Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Wedding Tree

Today was the second anniversary of my marriage to Aida. I call it that, although it wasn't legal or sanctioned by any office of the state. As my friend Lisa likes to say, "Feh." Ain't no never mind about that justice of the peace; the good Dean presided over a wedding as real as any other.

I proposed marriage to her on the first anniversary of our first real date; a coffee in what she would come to call The Piazza of Wild Horses. It was, in fact, a courtyard outside of a then-Deidrich's coffee shop. On the first anniversary of that date, I took her back to the Piazza of Wild Horses and helped her as she unsteadily moved to its middle (dark now, as the Deidrich's was in flux on its way to becoming a Starbucks) and I asked her to marry me. She said yes immediately, even before I could tell her that I had asked her parents and they thought it was worth a shot too.

She said yes.

And so, on the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo and no we didn't really plan it that way ... it just happened) we stood in the loving company of our dearest friends and family and we pledged our convergent paths. Our hearts. All the days of our lives. You know, until death do us part.

We stood beneath the swaying blessing of the tree in the backyard and were embraced by its green promise of life and renewal. It came to be known as The Wedding Tree from that day forward.

I used it often as a focus, a landmark of sorts, to help Aida to understand where she was during those last months; an elaborate and sometimes harrowing game of "Where in the World Is Aida?". I would call her first to The Wedding Tree -- "do you remember our Wedding Tree? Yes? Well, that's in the backyard, which is also where we are tending the oak seedlings and acorns; where we feed the sparrows and scrub jays; where the sunflowers are nodding; where we find the feathers. And the backyard is just beyond that door -- just beyond this house where we live with our family." Just beyond this room, where we laughed and loved and listened for the angels.

The Wedding Tree was always the first step in finding home.

Today, on our anniversary, I married Aida for a second time. Early this morning and wrapped in her beautiful rebozo, I walked barefoot to our Tree and there I dug into the sandy earth and spread some of her ashes. Strange, heavy ashes. And with the heavy dust of her clinging to my hands, I sang the silly little song that we made up for one another, read the poem we had chosen for our ceremony, and renewed the vows of my heart. Only this time, no parting.

The Wedding Tree is the first step towards home.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


As far as I can tell, I'm experiencing that stage/phase of grieving called Searching and Yearning. Maybe it's Shock and Numbness. Or maybe it's just the Slow Shuffle of Confusion. Yeah, that's it. In fact, I think that's the phase that's directly between the other two; I shuffle between both of them -- confused, shaken.

It's not unusual. Or so I hear.

I've written about it here, in fact. The undeniable sensation of "presence" or the overwhelming feeling that Aida is "soon" or "almost" or ... something ... somehow ... going to be here. Or there. There, actually. And "there" is usually the place where I am planning to be immediately after I am "here" - wherever "here" happens to be.

And I know she's not. That's the screwy part. I both sense that she is present and I know that she is not. That doesn't stop me from checking it out, though. As said eloquently in very helpful book about becoming a widow, Waking Up Alone (I have to paraphrase because I don't have it here with me), "I knew my husband was dead, but it seemed impossible that he would stay dead." That's the trouble with it. It's simple enough for me to understand that Aida is really dead. For pete's sake, I was with her. I saw it, felt it, knew it and know it today in the most elemental and cellular fashion.

Still, it's devilishly difficult to be convinced that she will stay dead.

After talking with my therapist about this strange paradox of two-truths-existing, she reminded me of something we'd talked about before: the hemispheres of the brain. And, more precisely, the hemispheres of Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor's brain and her extraordinary story of observing her own stroke. Dr. Bolte-Taylor is an accomplished neuro-anatomist who, as fate would have it, had a stroke resulting from an aneurysm in her left hemisphere. Please, take a few minutes and watch her incredible story on ted.com: Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor's Stroke of Insight.

Done? Okay. Well, according to Dr. Jill, her right-brain was the center of one-ness and connectedness with all creation. All energy. Perceiving via the senses only, including the ability to sense the modulations of electromagnetic energy that covers the earth and is in and of all things. While touching a wall, she describes the sensation of not knowing where her arm ended and where the wall began. She said it was Nirvana. The interweaving of all creation and all energy into oneness.

Her left brain - the narrator, the keeper of the self, the teller of the story of personhood, the list-maker and score keeper and repository of past, present and future. Self. Apart from the all. Individual. This brain saved her life because it processes differently from the right brain and understands behavior and linearity and consequence.

So, talking to my therapist, she said, "it sounds a lot like the right-brain/left-brain experience of Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor." My first thought was, yeah, but I haven't had a stroke. And then I saw the simplicity and the truth of it.

As someone new in the land of the bereaved, I am in a different state of awareness. This may be the simple nature of grief; it may be also because of the time I spent with Aida so unattached to the linear world and how we lived instead in the circle of the always-present "now". I don't know. What I do know is that I am attuned to my environment - internal and external - in ways that sometimes rival the vigilance of my caretaking days with Aida.

I believe that my right brain and left brain are competing for supremacy of a sort in the way I perceive Aida - and the loss of her physicality. My right brain knows the interconnectedness of all things, feels the energy that envelops me, senses the essence that is Aida in almost physical ways unbidden. My right brain does not know where I end and where she begins.

My left brain loves to step in. To say, "of course she is not there. She died. You know this." My left brain loves to have the last word. And I know, of course, that Aida is dead. That the soft warmth of her flesh is reduced to strange heavy ash in the urn on the dresser. I know this. My left brain loves to tell me the story of it.

But then my right brain tells its own story. A story of life. Of essence. Of energy and permeation. Of immersion. Of love.

What I know is that both are true. Left and right. Death and life. Both are true and, just as both right and left hemispheres of my own brain reside, sometimes uneasy cousins within my own skull, both are true within me. Both stories are true.

We all contain the paradox.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My apologies, first of all - and mostly to myself - for staying away for so long. I find myself curiously reluctant to write sometimes. I suppose that might be because I'm not as eager for introspection as I think I am. Or perhaps it's because I'm less eager for sharing. Or because I still wonder what this is and is going to be.

I'm also just plain tired.

I tend to stay up too late at night. Not because I'm doing anything in particular, but because when I put my head to the pillow I want to be sure that I will fall asleep immediately. I don't care much for laying awake; I don't want to think. Enough of that for now.

Tonight's post is about grapes. Frozen grapes. When frozen, grapes - red or green - become lovely little sherbet-like gems. Tart. Sweet. Cool. Refreshing. They were one of the staples of Aida's diet for the last several weeks of her life. She loved them and asked for them often; they met her thirst, cooled her mouth and throat, satisfied her sweet tooth, and gave her overall snacking pleasure at any time of the day or night.

In the final days, I peeled them for her; the skins had become difficult to swallow. We each took turns with a baggie or a freezer bowl of the icy tart delights at Aida's bedside. Grapes. Please.

Tonight I was washing a glass at the kitchen sink and looked to the left on the counter. A freezer Ziploc bowl and companion baggie lay thawing on the counter. One held red grapes and the other green.

It took me a moment, but I realized that these were what was left of the grapes that we fed to Aida in her final days. These were what remained of pleasure's memory. I had left them in the freezer, seeing them as often as I dip in to the ice machine bucket where they had been kept for quick freezing (returned there as soon as Aida was finished with each snack session on the sweet globes).

I knew they were there and each time I saw them I thought to retrieve them. But I couldn't do it.

It's really the small things. The details. The absence of grapes and an empty drawer where once were her socks is so much more final than a cold urn of ashes could ever be.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Comes After

Today I spent in the company of a group of extraordinary people, a self-identified "tribe" of artists. These were Aida's people. And they have become mine as well. As different and deeply complex as seasons, these individuals create a world of possibility for themselves and for the communities in which they live and work. Like Aida, they are public artists and layer the external world with meaning and potential for all of us. I am honored and delighted to be named with them. Family. Tribe. Commune and crucible.

But all this has come at a price.

In many ways, I am now engaging as my own self in ways that I would not otherwise have done except for the experiences of these last months, including the death of my wife. I am who I am this afternoon writing this because of who I have been. I am gathered into the center of a new family of parents, siblings, cousins, and children precisely because they are the source of Aida; the holiday meals and dance of relation is now my ritual too.

In the same way, the tribe of creators and meaning makers is now my tribe, and that is also because of Aida. She gathered me to her mind and vision where we spoke a similar language and then created one of our own. We needed no translation. She introduced me to her people. And in their center I hear new words and imagine new worlds and think new thoughts that please me in the simple thinking of them. I am reminded that there even are new worlds.

This is a precious gift that remembers me to her, deepening the reach of her soul's taproot to mine.

I also find myself wondering if I might have come to this place in time with her by my side. Like everything else, it is impossible to know. I am still struggling to understand that the world moves on its own way without her and that I seem to have a place in it. I don't know where or who I might have been, nor who I am -- only that I am continuing. Becoming.

Tribe. Commune. Crucible.

Are We There Yet?

Today, a first and a continuation.

First, the first. My first pedicure. It was wonderful. And so was the massage. And the facial. Still, all in all, not the sort of thing I'd bother with on a blog (considering the glut of minutiae posted every millisecond), but it's one of those events that fall in the "after Aida" category. It occurs to me that there will be a lot more of those. I hate that.

Then out for an evening event hosted by our LGBT Center (that I am honored to serve as a member of the board of directors). It's an annual event that honors women in the community for excellence in a wide variety of fields, from the Arts to Education, to Philanthropy, to Politics and Law. Last year Aida was honored in the Arts category. She spoke eloquently and after the event, we retired to a room at the resort where the event was held. A beautiful room. A beautiful night. And the next day, a delicious breakfast and a luxurious nap on the luxurious furniture. All afternoon.

Tonight's event was well done, and enjoyable. The women who were honored were well deserving of the acknowledgement they received. I had a good time. I laughed. I spent time with friends. I only cried twice. A success, in my estimation.

And on the way home I realized again that everything I do, as strange as this may sound to anyone but me, is an effort to bring Aida back to me. To somehow conjure her again in the solid real world. I don't know exactly why or how attending a semi-formal event honoring lesbians of high acheivement in the community would somehow cast the necessary spell, but there you have it.

I looked for her along every street and wanted to believe ... again. I think this is just how it goes.

I am constantly battling the thought that some day I will finally make it; that I will finally pass the test, do the just right thing, finally perform well enough and someone will yell "Congratulations! You've made it!" And all will finally be well. All that is broken will be mended. All that has been lost to me will be restored. And that my heart and my soul will be returned to me. I can't stop thinking that maybe, just maybe around the next corner, if I do it just right, I will finally arrive.

And that it will all be over. That someone or something will make it all better.

I'm still looking.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's Not You, It's Me

Today's PSA: It's Not You, It's Me

I cry a lot. I just do. I think it can be likened to the way that infants cry. They just do. Something about clearing toxins from the body. And it's an effective, if not always efficient or eloquent, way to communicate that something is wrong.

For me, I cry because I have a dark stone on my chest. I think that makes it hard to breathe and maybe I need to make the extra effort. Besides, it hurts.

And that's me. You ... well ... you don't make me cry. Even when you ask me how I am and then listen when I tell you. Or when you tell me a little story about Aida. Or tell me that you miss her too. You don't make me cry even when you cry. Honestly, I'm crying anyway. Sometimes with no warning and in the middle of an activity that has every appearance of being enjoyable.

It just happens. A word will float by. A flash of her face, her smile. A scent on the wind. I'll hear a sound ... birds or laughter or the foghorn blaatting in the dark of late hours from the harbor. I'll just remember that she is not where she is supposed to be.

And I cry. It just happens. And it's okay. It's so much better than not crying, to tell you the truth. Every tear, as my poet friend Diane wrote, does its part to dissolve the stone.

So the point is, please let me cry. Help me to make a space for it. It's okay. You can talk about it. It helps. You don't have to ignore it or feel badly as if somehow you created the sadness. You didn't. It's there anyway.

It's me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

There's Good News and Bad News

It occurred to me sometime during the last months of Aida's life that, in general, we just don't pay attention to the obvious: That "till Death Do Us Part" means that one of us is going to die before the other one. One of us is going to go first.

Obvious, right? Simple, right? And just unbelievably difficult to understand. To (in a word of the 70s) grok.

Aida and I had the chance to talk about this odd turn more than once and more than once remarked on its essential strangeness. I remember realizing -- and telling her -- that when two people throw in with each other for the long haul it means that one of the two is going to go first; someone is going to make the way for the other.

Somewhere between November and December, it had become painfully clear that all that chatter about the parts "Until Death" and "'till I die" and blahblahblah ... was real. Oh my god.

I guess somewhere deep down I didn't think anyone really meant that part of it. I didn't think we were supposed to actually follow through on the whole "Death" thing. I mean really, what kind of a messed up system is that??

And so, my friends and fellow travelers, the good news may be that you have found a shelter and a home for your heart in the sweet arms of someone unbearably dear to you.

The bad news is that means someone is going to go first.

I think my Aida is crafting a most marvelous map for me; I'm going to need it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No Joke

Today I had an early Easter with the Family and friends. Four generations of them. And four generations of love and laughing and good food and holiday traditions that I'm just now getting the hang of; I'm still shaking the confetti out of my hair (and I'll leave you with that for now).

I'll write more later about the experience of being a one-who-used-to-be-two in the midst of such comfort and silliness, but for now, the subject of the post:

Aida's mother.

While listening to Aida's dad tell me a story of something or other about Aida's mom, he very naturally and easily referred to her as "your mother-in-law."

So good. I feel so good.

Goodnight, Dad. Goodnight, Mom.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

That Pesky Question

You know the one: "How can I help?" or its kissing cousin "What can I do?" -- a pesky and problematic question that seems to need a response, but is so often ... well ... unanswerable. And everyone knows it.

The only question more difficult - and common - is "How are you?"

Don't get me wrong. I understand and acknowledge that these questions are deeply meaningful and evidence of great care and concern on the part of the person asking. It's just that I (I won't speak for everyone else deep in the Grief Pit) often haven't got a clue. Or, as in the case of "How are you", I *do* have a clue and really, I'm thinking that most people really don't want to know.

That said ... re: the "What can I do?" question. I finally have an answer.

Interesting that it took me until halfway through Aida's memorial service reception before I figured it out (and we'd been on the ride since mid-2006), but I felt so good to have finally understood what it was that I really really for real want you to do.

And here it is.

Just love me. No strings. I want for you to send a card, or an email, or leave a message on my voicemail. A text. Picture mail. Poke me on Facebook (if the redesign still allows you to do that) Something. I want you to do something at least once a week to tell me that you're thinking about me. That you haven't forgotten about me or about Aida. That you care. Even that you love me.

And that you don't expect me to answer you right away. Not yet. And that you'll wait for me to surface and *then* we'll go to coffee/a movie/a bike ride/a mini-vacation/road trip/just sit.

I want you to do that and I want you to not stop just because I don't answer you right away.

Like I told a friend recently bereaved himself, all the love and none of the pressure.

Just keep reminding me that you care.

In the meanwhile, between the deep and the surface, I have to figure out when it's really okay to empty her sock drawer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bienvenidos Template

Changed the template for this freaking effing blog. We shall see if that makes it any more attractive to come home to.

My thought has been to explore the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life -- and that is to lose my wife - the love of my life - to cancer just over two months ago.

It has occurred to me that no one is writing handbooks for us queer folk on how to manage this thing. I mean, fer crissakes, we aren't even sure how to do weddings, let alone funerals and every single bone crushing day afterwards.

Here in California, last summer was an amazing flurry of lovelovelove with wedding after wedding after wedding after wedding. It was glorious. By the end of it in November (thank you electorate), just as we were figuring out the timing on sending invitations with the "M_____ sends regrets/will attend ..." tiny little insert card in them we got kicked in the collective rear. Turns out we don't need that kind of information anymore. At least, not for the next little while.

And in the meanwhile, my beloved wife died as I lay draped on her chest listening to the last breaths she would ever take on this earth.

So, what do you think of the template? Too moody?