In the six and a half years since my husband died, I’ve dwelt frequently on the yin-yang hugeness life — the light paired with darkness, the concord flanked by discord, the joys of existence nesting quietly with its pains like two spooning lovers at sunrise.
But not long ago, I had a reminder. An epiphany, even. I needn’t explain what prompted it, exactly, or why and how it hit me. I will say the run-up involved some lingering hurt, less a major wound than a cascade of hazy memories and minor spasms that should have been negligible and normally would be. But taken together, they assumed an accumulated weight that triggered painful reflection and dragged me down into a stinky little pit of navel-gazing, self-questioning and guilt.
I thought about everything. Things said. Things unsaid. Actions taken. Actions not taken. Failures to love. Failures to listen. Voices raised and heated. Voices muted and cold. Misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Chasms unbreachable, even by love.
Thinking, of course, is a pain in the ass. So is guilt. I’ve talked and written about it before, addressing Chris’s suicide in 2011, my sister Lucy’s suicide in 1992, my father’s attempt in 1974 and the inevitable, cognitive-affective pickle that afflicts survivors. We feel guilty. We know we didn’t actually cause our loved ones’ deaths, and we know it’s irrational to feel otherwise, but still, we feel guilty. That’s just how it works. When I stumbled across YouTube comments suggesting that indeed I must have driven Lucy and Chris to suicide, I both agreed with this assessment (of course I did, you assholes!) and recognized the absurdity of it (of course I didn’t, you assholes!).
But even in lesser ways and in smaller corners of my psyche, I struggle with guilt. I struggle with my own flaws, my sense of brokenness and my fears of alienating the people I love. But who doesn’t? If you don’t, I worry about you; it means you’re blind to your own blessed imperfections, and you’re missing the point of this realm we swim in. The most casually judgmental words ever aimed at me came from one so blind, and I remember thinking: You just don’t get it, do you? We’re not here to be right. We’re here to be human. To love, to screw up, to love some more, to screw up some more, to scream until we’re blue in the face, cry until we’re spent and forgive until we’re breathless: That’s pretty much the gist of it. Love, then love, then love.
This hit me once again as I was pondering the depths of my own navel. I heard, suddenly, a remark Chris made about our marriage and its occasional bumps: “It’s all part of the melody of us.” He was right. Music has its flights of ringing joy, its thundering strife and sadness, its accidentals, chromatic fugues and weirdly discordant turns. So did we. We weren’t perfect. We had our arguments. But they didn’t stop our love; they were pieces of our love. They were all part of the truth between us, an intimacy that embraced the light and the dark in own humanity.
He might be gone, but the truth we shared isn’t. It was life. We clutched it fiercely.
It’s all part of the song.