It has been twenty-one weeks since I heard those heart-stopping words over my cell phone that bright Saturday afternoon. Nearly five months, and yet, it was at once, but a moment ago, and an aeon ago. Twenty-one Friday nights, twenty-one Saturday mornings bereft of happiness. We once looked toward the weekend, and the day of rest that is Shabbat, with eager expectation. It was a respite from the hectic daily grind. A day to unwind, a joyous day, the domain of the Shabbat Queen. Now, I look to it with trepidation and dread. There is no happiness in Shabbat for us now. It was in our synagogue that we got the news, and I no longer go with the same happy anticipation, my daily visits are more of a chore than an act of faith. I still drag myself out of bed every morning to say Kaddish, but that is the only reason I go. The words of the service mean less and less to me each day. It is as if Jake’s passing sucked all the joy out of our lives. Not that we don’t laugh, enjoy a moment, have good times with our family and friends, but the purity of a deeper, truer joy is absent. It is the same for the holidays. We show up, discharge our obligations, but don’t really ‘celebrate’ them any more. I am not sure if we can ever rekindle that same delight, that same expectation of fulfillment of our plans and dreams we once anticipated. All of those dreams are dashed to smithereens, whether we can bring ourselves to dream again remains to be seen.
It is Monday, Memorial Day here in the USA, and although this particular day is dedicated to our Veterans who served in the armed forces, every day is memorial day for me. Jake’s memory is ever-present, the physical signs of his life surround us. Memories of past events surface, sparked by an object, a piece of art, the simplest of things, yet these simple, random artifacts are fraught with such import and significance, they bring complex remembrances right to the surface. There is no escaping this, those triggers are everywhere. Especially around our house, the home in which Jake lived his life, the repository of his “stuff”. We have been going through his belongings, trying to make some sense of the boxes and boxes of things he accumulated. He had far-reaching and eclectic interests, and his possessions reflect this. We have the task of sorting through these reminders. There is so much random miscellany; boxes of electronic parts, collections of culinary tools, computer hardware, audio cables, paperwork, hundreds of LEDs, plans, half-finished projects of all kinds, drawings, notes, thousands of photographs, clothes, shoes, books, audio and video tapes, and on and on. Each object has a story behind it; some of the stories we know, some we can only guess at. He comes by this honestly, both Terry and I have the same inveterate bent for collecting, my dad was a master at it. Jake joked a few years ago that he, “must have inherited the collecting gene”. If there is such a thing, he got it from both sides.
Yesterday, we had a yard sale. We needed to divest ourselves of some of Jake’s more impersonal stuff and some of our own ‘collectibles’, in order to bring some order to our garage. Going through Jake’s things proved to be a dangerous minefield. Hidden amongst the cartons of power supplies, old mobile phones, car chargers, printers, car parts, drawers filled with switches, connectors, wires, buttons, tools and toys, were little memory bombs that detonated without warning. A car charger to which had been wired a little circuit board with a few IC’s, a couple of capacitors, resistors, and switches. I had no idea what it was for, what it would do. Something he designed and planned, but never completed. We could see his hand and mind in the construction, and it brought tears to my eyes. A pouch containing a small fishing kit, one we had assembled for the final camping trip we would take together last June, had me sobbing. A simple strip of metal from a long abandoned construction with markings for connectors never attached was enough to stop me in my tracks. Looking at the evidence of his workmanship, his writing, I could see him in my mind’s eye laying out the design for some invention, some bit of electronica he fabricated, projects he would never finish. Such innocuous objects, such powerful emotions. They illuminate the labyrinthine workings of his mind, the enormous capacity for thought he possessed. His ability to envision some new device, machine, or way of doing something was unique. For years as a child he would describe some invention he was thinking of and, after detailing the concept, intent and construction, he would say, “and then you push the button …” If only there was a button I could push to bring him back.
It seems as if my emotions are undergoing a shift. The volatile rawness of those first few horrible months is subsiding and a deeper more abiding melancholy has moved in. My emotions, while still perilously close to the surface don’t go through the uncontrollable pendulum swings as rapidly as they did. It is not so much acceptance as resignation; this is how it is going to be from now on, and I damn well better get used to it.
I am missing him more each day, finding new implications to his passing that continue to affect our lives. Living with this gaping hole in my being. I may have staunched the bleeding for the time being, but the hurt will never heal. While hearing of something he did for someone else that made a difference to them assuages the grief somewhat, it also brings acute pangs that he won’t be able to do the same for anyone else again. I am still groping through this darkened room, but I am starting to figure out where some of the furniture is. The grief spasms, although more transient and infrequent, have given way to a chronic baseline of heartache. Like a grain of sand in an oyster, I am secreting layers of nacre to coat the intruding object. But as days go by, the irritating ‘pearl’ of sorrow grows larger and larger, and more firmly embedded. Rather than time healing the wound, it only makes it more noticeable. I cannot heal it, I cannot eliminate it, I can only learn to live with it.