I have encountered a new stage of grief. There have been volumes written on these stages, or more accurately phases. We don’t go through them step by step, but rather by turns, and I mean twists and turns, looping back on them, sometimes all at once, but not in any orderly fashion. These past few days I have been steeped in what I call the “disbelief” or the WTF stage. It is not Denial; that he is dead is an undeniable truth. There is no denying that I watched them lower Jake’s body into the ground, and that I was the first one to throw shovelfuls of dirt onto the plain pine coffin. It isn’t Anger, although I hold anger at bay daily, nor is it Bargaining; I have nothing to bargain with, the bazaar is closed. Not Depression, even though depression visits me often. Acceptance? What choice do I have but to accept this? This is a done deal, right? He ain’t coming back. It isn’t any of these; it is bewilderment that he is truly gone.
I look around my home, at the many photographs of Jake throughout his life, all the works of art he created that adorn our walls; I sit in what was once his bedroom surrounded by much of his ‘stuff’. His bookshelves with high school chemistry textbooks, binders full of notes, his eclectic collection of books: Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, The Chronicles of Narnia, George Carlin, Mario Testino, Richard Avedon, Nutrition for Foodservice and Culinary Professionals, Robert Heinlein, Harry Potter, Shel Silverstein, Bram Stoker, Herman Melville, Nicola Tesla; the list goes on and on. I see the car models he delighted in building, clothes, old cameras, a ship model that his grandfather built; artifacts of a life now over. I look at the remote control submarine he used to play with when we stayed at hotels with swimming pools, and remember how that little plastic submarine netted us a visit to Disneyland as guests of Club 33, complete with lavish buffet and cocktails overlooking New Orleans Square. Jake had the gift of making such things happen. I look at the photo of Jake as the young chef, posed for his 6th grade yearbook, clad in his chef whites, happily flambéing strawberries at our stove. I see the pictures; remember all the moments of a person so full of life. He took so much delight in so many things, had so many gifts, unlimited promise; he could have been anything he set his mind to, and I wonder, how is it that he is gone? How can this be? It just isn’t possible. But sadly, in this universe I now inhabit, anything is possible.
Today, we did some gardening around the house. As I wheeled the green yard-clipping bin down to the curb for collection tomorrow, trash day, I rolled it over the section of sidewalk at the foot of our driveway that the city poured many years ago to replace an area cracked by a careless contractor. We saw the three sets of initials scribed into the concrete, EC, TS, and JC. Indelible evidence that he existed. Because what is happening, is that as the weeks drag on, 16 now, nearly four months, and this new life overwrites the one shattered by that two-minute phone call last December, the other bygone life seems so far away like the shadow of a dream vaguely remembered. But that life, the one that included Jake is (or was) the real one; the one that I hold fast to. This life I now live is the dream; a horrible nightmare that we will never wake from. It is a world where at any instant, pictures of that bygone lifetime rush at me, so vivid and real, it takes my breath away. I told Terry that yes, indeed Jake was real. He lived. We lived. He was our treasure, our all. He was such a huge part of our life; it is impossible to imagine life without him, and yet, we are stuck with it.
I have read, as time goes on, I will adapt to a “new normal”. That is bullshit. There is no such thing. This is in no way a normal life. This new life is so far from normal, that I can’t even remember what normal looks like. Sleepwalking through the days, wondering what comes next. We may learn to better navigate this surreal geography, find new ways to get to the end of each day, but I will never understand why this is so, why this happened to him, to us. To all of us. There are so many people who love him and miss him; as long as we all remember Jake, hold fast to the picture of him each of us carries, he will never fade. He lives in our hearts, in our memories, in the indelible imprint he left on this world. Why he is not still around is something that will always bewilder me; I may never get past this unknowable mystery. As far as I can see, I will be in the WTF stage for as long as I live.