Socrates is on my windowsill. He looks quite lost here, rather forlorn. I hope he'll adapt to his new home.
Yesterday was the first when I really felt the loss, simple and unadulterated by gratitude or relief. It happened as I was tipping and topping green beans for dinner - a task I often did in preparation for making a Middle Eastern bean and meat stew, a dish my father-in-law especially liked and I had often made for him. The thought process took only a few seconds, but contained an entire journey: the recognition of a subconscious "I'll have to take some to M.", followed by the conscious mind's substitution of fact, and then the finality of "never again," the sharp sting of grief, the welling of tears.
I've been here enough times in my life now to be confident in the dulling effect of time on the knife-edge of grief. The moments of forgetting the person is gone actually do subside, as does the pain they bring in their wake. I know that in this case the sharpness of grief really is less than with most other deaths of people dear to me; it was time, and I accepted that a long while ago. I've also learned that time gradually substitutes a different kind of recognition in the same thought process: the reminders become linked to a person's memory in a way that slowly raises the floor of the abyss one first feels between the dead and the living. You become grateful for the reminders, and realize they are a way of walking, as it were, between the realms of the dead and the living on a bridge of shared experience and love.
Last night I got up for a while, and as I was boiling water for a cup of chamomile tea in the kitchen, I wrapped my shoulders in a pink mohair shawl my mother knitted for me after she became ill. When she first gave it to me, I put it carefully over the arm of the sofa but absolutely could not wear it; it made me too sad to think of what she was thinking as she knitted it. I couldn't wear it for a whole year after she died; I wanted it near me but every time I touched it it made me cry. But now everything about it is a comfort -- the beautiful color, the innumerable stitches, the warmth -- and brings her love as close to me as an embrace, as she intended. Maybe even its texture reminds me of that softening effect of time.
On Saturday we had a memorial service at my father-in-law's retirement home. All of the immediate family members spoke about his life, and thanked that community for the caring and friendship they had given him in his last years. The service was nice: intimate, and appropriate. I played the piano - old hymns - as people came in and then played the hymns during the service, which made me happy, and I laughed to myself when I suddenly remembered the first time I played for my father-in-law. He had said "I like your playing - it's not professional." That's what we all call "a family compliment" because that side of the family has such an adept backhand. I remember being totally taken aback and rather hurt at the time. But now I understand better that what he meant was that there was an unstudied, unaffected quality to the playing that he appreciated: I was an amateur in the French sense of the word, a lover of what I was doing. He always liked children for that same reason, and many people have remarked on how childlike he remained himself, always mischievous, spontaneously creative, liking to surprise people - especially the New England establishment - by appearing in a bizarre costume or pulling out props as well as unexpected words during a sermon or class.
Socrates would have approved.
(This is the latest in a many-year-long series of posts about my father-in-law, collected under the title "The Fig and the Orchid"; please click on that name under Pages, in the sidebar at left, for the whole series.)