Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

Shirted Memories

Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.

Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.

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So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.

Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”

Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.

First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.

Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.”  Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.

Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.

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A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.

Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.

Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.

Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent! 

T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.

But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.

One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.

Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”

Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.

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Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.

 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash. 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

I Touched Your Star Today

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I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.

Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”

Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”

“Perfect,” I say.

This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.

Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”

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Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.

Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.

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Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.

Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.

Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.

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Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.

Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”

Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”

At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.

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Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona. 

Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost

Faith, Love

Love’s Truth

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Valentine’s Day, 2012. Late. Hung up with a project, errands, arrangements for this or that. Don’t’ remember. Throw on coat. Check myself in the mirror. Head downtown. Make wrong turn after wrong turn. Town still new to me. Check watch. Feel my arms tighten. Call Tony. His voice calm, clear navigates me toward the restaurant. Greets me at the door. Ushers me to our booth. In a small, quiet, elegant restaurant. Chosen for this special day.

We order. I am edgy, angry. Tony keeps his responses slow. Checks his reactions to my emotional state. Breathes. But I escalate. Negative thoughts cascading. Unmasking resentment over moving here. Away from family, friends, beloved church. Toward better schools, more time with Tony and for my dreams. Plans now hidden under ongoing business issues and beginnings of one son’s mystery illness. Stare down at plate. Wish I could stop. Delight in our time together. Pause. Close my eyes. Open to tears falling. Onto beautiful salmon.

In life without Tony, I want so very much to remember romantic times full of movie moments. But often remember instead truthful ones. Times showing me not as a good wife. But as a human one. Sobbing into salmon in public on Valentine’s Day. A memory now making me smile, laugh, shake my head. Love’s beauty held not in a commercially dictated day depicting love as an experience. But as a real moment of true love lived in action as an ongoing verb.

I cried that day because I felt emotionally safe to do so. Tony knew how to hold emotionally uncomfortable spaces. The ones we want to avoid. Gloss over with fancy greeting cards, ribbons, roses, and lingerie. Because holding emotionally uncomfortable spaces is a true act of shared love. Part of providing emotional containment for one another. Bearing the other’s burdens, baggage, built-up unmet needs. Holding one another’s pain.

Few people ask a widow for relationship advice. An intense irony of the experience. But today in unsolicited commentary I embrace the most difficult verb in our collective experience—to love. Lift up those moments when all seems lost, life makes no sense, future appears fuzzy. And in the midst of it all the person who shares the work of love with you or me says in action or word, “I am here. I am not going anywhere. We will figure this out. Whatever this is. We will figure this out, together.”

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.