A few days back, I actually cleaned off and polished the bookshelves in my living room. I’m good at a lot of things, but cleaning is not my jam. (Just ask my husband, God bless his patience.)
The smiley faces my kids had written in the thick dust kept leering at me. So I sighed, grabbed the can of Pledge and a rag, and got busy. Everything was dusty, including the books, electronics, photos, and aviation bric-a-brac my husband collects like squirrels burying nuts in the fall.
I usually avoid the shelf that is my son’s memorial: his urn, cleverly disguised as a mantle clock; a few memorial candles; a photo book my husband put together; and a carved wooden turtle with Kai’s name on it, a gift from one of my husband’s island friends.
As I started to move things around, and I lifted Kai’s urn/clock, I was startled by its heaviness. I had forgotten how much it weighed. I haven’t opened the back of his urn, and I really have no desire to see whatever it contains. In my mind, it’s just a bag of grey sand. Having read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, though, I know that cremains aren’t smooth, hourglass sand. And I don’t need to see what’s in my son’s urn.
I don’t want to peer into this small but weighty bag of chunky ash and think,
“This is all that remains.”
Because it’s not all that remains. At least, not right now. Someday, generations from now, Kai will be forgotten. I know that, and it makes me sad, but that’s the truth. He was only 12, so the only legacy Kai has is what we keep. The stories we tell, the pictures and videos we preserve, the clothes and toys and books that are still in his room … those things combined, those are the weight of a life.
I don’t know how much an eternal soul weighs. I assume it’s weightless, as a part of the ether. And my belief that an eternal soul is unchained and unburdened just confirms for me that life in the hereafter will be blissfully scale-free. But for those of us left behind, lifting urns and boxing up toys, a lost life is so heavy, it’s hard to lift.
I’ve avoided writing for almost a year now because I assumed my time was up. I had my window for grief, and at the year mark, that window closed. I assumed. A year was enough, right? A year to be sad and withdrawn and excused is sufficient, right?
What I discovered was this: the first year is about survival. It’s about white knuckling every holiday and anniversary, about gritting teeth and getting through family moments and “celebrations.” It’s about just. Getting. Through.
Year Two is a sickening gut check. It’s, “We’ve been here before, and we’re doing it again, and we’ll have to keep doing it for the rest of our time here.” It’s the realization that this (holiday/ anniversary/ first day of ___) isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s coming to accept that this backpack of grief may feel lighter at times but that we’ll never take it off, never set it down, never closely examine its contents to decide what we can jettison.
It’s the weight of a life, and I will carry it until the day I die. I will carry it sometimes gladly, sometimes resentfully, but always gratefully. Because I had the privilege of bringing this life into the world, I will carry it all the days that abide. It’s a privilege to carry what remains, because it reminds me of everything I loved, will always love. Like the heaviness of my swollen, pregnant belly; or the weight of a toddler on my hip; or of a sleepy six-year-old lifted into bed; or a snuggly 12-year-old squirming into my lap, this weight is strangely, absurdly welcome.
It reminds me of what was, and what remains, and what I must keep. I think ee cummings said it best.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)