How long does it take?

We’re sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam when grief becomes an almost tangible thing.

Can I ask you a personal question, I ask one of the guys.

Sure, he says. It depends on how personal that question is.

Just a while ago, you said it’s been four years since. . .

Four years ago, tomorrow, he says before I get to asking.

And just like that, I find myself fighting tears, struggling to find the center of control even as I lose it.

It’s okay, Mom, my youngest son says. He pats my back and whispers something about sadness and how it’s okay to cry.

Do you want a hug? One of the girls asks.

No, I say. I’m okay.

What I really mean to say is: if you hug me, I might break down completely in public and do more than just let the waterworks go.

I am thankful that she doesn’t get up, thankful that the people at our table, do not do the thing that will make me lose it completely. Instead, they let me weep. They allow me the time to swallow my grief.

How long does it take before you burst into tears at random moments? I ask.

It still happens, the one I was talking to replies. It happens in the most random places, like when I’m in the supermarket.

There is no timeline for grief. I know this. There is no quick cure, no easy panacea. I am thankful for the gentleness that embraces me. For how my friends let me find control without fuss and without comment. They let me weep. They let me find my quiet and when I’m ready, they agree with me when I say: I think this is an ice-cream moment.

The macha ice is not too sweet. It tastes just right.

In the land of the living

To be amazed, to be captivated, to be moved.

Today’s workshop at Eschacon reminded me of the joy I feel when I see writers embracing their art with passion.

When I was in New York, Janis Ian talked about the obstacles that keep us from practicing our art. She also spoke of art as living–of how our lives as artists and our art practice are closely connected.

To be heartened, to be reminded, to be woken up to life, to realize that time has not stopped but is steadily moving forward. Life beckons, art calls, I can no longer live in a state of limbo–denying pain, denying agony, denying the discomfort of learning to breathe within this new skin that is my life.

It hurts to live, I said to Aliette.

Give it time, Aliette replied.

There is no hiding from pain. There is no way to bandage the wound.

In the past week, I leaned so hard on the shoulder a friend offered me, and selfishly clung to the idea that by filling up the hours with something, I would be able to move past this grief.

Pain can make us selfish–can make us forget that friendship is a two way street. Not simply taking, but also giving. It means seeing that person for who they are and caring about the things they care about too.

I am better than that. As I talked about writing from the body, about tapping into that deep well from which our stories are born, I understood how failing to acknowledge my weakness, my pain, my selfishness, my grief, was hurtful to those around me–was hurtful to my art; was hurtful to my life; was hurtful to those I cared for.

Regardless of what is offered, no matter how broad those shoulders are, it’s not right to ask a friend to carry my burden.

I must learn to accept the absence. I must learn to acknowledge that it may take time before I cease to be messed up. But I know that there are things in this world that cannot shake me. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. I left a loved one there. Now, I must venture forward. I have no doubt I will spend many more tears. But my shoulders are broad enough and my spirit is strong. I am here. I stand in the land of the living.

Once we were four

Loss is still too sharp, too fresh for me to write about remembrance. All through the day, we kept the candle lit. Because his presence is still here with us.

Yesterday, while waiting for the train, my youngest son said: “We used to be four waiting on this platform. Now, we are only three.”

Our favorite shops, the streets we walked, the museums we visited, the places we ate at–Once we were four. Now, we are three.

I watched my eldest son wrestle with a technical problem. What’s an HD cable again? The little things we take for granted take on gigantic proportions.

Who will build my legos with me? My youngest son asks.

Let’s go traveling, my eldest son says. He taps the floor with his foot restlessly. I understand the hidden message in his words.

If it were possible to leave this dream, if we could wake up in another place, in another time, would we find the one who has left us behind?

I am filled with an urge to bundle up my children and take them with me everywhere.

Instead, I remind them to go to bed early. I remind them there are classes in the morning. That each day is a fulfillment of the promises they made at their father’s deathbed.

You must be happy, I tell them. You must become the best you can be. This is what your father would want.

We hold each other when we cry. We hug each other and say: It’s okay to be sad. Our tears are like tiny lights that guide the footsteps of the dear departed.

We are surrounded by love. We are surrounded by light. We lighted the candle this morning, a reminder that these dark days will also pass. Time will come when our smiles and our laughter will no longer carry the echo of our grief.