Grief in the Second Degree

I wasn’t thinking about him.

I was thinking about soul-deep conversations with friends, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, the inexplicable sneezing with which I woke Wednesday, the need to buy mushrooms. I even sprinkled sage on the stuffing — his stuffing, without melancholy.

Then Wednesday night I dreamed.

He was very much like when we met: round-faced with dark-coppery hair that curled at the edges when he went too long between visits to the barber shop.

He told me he was glad for the life choices we’d made and that he was happy I was in Germany. We were standing in our old house in the Bavarian countryside. It was bare and bright — like the day we moved in.

I woke up nauseous from what had become a full-blown viral attack and crying from that fading feeling of emptiness. I wish the house hadn’t been so echoey. I had so badly wanted to keep it filled for him.

I suppose the house with its gleaming granite and naked windows could be symbolic for either an ending or a beginning.

It can be painful to reach the cliffhanger before the sequel has been written.

A few months before my real-life hero/antagonist died, I had constructed a complete outline (with notes) of my novel. I thought I knew how the narrative would end. But now, six months after his death, I still don’t exactly know what’s going to happen. I only know that I am sitting here, crying into the leftover stuffing, missing the hero part of the man with whom I spent the majority of my adulthood.

It is an unexpected plot twist.

I never thought I would miss him during a minor holiday.

Birthdays, Christmas, Valentines, Wedding Anniversary…I’ve braced myself for the sentimentality on the horizon of this first year, like a child in a summer storm, counting seconds between the lightening and thunder.

One, Mississippi; two, Mississippi; three, Mississippi…

But Thanksgiving? The least romantic of holidays?

I didn’t see it coming in time to shut the window.

You would think having two years of separation before his death would make this process easier, but it doesn’t. This idealized ghost of Christmas past will stand next to me as I bake the ham and pour Bailey’s into my coffee the morning of December 25th.

My therapist says I am grieving not only his sudden death in May but also the loss a few years ago of the real him — the man I married, my best friend. Those fragments were shoved un-inventoried into a capsule, the relics of a time now painfully brought into the sunlight.

I’m a sucker for Cinderella stories. Of underdogs winning. Of happy endings. This is certainly not the story I would’ve written. It’s too tainted by ugly things.

This is life.

We find ourselves in situations that expose both our darkest and brightest sides. We meet characters so complex, and stumble into situations so perfectly-timed, or ill-timed, to write them would make them seem unbelievable.

Deus ex machina doesn’t happen in real life, for god’s sake!

Or does it?

All of the marital problems, the chaos of the mind, the suffocating overprotectiveness were exhaled one final time, as he lay alone in his apartment, in the first bed we bought together — the last place he would ever rest his head.

What Christmas ornaments or candle sticks or carrot cake will draw this pain back to the surface? How is it that sausage and breadcrumbs make me cry? How is it that love is revived through death?

For those struggling with loss during the holidays, I don’t know if it gets easier with time, like people say. All I can suggest is that you add tears to the turkey. Sniffle over the ambrosia. Raise a glass towards the empty chair.

Take the ghost by the hand and allow yourself to wander in this impulsive, indifferent, irrevocable netherworld called loss.

This is grief in the second degree.

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