and making me think. “We gotta make as much meaning as we can with however much time as we get. One of my takeaways from Tikva’s life is I’m now reluctant to put experience in piles of ‘desired’ and ‘undesired.’ I can’t see allowing myself to twist like that, susceptible to changing winds out of my control.”
He added a smiley-face. I thought about that, sending out, again, for the thousandth time, gratitude that I know these people. People like us.
Am I bereaved, still? I had thought so. I define myself this way along with countless other categories: writer, wife, Nova Scotian, Canadian, fan of Blanche Devereaux, mother / bereaved mother. But am I?
Had the writing of the book not ransacked neatly reconciled emotions like a scallop dragger—scraping a settled ocean floor and scooping up everything in its path, indiscriminately—would I still cry now and then? Ten years later, am I crying now and then because I still feel Liam’s loss as keenly as I once did, or am I crying now and then because I opt to time-travel?
I am thinking.
To Dave, ‘bereavement’ is defined as the most intense of the shock. Then, pain is integrated. After that, bereavement becomes something else. It takes root in a more remote location, perhaps, more deeply enmeshed, making space for the wheel of continuing life.
I think maybe we’re splitting hairs. But neurons are firing, little fireflies bouncing around in there saying Oooh! And Interesting, interesting, what do we think, what do we think?
This category—bereaved parent—feels like a forever-definition, I decide. But perhaps it is not a constant state. Forever, but not chronic. It is different now, but I feel his loss as keenly.
But you forgot his damn death day. You completely forgot like it never even happened, that day of the bomb that went off inside your heart. Three weeks went by and you were just like, ‘I can’t find that peeler that turns the zucchini into noodles, where is my zucchini-noodle-spinny-thing?’
I know. I have the headspace to fret about carbohydrates. Ten years ago—eight, seven, five years ago—I had thought I never would care about any small thing. Real estate transactions, taxes, my career, dinner parties, the way my belly sticks out. Everything but the loss of him felt like a shameful vanity.
The miracle: ten years later, I do care. About him as well as all the rest. He is still a phantom limb. His absence makes me pause on any random day. I drive and go quiet, reliving him lifeless in my lap in one segment of my brain while another segment, simultaneously, mulls over either this light fixture or that one. Art deco or mid-century?
Ten years later, I still feel an excess of unspent love—there is no place to put it, aside from into the air around me, along with the wishing, the longing, the dream of him. I still play with designing my own afterlife: I die an old woman and revert to my 34 year-old self. I enter into a room and see Liam waking up clammy, whole, and gurgling in a crib. I go to him with the license to do all those ordinary things. I change him, make him clean, touch his belly while he giggles. He curls up in the mei-tai and we walk by the sea. This is my daydream, my most divine and deepest regret spun into active language, a positive state.
It’s different now. I can love him, forgive myself, and breathe.
How does the word ‘bereaved’ fit who you are? How do you define yourself in relation to loss? What are your fireflies humming about?