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.