I don’t even know where there last 8 weeks have gone. In a blur and a rush, I woke last Saturday, disbelieving, to the first day of gun season for deer hunting. A flash of activity caught my eye outside as three deer hounds bounded across the field with joyful exuberance. The sky was tinged pink with the first blush of daylight that sparked in like tiny rose-colored diamonds on the frosted lawn. I heard the not-too-far-off boom of shotgun firing, and my heart twisted. This is one of your favorite days of the year; first day of gun season. You lived to be out with the fellas and the dogs, the trucks, and radios and walkies and trackers, bundled in cammo with just enough blaze orange to be legal…
You should be here.
That thought makes me cry, every time. I try to avoid the "shoulds" since I know that only regret and pain lives at the end of those imaginings. But dammit, you SHOULD be HERE! We are closing in on two years - two fucking YEARS since you died and I am still brought to my knees by a simple thing like hearing the boom of a gun on the first day of hunting season. Proof, again, that there is no getting over this. Your death and my adjusting to it is a permanent part of my life story now. I can't tell you how much I really hate that.
I've had no time to process lately, and we both know how that goes… I get upset at the littlest thing that is utterly unrelated to what's really bothering me. Recently it's more than merely 'missing' you. I feel the searing burn of your absence on the daily happenings in our lives, and it pulls at me. We gather for a meal and hold hands to say the blessing…your hands aren't there in the circle, you head isn't bowed with ours. We say at every meal that we are grateful for this family and for the wonderment of being together, but we are missing one of our whole…we are a family with a deep and weeping wound that will never heal. It can't ever heal because we will forever love and miss you, Thor.
As ever, when the emotions are too big to contain in the house or within the simply busy-ness of random chores, I take to the great outdoors to wail at the vast expanse of the sky, my heartbreak and tears lifted on a breeze and carried into the Biggest Big…to the bosom of Mother Nature herself. I ran into many of your hunting pals along the road. They were kind, offering my words of encouragement and telling me how well you were liked among them.
It was a comfort to be out there where I know you would be, with the men you counted as your brothers. The day was bright and breezy and beautiful. I sat for a spell on a stump overlooking a clear-cut with a grand view of the mountains. We had a lovely chat, you and I, while I let the tears fall unheeded and let the wind dry them. Then a buck bounded past me he didn't seem to be in a hurry. He quickly and gracefully loped his way across the stump-strewn landscape toward the nearby cover and safety of the pines. As he cut past me, I thought of you and how I've depicted you as a regal buck in the tattoo on my arm. I thought that maybe you had sent me that deer to cheer me; to let me know that you are still here with me even when I feel like I've been so busy and have lost our connection. Sometimes I can be pretty hard-headed, thanks for being persistent.
We traveled to Mimi and Pap's in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving this past weekend. It was the first time I'd been there since you died and I dreaded going. I knew being there would pry open a whole box of memories and all the deep emotion and intensity that go with those memories awaited me there. All of that topped off with the fact that it is a holiday rooted in family togetherness and being grateful…well, let's just say I put on my game face and rallied. The trip up was fun, we laughed and sang songs. Xanny played DJ, and I drove so I could stay mentally occupied as I prepared to face the inevitable. When we pulled in, I took Lady for a walk and strolled across the lawn taking in the landscape where you spent so many of your boyhood days, fishing in the pond, driving the quad, or the mower, going swimming in the pool, sledding, hunting with Pap.
I felt like I'd been hit with a fire hose as the images of your sweet face came rushing to my mind's eye. Your Mimi's house is full of the echo of your voice and all the growing up you did under that roof. I sobbed violently wrapped in Daddy's arms that first night as this fresh wave of memories starkly outlined the fact of your death and the enormous cavity left in our lives. I didn't sleep…the tears just kept falling.
Thanksgiving day is a busy day, and that's a blessing in itself. You would have laughed, Mimi undercooked the turkey, again. It's sorta becoming a family tradition. I say it's not done, and she insists that it is, so I relent, only to discover that no, it isn't. Every damn year. How funny is that? I stayed focused on preparing a meal because missing you threatened to send me round the bend. Dad sweetly gave me hugs and poured me a whiskey or two. As the time to sit to dinner approached, I just kept breathing, waiting for that dreaded moment when the family gathered together over the meal...and there it would be…the collective recognition of your absence. That heartbreaking moment when no one knows what to say--has no words to express the enormity of what we feel. Pap got too choked up to say the blessing, so Dad attempted a prayer that gutted Aunt Shari and me. He said something along the lines of being grateful that we are all together which drew stark attention to the fact that we were not ALL together. We will never ALL be together, again. Shari burst into tears in a way that I certainly could relate to. And I fell silent, diving deep inside myself to find the reserves that I've been working to build these past two years.
The meal was good, the conversation bumped and jittered across the surface of the intense emotion in that room. So much was on the minds of each of us with nowhere for it to go. The thoughts and feelings too intense for dinner talk…so we chatted about this and that and tried to find a way back to levity, to a place we could smile and not choke on the damn turkey. We did okay, but it was hard on everyone.
We made it through dinner and got things cleaned up. We watched Christmas Vacation, another family tradition, that spun me down into a dark place inside. I could hardly stand sitting there, but I did it for dad and your brothers and Mimi and Pap. I felt like I was being stung by bees, so I retreated inside, hiding behind a veneer of automatic responses. I was grateful to have Lady to take for a walk. I went outside and talked to the stars.
On Friday evening the family came over. Mimi and I put out snacks, and the people arrived-- just like we've done dozens of times before. Mike and Dee, Cameron with his girlfriend, Gerry and Lorraine. And Dwight. "My good buddy, Dwight," as you used to call him, no matter to you that he is your Pap's best friend. Oh, Thor! They played guitar and sang the old songs. I drank wine and found people to talk with so I wouldn't be consumed with the agony of missing you from that scene. It was good to see everyone, but it is torturous to me to see everyone there without you. No one mentioned your name. No one said anything about you. No one knew how to talk about you, how to invoke your memory and insert the memory of your life into the moment. I felt like I was a dragonfly suspended in amber, time traveling back to a time before you were born. Dwight, alone, seemed to notice my suffering. Perhaps it's because he's missing his Pauline so much, and his devastation recognized mine. He wrapped his arm around me and said, "It just f-f-f-ucking hurts all the time. Doesn't it? Have some of this wine, it numbs the pain. All kinds of pain." Then we sampled his homemade wine and raised a glass to our broken hearts. Maybe I should take up winemaking.
As much work as I've done over these months, I am still crushed by the massive loss and the burden of living without you, my firstborn, a joy of my life (one), twinkling-eyed baby boy.
What now? What now? What now? I ask. The emotional alchemy of turning grief and suffering into something different continues. There are days where my experiment blows up in my face. But I start anew as the sun rises in the East to greet the fresh day with fresh eyes and optimism that Grace has bestowed upon me.
What now? What now? What now? I ask.
Love. Tears. Love. Smiles. Love. Tears.
One step at a time.
There is more to say about all of this…I'll save it for another day when we get a chance to sit and talk awhile, Thor.
I love you.