And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It seems like late at night is when most of the worries and questions come. The introspection. The looking around and wondering just what the hell happened a month ago, and how can it only be a month, and at the same time, it feels like years have gone by.
Nights are raw and confusing. And very, very lonely.
One evening, as I was watching the latest episode of the old television show, Eight Is Enough, I turned to point out to Michael that an actor from The Waltons was on the screen. Eight Is Enough was often called the modern edition of The Waltons, back when “modern” was the late 70s. The shows frequently shared the same writers, and so actors, actresses, and even storylines sometimes crossed the screen. Of course, when I turned to talk to Michael, his recliner wasn’t reclined, and it was empty.
He was at the hospital, where he’s been since January 17th. And so I burst into tears.
Nights are for tears too.
It occurred to me this week that I am grieving for Michael, even though he’s still here. As he heals, there are days when he’s fully alert, when he knows me and tells me he loves me, when he asks about work, when he asks for his phone or his computer. And there are other days when I morph into his sister, when he says he was never married, and I basically cease to exist.
And so there’s grief.
I am pretty well-versed in literature, between being an English major and then a grad school student and then a writer and an editor and a teacher who reads pretty much every genre there is in this world, and some that haven’t been created yet. But I remembered reading in novels about grief that women who lost their husbands would often sleep with the husbands’ shirt. That shirt held his body and, if unwashed, still contained his scent.
In the early days of this event, I folded the laundry that Michael left in the dryer. As I folded it and stacked it, while simultaneously watching yet another episode of Eight Is Enough that I couldn’t talk to Michael about, our dog Ursula came over, sniffed the pile, and then flung herself over several stacks.
She’s never done this before. But she’s also never had an important person disappear on her like this, and have the other important person often dissolve into tears. Especially at night.
So I thought of those references in novels and I thought of Ursula. But Michael didn’t have any unwashed laundry.
When my mind wandered more down Ursula and the laundry, I remembered the clothes that Michael was wearing on the day of the accident. I remembered the shock when I got home on that first night, carrying the bags of his belongings. I pulled out his clothes, one by one. Jacket, shirt, pants, underwear and socks. And all shredded to rags by the paramedics as they worked to get to Michael as fast as they could. The next day, I put the bags into the dumpster behind my condo. Then that night, Ursula sprawled on the laundry. I decided to get the bags back out and find what was left of his shirt.
It was the last thing he wore when our life was our life. And it was what he was wearing after the disaster. The “accident”.
I brought it in and gave it to Ursula. For a few days, she plopped herself on it and mouthed it gently. But then she left it alone. I placed it in Michael’s space on the couch, where Ursula often cuddled with him.
And now, as I thought of grief and novels, I thought of that shirt again. What was left of it.
That night, when I went to bed, I draped that shirt over Michael’s pillow. And then I draped my arm over it all.
And lord help me, I slept better than I had in a month. It was like he was there.
Earlier this week, Michael was having one of his bad days. Over and over, he asked me, “Where’s the captain?”
“What captain?” I asked back.
“The captain of the boat.”
“You’re not on a boat, Michael. You’re in the hospital.”
“Where is Captain Stubing?”
Captain Stubing. Played by Gavin Macleod, on the 1970’s show, The Love Boat.
Just as Michael and I were watching Eight Is Enough together before the disaster, we were also watching The Love Boat. We’d made reservations to go on a cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The cruise was to be in August, our anniversary in October. We were flying overseas, and then cruising through London, Paris, and parts of Scotland and Ireland.
The trip of a lifetime. It’s canceled now.
So we watched The Love Boat. I wondered with Michael if we would throw confetti over the side and wave at people as our boat left the harbor. If we would have friendly funny people like Captain Stubing, Doc, Gopher, Julie, Isaac, on board with us. What things we would see, what things we would do.
“Where is Captain Stubing?”
He was talking about a show we were watching together, to prepare to celebrate our 25 years.
It was like he was there.
My moment of happiness? Gratitude for novels that tell me about lives that I’ve never experienced, but find myself in now, up to my neck. Novels that give me ideas on how to handle something I have no idea how to handle.
Gratitude for The Love Boat. For Eight Is Enough. For a dog who is grieving with me.
And absolute happiness that Michael is here, even on those days when he’s not.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.