In time my foot healed enough that I dared walk again. I shut the door of Physical Pain and clunked down the shadowy hallway, still searching for the exit, always looking for the way out of Grief. I jiggled a doorknob. Locked. I sighed and stumbled past more closed wooden doors. Also locked. More musty wallpaper. Grief is so obscure, so heavy. So endless. I needed a place to rest. Something caught my eye. Wait. I doubled back. My fingers touched the bumpy texture of a scrapbook page on the wall. One cut-out word predominated: Memories.
Suddenly, a hidden door creaked open. Light angled into the hall. Someone was singing a song with no words. The tune sounded familiar. My lips curled in a smile. I walked into Memories where tall frosted windows bent beams of sunlight into surreal wavy patterns. The room, filled with piles upon piles of photo albums stacked on tables and sofa and covering the floor, ebbed and flowed like a mirage. I blinked to focus. Some albums were large, some small, but all were crammed with pictures of Steve. I lifted a book from an overstuffed chair. It felt real. I sat with the album on my lap, propping my feet on an ottoman.
It all felt like home.
The picture book transported me to the happy, younger days. That was me shielding us with my bridal bouquet from an onslaught of bird seed as we left the church. There we went hiking alone. Oh, and now in this one it was with baby. The tune played on. I knew that song. Oh, and here was the one of Steve with his Master’s degree. A tear trickled down my cheek.
I turned page after page, sinking deeply into the chair. Words rose above the tune as the chorus repeated. “Memories…” Looking up, I saw a widescreen TV. A movie was showing: The Way We Were. Only this one wasn’t starring Barbara and Ryan, it was Steve and me. And he looked so real. I reached forward to touch him, certain that I would feel flesh on flesh. Convinced that I did.
I talked to the Steve on the screen, both reliving our life and telling him what was happening now. In this room, he was here again. A little magical bubble where I felt secure.
With another album I sank more deeply into the chair. The chair and I were one for days, weeks, longer. I mopped honest tears with tissues. I didn’t want to find a way out of Grief anymore. In here, in Memories, I felt complete again. I wanted to stay right here with the past always present until I understood how it was that Steve had made me whole.
How could I leave this place feeling like half a person? I had to understand what Steve had supplied to the me in the pictures that looked so alive. Was it something I could muster on my own?
I turned pages of the photo albums searching for answers. I catalogued Steve’s virtues. Arranged those that balanced my weaknesses into neat rows. But how could I carry them with me? I cried out to my God who cares for the widow.
He spoke words from the weeping prophet: “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.”
I sobbed. Because death of a spouse in a crazy way feels like rejection. Because it’s forever. Because it feels mean and on purpose.
A disconnected crackling sound emitted from the TV screen. I looked up in time to see an outdated station sign-off rainbow. I stared at it in disbelief. Even here. My world had moved on. The music had stopped playing. The pictures in the albums were beginning to fade. I could not extract wholeness from the past. Intense homesickness invaded my soul with this unwelcome certainty: Life would never, ever, be the same.