Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | February 25, 2019

never more gone

At a memoir writing workshop, we each (of course) had to go around the room and tell our story, why we were there.
Workshop teacher to me: “So your only child left home for college six weeks after your husband died? Do you ever write about that?”
Me: “Not really. It turns out people who are alive don’t necessarily like to be written


Writing Prompt: The hard story you’re contemplating writing, that painful moment. Before or after – find something funny. Also look for a shift in perspective. Act of mercy? Diversionary detail? Write without editing yourself for 10 minutes.

He’s gone. He’s really gone. As unacceptable as this fact may be to his daughter and his widow, he stays gone – he’s not coming back. As a friend wryly notes about her own dearly departed husband: “Not only did he die, but then he had the nerve to stay dead.”
After all this time – nearly a decade – I am getting used to the idea that Jeff is really and truly dead, but he is never more gone, never further away than when Anna is moving. She’s moved dare I say dozens of times since he died: into and out of college dorm rooms, up and down countless flights of stairs. By now, years past college, she also has inhabited half a dozen apartments and houses. She and I are experts at this. To make it all fit we pack the car like the Tetris wizards we are.
We didn’t have this car when he was here.
For ten years we have carried her clothes her books her heavy boxes for kitchen and office up the winding staircase to the third floor in fall and down again in spring. We are a good team. We work well together. We are two grown women, strong and capable, practical and helpful. We make a verbal plan to tackle the project. We each hoist an end, watch the walls, carry her furniture through narrow doorways, around tight corners. Although she and I are a well-oiled machine, practiced at this task, I recall how her father and I would end up fighting, thin-lipped and grim-faced, every single time we had to move furniture, anything that required two people. He would assume his obviously correct unspoken plan was the same as mine – it never was. I’d be thinking right as he’d be going left. “Use your words,” I would helpfully hiss at him; he would only become more silent.
I’ll never know how she did it (I could barely feed myself in those days), but somehow my fatherless girl had the successful first year of college under her belt. She was coming home for summer break that first hard year he was gone. We were emptying her dorm room,  loading the car to ferry Jeff’s girl and all her possessions back home. It was a glorious warm spring day, with those gentle pale greens of newly unfurled leaves, birds chirping and flitting in the pine trees outside her dorm, all fresh good smells in the soft June air. She had gone back inside for another armful. I was halfway inside the car trying to make something fit, flip-flopped feet widely planted in the rough gravel driveway. All at once, out of nowhere, I felt his presence there with me as clearly as if he had tapped me on the shoulder or called my name out loud. I shook my head to clear it, looked down at the pine needles on the ground. There between my feet was a heart shaped rock – among the first of the many hundreds I have found since then. Back then I didn’t know I would continue to find them all my days.
Anna the scientist is a skeptic – the natural world is indeed full of heart shaped rocks, shells, shadows, flowers, food. But sometimes their material, placement, or timing can seem like a message just for me. She worries for my sanity. I try to reassure her.
“Sweetheart, it’s not like I truly believe that Daddy is up in heaven pelting us with heart shaped objects.”
“You sure act like you do.”
After all these years, all these hearts, I have come to believe that the many, many hearts I find are perhaps a reward for being open, for paying attention, for slowing down enough to see. (All he ever wanted for me was to just. slow. down.)
It isn’t Anna’s heavenly Daddy sending daily Valentine missives.
There are those people who say “He is always with you.”
(It’s never anyone who has suffered a similar loss who presumes to say such things.)
To those people my answer is always
Maybe in your world this is true. In my world, he is no help at all when it is time to lug his baby’s stuff up and down the stairs.

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