I made it to the beach today in time to catch the sun peep over the horizon, a sight that usually thrills me. I was glad to be there, eager to expend some muscle energy in this time of enforced stillness. But my groove never really caught. My eyes kept drifting to the heavy clouds above; this sense of foreboding was not what I got up early for. Even my trudging on the thick sand felt weighted, clumsy, and the tide was high. Not the best walking circumstances. I thought maybe that was it.
But within minutes I knew. It was gonna be a different kind of walk this morning… Grief, if you walk with it long enough, has a strong kind of muscle memory to it. You sense the aching gray moving into your spirit and you know immediately what is in store. The muscles of your heart line up in formation; it’s not the exercise you had planned today… but make no mistake, it is going to be a workout. Reluctant emotional calisthenics, like your least favorite gym teacher surprised you at the beach and blew her start whistle right in your face. “Aaaandddd, JUMP!”
But I know the drill. This bitch will not be stopped. It’s better to flow with the movements rather than attempt to fight them off. The only way through it is through it. So I followed… I opened my heart to let it feel the coming pain… his leaving… his absence… the grayness that lies ahead. When my headphones cued up the romantic Carly Simon ballad, I let the tears rip, the agony race through my mind. The bitch had access to my playlist, and I let her have it. Sometimes this release must have its way. You may think you’re doing okay, as well as can be expected when the love of your life gets a terminal cancer diagnosis. And you are, you’re made of strong stuff. But this ripping apart is visceral, bone deep. It’s both agonizingly slow and brutally fast. Time seems to crawl, and yet it also bears down on you like an angry locomotive, your feet tied to the tracks as the villain twirls his curling mustache. Yes, there is a cartoon aspect to all of this, like you’re watching this unfurl in the worst movie, one you never wanted to see. It can’t be real, but then there’s the medicines and charts lined up on the kitchen counter. This can’t be happening, but your days follow the rhythms of his pain patches and doctor appointments. Time can be capricious; she is either your merciful friend or a ruthless dominatrix. These forces are greater than you. You cannot fight them. So let yourself sob, Kevan. You know all too well the pain that lies before you.
When we lost our son seven years ago, it was out of nowhere. We woke up one morning, and he was dead in his bed downstairs. So that pain was all reactive, like the world’s biggest bandaid was ripped suddenly from our very hearts, leaving them shredded and smoking. Having notice is very different, and quite surreal. Who knows what is better/worse? Can that even be calculated? There are few easy ways to leave the planet, and apparently none when it comes to being left behind. But we are both grateful people, who recognize each day as the gift that it is. Even the ones that begin with tears flowing on a dawn beach. I know that if I hadn’t experienced a love as amazing as ours has been, as unexpected and tenacious and mind-boggling as ours, it wouldn’t hurt so much to know that he is leaving. I will try to accept the terms of this devilish bargain, understanding that even in this there is a gift.
The rain began even as I made it back to the parking lot, and it felt right. I’ve always loved when the weather mirrors my soul so perfectly. As I walked toward my car I let the sobs rip, my chest opening to the release of pent up grief. My hand was stretched to the car door as I spotted the silver van pull into the lot, my heart stopping when I realized that he was pulling up to me, catching me in the act of missing him before he’d even left. “Oh Sug, what’s wrong?” he asked, his bony hand reaching out for mine. “I just love you so much,” I cried, letting our intimacy make everything clear. We clasped hands for a long few minutes, the rain doing all the talking between us. He said that he loved that the universe had brought him to me at just that moment. I nodded and thought of it as a knockout to the grief bitch, a shot to the head, her shrill whistle tumbling to the rain-soaked ground. It won’t stop her completely. She’ll be back another day. But for today, right now, I hold tightly to his hand for as long as I can.