A week ago I was driving home to Tennessee from a trip to the Hudson Valley and I was struck by the idea of home. G, at the time of his death, knew that he lived in Tennessee but still felt that the Hudson Valley was his home, whereas I had a hard time giving up the idea of the Hudson Valley as my home, had a hard time accepting Tennessee as my home, but somewhere along the line had realized that Tennessee surprised me and welcomed me and had in fact become more of a home than the place I had left. On my last morning in New York my thoughts were focused on returning home, and I knew I had successfully traversed a great divide.
Ostensibly this trip was to be a farewell, a closure of sorts, to a husband/father/brother. But I never felt that way. It was a trip I dreaded not because I disapproved of what we were doing, scattering George's ashes in the Hudson river, but because it was too soon, and I had not yet returned to that place that had been our home, had not yet stared memory in the face. In some ways denial was easier in Knoxville because, although I lived in a house with G, G's life in this place was very constrained and remained centered around home. Nothing here reminds me of him, there is little we shared, my external life in this place was always a separate life. Nights were hard of course, but during daylight it was easy to escape. The Hudson Valley, however, was where we shared our lives for 29 years. I needed to return to this place filled with echoes of the past, echoes of the person I had been in that time, but I needed to return on my terms, to face my own memories, not the memories of others.
Besides, grief does not accommodate itself to human convenience, and closure cannot be achieved simply by a ritual act if that ritual act comes too soon. Our inner selves require far longer than a few short months to acclimate themselves to loss, and if we try to cut the experience short, much as society seems to pressure us to do just that, we deny ourselves true peace.
The plans changed as I drove north. The boat had engine trouble. We were not to sail, and, after consultation with G's children, it was decided that we would reschedule for next summer. And yet I continued driving north, knowing full well it was a trip I needed to make, a trip better not postponed. Besides, G's ashes were with me in the car and I had promsied to take him back to the Hudson Valley; it was time.
The trip was good for me. I spent three days with old friends, friends who knew me before G developed dementia, friends who knew the person G had become. For the first time since I moved to Knoxille, I spoke with people who remembered the man I married, the man I wished his children would have gotten to know, the man I fell in love with and loved until the very end. More importantly, I spent time with people who knew sides of myself that had been hidden to me recently, people who had seen other reflections of me, in different lights, people who helped me open doors to aspects of myself that had to be put aside due to necessity and emotions which were clamboring to be set free.
When you are young and promise "til death do us part" you have no idea what that means. Often we don't take it seriously enough. Sometimes one partner or the other, perhaps both, are not up to the demand and we fail. All we can do is give it our best and often that is not enough, often it is more than we bargained for. What we don't realize when we are young, or at least what I did not realize, is that although love often requires to be selfless, even the act of putting aside the self to help the other is in fact a full realization of self. Somewhere along the path I learned, not willingly I assure you, that every moment, every thought, every thing we do is an expression of our true selves. Too often we spend our lives in waiting, dreaming of a time when our true "life" will begin, wasting life, never realizing that every action, every thought, every moment of every day is our true life, is the truest expression of our true selves. It is what we do or don't do that marks us, that we are remembered by, and it is when we can align our every action with our thoughts and our heart that we are most truly human. And yet, we are complicated creatures, we can not be all things at once, in any given moment, but over the course of time, of a life well lived, we can be everything that we hope to be.
image courtesy of Heather Conrad, here. Truthfully, I found this image at least 5 different places on the web, none specifically claimed ownership or had an attribution, one location was a site I wouldn't use as a reference if it were the last website on earth, so there you have it. This was an arbitrary choice. I hope it was a good one.