It was only as I started packing up my house that I realized that I have never put anything in the spot where Brian died.
He died in the living room. I think he was sleeping, but I don’t know because I was sleeping too. I was on the couch; he was in his hospital bed, near enough that I could reach out and touch him. I knew he was dead the moment I woke up, but it took a minute for all of me to catch up while I put on my glasses and got the cat off my legs and checked Brian’s pulse.
I was thirty years old. I lost my mind. I don’t know how long I lay there sobbing next to what had only hours before been someone breathing and talking who I loved. I calmed down, finally, and became so still, thinking about all the morphine on the table next to the bed. Thinking about everything I didn’t have to do.
When you’re taking care of a dying person at home, a Hospice worker will put a note on your refrigerator telling you what to do when that person dies. You may scoff when they do it–How could you forget?–but they’ll insist.
I stared at the morphine, and I remembered the note. It was a long eight steps to the refrigerator. I hope those eight steps are the hardest thing I ever have to do in this life, that my hardest thing is already done, but what’s really hardest is knowing that maybe it’s not.
People took such good care of me after Brian died. I was a broken thing–pushing myself through my days, dreading everything, feeling no joy. I forgot that it was possible to feel any other way, but I learned again, slowly. Very slowly.
That was eight years ago.
Last January, my father called me and told me some things I already knew, like that I wasn’t happy. That it seemed like I wasn’t doing the things I wanted to be doing. That maybe the house and some of the other things I was clinging to were getting in my way.
He told me I could let go and try some new things and that the people who mattered would still love me. He told me everything would be okay.
I knew these things. I did. But I also knew that fixing them was going to be hard work.
But I finally decided to do it.
And just like back when I was a broken thing, people helped me out. They helped me fix up the house and clean and get rid of my stuff. They gave me places to stay during open houses. They fed me. They helped me get a new job. They listened to me when I had to talk (and talk and talk) about the things I was trying to do and the things I couldn’t seem to manage.
The people closest to me seemed relieved that I was finally doing something that needed to be done.
When you experience a major death, if you are fortunate, some counselor will find you and tell you not to make any changes in your life for a year or two. This is because every part of you will want to run from knowing some things that are true. Like that you can put all your energy for years into keeping someone alive, and they can die anyway. That you can never know what decision it might have been that meant the difference between that person living and dying. That whatever happens, you will make yourself walk the eight steps to the refrigerator, because the person whose survival matters most to you is your own. These are the kinds of things you have to sit with for a long time before you can both know them and be okay with them, and you have to learn how to sit quietly with the truth before you can move on.
This past Sunday, Tammy helped me haul my couch away, and we burned it. There is a stack of packed boxes in the spot where Brian died, and I move in a little more than a week. I’m renting, partly because I want the ease but also because I’m not sure where my life is going. No one has left a note on my refrigerator telling me what to do.
I have some ideas, though. I have my hopes and dreams.
And things are okay.