The Love Room – Year 1
The first year after my aunt’s death was spent in a kind of frenzied fog. After almost a decade of long-distance care management, there was still so much to do. As my aunt’s Personal Representative, I was in charge of settling her affairs: carrying out the provisions of her will, selling her condo in Maryland, packing up family mementos to take home. I was also teaching full-time in Maine, and trying to stay engaged with my two grown daughters and my young grandson.
In some ways, the distraction of so many chores became a kind of insulation from the wrenching wreck of grief. But all I really wanted was lie in the sun in a comfortable place, watch dust motes drift through a sunny room, go back to Maryland and find my aunt. The sense of unreality was all-encompassing, but also compelling. I wanted to see where it would take me.
Small comforts during this first year included time spent in the wilderness, watching old reruns of The Waltons on television, playing with my young grandson. And, of course, writing the letters…..
Excerpts from the Letters –
Dear Little Honey,
After carrying you; after the frenzied details of keeping you afloat; after the end, and then sending you off; after tears and hugs from people who leaned into your light, now you’re gone. But here I am, still waiting for you.
For, after all, could a life really just disappear? Could something so rich and tenacious just vanish—poof!—without even leaving a small pile of flower petals on the floor of the world? Impossible. So I keep coming, in the dark and quiet unclaimed times, to sit with you, keep an ear turned your way. Our love room is still the place where I am so much of the time, no matter where else I might be. In the quietest of ways, you are here, too, letting me lay my weary life down at your feet, your sweet, quirky self soothing me even after the end.
Dear Aunt Min,
I can’t share you yet. Even though people are asking, I don’t want to talk. Don’t want to wrap up all my slippery feelings, package them into something tidy, give them away.
This coming-apart time is so wispy and thin, yet so much the realest thing: The quiet breath of the mystery of dying and living; the door between worlds, still open. I don’t want to close that by trying to explain how the care and clashes and holiness of two people continues to thrive.
My love room with you is still hanging in the airy light, tangled in the web of my attention, still pushing and pulling with the tide of my heart.
Dear Little Honey,
Putting up clothes for the winter switch-over, I grab a handful of scarves to hang, and find one of yours: a bright, silky square of roses on scarlet and gold. Automatically, as if my body has a mind of its own, my hands grab it up, press it against my face. I am searching for your scent—the face cream you used, or your own particular sweetness, or the mustiness of clothes that hung in your closet for years. I am hungry for something of you. This time, it’s your favorite color. Red—the fire, the unquenchable spirit, the warmth, the steely heat of your attention, the cutting edge, the joy. Someone said at your funeral that we should all have worn red in your honor.
I miss you. My body has known this all along, while I was trying to forget, trying to live across the hole you left.
Dear Little Honey,
I keep trying to find you. Working on the details of finishing up your life, posting your old photos on a website, planning a Louisiana trip to bury your ashes, going to Maryland to clear out your apartment. I am looking for you in the shuffle of papers, in the busy-work, in making connections with newfound cousins, Nanette, and Lennie and her daughter Kathi.
But, underneath all this, my heart is a yawning awareness that you’re not there. I can’t imagine how it was for you through one hundred years of losing parents, brothers, a sister, friends, the way the world was before so many changes.
I miss you so much.
All I want these days is to slip into the love room—that little space we made together. We could sit and I could hold your small, delicate hand. You could squeeze my fingers and ask me how I am, or sing one of the songs you remember from so many years ago. You could tell me stories about teaching, And I would listen. Again.
There are so many things I want to ask. I want to know why Uncle Johnny killed himself—if you knew how depressed he was. I want to know my dad as you did, when he chattered so much as a little one that you all called him “Peter Parrot”—before he was with my mom and there was no room for another voice.
This is the thing: I am still unfinished. I still need you, but you are done, I guess. But what does that make our love room now, if the walls aren’t painted with need on both sides? If we aren’t stitched together, using the glue of promises and faith and forgiveness to hold it all together? I am still in my love room with you. Sometimes I feel you there, too. My memory of you still knows the best parts of me. Right now, I can’t do without that.