Sunday, August 12, 2012

Scrubbing as an Act of Love

Rubber gloves, green scrubber, bleach cleaner. These aren’t what I usually think of as the tools of compassion, but they were the ones I had in my hands today.

My sweet, funny, kind, smart (really smart, he’d want me to emphasize) friend Joe died very unexpectedly a few days ago, although his friends and family only learned of his passing last night. In the midst of their shock, Joe’s amazing circle of friends gathered together and started figuring out what all needed to be done. Who needs to be called? Can we find a way to contact that person? Who can go see her? They looked to each other for support, but even in the hard blow of sudden grief they looked outward to see who would need a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on, and they made sure it was there. You can tell a lot about a person by the friends he gathers around him; that right there should tell you a helluva lot about Joe.

I’m on the outside of that group. I know some of the people, and I’ve heard about all of them from Joe over the years, but this isn’t my close circle of friends. So when more friends needed to be called or people needed to be tracked down, there was little I could do. What I could do, though, was clean. Certain areas of Joe’s house needed some hard-core cleaning. (Suffice it to say that this was a necessity, not just a kindness.)

That’s where the rubber gloves come in. I spent a number of hours over there today scrubbing on my hands and knees, along with a couple of other friends of Joe’s. This was what I could do. This was the offering of compassion I could make to Joe’s family and friends, to take one burden off of them. As hard as it was to be there, at that moment there was no place else in the world that I wanted to be, because this was the offering of love that I could make to my friend.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Wonderful Tonight. Wonderful Indeed.

So there I am, driving along through the hellish heat of a Texas summer, when suddenly I hear it: “Wonderful Tonight,” by Eric Clapton. A song that my husband David would play for me. And its our anniversary. And I’m headed straight toward the town where he’s buried.

Ker-plow! One second I’m fine, the next it’s as though I’ve been hit by a Mac truck. I drive on through minutes and hours more in the Texas sun until sun gives way to clouds and clouds open up to rain. And I’m glad, because since the moment that song hit the radio the sadness has been working its way through my veins and corpuscles, and sunshine would feel like an insult now. By the time I reach the town where my in-laws live the gentle rain has become a heavy downpour and I drive right by the turn-off for their house, deciding instead that I needed to head straight to the cemetery.

I pull up close to David’s grave with tears falling down my face as fast as the drops are falling outside the window. Not much caring about either form of precipitation, with my heart ravaged by grief I step out of the car and into the downpour, immediately drenched. Overcome by more emotions than I can begin to sort, I walk over to David’s headstone, wanting to speak the love and yearning and sorrow that are filling my being, but as I open my mouth – wait a minute, what? – this is what falls less-than-mellifluously from my lips: “You f#%ing bastard, how DARE you make me come visit you in a goddam CEMETARY on our anniversary! You are such a piece of s&*t!” and other meaningful and loving words to that effect.

Caught totally off guard by this unexpected rant, I actually have a “Who said that?” moment of disconnect before the absolute absurdity of the situation hits me. Here I am, wet to the bone, cursing at my husband while standing on his grave – it's like something out of a heartwrenching-but-in-the-end-uplifting Hollywood movie. I start giggling, and then the giggling gives way to giant belly laughs that have me doubled over and howling. I fall to my knees in the mud, leaning against the headstone, and then I'm laughing and crying all at the same time, still in the pouring rain.

I arrive a while later at my in-laws place looking like something the cat dragged in, worn out, and yet peaceful. The pain and the laughter, the rain and the absurdity – I guess I needed it all right then.

All this happened a few years ago, but when I heard “Wonderful Tonight” on the radio today it brought the memory flooding back. It is a memory of grief, not of David, but it’s a memory that makes me smile now, and I find David in that smile. For so long the grief was about feeling the loss of him in everything, but now it’s more about finding the beauty of him in everything. And this beauty - it is a blessing.

“Oh my darling, you are wonderful tonight.”