"I'm sadder than I knew I could be."
"The only way out is through."
"There are no arrears of love."
"This isn't a tragedy. It's an absurdity."
"The circle is unbroken. We're still six."
This latter I find especially comforting; though I initially felt his lack during family grace, that experience seems to have changed. I don't think Dad is just whistling in the dark. You know that feeling when you lose a tooth, and keep feeling the gap with your tongue to see if it's still there? ("Yup, tooth is still gone.") I was doing the emotional equivalent a lot last weekend; that sensation is starting to fade.
We've been clearing out James' place, Mom generally working in the morning, Mary and I working together in the afternoon. Mary said at some point that she'd never seen a space that more spoke of its inhabitant than this one. Very true. Maybe one always feels that way, but James was a collector of various things (his museum training perhaps, though it's probably a chicken-or-egg situation) so everywhere one looked there were coins, polished stones, prisms, antique cameras, swords and keys, posters of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Tweety-bird, and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models. And the hero-clicks. Holy sweet mother of god, the hero-clicks. They're key elements of one of his more byzantine games and he has them by the cartload, lovingly displayed on bakers racks and bookcases. We're bringing in a friend of his who understands such things (she used to own a store) to recommend actions to take with them. They're starting to oppress me a tad, have to say, but they'll be gone soon. Damn but there are a lot of them. Mary also said "it's weird how much stuff just becomes garbage after a loved one dies." I still find myself reluctant to throw things out that are of no use to anyone, since it still feels like James will object. He loved this stuff, won't he be annoyed if we throw it away? Oh, right.
A sweet, though occasional wrenching discovery, was the number of cards he had saved, most of them from other Laceys. It's been comforting to see words of love to him, in my handwriting. I'm grateful for the evidence that I told him how much he meant to me WHILE HE WAS STILL ALIVE. Yes, of course I knew I had, but it still helped to see them there, tucked into various drawers, shelves and boxes (did I mention the gazillion boxes?) throughout his place. One card that Dad had written him some years back said (I'm paraphrasing) "This is NOT a birthday card, this is just a card to remind thee how much we love thee, and how lucky we feel to have thee in the family." If I hadn't found it, I would have thought it was something Dad had written in the last week, as an attempt to make sense (hah!) of his death. It wrecks me to think of it now (and I'm not sure I did Dad a favor by showing it to him, given how it tore him up), but oh, I am glad he wrote it, and that James saved it.
As I mentioned earlier, James had a gift for connecting with older folks, especially older shy folks. I learned yesterday that when one of his ladies needed cataract surgery, James a) overcame her resistance by reminding her that her precious and hard-won independence would require the surgery, b) accompanied her to all the doctor's appointments, c) learned how to give her eye-drops, since she couldn't do them herself and d) along with Mary, housed and fed her during the necessary recuperation time such surgery required back then. This isn't the only new-to-me story I've heard recently, but knowing this woman, how shy and wary she was of adults, I know that James' sweet, relentless persistance -a quality that could drive you crazy at times - was exactly what the situation called for.
It wasn't just older folks who warmed to James so quickly; like his dad, he was a great favorite with babies and kids. Dozens of times when we were eating in a restaurant, a baby at a nearby table would take a shine to him, and spend the entirety of his/her meal smiling and gurgling at him. One of our friends remembers how sweet he was to her three little girls, saying "how many teenagers would listen so patiently to the goings on of five-, seven- and ten-year-old girls?" More than one person has mentioned James' gift for listening. To be honest, I would not have previously listed that as one of his gifts, but given the deluge of people mentioning it, it's clear it was. What do older brothers know, anyway?
I realized today that most of the people speaking about James spent more time with him as an adult than I did. As is probably clear from my memories thus far, the sweet kid (up through first year of college) is the one I knew best. In some ways that gave me a useful perspective. I would see him once or twice a year, and be able to note the ways he had come into his own just a bit more since the last time. The rest of the family, seeing him every day, couldn't always see the changes as much as I did. It's humbling and touching to realize that his friends probably knew him better than I did, or at least knew him in ways I never did. That's probably the norm more often than not, of course. I'm sure friends of my sister and parents also have insights and stories that would surprise me, but I think James probably came with more of them. Frankly that's good.
We're learning too, or relearning rather, how many people we love are part of this sad fellowship, the families who lost adult children. Mom and Dad have very close friends who are proving to be enormous help in all this, even as they both insist they don't have any answers. Mary has learned that one of her friends AND her mother-in-law each have brothers who were killed by cars on June 6th. There's a weird connection to share. I too have been buoyed up by all of you, in particular the ones who have lost loved ones. It's a club we all join eventually, I know, and everyone agrees that doesn't make it any easier.
Even as we're occasionally ambushed by strong emotions (a Joan Osborne song caught Mary and me VERY off-guard on Saturday), we are, of course, grateful for the love that is making this grief so powerful. We know things will get easier to some extent, in time. A new 'normal' will take shape eventually. We don't ever expect to stop grieving though. Nor do we want to.