In the third year after my aunt’s death, the pain seemed to grow more real. And I was weary with the aftermath of loss. I sometimes wondered if I were a prisoner of the love room. Much of my time was spent writing to her from my perch at the love room door. But I wondered how long I could keep reaching backward as my life spooled out into the future. I didn’t want to let go, exactly, but I wondered what it would mean to be free.
There were also many gems in the muck of this great loss. In frequent trips to Louisiana, I met more relatives, and grew close to them. I was able to trace our history, and to place my aunt, and myself, in the rich intriguing context of our family. And I loved the land. In walking those low flat fields, in tracing bayous through tangles of brush, I felt a surprising, visceral joy. My body knew where it belonged. It was happy to be home.
Perhaps the most significant gift of grief was that I found myself able to bear both the beauties and the trials of a life. My heart, my whole being, could accommodate those wrenching realities – of both joy, and desolation; beauty, and a seemingly intolerable pain. Something was coming together. It seemed to be me.
Letters, Year 3
Did you steal me, in some ways, capture me like you did all those men over so many years? Like your friends, who were fiercely devoted? I’m beginning to see that I volunteered for that. Part of it was the early loneliness, an innocence that needed some kind of shelter. You lifted me up onto the wings of your own life. But then, later, it was easier to just slide along, pressed against you, certain that, in a pinch, or when I was just plain tired of being grown up, I could call you, even if it was just to hear your voice, to talk over some problem. You would listen, and care.
Now, here I am at sixty-five, having to decide how to live on my own; how to face the world without leaning back toward you, without pressing into that comfort of knowing you’re there.
Well…I guess I will. But it’s so tempting to keep looking back.
I am so ready to amble along a new and gentler road. But what road would that be?
A little shiver of fond longing for Louisiana ripples through me: skin, tribe, family, heat, land. What is known, and still mysterious.
Too busy today for a long woods walk, so I head down the trail where tall wild impatiens leans, dewy goldenrod bows into the path, wetting my pant legs and Bodi’s back. Bumblebees rest in the heart of pink flowers.
Questions bubble up as we walk. Is it possible for the love room to be both a blessed place and also a kind of trap? Has it grown to be more welcoming than everyday life? Why would I want to take on the world again after the close, odd comfort of grief?
I just want to lean my head against your bony little chest, hang onto you. Is that bad? Maybe not. But it is possible, I guess, for that longing to obscure the truth, its grace somehow cloaking the ordinary beauties of being here, now.
Feeling odd, a little sad today, a little unanchored, but I don’t know why.
My mom’s death date is coming up, but I don’t even know when it is. Why not, when yours is so engraved in my awareness?
I pore through old documents and find her death certificate. Today, her leaving day. Which makes me wonder: Why do I turn so readily to you, and not to the mother of my own flesh?
Tonight, after a long time of quiet, the phone rings. For half a second, I think it might be you.
At the pond this morning, thready spirals of mist swirl toward the sun. The water’s surface is dark and glassy, littered with duck feathers as mallards congregate, getting ready to fly away for warmer parts. No frogs in the shallows today, no herons—so maybe they, too, are leaving.
Leaving. Before you slip entirely away, I want to go down again to Louisiana, into that warmth, into what’s left of the stories of our people. Before Sunny and the other elders do their own slipping away, I want to listen to what they remember of you and the web into which you arrived.
I don’t know what I’ll get by doing that, but it will be rich, maybe spicy, surely more than I have now. Maybe it will weave me into my own particular place in that tapestry of belonging.
This whole unfolding of what comes after love and loss has been so much more than I can say. Almost more than I can bear, though the bearing is an odd, joyous tenderness I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Why do I offer what I’m not sure I can really give? What is the connection between the intimacy of loving and the sorrow of giving everything away? How do I love without letting someone wander—or barge—into the tenderest place that should belong only to me?
Did I do that with you: turn to you before I turned to myself? Certainly in childhood. And when you were needy? Getting lost? I turned myself over, took on the heaviness of doing it all.
This morning, in the woods, we settle at the pond where many ducks crowd, leaving a silvery wake in shiny water. The great blue heron perches, motionless but alert on the log, mists swirling all around her. Keeping an eye on me, but not flinching away. The heron knows how to stand alone, how to hoard the best of herself. But she knows, too, how to be exposed, how to stand in the early light, how to be seen and be okay. How to trust me, a little, because she has watched me come and go. But mostly she knows how to trust herself. How to wait, how to judge what’s safe. And how to sail away.