Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How – and Where – to Grieve, to Move Forward, to Start Anew

Can a place to grieve be too quiet? After three weeks of non-stop activity, travel, funerals, and hundreds of well-wishers imparting their condolences, I am back in Terlingua, Texas. Instead of being in the center of the funeral whirlwind, I am now surrounded only by nature, pure and silent -- the Chisos Mountains, prickly pear cactus, and huge blue sky dotted with puffy clouds and blazing sun. I loved this place before. Before Marcus died. I loved my wide open big Texas space here having come directly out of the madness and density of Venice Beach, California. I loved my time alone to write, to read, to walk the dirt roads through the empty desert with my dogs. I loved my outhouse, the thunderstorms, the power outages, the local radio station that plays 3 songs in a row, the yoga classes in the old church, the afternoon dips in Terlingua Creek. I loved baking pies for La Posada Milagro’s coffee shop. I loved all this before Marcus left so suddenly and unexpectedly. Now the silence and solitude threaten to consume me, the void of humanity providing me with too much time alone in my head, too much room for thoughts of “what if” to take over.

WHAT IF if I had let Marcus come here to visit me in August like he had wanted to, had planned to? When my dad was here visiting he said repeatedly, “Marcus would love it here.” Yes, he would have. What if we hadn’t been filing for divorce? What if we could have worked out our differences, stayed married, had our happily ever after that we dreamed of, strived for? What if he hadn’t had to spend his Portland vacation moving our furniture and boxes into the storage lockers? What if he hadn’t ridden his bike 30 miles two days before he died? What if he had known his bicuspid aortic valve put him at high risk for a ruptured aorta and resulting death? What if he had learned that the persistent cough he’d had for several months might have been a warning sign? What if he was still alive, would we have signed the divorce papers or would we have at the last minute, like we did before, look at each other and say “What are we doing? We love each other. Let’s make this work.” What if, what if, WHAT IF… (Marcus' last photo taken...after his 30 mile bike ride. Lake Oswego, OR)

Yes, I know these are not healthy, productive thoughts and that I cannot – should not -- blame myself for his death. One friend was particularly direct about this: “You have an over-inflated opinion of yourself if you think you have some control over who lives or dies in this world!” he said. Ouch. Another said “There was nothing you could have done to prevent his death.” And yet another friend – actually more like four friends – said, “The decisions you made about Marcus were the right decisions at that time.” I am trying to believe what these friends are telling me is true. All I know right now is that no matter how much sadness and regret I feel, I cannot bring Marcus back, I cannot fix things. Or so I am trying to convince myself. But who am I kidding. I still want to fix things. I still want him to be here.

I have, in a way, found a way to keep Marcus here.

“Talk to him as if he is in the room,” Victoria, a life coach/psychic in LA, has instructed me. “Most importantly, write him a letter telling him things that you appreciated about him and how he may have helped you in your life. Small things are just as important as the big things. They read all these letters. Every single one of them. And if there are things that you are still angry or upset about with him - put that in the letter too. It helps the ‘spirit guides’ decide what areas he's going to be working on first. Really. I'm not kidding.”

I never believed in an afterlife before Marcus died, but now I am hanging on to Victoria’s every word like a lifeline, to keep from drowning in my sorrow, and using her advice like great gulps of air. My letter to Marcus is at least 50 pages long already. Her suggestions provide hope and a way to keep from wanting to follow Marcus on his new journey. To this point she had some additional advice. “Your trip to Texas was the beginning of your new life alone. Keep following your gut, your heart and your path.”

My gut, my path, it appears, is telling me to leave the quiet and solitude of Terlingua and get to a place with more people around, more stimulus, a place with collective creative energy. My gut wants to take me on a path forward, not back. Not back to Portland, which is so full of Marcus’ memory and, let’s face it, too rainy and gray to meet my Vitamin D needs. Not back to LA, where in spite of the hiking trails and beaches to walk, its big city vibe is too aggressive for my current state. In order to go forward and not back and, also, to avoid standing still (which is my greatest fear of all!), I am planning a scouting trip to Austin, Texas, where I hope to find a little house with a yard for my dogs, a lake to swim in, a coffee house with good espresso, music and free WiFi, a writing class, new friends, new adventures, a new beginning. For my journey, I will try to leave my guilt, my sadness, and my “what ifs” behind. But I will bring along my writing paper to keep those letters going to Marcus. And, to brace myself for my return to city life, I will be sure to bring along my ear plugs. And, of course, my pie baking supplies.

2 comments:

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

I've always been interested in Austin, too. Can't wait to hear what you discover on your scouting trip. Thinking of you, Beth...

City Slicker said...

Hi Beth,

I don't know you but I've read your blog and send my condolences and best wishes for a good move. I have not yet lost someone close to me, so cannot imagine what you're going through. I am a fellow writer, though, moving to Marfa or Alpine at year's end because husband will be stationed there for Border Patrol. I was hoping to meet other West Texas writers, like you, and try your pie but I can totally understand why you're leaving Terlingua -- and I've heard Austin is wonderful. Even if I don't meet you, I wish you the best with making the most of life going forward -- and if you've got any tips on how a Bay Area girl can adjust to West Texas, let me know.

Good luck with everything,

Vanessa Richardson
vanessa@richardsonwriting.com
www.mediabistro.com/vanessarichardson