I just got the bird in the oven and decided to reward myself with some writing time. At the beginning of the month I promised myself I would spend more time writing. Then something amazing happened. It’s called real life. After a year of having nothing to do but soak in grief, a year where I learned that I can write and that I really like doing it, I’m too damn busy to write. And that’s frustrating, because there is much to write about.
I was going to write a piece about Hidden Damage after seeing what a dangling light fixture that catches a lot of rain can do to a house, and then having an unexpected mini-meltdown, just when I thought I had it together. But before I got a chance to write it I pulled myself back together and got back to work.
Work. What a wonderful word, I have something that I’m actually good at and want to do consuming the day. And I’m finally about to start getting regular paychecks for the first time in three years, too! I need to get the heck out of this house and into someplace else for work, though. The empty space is too distracting, my focus is not what it needs to be.
The family starts to arrive and I dive back into preparation for what almost certainly is the last Thanksgiving at the Very Tall House. Last year I stumbled through still raw and numb, but I’ve had a year to adjust to the new reality. Last year I let the kids run things, and just reserved the bird for myself so I would have something to do. This year, it’s a smaller gathering, but it has meaning for me, and I am in charge again. I still delegated a lot of the work, but I am directing things myself . That feels good, too.
At a dozen people, this last is also the smallest Thanksgiving we ever had in this house. My niece, her husband, and their baby are off with his family. Even my Dad isn’t here. He is spending the holiday with his girlfriend’s family. She deserves her turn too. Life goes on, families grow, relationships get more complicated, and with the crisis past it is time for me to take my turn like everybody else. Another thing to feel good about.
After dinner, the grown kids gathered around the fireplace for the nearly obligatory twisted game of Apples to Apples that springs up when we are together. We started playing it with them over a decade ago, and as they got older the general sense of a winning answer shifted more and more towards finding the most outrageous response possible. Today’s game was played by my daughters, my nephews, and nieces, and the two grand-kids sitting in laps with the jokes going right over their heads.
I read an article the other day about the second year of grief, how many find it even harder than the first year. As the article ticked off the reasons, I saw that my peculiar circumstances might mitigate at least some of them. One of the big points was the effects of secondary losses, things beyond the direct absence of your loved one. Things like loss of income, and loss of support network really don’t apply to me. My financial situation has been bad for years and is finally better again, and through the help of a few old friends my social support network is bigger than it has ever been. But one thing that resonated was the loss of shared dreams.
I realized that all my stress over leaving the house was exactly that. This place had been a shared dream we built together, and a big physically tangible manifestation of that.
Tonight I watched that game of Apples to Apples play out, and listened to the laughter and groans shared by the next generation, those cousins as close a s siblings. Earlier I heard them talking about how we would all rotate the holidays once I moved out of here. Thinking about them as the game played on I recognized something I had known for a while. We built something here, something much more than a house, more than a mere home. We anchored an extended family for over a decade as they grew and came into their own. That’s the thing we built, the family that supported each other in the wake of her loss, that will be here after I’m gone too. The house was just the scaffolding.
In one of the bookcases we cleaned out a few months ago was a little book called “the wish list”. It’s one of those odd little list books with things you can pick and check off that you want to do, a bucket-list builder. She circled things she wanted to do someday, and checked off the ones she had already done. I always got a kick out of looking at it and seeing all the things she managed to do even before I met her at nineteen. The other day I was flipping through it and saw a circled entry that threw me a bit. She had circled “Help my mate realize his dream”. No check mark. This was a woman who prided herself on being right almost all the time. How could she not know she had already done that? Check it, and underline it in red. Done.