On Sunday the 29th of June I stopped for a bowl of clam chowder at the Ivar’s Seafood Bar in Burien. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon, and the dozens of multi-colored petunias planted around the restaurant lit it up in a cheerful summery way. As I got out of the car I remembered the petunias being there last year. My husband, Rick, had a monthly medical appointment in Renton, and on the way home we often stopped at this Ivar’s so he could get fish and chips. He loved fish and chips, and he especially loved them drenched in malt vinegar.
Looking at those petunias I realized that the last time I’d stopped there was with Rick.
I was swamped in memories. I pulled out my notebook and wrote, among other things: “Looking backward and knowing it is time to turn my gaze forward.”
It is easy to forget, when remembering those who are gone, that there are people still here who love and need us. My granddaughter brought me up short on that point one night when I was whining about losing Rick and Cousin Nancy. “There are other people who love you,” she said in a stern, what-am-I-chopped-liver? voice.
It was later that Sunday that I realized that when I was having my chowder at Ivar’s it was six months pretty much to the minute since Rick died, and that realization hit like a punch in the stomach, and left me a little unbalanced for several days. Widowed friends have been sympathetic to me about these milestones and first times. Thanks to Anne, Marcia, Crystal, and others for sparing a little grace for a sister. Making the transition from being one of a couple to being one person alone means inevitable passages through shaky and sometimes plain sorrowful times.
Because I was feeling vulnerable and insecure, I found myself wanting to do something which I thought I’d left behind: I wanted to write letters to turnips.
By “turnips” I mean people who have no love to give, as in, “You can’t squeeze blood out of a...” People who, as the saying goes, just weren’t that into me. People I would write to hoping I’d change their minds and they’d finally love me. Turnips. I thought I’d outgrown that exercise in futility and discouragement, but suddenly the compulsion was back.
It’s about trying to win my mother’s love, you see. Looking back I’d say she loved me instinctively, but she simply did not feel enough inner abundance to be a generous, nurturing person, or even to be nice a lot of the time. She did have it in her to be critical, always ready to tear me down (or anyone – you know, it wasn’t entirely personal. I happened to be the most convenient target).
How I strained for her approval and praise, or even a little damned civility, but she simply did not have it in her.
At various times of my life I have tried to persuade people to love me and be nice to me, trying to make the childhood drama have a happy ending, I suppose. Wow, what a waste of time and effort. You’d think I’d learn. I thought I had learned. Ah, the mighty rational mind! So clever, and so on top of things! But the dumb heart still goes running out of the house and down the street without its pants on.
I broke down and wrote a letter to one of the turnips. Annoyed with myself, I addressed the envelope and put a stamp on it and tossed it on the kitchen table.
Got up the next morning and looked at it.
Then I picked it up and walked it in to my office and put it through the shredder, singing, ♪ AIN’T IT A GRAND AND GLORIOUS FEELING! TYAH-TYAH-TI-DAH! ♪ *
The experience gave me a dose of humility. When you’re vulnerable it’s easy to fall into the old ways that never worked in the first place. The feeling passed, as feelings do. Six months after Rick’s passing I am starting to look forward, and I am starting to be more alive in the present, and I am more aware of how his love lives on for me, healing me and holding me, making me more whole so I can go on without him. Like everything else about grieving, it is a blessed surprise.
*(Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Clare Briggs, great American cartoonist.)