The robe and the stool

I haven’t felt moved to write in a little while, but I sat at the counter next to someone at brunch today, someone a fair bit younger than me (easier and easier these days), who was handwriting in a journal. I mentioned to her that it was nice to see someone writing, with a pen and paper, in this day and age. We chatted about the pace of writing, and how the medium could affect your choice of words. It was a nice little chat.

And so for the rest of today, I’ve been sort of primed to think about the power of writing—even if it is typing.

Here we are, finally, near the end of the day. Something happened and I want to write about it, just to get it out. It feels good to do that when the timing is right. I sort of care, but don’t really care, that all of the posts on the front page of this site currently are therapeutic writing and not geek stuff. But whatever; it’s my website and it’s my outlet right now.

I know this well now, but for those who don’t: with grief, and I imagine with some other emotions, too, sometimes circumstances come together in a way that can bring an unexpected rush of feeling that it seems you just aren’t capable of stopping. I think the thing with grief that makes it so powerful is that it’s about loss and an absence, the fact that you cannot possibly recreate the memory in the future (if you ever really could) because the person is gone. So the memory is both a something in your mind, as well as a nothing in your heart, at the same time.

This house, Michelle and I’s first—and only—house together, and the stuff in it, are not really things that trigger these sorts of waves. I mean, it’s symbolic of everything and nothing at the same time. Every doorknob, every shelf, every squeaky floorboard, is something that both Michelle and I worked over thousands of times. So I’m not very sentimental about things like that in my day to day, that stuff of normal living. It’s just a house, it’s just stuff. But sometimes, the right things in combination can make all the difference.

Last night, I had a bunch of folks over for a backyard projected movie, as I’ve done for years. I didn’t clean up afterwards, and it’s been on my todo list today (that’s code for procrastination), so the back yard and patio still have some bottles, some glasses, some chairs. There is a stool right in the middle of the deck that I put there so that I could sit and face a few people at once while we were all chatting before the movie started, so I could be a good host and connect with more folks.

I have a beautiful Pendleton wool blanket that I bought Michelle a couple Christmases ago. It’s a smallish size—Pendleton calls it a robe—and it’s perfect for wrapping around yourself. Michelle was cold-blooded by nature and used to use it for naps or while snuggling in and watching TV. She really loved that blanket. “Fetch me my robe!” she’d command, nicely, and I’d tuck her in to keep her toasty warm.

I’ve been using the robe lately as a bedspread for these chilly summer nights, with the windows open and a breeze blowing through the room. But so has the cat. So I took it out back to shake off the fur a little.

As I walked out with the robe, I came upon the stool. I’d run into it a few times today (procrastination), but this time was different. And I was so suddenly and swiftly taken back to a winter day about six months ago. I was quite literally stopped in my tracks.

Michelle was near the low point of her illness, symptom-wise. It seemed like things came so quickly and she became so ill so fast. The earlier days were actually the worst for pain and fatigue. For a period of six weeks, she couldn’t even lie down due to the pain. So back then, getting out was a luxury, aside from medical appointments.

One time, we walked halfway up the block, and that was enough. Sometimes we’d go further. Some days we wouldn’t even leave the house.

But this one day, the clouds broke a little, the sun poked through, and simply going to the patio was what was in order. I helped her down the stairs and onto the stool that I’d gotten ready. This was before she lost a lot of weight and needed padding on hard chairs, so she could sit right on it. She settled in with her back to that shining sun.

I wrapped the robe around her, and I held her shoulders.

And we felt the sun together.

Tonight, there was no sun, and there was no Michelle, but I sat on that stool, and I wrapped that robe around my own shoulders.

And I remembered.