The past is never dead

18 09 2012

It’s a time of vivid dreams for me.  You wouldn’t think this would sneak up on me, but times like this come and I’m wondering what’s going on, and then think… oh.  That.   

Tomorrow it will have been six years since my husband died.  I always know the date – September 19 – so it’s not like I have to remind myself of it.  And yet, the time gets closer without me consciously realizing it.  Something in my brain is assiduously checking off the days, though, marking time to the date when my life took the sharpest turn I can recall.   

So I think about that a lot right now.  I can almost relive that night, feel again what I felt in the hospital emergency room when they told me they had been trying to start his heart for an hour, and they had decided to stop.  The nurse behind me, ready to catch me as I collapsed.  The phone calls.  So many phone calls.  All the people I had to tell.  Calling my son at school, 300 miles away.  Calling my brother-in-law and asking him to please tell his parents, and then bring them to the hospital.  The nurse calling my mother.  And when everyone had gathered, I left  them to care for each other while I went back to my husband’s body, cooling in a curtained-off area in the emergency room.  It didn’t make sense to me.  It still doesn’t.  On a very fundamental level, deeper than anything I ever learned in a science class, death is a mystery that I cannot understand. 

This one life-changing event is the one filling my mind right now.  It is the biggest one there and it comes complete with squealing-tire sound effects and the sound of breaking glass.  I know, though, that it isn’t the only one, that there are other experiences that I can relive just as vividly.  Ones that aren’t as showy, that are accompanied by a quiet heartbeat, and the feel of breath on skin.  I’ve written about them before.  I’ll probably write about them again.  Because they are also mysteries to me, gifts that I cannot understand. 

I can still feel what my mother-in-law felt like in my arms, her skin under my hands, for the weeks that she was in the hospital before she left us.  And those physical memories link inextricably to the experience of knowing her and loving her for over 30 years.  I remember her wisdom, her humor, her intellect combined with the most thoughtful compassion I’ve ever encountered.   That time in the hospital was  a life-changing event.  Knowing her and being a beloved part of her family was a bigger one.   

I have the strongest memory of what it felt like to hold my son in my arms the first time, so vivid that it bring tears to my eyes.  I didn’t hold him in the delivery room.  I had a rough labor that ended in an almost-emergency C-section.  I didn’t know until afterwards how much trouble we were all in.  He wasn’t breathing when he was delivered, and had to be resuscitated in the delivery room.  And then they took him directly to the NICU.  I never got that fuzzy-focus bonding moment that you see in the movies.  I didn’t get to hold him until the next day, and he was hooked up to what seemed like a thousand monitors, with splints and wires  and leads trailing everywhere.  And yet, his tiny body was so complete, and so beautiful, and he looked at me knowing exactly who I was, and my life and heart changed forever.   

I smile when I think of the first time that my best friend kissed me.  How we had literally been talking for hours, and it was seriously 4:00 in the morning and anyone with half a brain would have been at home in bed long since, but we had things, important things, to talk about.  I don’t remember what we talked about.  But I do remember that kiss, and the gentle click that happened in my mind and heart, tumblers falling into place, opening the door to being more than “just good friends”.  Everything changed with that first risk, that first kiss. 

I miss him.  I have all the resilience and toughness of an egg without a shell right now.  With years of perpective, with time, I can see good and make even a hard memory fit into the narrative of a blessed life.  This one I struggle with.  Six years in, the new normal shouldn’t feel so new any more.  It should just feel normal.  Mostly I think it does.  But there are times – like this one – when I’m reminded of what normal used to be.

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One response

18 09 2012
Christine Chakoian

What an exquisite description of death and birth, grief and awakening, in the fragile embodiment of life. Your words bring to mind poet Mary Oliver’s question: Tell me, what will you do with your one wild precious life? Thank you, Katherine, for sharing so eloquently this sacred opening of memory and time.

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