It took a while before I could let the anger in. Once my aunt was gone, I was flooded with all the best memories of her; all her graces and funny quirks, her gifts of spunkiness and wit and awareness. The love room, for a while, was made of spangled and gauzy joys, and of the wretched emptiness she left behind.
But in the second year, I started to notice what had been tucked away: I was mad! My aunt had co-opted my life! She could have been more compliant! She could have been more aware of what it was costing me to help her out. And I was mad at her for living so long! When I “signed up” for managing her care, she was in her 90s. Surely, she could have moved along a bit sooner! I hadn’t counted on 102 years! I had my own life to live, after all! I was busy! I had other people who needed me! I was tired! And she kept bumping up her age-goal – from 100, to 102, 105, 120! What was she thinking?! And not only had that been hard; but now, she was just plain gone! What was I supposed to do with that?!
It shook me, at first, to let the resentment in. I was afraid of what would happen to the luminous space of the love room if it turned out to be complex. But it helped, to let the realness have some space. I had been used up, after all. I had given more than I really could. And even though I would have done it all again, giving voice to the hard and hurt feelings was, as it turned out, another small recognition of a relationship that could bear both the gentle and loving feelings, and the hard and grumpy ones too.
Letting the anger in turned out to be another small grace that didn’t threaten the love room, but strengthened it instead. The following is a little entry from Year 2 of the letters….
I’m finding little bits of niggling anger with you for co-opting my life. You knew I wouldn’t leave. You held on tight. Now I have to go back and see what I’ve given up, and what I can reclaim. There are some things, probably, that are lost forever: possibilities, a certain liveliness I might have had at fifty that has passed me by. I wonder how things might have been if I weren’t so used up. Still, the anger is all tangled with the bright, warm joy of loving you, and the grace of growing deeper into your heart, and mine. Of coming together to build the love room that sheltered what had been delicate and rare, and grew strong and sure and irreplaceable in the close-to-the-bone times. There is that, too.
Now, bit by bit, chore by chore, I am coming back to this body-home, without you. Maybe I’ll find new parts of me, but I am sure even these will be flavored with you. Oh, I have loved you so much. What a grace this has been, the awkward trek through being, and not being, with you.