Between 2009 and 2012, some pretty inexplicable shit happened in this apartment. That blazing candle when I returned from Cuba? Mystery strands of gray-and-black chest hair on my late husband’s laptop? His broken speakers that got unbroken? That 200-lb. armoire I was able to move?
The last inexplicable thing in this apartment happened in 2012 and lasted a few months. It was so simultaneously cliché and specific that I mentioned it to only a few girlfriends. It involved the remote-control lamp in the living room, which Alberto installed and was terribly proud of: Turn the house lights off without ever leaving bed? I am brilliant.
The lamp isn’t on a timer or an auto sensor: it’s controlled by a remote that lives in a container on my nightstand. There’s no reason the light should’ve been turning on and off—often while I was in the same room—but things like this happen when you remain in the apartment your husband died in, right?
Things like this haven’t happened for two years and while a part of me has missed those electrical hellos, the louder voice in my head reminds me that hey, I’m progressing through grief. And if doing the emotional work means I’m haunted less often, I’m OK with that.
So coming through the front door tonight, five plus years since his death, I am not expecting the remote-control light to be on. It’s neither his birthday nor deathiversary, but seeing this lighted lamp is the posthumous equivalent to seeing your husband’s keys on the foyer table: oh, he’s home.
Unlike a few years ago, I do not check the other still-dark rooms for further proof of the supernatural. I just smile, drop my keys on the foyer table and slip out of my shoes. I look around the apartment, trying to see it like someone who hasn’t visited in a while.
Setting aside science and reason for a sec, what would he have encountered if he stopped by tonight? A place setting for one on the dining room table. A day’s worth of dishes in the sink. Flung over a chair, the outfits I rejected before heading to tonight’s birthday party for Tumblr Lomalomarevamped. But also…the newly color-coordinated bookshelf. The rearranged foyer. Framed pictures of me with the daughter I met two years ago. A nearly completed To-Do list scrawled on the bathroom mirror.
Is it ridiculous that while I’m brushing my teeth, I allow myself no small sigh of relief that the light wasn’t on last Thursday night, when I did not come home alone? Is it also ridiculous that when I change out of tonight’s clothes I half hope that a pair of hands will inexplicably cup my breasts from behind? And that I’m disappointed when it doesn’t happen?
Ridiculous or not, I’m headed to bed shirtless and with that living room light still blazing. Because not-science.
Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over. — George Bernard Shaw
The one perk to losing my 40-year-old husband during the Great Recession was that my PR firm had no qualms about granting me an unpaid leave of absence. Clients had been departing en masse since the financial crash, and when my own world crashed with Alberto’s sudden heart attack on March 15, 2009, my return date was thankfully not a priority.
Even after an unprecedented, four-month bereavement leave, I still felt NSFW. But my depleted bank account — and a rush of new clients — demanded otherwise. I had a sense of how awkward the transition would be: My only sibling died in a car crash when I was 19, and several office colleagues had pulled me aside back then to share stories of their pets being hit by cars.
The art lies in holding on to our positive memories and mementos; letting go of regrets, if-onlies and tangible reminders that sadden or sicken us.
I find myself re-learning this mantra on the daily, but it feels like relevant sharing on a day that comes with rough edges for those who have lost fathers. Thinking of you, my brave Tumblrs, and wishing you the healthy kind of memory mingling.
It took me two years after my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis to realize that I was grieving and when I finally figured it out, I could only think of one place to go: WhiteElephantInTheRoom. I didn’t know any other examples of someone trying really hard to live while grieving, especially when the grieving person is 30 and not 60.
I’m adopted and my father is (was) the person that everyone said I was like…losing him has been like losing a part of myself. Yet it’s been really wonderful watching you and your daughter find each other, a reminder that we can find parts of ourselves in different parts of space and time—past/present/future—without ever knowing they would intersect.
I hope you know that your work is really valuable, and it’s helping people even when you don’t hear about it.
My mission for this summer: reduce my four East and West Coast storage units to one.
Began the purge process last week in California, whittling 12 boxes of nostalgia, college records, love letters and sympathy cards down to one medium-size shipping box.
In anticipation of receiving that box in New York, I start cleaning out our living-room cabinets: an area that’s served as a “shit-I-don’t-want-to-deal-with” zone for five years.
I rediscover Alberto’s incredible portfolio of Cuba images and nude ex-girlfriends. His ad industry awards. And his not-so-great abstract paintings on wood.
I find the last book he gave me—nine days before the heart attack—which went missing that same Spring of 2009.
Encounter the book I was reading the afternoon before he died—and will not likely ever finish.
And stumble upon one inscribed in Spanish by his first wife—“everything is a story to tell”—which actually makes me smile because hey, I did tell his story.
Items I haven’t missed are tossed; things I specifically hoped to find aren’t.
Four cabinets in, I’ve pulled out enough books to populate the shelf above the living-room closet—a space I can’t believe we never thought to utilize.
Five trips to the rubbish room and two hours on a ladder later, the cabinets are no longer a symbol of my obstructed grief.
And the new bookshelf arranged by color spectrum?
A thing he would be effing proud of.
A thing I am super effing proud of.