I’ve been in my new place almost four weeks. The dust has settled a little bit and I’m reminded again that Pete has died. Although there is a loneliness to that fact, I am not swallowed with grief at all right now. In fact, I believe Grief and I are working together to create a rhythm to my days. While I am enjoying the freedom of living alone, while I am figuring out who I am as a single person, and my next season of life will be, Grief is working its way within me. Grief is sometimes a very silent, yet busy companion.
This past Fall, I read Frederick Buechner’s Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory. In it he was reflecting on what was going on within him after his brother’s death. I have returned to one paragraph from that section several times -
“I also want to get it right about whatever it is going on inside me now. There is a level of feeling where, after moments when the clouds seem to be lifting a little, it is suddenly all I can do to see the hand in front of my face. And there is a level of thinking, thinking back especially over our last few conversations, including the one within only three or four hours of his death when we said good-bey for good. But deeper down still there is a level that I know nothing about at all except that whatever I am doing there, it is absolutely exhausting. It is as if great quantities of furniture have to be moved from one place to another. There seem to be endless cartons of God only knows what to sort through somehow. The earth itself has to be bulldozed and shifted around and reshaped. A whole new landscape has to come into being.”
Buechner speaks truth.
The layers that he articulates must be true because there are days when I am so exhausted – and I’m not sure why. It must be that my internal world has been moving “furniture” and sifting through “God only knows what.”
I slept almost 12 hours the other day. And I went to bed early, 8pm. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and I was proud of myself for giving in. I thought for sure I would wake early and be able to write or read. But when I opened my eyes, my bedside clock read 7:30am. Buechner must be right; my body was “bulldozing shifting” the earth while I slept.
This “deeper down still” seems to happen without my cognitive awareness. Oh sure, I’m thinking about Pete all the time. Several times each day I wish I could show him something or tell him something. And I leak a few tears, a handful of times each day still. But there is a level deeper within me that seems to take my cognitive grief – the thoughts I have about Pete, or about me, or about our family, or about my new apartment, or about whatever it is I wish he could witness with me - and moves “furniture” or “earth” as Buechner wrote. My passive brain somehow knows when and how to sift through the cartons of “God only knows what” and file things in new places with new labels.
Grief is like introducing an entire workforce that lives within our bodies and minds. My workforce holds its own schedule with one agenda, healing me and ultimately transforming me into a post-Pete version of Beth. I would love to see the daily docket for this workforce. And who is, what is the foreman for this operation?
If I am to truly emerge healed and transformed, there is a tremendous trust I put in my internal self to navigate these deeper levels. I understand why some people might get stuck in their grief – it’s hard enough to do the active, cognitive work of grief but to also allow your the passive, yet heavy lifting work of grief requires self-trust.
So to my silent, yet very busy companion, Grief,
I’m grateful for you.
Hey Pete, I’m in California with your sister and her girls. It’s a sorority house here still. And they love you. And they miss you. If you can believe it, the last time we were here it was 10 years ago. We bought that great picture at the San Juan Capistrano mission. The one I had framed for you. It hung in our kitchen. You said it was a “window into God’s house.”
I am wondering where to place to hang it in my new apartment. I think I want it to be strategically placed. I think; I’m not too sure about much these days. But there is another piece that I believe will set the tone of my new place. It’s a watercolor that I bought after you died. A colleague of mine down in Virginia painted the first half of the “Prayer of St. Francis.” Of course you remember; we used that for our vows.
And if you were alive right now, and if we were moving to a new place, you would hear me ask you this questions, about which you would not care - Should I put shelf liners in the closets and cabinets? I know – not only do you not care but you would have to ask Alexa what shelf liners were. She would tell you that shelf liners are a way to protect the shelves from schmutz. We haven’t used shelf liners in the last two houses we lived in but Faith does it and she’s smart in things like this (things like this meaning “keeping things clean.”) By the way, Alexa is in storage and the grandchildren can’t wait to ask her to tell them a joke. They miss you.
Here’s another question for you – about which you may have an opinion but you’re not here to tell me. I may buy this used kitchen/dining room table. The chairs look comfy but I would want to replace the fabric. So I went with our niece Emily to JoAnn’s fabrics yesterday. I have five swatches of fabric that I like. (I think.) And here’s why I’m talking to you about this – I know, stick with me honey. Between this fabric and the two wall hangings I will create a color scheme and I don’t think I’m good at this. I don’t know if I’m able to tell what will make my new apartment feel like “home.” I can hear you asking, “is there a question in here somewhere?” Yes there is. Peter, what color would you be interested in making the dining room chairs? Yea – you don’t care. You would say something like, “as long as I’m at the table with you, cute girl, the chairs are fine.”
The truth is – that’s my answer too. As long as you were at the table, I didn’t really care what color the chairs were or what color scheme the house had. Sure, I have done my fair share of buying new throw pillows or curtains to change the feel of a room. But it’s not the furniture, the wall hangings, the color or comfort of the chairs that made home for me. It was you and me, and our children – and then their children that made home for me.
Remember how our house would feel the morning after we had a family dinner? I love that feeling. Remember the moments after work where I’d come home with Pho takeout and we’d grab bowls and chopsticks and forks. And then when we sit down and we pause and are grateful for one another and for yummy soup with jalapenos and basil condiments. I love that feeling too. I suppose making a home is about hospitality then. We made a home for one another.
And let’s be honest – you are really good at hospitality. Before we were dating, remember when I came over and asked if you had tea? And you did. And you made me tea and miniature crumb cakes that you happened to have in the house. They were Tastee brand, right? The boys don’t believe this story by the way – that you had miniature crumb cakes and that you served them to me on a tiny plate with tea. I remember; it was the first time you extended hospitality to me.
Whether they remember of not, they have your hospitality gene. They have created, both in their own way, a comfortable place for me to be myself time and again since you died. In their eulogy they made sure to mention your mantra, “if I have a roof, you have a roof.”
So maybe shelf liners and new upholstery fabric for chairs that I haven’t purchased yet is really not what this move is about. Maybe the move is about being hospitable to myself, creating a comfortable place where I can be myself. I have relied on you for that for over two decades. Can I ask you one more thing? If I promise to bring Pho home for dinner, will you join me in my new home?
Books I'm currently reading:
The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation