I’m sitting on the floor in my new apartment. I’ve moved three grocery bags worth of stuff including a candle named “tranquility,” newly framed pictures of my family and a bag of Lindt chocolate that I received for Christmas. This will be the third time I’ve moved since Pete died. The first two were thrust upon me from the outside. Being evicted from my condo because I was not 55 sent me to find home with Dan and Faith. And then they purchased a new place, so I inched down the street with them. New space, new bedroom, same home though. Home is neither the stuff or the space.
During this time, all but my clothes have been in a 10x10 storage unit a few miles away. There have only been three things I missed during this period of separation from my things. First, I packed my guitar practice notebook by accident; that would have been nice to have. Over Thanksgiving, I borrowed a Kitchen Aid and a roasting pan to make dinner. The third thing I missed was my nativity sets, a ritual that I have learned marks not just the season but a movement in my spirit.
That’s it though – everything else that makes up the “stuff” of my life has been superfluous to my existence. There have been a couple times where I almost said something like, “well, my life is a 10x10 box.” But I was wise to edit that thought before it came out of my mouth. Very little of my life is in that 10x10 box. Life is an active word. It’s not static. And it cannot be stored. Almost all that brings me life has been readily available to me in hugs from my grandchildren, meals with my stepchildren and conversations with my friends. I have not once lacked for a place to call home, which I realize is not true for everyone; because of that I feel incredibly grateful.
So as I sit here by the window, next to the heater I am trying to imagine how all of my stored stuff will come to life in this new space. What will fit? What won’t? What will still feel alive when I touch it, move it, sit on it? What won’t? When I placed my stuff in boxes, I was not completely in my right mind. Pete had only just died. I am not sure what I packed, what I tossed, what I donated. While we were packing, tossing and donating, I remember asking myself, “will this furniture be part of my life when I move to my own space?” Will this mug? Will these wall hangings? In what way will this bring me life if I were to enliven it with my body, mind and spirit.
It’s going to be very interesting to open those boxes and find new resting places for my things. I’m looking forward to seeing them spread out from the cramped spaces of their box. I suppose I am looking forward to being reunited with my stuff but I am not expecting it to make me feel at home or for it to help make my life for me.
In fact, the empty apartment already feels very much like home. But I have felt at home at Dan’s for these past several months. I have felt at home on the couch at Joe’s over the past several months. I have felt at home at friend’s homes. I have not lacked for home. This move is not a quest to find “home.” Home was never, and has not been in the stuff that currently lives in my 10x10. No, this is a space for me to enliven on my own. Life is lived, not stored.
Four weeks ago, we (Dan, Faith and I) were stripping our beds and packing the last of the kitchen to move ½ mile down the road. Fueled with a bagel sandwich and an awesome piece of crumb cake, we worked alongside the movers until beds were made and the kitchen was unpacked.
Around 5pm, we sat down as a family around the dining room table to give thanks over pizza. It was then that I “hit a wall.”
That “wall” is probably why I haven’t posted since then. The truth is – I have hardly written about my grief for the past month. Not even in my journal. Instead I have plunged into the FX series, the American. I have slowly worked my way through Frederick Buechner’s Crazy, Holy Grace. And I attended the last several weeks of a Grief Share group.
We also celebrated Thanksgiving, our first without Pete. Two days after Thanksgiving, I celebrated what would have been my 22nd anniversary by distracting myself with friends, art and the Christmas spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
In have settled into my new bedroom. I have tickled my grandchildren, talked and laughed with my stepchildren, and along the way have happily absorbed as much oxytocin as I’ve needed.
For me, this first year of grief has been one with lots of movement. I wonder if that’s what I needed. Sure, moving is hard; it’s jarring. But I’ve been such a gypsy most of my life (that’s what Pete used to say.) We moved so often when I was a kid that the most settled time in my life has been married to Pete. The last 22 years of my life has been incredibly settled.
But now? Now I feel unsettled. It’s interesting that this is corresponding to the season of Advent, a time in the Christian calendar when we prepare for the coming of Jesus. For me, this Advent has been one of being honest about who I have been and what I have done. This season has been imagining who I am becoming and what I might be about to do. Advent is not just a season of passive waiting for Christmas but rather active living.
Pete, in a world that is not mine, is getting to live the most true life he has ever known. This side of heaven, I am seeking to live the truest life I know in tandem with him… still very much connected and even covenanted to him. (I have been joking lately that “at best, I am married to a dead guy.’) I still feel very much married. And so in response to the life I think Pete has, in response to the beauty that he comprehends, I am putting one foot in front of the other… to live. To live as fully as I know how.