I had my last appointment with my grief counselor, Susan, a few days ago. No, I did not get a diploma or any certificate to prove I had successfully completed some set course of therapy. I wish it were that easy! Unfortunately, the grieving process will most definitely continue. But I did get a parting hug, along with heartfelt words of wisdom from this savior of a woman.
First, she called me on my bluff that everything was a-okay, hunky dory, just tops, or, to use Marcus' favorite word, brilliant! I had put on my game face for this final session. I'm moving away and I didn't want her to think she was turning me out into the cold prematurely. But she saw right through it. "I am feeling a sense of urgency from you," she said.
This is what I love about my grief counselor. She is good at what she does. Plus she has x-ray vision.
"Yes, I am aware of that," I admitted. I want the grief to go away -- now!!! -- even if I have to run away from Portland and outrun myself to escape its talons. I told her, "I remember sitting in your grief support group 10 months ago listening to people say they lost their spouse one or two years ago and thinking, 'That will not be me. I won't be grieving a year from now and needing some support group.'" Oh how wrong I was! What has been one year since Marcus died feels more like one month. My how time flies. Susan nodded her head, her eyes so full of compassion it almost felt like she was hugging me with them.
She was quiet for a moment and then stated in her gentle way, "You are like a trapeze artist. You have to let go of one swing in order to grab the next one. There is that moment of being airborne in between when you are holding onto nothing, and trusting that the other swing will come toward you. That 'in between' is where you are now, grasping for air." I took her comment well, though it was not a stretch and actually felt like a compliment considering the day before someone else told me I was like the Tasmanian Devil and that even when I stopped my tornado twirl I had an angry grimace on my face.
I thanked Susan for her brilliance, not just for this astute analogy, but for her months of wise counsel, and for her keeping my life from derailing completely.But in thinking about this for a few days -- surrounded by moving boxes -- I realize that Susan is wrong. I am not in a mid-air leap. I am not in that free-floating, faith-challenging, empty air space. I wish I was flying. But no, I haven't let go of the first swing yet! My fingers are still clutching the bar in a white knuckle grip, afraid to release, afraid of falling into the abyss (the one I have spent the year living in and have barely begun to climb out of), afraid of the unknown. And the longer I sit staring at the stacks of boxes (not to mention the piles of clothes, dishes, and other belongings that haven't found their way into boxes yet -- like the "Free Pie" sign from our January TV shoot), the tighter I cling to the first swing.
I'm clinging to the security of my nest. It's stressful enough to move under the best of circumstances, but to be running away from your own self with no destination in mind?!
I'm clinging to the familiarity of the city (St. Honore Boulangerie, the Mexican bar with the best nachos north of the Rio Grande, the ease of driving on Portland’s uncrowded freeways).
I’m clinging to my friends, like Stacy, Sylvia, Alison, Katrin, Joerg, Lyndsay, Fetze, Dayna...the list is too long to name all of the amazing, kind, loving people who have propped me up these past months, people I’ve hiked with, baked pies with, walked the dogs with, babysat for, gotten drunk with, gone to movies with, cried with, spent holidays with.
I'm clinging to the trees – literally – in the forest behind my house, hugging them all, channeling energy from their roots to keep me from blowing off into the atmosphere with the next breeze. I’m clinging even harder now that I planted a tree in this forest for Marcus.
And I’m clinging to Marcus. What happens when I leave the place that reminds me most of him? Will my memory fade? Will I forget him? I don’t want to forget him! I am terrified of forgetting him, worried that I am leaving him behind. What will happen to my connection to him when I sever the ties to the places that keep my feelings for him alive? For example, what will happen when I no longer drive past the hospital where he was taken in the ambulance and pronounced dead? My point exactly. I get it. It’s time to leave. But for the first time in my free-spirited, nomadic, restless life I am truly afraid of moving forward.
Ready or not I have to let go of the swing. (In the scheme of things at least I have a little more control over this metaphoric swing compared to the time I went sky diving and the instructor PUSHED me out of the airplane into a 10,000 foot free fall. Yes, the chute opened. And yes, that's me in the picture. And yes, I am smiling.)
I’ve already committed to letting go, to being open to the few airborne seconds without another swing to grab, because I’ve made plans. And making plans, according to my grief counselor, is an excellent sign of progress. These plans include – why yes – pie!!! I am scheduled to be in Des Moines, Iowa on August 12 for the Iowa State Fair, where I will be a judge for the pie competitions – all 22 categories of them. I’m even scheduled to give a pie baking demonstration on live TV, a 5-minute segment on Des Moines’ NBC affiliate, WHO-TV.
Even if I didn’t have plans to pursue pie in Iowa, it’s too late to keep my apartment. It’s been rented to a very nice woman who is already picking out paint for the walls and will be moving in by mid-August. I met her, Renee, and she already knew who I was when she arrived to look at my place. (Wow, ya gotta love Google.) She even brought me a book on grief called The New Black by Darian Leader, which was very sweet of her. She suggested that if there was time she would love to come by and have me teach her how to make pie, kind of christen the place, pass the torch (or rolling pin), so to speak.Given the current state of the apartment, the stacks of moving boxes and the disaster of stuff strewn across the floor, there is no way I will be out of here by the end of the week and still have time to give a pie lesson. But I appreciated her suggestion and as such will leave her one of my blueberry pie-in-a-jar pies in the freezer as a welcome present.
And since I have one more of the blueberry “jar” pies left I know just who will be the recipient: Susan, my grief counselor, of course. If anyone deserves a pie, it’s this compassionate, giving, human being, someone who listened to me, understood me, and nurtured me during the hell that is known as acute and complicated grief. Forget my diploma. Tis better to give than to receive. And what better way to tell her how deeply, eternally grateful I am than with a homemade, handmade pie. Gratitude in a jar.
Thank you, friends, forest, nest, and bakery. Thank you, Portland. And most of all, thank you, Susan.(PHOTO: I hired two friends of my neighbor's son to move my big pieces of furniture to my storage locker. He's giving me the thumbs up. This must mean everything is going to be okay!)