On Choosing Life


After three years, and several “phases” of lingering at the love room door with my aunt, I began to lean forward instead of backward. I still loved our time together, was still paying attention to, and grateful for, little whispers of her presence. And yet – I began to feel a need to lift up out of the fog of grief. I needed a life. I was, after all, still here. I spent time reading about what others had experienced of loss and holding on, and letting go. The following is a little letter written at the beginning of the fourth year without my aunt.

Lately I’m reading more memoirs of grief to see what people have said about this rarefied time when we (those of us left behind, and what’s left of our beloveds) still show up, somehow together, still hanging on.

There are some interesting observations: sleep changes (check); dry mouth (check); sinus issues (all those tears, waiting to be shed); and a “romance” with the lost one, so much brighter than the prickly, tedious chore of loving someone who’s alive. Well…I guess I have been doing that with you, with all these little notes left at the love-room door.

But what is real, anyway? Even the sharpest intellect, the bravest soul, might feel the presence of the beloved after they’re gone. Isn’t the web we make together real? Isn’t the rupture a loss? Wouldn’t part of us still be intertwined, and regret the tearing away?

Another note – that the more people who share the loss, the gentler it becomes. There are more folks to hold up the “presence,” and the absence, of the beloved. Could that be why this is so constant for me? I am carrying you, and your loss, mostly by myself. And could you be insistent on leaving a little footprint on a heart – specifically mine? Could you have worried you’d be forgotten?

One more important point – that the survivor, the traveler of that gray desert landscape, has to finally choose to live, to fling open a door, a heart, to what is still here. What courage that must take. But also common sense, for who could stand facing a whole life that was gray, drab, halfhearted?

Can I let the silky love-room walls flutter around my shoulders, catch my eye, and still walk toward what is mine alone?

I hope that your way forward, if such a thing exists, is gentle and kind. I hope you can settle into rest. I hope you are swimming in love – that gigantic, quivering sea that is so much more than we know. I hope you can see that I’m happy; that things are okay; that I still love the world, even though you’re not in it anymore; that my breath still sighs with love for you every once in a while.

But I am choosing to move ahead. I don’t think this will shut you out; but it could move me toward what we were always about – the deep and thriving resilience of following what’s real. I still want to live. I have lessons to learn, hands to hold, mornings to love. Skin and organs and thoughts. I am something you’re not anymore. Here.

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