I found myself singing this morning.
That wasn’t unusual in itself; years ago I had the unconscious habit, without obvious provocation, of singing out loud, but softly, seemingly oblivious to my environment, startling workmates until they got used to my behavior, singing just well enough to neither attract snarky comments nor applause.
The situations of the last two or three years had pressed all the extra breath from my lungs. My singing had stopped under the stress of taking care of someone with a fatal disease.
In these last few months, the stress has been immeasurably worse.
My beloved wife declined and died. There was a memorial attended by a great number of people who knew and liked her and by a few people who had ignored her during her illness but took the occasion to tell me in choked terms how sad they were that she was gone. The things they brought as gifts I threw in the trash.
The very next day, having decided I must actually live the rest of my life I began to thin our possessions down to just what I would take with me. My plan is to travel for some months and then live in NYC.
For six weeks I woke most days at 6 and worked at giving away or discarding virtually everything we owned. I am taking with me only a few clothes, some books, my cameras and gear, boxes of pictures, a single dresser that I’ve used for most of my adult life and of course my wife’s ashes.
So, in a few months I had lost my wife and given up most of my physical possessions.
I am leaving behind the house where we lived together for 32 years, some very good and close friends and virtually every single personal connection I had. For years my life had centered around her disease, so I had strong ties with in-person and on-line support groups for care givers. Now that she had died, I was out of place. I was not suffering the same burdens, I had stepped through some invisible doorway and was now, perhaps, the object of envy by those left behind.
Was I running away?
I drove to a small town south of Albany, New York where I am staying for a while with my daughter and son-in-law. They have a large, very beautiful old home on 9 acres; the situation is serene and I hope to become so.
The weather has been too hot to walk around outside much but I spend the day reading or watching Netflix and helping with small chores.
Today it was a bit cooler so, after rescuing a young skunk from the swimming pool, I walked across to look at the small clearing on the hillside where I will bury Jackie’s ashes. Tomorrow I will search for a small teak bench to put there. My son-in-law, who is an artist and also a wonder with his hands, will help me – or I will watch him – put the bench together.
I had stored boxes with some personal goods and a great number of family snapshots in an outbuilding and, on the way back to the house, I stopped to look for a certain book. On the very top layer of a box of snapshots I found that picture above. The picture is of me, at the age of two, and my mother.
I took the picture back to the house to show to my daughter who immediately asked for it as a keepsake.
Then I went into the kitchen and was washing the breakfast dishes when I found myself, for the first time in recent years, singing.
Was it possible that I was happy?
My beloved wife, the center of my life for so many years was dead, but yet somehow I realized that I could go on.
Her memory would always stay with me and yet I could be happy.