I just came back from a weekend away with my family. We spent our time at the beautiful stretch of beach on Lake Michigan. This particular gem was a getaway spot for twenty-five years of family vacations, sometimes for all of us, or some of us, or just Michael and me. After Michael died six years ago, I wasn’t sure I could go back there. I was afraid of being in that amazing relaxation-inducing environment where we virtually never had a bad time, certain that I’d be overwhelmed with grief. But after a couple of years passed, I missed my time there. After my son and I tested both the physical and emotional waters on a one day excursion, and found I did well, we resumed making our annual trip which now includes sharing memories of Michael as well as making new ones.
I think the general consensus about this weekend was that everyone had a wonderful time. We mostly sat on the beach. A number of us collected rocks washed up on the shore. There was frisbee tossing and volleyball, fishing and painting, reading and napping. And plenty of eating and snacking. We played Scrabble but never got around to the card games, especially Spades, that were always part of our past family trips. The thing is, back then we were a foursome, two sets of partners. So far, we haven’t found our replacement fourth. Maybe someday. We toasted Michael. At one point, I sat on the long front porch with my kids and my sister where we shared some laughs, remembering all the funny Michael quotes which always made us smile. A quirky, funny, quippy guy.
But of course we all have our private moments. My kids experience their own unique sadness. I remember how I felt as a young mother, the pangs of regret I had that my dad, who died in his sixties like Michael, never got to see all those normal but wonderful times with my kids, who now barely remember him. Our oldest grandson, my daughter’s child, has some dim memories of Michael. There are certainly more photos and videos of him than there were of my dad, thanks to the technology of our time. But Michael never met our only granddaughter nor my son’s wife. And both my kids were deprived of the years they thought they’d have with their dad, son of those people who lived into their nineties. The other day I asked my daughter if she had any regrets about choosing to pursue her career in her hometown. She told me, “not a single one – except that dad died instead of being here with the rest of us.” I think that’s always true for both my kids, the constant awareness of the empty spot where Michael will always belong, especially during family events.
And then there’s me. During the past six years, I’ve made the adjustments to being on my own, the ones required in order to lead the best version of whatever time is left on my dance card. Michael loved being alive and wanted desperately to stay that way. I would never want to squander even a day, if for no other reason than it would dishonor his memory. But I’m also still energetic and interested in the world, still motivated when I wake up in the morning. What is also true is that I remain uninterested in any further partnership. I am still with Michael which was unexpected, peculiar and endlessly fascinating to me. My invisible companion. For the most part, my days are now calm, the outbursts of powerful grief having lessened over the years, now the rare surprise rather than the norm. I’m not the least bit embarrassed to state that I talk to him, in my head and sometimes aloud, during the course of my days. I think I told Michael almost every thought I ever had, which few exceptions, for almost 46 years. When he left his business to become a teacher, I think the hard part for me was that I couldn’t call him half a dozen times a day to share some idea that crossed my mind.
On Sunday morning, the actual anniversary of his death which also occurred on a Sunday, I woke at the exact moment that he breathed his last, in the quiet of our house. Initially, I felt fine. But then I saw a text message from one of his close colleagues and friends, telling me that he knew how hard these days were, which instantly triggered one of those powerful grief surges that always stuns me. I hadn’t experienced one in awhile so apparently I needed a longer than average release. I joined my family, already downstairs eating in the dining room at the inn and didn’t hold back as I sometimes do. I want to be myself at this point in my life, even though I hate crying and always have. But it stopped eventually and we all went off to the beach to enjoy the day.
I looked out at the gorgeous lake, still marveling, as I often do, about the powerful connection that I continue to feel for Michael now. I’ve never been able to adequately explain the intense, immediate connection we made the night we met. Back then we became instant best friends, each of us romantically involved with other people, but drawn to each other almost all the time anyway. I can feel that mad electricity when his misplaced kiss grazed the corner of my mouth, months into our friendship. Not long after that, I realized that something magical was happening and nine months later, at age twenty, I moved in with Michael to finally begin our lifelong romance. I’ll always be glad that our deep friendship came first.
So on I go, or we go, in this mostly normal, but also strange abstract way. As long as I’m able to think and able to feel, I guess I’ll be like this until I’m gone. I can’t believe six years have passed. My mom lived for twenty-five years after my dad died, a fact which I’m not eager to repeat. Who knows what’s ahead? I didn’t expect the life I got. For now, I’m still here, trying to enjoy my world. For the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about some quotes from “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a beautiful book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of my favorite writers. They resonated with me before Michael died and reflect my feelings even more now. I’ll end with them.
…The girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.
She was a ghost in a strange house that overnight had become immense and solitary and through which she wandered without purpose, asking herself in anguish which one of them was deader: the man who had died or the woman he had left behind.