One year ago today was the day of her memorial service, but it was also strangely a day of discovery. We rushed to put the service together quickly so that her brother could attend before he returned to the west coast, yet people remarked how touching and coherent it was. We managed to capture her there without a single picture, without even her body, which was already off to Harvard as she wished. We did it with poetry, story, and song, a proper send off for my Irish lass.
I was very proud of my children and friends for pulling it all together so quickly. It was a complicated situation, as we had stopped considering ourselves Catholics, or indeed religious at all years ago, yet the Church was so important to much of our family, and also the place where we met. The friend who was responsible for us meeting on a retreat thirty years earlier is now a Catholic priest, as well as godfather to our oldest. He helped us craft a service that spanned both the religious and secular in a way that made everybody happy. I don’t think our friends who aren’t or weren’t Catholic have any idea just how non-Catholic parts of that service were.
My oldest selected and read a poem from Ogden Nash, our youngest selected a Maya Angelou poem. Our son chose to read a psalm that was printed on a kerchief he had with him in Afghanistan. One of her sisters wrote some beautiful remarks about her growing up, how special she was to the family. Her other sister sang, as did many friends we sang with over the years.
I reserved one job for myself: nobody else was going to write her eulogy. I owed her that, I was the one who knew her best. There was no way I could deliver it, but I was determined to put together a summary of her unique spirit. I had been to too many flat funerals and heard too many perfunctory addresses. She deserved better.
That imagery of the “beautiful broken thing” had been building in my mind all week as she was in the hospital. Somewhere along the line the kaleidoscope came into it. Nobody knew that thing at her core better than me. All that pain, all that struggle to get to adulthood physically and mentally whole despite a truckload of setbacks was what made her so special, so irresistible. As I was losing her, I found myself needing to form into words what I was losing.
In her hospital room, after she had passed, after all the family had left the two of us alone, I thought about our wedding vows fulfilled and done. I thought about the fact that they were done, but that somehow we were not yet done with each other. I wanted to give her one more gift, felt I owed her more for all she had given me, every day of her adult life. So I made her a parting vow, to replace all the others that were finished. I promised that all her grandchildren would know how great their Nana was, both the ones already here, and the ones yet to come.
I found something that day I didn’t know I had. I found a voice to write with, because I needed to tell her story badly enough that I finally bothered to take that running narrative I always kept in my head and turn it into words for the rest of the world. I had always been proud of the writing voices my children were developing, and of hers, but I never thought about having one of my own. When I needed it most, on my darkest day when I felt more lost than I ever have, in the darkness I found her final gift to me.
A few weeks later I started this blog as a journal, mostly for myself, but sharing it with family and friends who were concerned about how I was doing. I still write this mostly for me, but knowing there is at least a small audience helps me sharpen my thoughts, which I think is a bonus all around. A few of my friends have suggested I think about getting this published. I really don’t think this would translate well to another form, nor is it meant to be. There are more than a few of us out there, blogging about our widowhood, and I think there are others that would better work in book form.
Nonetheless, I do realize this. I am starting to think of myself as a writer now. Whether I ever even try to get anything published or not, this craft is starting to matter to me. I intend to keep it up, and keep getting better at it. After all, I still have stories to tell.
The other day a friend concluded a post with this:
“‘Twas lost, but now I am found…’ I hear that saving grace sung in my head even now… sometimes you can’t find yourself until you lose yourself.
So when you get confused or something is getting you down… get lost in the dance, the song, the music or walking in the woods… get good and lost. That’s my advice today. Get Lost! Until you’re found…”
I concur with her advice, but there is something I’d like to add to that: while you are out there really lost, take the time to find your voice. Dance like it matters, sing like it matters, walk like it matters, write like it matters: find your voice and bring it back. The rest of us are waiting to hear it.