Just a few days ago, I felt the old urge to call my husband. The fact that he died four and a half years ago didn’t factor in, and why should it? I wanted to talk to him, dammit! See, I had a bunch of nifty-cool ideas for book projects that I was considering, and I needed his advice. For a nanosecond I wanted to ring him up. For a nanosecond I thought I could. Then came the realization: BLOODY HELL! CHRIS IS DEAD!
This used to happen more often –a few times a week, then a few times month, then a few times a year. I don’t expect it will ever fade entirely, as I still bat off the occasional urge to call my sister Lucy, and she left us in 1992. Old habits die harder than people, apparently.
But this is how it works, right? If you know loss, and who doesn’t, you know that the dead never truly leave. I suppose this might classify as “denial” in the so-called stages of grief, which are, of course, a crock; anyone who believes that the bereaved can just cycle neatly and quietly through discrete chapters of mourning until they reach the all-powerful ACCEPTANCE has obviously never gone through the process themselves. Because it isn’t actually a process. It’s more of an H-bomb, and there is no acceptance. There’s only resignation. While I’m resigned to the fact that my husband is gone, I don’t accept it any more than I accept the deaths of the rest of my friends and family in the next world. They should be here! They should. They are. Don’t you dare tell me they aren’t.
Everyone I’ve ever lost is still here with me, and I don’t mean that in a supernatural sense. I don’t mean some woooey-boooey conference of souls is hanging out in my attic, rattling chains. I mean that the dead are no less real to me now, no less present in this world, than they were when they were systematically sucking and expelling air. I see Chris everywhere in Albany. When I go to Boston, I see Lucy emerging from the mouth of the T.
Last weekend, on a visit to Connecticut, I saw her stretched and slathered in the sun near the lake where we grew up. I saw my father chatting with neighbors. I saw my pink-faced mother with a pair of garden shears. Later, venturing into the church where I was married, I walked up the aisle and saw them all: my parents, my sister, my husband, his parents, my best friend, my second mother. All of them gone, and all of them there. They were real. I felt their realness. And as I felt it, I gasped and fell to my knees, pressed by the weight of their presence and the burden of their deaths. In that moment, they were alive and dead, and alive and dead, and alive, alive, alive.
So yesterday was Good Friday, when Jesus was placed in the tomb. Tomorrow is Easter, when he rises again. Today is Holy Saturday, the Holy Limbo, the between-time that bends from darkness into light. At Easter Vigil Mass in just a few hours, Jesus will rise. He’ll live again, and I and my fellow Christians will rejoice.
We face this paradox all the time. Jesus dies, and then he rises again, and then he dies, and then he rises again – he’s always dying, always rising, always in the grief of the tomb and the joy of resurrection. It’s all happening at once, Good Friday and Easter both.
So it is with those we love: Always dying, always living. No one is ever truly gone. The past is present, and so are they. They’re with me right now. I’m sure of it. If only we could talk.