Death’s Clarity While Stumbling in the Dark
Updated: Sep 11
“...what constitutes a meaningful life has very likely been changed by your recent close acquaintance with mortality.
Death has a brutal way of clarifying to us what is meaningful.”
Death isn’t a recent close acquaintance.
Death is much much more obnoxious than that.
Death came rapping on the windowpane of the ICU at Westchester Medical in early January, then proceeded to call me daily for the next three weeks at 5 a.m. like, well, clockwork, ripping me out of any snatched half hour of fitful sleep- letting me know she was really interested, and then, suddenly, cruelly, she just barged in, plopped down a big bottomless bag of screaming awful and looked around as if she owned the place.
She claimed the living room hers; I remember the moment she did, after the phone call about DNR directives- wait, what?? DNR? I thought he was cleared of...what happened?
I thought, I thought…”
She was listening in, breathing heavily, salivating with anticipation.
When I got back from the hospital, I discovered her amid the blasted ruins of my sweet little life, her pockets bulging with the last breaths of Andy’s;
She grinned a wicked welcome and announced proudly, arms outstretched, bumping into and crashing down anything that was left:
“Hiya Mary! I’m your new roomie! Cause we both know that king-size bed won't fill itself, will it? Wink, wink! Guess what? I’m staying for good!”
She had legal documents.
A Social Security letter that listed Andrew’s birth and death date, our marriage date, and then,
This one shocker of a sentence:
“Marriage ended in Death.”
She put her arm around me, almost comforting, pointed to it, and rasped low in my ear:
Then she suggested I take off my wedding ring.
“What’s the point? It’s not official anymore, not legal, anyway.
Kind of like wearing a lie on your finger, know what I'm saying?”
I glared back at her,
but thought, wait-
I do know what she’s saying.
Surprising myself, I agreed.
I'm different now.
I'm no longer married to him,
Not since Death moved in.
I took off the ring and put it on a chain around my neck instead.
I put Andrew’s with it.
And a small number 10 charm Abadi had made at grief camp.
That’s his soccer player number.
At least we three are together around my neck.
All to say,
Death does indeed have a brutal way of clarifying what is meaningful!
What things mean, period, to me.
The rings symbolize…well.
Andrew wore his the whole of his adult life, married to me.
That’s - that’s something.
It’s our life together.
He got to commit for life.
I got to commit til death.
Ain’t that a trip?
Listen, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was meaningful before?
I thought I had a handle on a lot of things…my future, mainly - what it would look like.
Hazy, but reliable; the future involved Andrew was all I needed to know.
In order to just imagine a future.
Look forward, somewhat confidently, with the
Surety of his presence, if nothing else.
My mom used to say after my Dad died,
“His absence is a presence.”
The way she said it - she’d stress each word equally, deliberately-
stating how she felt, not just how she thought.
I get that now.
She was right.
Now, if I think ahead,
if I dare-
And this must be some mark of growth in grief-
That now, I dare to dare to think ahead.
For a very, very short time.
Measured not by minutes or seconds, but by chunks of how far forward I will contemplate.
All I can come up with is -
Will the wind ever stop?
It’s howling, almost blowing me over.
I’ll be as alone then as I am alone now,
I think? I fear?
I fear probably.
I mean, I don't know anything.
I had no idea I'd be this alone last year at this time.
NONE AT ALL.
Most of us, not all, but most, will die alone.
If you are in a committed partnership/companionship/soulmateship, most probably
one of you will die first…
It’s the living alone that freaks me out.
Don’t want to do much all by myself.
This is what I am disastrously unprepared for.
Looking back with incredulity -
I have been doing so for the last 7 ¾ months!
That’s the real miracle,
and by miracle, I mean,
so highly improbable
it’s blowing my mind.
I have a number of memories now, of me, by myself, without Andrew!
I’ve spent the rest of a winter without him, a February entirely without him, a March, his birthday, April, Abadi’s 13th, a Spring- Easter! Went to FLA for a Yankees Spring Training in March, June was to LA to see the Dodgers, I completed an entire bereavement group in July, August Abadi and I went to grief camp …now in a show in the city.
It’s rehearsed and is now performing. September. My birthday. Abadi’s last first day of school at this school. 8th grade.
ALL WITHOUT ANDREW.
I could go on and on.
It's been a chunk of time.
Abadi has grown three inches since January.
And two shoe sizes.
9.5 to 11.5.
See, a literally measurable chunk of time.
I think that is simply the journey. So far. Just that.
I am experiencing life as a truly single person, whereas before,
my entire life after age 20, was spent with a person I spoke to, called, texted, non-stop, 516 times a day?
Ignored, another maybe 700 times;
A privilege and/or luxury of marriage,
A long comfortable, dependable companionship.
God, I miss him.
God? I need him.
7 ¾ months of trying not to think ahead, any more than is necessary.
HOLY CRAP NO WAY
It is extraordinary I have kept my dog and my son alive.
And myself. Forgot about her.
I have maintained good blood sugar levels.
What’s next is daunting.
High School applications,
future work for myself as an actor, writer, teacher, landlord…who knows??
I do want to impart some HOPE.
Because I do a shuffle` back and forth between hope and despair every day.
Here’s what I got.
Look at me. I'm not a very big person.
Not what anyone would call strong by any stretch of the imagination.
I have been dog walking 17k steps a day, I’ve nursed said dog through three stomach viruses, I've done two plays and three workshops, I’ve arranged for my son to stay with friends over and over and over again when I needed an extra hand, I got us to Grief Camp and bereavement centers, I have done a lot of things I never thought I could, things I never ever wanted to learn how to do.
I have asked for more help in the last 7 ¾ months than I have in the last 30 years.
I’m tiny. Breakable. I have a thin, high voice.
Easily toppled, by the look of me. I weigh 117 lbs.
I have endured.
One of the phases in this book I have
The Second Crisis, Stumbling in the Dark.
Basically, it’s when you are able to fully realize the death is forever.
And this flattens you - much worse, often, than the initial shock.
It’s worse than the first six months where you simply can’t feel or cognitively accept this entirely -it’s said it would kill you if you did. So your brain doesn’t allow that full realization. Although, I sure as hell thought I was realizing it - and man, my body sure became one with agony. There's more?
Andrew is gone from me for as long as I will live. (Kill me now.)
There is a choice in the Second Crisis.
Ready? It’s not very sexy or promising.
Definitely not fun.
Ok, I warned you. Here it is:
“To endure with patience.”
That’s the choice.
I told you it wasn’t enticing.
I am enduring.
I wouldn’t say patiently?
I would say submissively,
Or, just too tired to do anything else but surrender.
To the physical wrenching pain. The fears. The yearning, longing.
And - the waiting.
For signs of life, or waiting to want to feel signs of life in myself again.
I have withstood the shittiest overhaul to my living space -the WORST roommate ever who’s never leaving. She says it's her apartment now!
I make the tiniest attempts every day to absorb her presence, to acknowledge it, to accept and face Andrew’s absence.
I think, thus far, that is all the endurance I can manage.
To greet every day with:
You’re still here Death?
And Andy isn’t.
But I am? Dammit.
I certainly am.
What do you have to show me today?