A Few Thoughts on Mourning and Morning Rituals
There are some questions I did not expect to answer at 39 years old. I am all in favor of planning ahead, but Sam and I had just barely started the squirreling-savings-into-college-accounts-for-the-kids stage. And here I was, talking to a complete stranger about a very small, expensive piece of real estate that I had no interest in purchasing, well, ever actually.
The extremely kind cemetery representative spoke as comfortably as if she was talking about shots of espresso for my morning latte — “Would you like a single plot or a double plot?”
I hesitated, not wanting to answer the question at all. It’s not as if it’s fun real estate to purchase, not like I imagine a vacation home would be. Sort of like a permanent home, without a real mailing address. I found it impossibly hard to believe, actually, that I was sitting here at the cemetery, within days of my husband’s death, waiting for the coroner to release his body so we could … what? Plan a funeral and burial, host a luncheon for hundreds, wear black, and resume the pattern of homework and playdates and billable hours? There were many watershed moments, especially in the first days and weeks after Sam’s death, most of which I recognized only in retrospect. But as for a single or double plot, I knew that moment was significant. My decision would determine the course of my healing path and form my perspective along the way.
I remember being surrounded by cousins, most of whom intended to be helpful, many of whom had certificates, licenses or graduate degrees, some of whom simply wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything “wrong” (my being the sole gentile in the room). In a room full of grieving family who desperately loved both Sam and me, I felt profoundly alone. Maybe because each of them had a partner, leaving me the odd woman out. In so many ways. I recall one of the family was laughing about the fact that she couldn’t find her grandmother (buried in this same cemetery) because Abuela had been married so many times she couldn’t remember the last name of the latest late husband. In retrospect, the family member was probably terribly nervous, but at the time her laughter felt heartless and cruel.
Notwithstanding all the credentials in the room, nobody else noticed the typo in the paperwork. I did not know a lot of things that day, but I did know my husband’s date of death. How could they miss it? Nobody else’s life changed to the same extent mine did on that day. I would have to do my own proofreading. And decision-making. At the end of the day, each one of us must choose her own healing path. Ultimately, each one walks that path alone.
I did not want to live the rest of my life thinking of this place — as beautiful as it is — as my final destination, or as a place I was moving back toward. I did not want to be that grieving widow who lived the rest of her life longing to be reunited with her late husband. I didn’t want to see an empty plaque with space for my name on it every time I visited Sam at the cemetery. (And I really didn’t want my sons to be haunted by that image.) I desperately wanted my children to live their lives fully, freely, without being defined or arrested by their father’s untimely death, even though the loss of him would impact them always. I wanted — eventually — to live my life again, maybe even dare to love my life. Somehow I knew instinctively that my mourning process would not end where it began.
I chose a single plot.
I did not choose the plot located on a steep slope near the street and the horse trail. That one was loud and reeked of car exhaust and horseshit, and Sam would never have treated me that way. I chose a quiet, peaceful spot, on a gentle slope with a view of the valley, off the beaten path, but with wheelchair access. It is his final earthly resting spot, or so they say, and as these things go, it’s quite nice, but it will not be mine.
I did not get to choose Sam’s death. I was left to choose my life.
Besides, he left me first. Sam’s suicide might have left me with tiny abandonment issues, and it is entirely possible that my choice was influenced ever-so-slightly by anger and a teeny touch of bitterness. In any event, this decision contained a seed of letting go, the possibility of my life after his death.
My morning ritual underwent a similar transformation.
Sam didn’t care for coffee, which made him an anachronism among his Cuban family. And he held the opinion that my drinking coffee rendered me high-strung and a wee bit crabby. I prefer to think of myself as animated in my caffeinated state, if just a little extra snarky. Our happy medium was that I began my mornings with one cup of black tea, and this compromise suited both of us for many years. I enjoyed the ritual of preparing my favorite tea in the early dark and quiet, warming both hands around the sides of my favorite mug. Usually after Sam had left for the office and before the boys were awake. A still, meditative, cozy moment to sit, breathing in the steam and welcoming a new day.
After Sam’s death, however, my morning tea was no longer, well, my cup of tea. It felt empty and wrong. I was alone. It wasn’t cozy; it was lonely. Nothing about my cup of tea lifted my spirits. Often it sat, untouched, and grew cold while I stared out the window, uncomprehending the path before me. I remember in those early mornings after Sam’s death feeling intensely resentful of the rising of the sun. Even though the nights were dark and very long, each successive sunrise offended me. It seemed impossibly wrong that the world could continue spinning even after my life had ended so abruptly. Of course, it wasn’t my life that had ended. It was forever changed, but it was still mine to live. But I didn’t grasp that yet.
The boys and I spent a week with family in the month after Sam’s death. We had gathered to celebrate a nephew’s bar mitzvah. During the time we stayed in my cousin’s home, she sheltered us and comforted us, fed us, laughed with us and cried with us. We called Sam all kinds of names, some more flattering than others. Our larger family surrounded my little family of three, and held us firmly in Love’s embrace. I was lonely, but I did not feel quite so alone. Desperately sad, but not so utterly bereft. Every morning, she brought me a cuban cafe con leche, a ritual I continued after we returned home, gradually restoring a warm, safe feeling to the beginning of each day.
With each sunrise came hope, the opportunity of a new day. A new life. Eventually, miraculously, I would find solace in the fact that the sun does, reliably, rise each day, no matter how dark the night is. That I could — once more — welcome the consistent morning sun was no small achievement. And one morning, with a coffee cup in hand, I would start to reach for that promise.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And morning’s promise.