The Grieving – Aqua Alta, the 14 Coast Starlight Express and Mixed Metaphors

The days are jumbled together, with continual kindness the watchword. During the first week back at work I started slowly, spending the bulk of the first day entering petty cash receipts and doing equally unmindful tasks, trying to remain mindful. 

It’s a treacherous thing to wade back into the world after such a major loss.

Side note/Metaphor alert- I lived in Venice, Italy for a year after college, and in the winter during Aqua Alta (high water)  we denizens of Venice would put on our hip wader boots, and go to market, walking the boardwalks through the public squares (campi)  throughout Venice. Like the dance of the umbrellas through the narrow streets (calle) of Venice, one learned how to navigate so that you could pass people on the boards without plunging up to your waist in the water on one side or the other of the boardwalks. It was how you made your way to the necessary daily events amidst the extraordinary and haunting hassle of this flood of a magical city.

The first week back to work, donuts aside, felt a little like I was navigating the Venetian boards. I’m aware, and not in a critical way, because I get it, that some people are only able to walk by and salute you for being “on the boards”, while others will stop and fully acknowledge the depth of the waters all around you. My students, for the most part, were in the first camp. I knew they were glad to see me, but were unable to speak of what for them was the unspeakable. There were, of course, exceptions.

Perhaps they were being kind and not wanting to see me lose it, or perhaps they didn’t want to/couldn’t think about the lapping waters of death around their feet and the flimsy supports that keep us all out of the depths of despair and loss.  Okay, I’ll curb the metaphor before we all have to don our waders. It was just interesting to observe it happening. And yes, I did lose it several times during the week when someone acknowledged the depth of the waters around us.

But remember the words of my wise widow friends – you are either in the boat, or under the boat. Either way, you are where you are and you can’t resist or the flood of grief will last longer.

I remember coming away from years of sessions with my psychologist after losing my mom, knowing that words are words, feelings are really just feelings and they ultimately won’t kill you unless you overreact to their emotional impact. (Forgive my privilege as I recognize I’m likely shortchanging serious sufferers of the power of those emotions). 

What’s been lovely were the social events that happened this week, my dinner with Lynn and Christina, where we laughed and ate healthy food, then walked to the roof of Lynn’s building to survey the sights (see top image) and make silly faces. I only wish I’d captured Christina’s response to the stairwell…. 

Trust me, the silly faces were cute but I don’t want to risk being killed by my friends for sharing them here.

I made it through the week, facing with dread Jimmie’s birthday, which fell mercifully, on a Saturday. I knew I’d be a basket case anyway, so chose that day to clear the closets. 

There are those of you who probably think I must be cold or unemotional to remove his clothing so quickly, but actually I find myself gasping for space, for breath, for liberty from stuff. Stuff is stuff, it’s not Jimmie. This was his special birthday horoscope yesterday. I made chocolate cake in a cup to celebrate. I knew better than to make a full sized chocolate cake and have that lying around but it felt important to honor his favorite dessert.

Spooky, right?

My widow pal Jennifer, thoughtfully invited me to dinner at her house on Jimmie’s birthday, which she knew would be a tough day. It was so lovely to be in safe hands where our shared experiences sustained us both. 

When you go from caring for someone 24/7 the trap is to fill the 24/7 hours with activities. I did a bang up job last week doing that. I can see from my calendar that I’ve done the same for the coming weeks. I’m showing up. I call myself, affectionately, “Spectral Els” because I have a short attention span, a goofy good humor which is filo dough thin and can erupt into sobs at the least provocation. Consider yourself warned.

At the advice of my friend Tina, I’ve booked a train ticket to Seattle to join Chris and Whitney at Christmas.  A sleeper car and 33 hours to contemplate life as a soloist. Occasional people are starting to ask about what I’m thinking about the future.  I’m still treading the boards over the Aqua Alta, and that answer is way ahead when things start drying up. But I sincerely thank you for caring and for not being afraid to ask.

7 Replies to “The Grieving – Aqua Alta, the 14 Coast Starlight Express and Mixed Metaphors”

  1. I love that you are writing through the experience. Yours and so many others. Giving us all a window into our own thoughts, fears and breakthroughs. You are blessed with such a gift. Love you, Els.

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