Going on living

This morning, I sat with my client and talked about grief.

She was holding an iPad, which had been her late husband’s. She’d made an hour’s drive to learn how to use it, suddenly seized by a desire to know how it worked. That had been his thing, before he had died – knowing about computers and technology, so she’d never bothered. When the clerk at the store could not help her, as she had not properly signed up for a class, she was overcome with sadness. She turned away and stared out the window until she could control herself. “I had a big cry,” she told me, “Nobody knew it but me.”

He’s been gone just over a year. “I don’t know if you’ve ever known grief,” she said, “but it’s very unexpected. Everything’s fine, everything’s fine, and then…”

And then you smell something, or taste something, or hear a song on the radio, and then it’s all over.

From my perch on the corner of her desk, I watched her work through her story. When she was finished, and looking back at me, I told her that I understood. I lost my uncle, very suddenly. He was a Marine, long ago.

I will never forget that strange phone call, right in the middle of our morning rush at work. From the very first word my father spoke, his voice heavy and soft in a way I’d never heard before, I knew something was wrong. I did not tell her, My uncle robbed a bank; my Uncle shot himself; he died alone. I did not share how I’d spent the rest of the day reading the story, shaking and crying, over and over, hoping to learn something new.

All I said was, I lost my uncle very suddenly. “Oh! You must have been very close?”  I did not see him very much, but we were close, in a way. He was my favorite.  There was something, I can’t explain what, that made me very fond of him. It took me a year and a half before I could speak his name, and talk about him as something in my past. And then I told her about my buddy, serving in Afghanistan. He died there, fighting in our war, and three years later, the thought of him still makes me cry. I hadn’t seen him for several years before he was killed. But I remembered who he was to me, and the pain was there, hard and fresh.

It doesn’t matter how physically close you are, because they’ve always been there, living inside you. They exist in your memories, and then your memory of them is all that’s left. It hurts; it never stops hurting. But the sharp pain become a steady ache, and the steady ache gives way to a dull throbbing, when you run across their photo, or smell or taste something you shared. Then, suddenly, there they are again.

“And sometimes, you have a cry in the Apple store,” I told her, shrugging. “And that’s okay.” She smiled at me, and I smiled back. What can you do, but go on living?

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