I was doing so well.
First, to family and friends in Arizona...I’m sorry I didn’t let you know I was in town. I got in Saturday afternoon and had a bunch of house stuff to take care of. I had a flight out early Monday. That’s not really the reason I didn’t reach out. I’ve been avoiding the house here. I needed and still need to face it. Alone. My ghosts. My neurosis.
This was the next nest. We bought this place, big by our standards, for when we retired and the girls might have families and it would be big enough for everyone to come. Jill’s pack. All her people. She always wanted all her people with her and this place is big enough for that to be a pretty big posse.
I was a flurry of activity once I got here. I had a list of things to do and that was complicated by one of the a/c units going on the fritz. It’s 9pm on Sunday night and it’s cooled off to 97 degrees. So, a non-functioning a/c is kind of a big deal. Got it fixed. Sunday, I woke up and was thrilled to find the Packers game was being carried here. I fired up some leftovers. Watched the game. It was all rather mundane. Which is good.
Sometime that afternoon...I’m not sure what happened. Pieces of things. The last time the Packers played a real game was against Arizona in the playoffs. I’d watched some of that game in the hospital with Jill. Twelve hours later I learned she was terminal. I’d figured that out already but it wasn’t official. There was still a last thread of hope. I remembered that. I remembered on a visceral level how frightened I was. I remembered how I was still telling myself that we’d figure out something. I was telling myself it wasn’t over yet. We’d still get our miracle.
I looked around the house and all the plans Jill had for it, the million things she’d told me she wanted to do...things I didn’t know I’d paid enough attention to for them to register...turns out I’d been paying attention after all. I could see the changes. More, I could see, hear, taste her intensity as she would tell me about her big plans...her excitement, her laughter. Her boundless optimism.
I looked, not realizing until that moment how I’d managed to block it out, really looked at the big R&J she’d put up in our bedroom. I looked at it. Two letters and an ampersand. No big deal, right? Wrong. It’s big. It’s huge. It’s everything. How I loved being a part of those two letters and that heartbreakingly absent ampersand. I can’t bear to look at it. I can’t bring myself to take it down.
And I knew I had to make another run at the thing I’m truly afraid of.
There’s not a lot of Jill’s things in this house. She cleared it out pretty good last December when she decided it was time to go home. To Minnesota. To her nest. Despite the power of her denial I am now convinced she knew she was going home to die. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to believe it. But I’m pretty sure she knew. She took more with her than she needed to.
In the closet in our room. Left side. Hangers and shelves sparsely populated but what is there is all her. Articles of clothing. Shoes I wouldn’t notice if she was wearing but I can vividly recall now when she was. Knick-knacks and gimcracks and trinkets and things I swear I’ve never seen before but that are so completely her. I need to pack those things up. I need to take them to Goodwill or some other charitable organization and drop them off and let someone who needs them get them. I want to do that. She’d want me to do that. I can’t fucking do it.
How? How do you pack up the last remnants of the most important life that has ever touched and intertwined with yours? How do you put those things in...what? A trash bag? A fucking trash bag? And drop them unceremoniously, unremarkably, completely without fanfare or recognition at a Goodwill drop box in a non-descript parking lot. They are hers. They touched her. They swaddled her. They reflected her tastes and her quirks and her beauty and her...everything. How do you take the last sacred relics of your most glorious age and dump them? As hard as it is to look at those things in the closet how do I face a world where they are gone? How do I let go of her things and all the memories attached to them and that beautiful, that perfect, that where the hell did it go ampersand?
Which makes me confront the worst part of this. The part I can’t abide by. My anger.
I’ve made my peace with the sadness, the longing, the yearning, the loneliness and the utter hopelessness I feel when I think of the rest of my life without Jill. I’m not good with it, but I accept it. I know it’s there. It’s gonna be there. It’s gonna linger for a really, really long time. As I’ve spoken with others who have traveled down this path I’ve noticed that many of them have been able to move on with their lives and find joy and fulfillment and happiness and all the good things. Despite that, the sadness never goes away. It isn’t driving the car anymore, but it’s still hanging out in the backseat. Maybe the trunk.
I don’t know how to deal with this anger. This break all the dishes and punch holes in the wall and kick in the windows, get me the hell away from everyone because I’m not fit for human consumption rage. I’m so mad at her. I know it’s irrational. I know she didn’t want to die. I know she didn’t want to leave me, leave us, blow up our ampersand. I know all that. So why am I so very, very pissed off? I have done so many wrong things in my life. Things I deeply regret, be they actions or just emotions and thoughts I never gave life to. And, yeah, I’ve talked to shrinks and they tell me it's normal and tell me it’s part of grieving and blahblahblahblahblah. It isn’t normal for me. It isn’t part of a process for me, it’s now the defining attribute of who I am. I realize most everyone who has gone through this has gone through this angry part. Nonetheless, this feels like the wrongest thing I’ve ever done or felt or thought or…
And I get it. I know it’s because I lost that silly little ampersand. Such a stupid little symbol. Such a wonderful and perfect little thing to have.
I don’t know how many more times I’ll have to attempt taking down the letters, the ampersand, and cleaning out her things. But, evidently, it’s at least one more time than I’ve tried.