I have a shelf in my bedroom collecting injured stuffed animals. Robbie’s childhood Dr. Who, a pillow-pet shaped owl, leaks stuffing from a torn seam. Raggedy Ann, a childhood gift from my grandmother, has lost an arm. A month before she died, Lynn gave Raggedy Ann a full-body lift, transforming her from time-worn yellow to new white. Now her arm, clean and bright, lies beside her orange yarn hair. This shelf may be more of a graveyard than a hospital, for without Lynn, there is no one to repair them.
This was no small gift, the ability to piece together our over-loved stuffed animals and the worn knees of jeans. Lynn’s tiny stitches are everywhere. Almost invisible threads that hold together shirts and blankets and pillows and our favorite bunnies and bears.
Every room holds a reminder of our loss.
The notes I have found in her familiar writing; the photographs of her smiling, full face; special gifts she picked out with one of our kids in mind— all of these reveal the gaping space left by the loss of Lynn’s presence in our lives.
Seven months later and it still catches me by surprise. I do not believe it, still. I have to trace back in my memory those final days and those strained last breaths. I think of the bones in her hand and the fuzz that had started to grow back on her head. Without these painful reminders, I cannot believe she is gone.
Because wasn’t she just here, talking to my newborn?
Wasn’t she just setting up the gnarled stump in the living room for my boys to play?
Weren’t we just taking a walk to the cul-de-sac, kids whizzing by on bicycles?
Wasn’t she just in her chair by the fireplace, her lips moving as she read familiar verses from her Bible?
I hear her laugh and see her face and I think to call her when something happens. She was so full of life that it has been a slow process to remember and realize that she is really gone. Like a star, long dead by the time we see its light, her death has been a slow fade. Her light is still all around, making it hard to believe that she is not.
People don’t talk about grief for as long as it lasts. I don’t particularly want to talk about grief ever, save in written form. I would rather cry alone or write. My mourning is a private thing. But I know that I am not alone in it. I know because my husband says he still cries, though not with me. I know that if I’m not saying it, other people aren’t saying it either. At a recent party, I spoke with a friend who lost her brother earlier this year. Amidst the laughter and the drinking and the festivity, we had a private moment where we talked about being okay and being not okay.
Loss fades but does not cease. A gaping hole opens in your life and you learn to tread carefully around it. Sometimes you give it a wide berth and sometimes you run your toe along the edge, just to remind yourself of the steep drop. I have peace and I also hate this.
Family and friends of Lynn, I know you feel her absence, sometimes palpably as I do. If you have lost a son or daughter or mother or father or husband or wife or friend, you feel it for much longer than you say it. We can embrace life and move on in the new normal, but that does not mean we forget. Our smiles do not mean there are no tears.
Grief is not either/or: either you are over it or you aren’t. Grief is both/and. You move on and you continue to mourn.
Over half a year has passed, but in many ways it seems like I am still in that room with the familiar smell of her quilt and the way her face, even at the end, lit with a smile. Like the threads in so many blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and shirts, Lynn’s presence runs through our days and our memories and the very fabric of our lives.
Seven months and grief is still fresh.
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