We bury our dead too soon.
There are practical reasons, of course, but still, who is ready in a few days or even a week to say their final goodbyes? I was denied that immediate closure, but also spared it.
Barbara, being after all Barbara, had other plans, even after death. So while I started my journey, she was off on one of her own. She went to Harvard for a year, to teach some medical students a thing or two. With all she went through, I’m sure they learned plenty.
We held a wake here at the house without her, held a memorial service, had family over to say their goodbyes, all without any remains. I wept for her, I laid awake at night wondering where she was. I sang for her, I danced for her. I spent a year pondering what thirty years together meant. I built a cocoon around myself while I healed, and then my friends helped pull me out. All the while I knew she was out there somewhere, and someday that other shoe would drop.
Some of my friends thought it was a terrible thing to have to wait like that. But it wasn’t, like everything else she did for me it was an unexpected gift. So many people expect that you can somehow go on, get it all together, that by a year you will have your life together and be ready to move on. The reality is recovery takes lots of time and lots of work. Knowing that I still had unfinished business ahead made it easier for me to continue my grieving. I had the ultimate card to play if anyone thought I was tarrying too long: shut up, I don’t even have her body back yet. I never needed to play it, but I knew I had it in my hand. Maybe I just needed it there to give myself permission. I got very little external pressure, but thirty years of living on fast forward made me impatient with myself.
They don’t tell you exactly how long it will be before you can expect the remains back. It can be up to two years. I expected that it wouldn’t be that long, but I was still taken aback last Monday when I got the call. I had resigned myself to the thought that I would be waiting until next spring, that in fact her remains would never return to the house where we spent half our lives together. I had even convinced myself that that was a good thing, that I could always remember this as the place she lived, and not think of it in terms of her loss.
But for the past eleven months I have been continuing the wake here on my own, and somehow it seems fitting that she be here at least for the end of it.
We were always terrible at saying goodbye. In the end, we never did. The last thing she ever said to me was “Hello, Love”. That’s what I said on Friday as I tucked the dust of her into the back of the car, resting between a picnic blanket and her last crazy knitting project, the enormous weather scarf.
“Hello, Love”, a greeting and a goodbye, like an aloha, every parting leading to new greetings. It was the way she lived. It is the way I choose to live now.
Once again, the pieces fall into place all on their own, in this year that has continually surprised me with synchronicity. November ninth will mark one year since her passing. It falls on a Saturday this year. The family had asked to have one more big gathering at the big house before I leave it, and now I know when to have it. She is home at last, and we all can finish her wake together.
Bring songs, bring stories, bring instruments, bring your kit. This is the epilogue of our lives together. This is the prologue to the life that continues after.