I pause at the doorway, my eyes lingering on the monthly planner. The kids have been crossing out days religiously since the beginning of the month to Thanksgiving. My eyes however, have been on a different date. The funk has been closing in on me like an ominous bubble. Sometimes they are visceral, sometimes they are elusive like a whiff of something familiar. The images are unrelenting when they start.
The cold metal of the hospital bed. The strident sound of monitors flatlining. The impersonal cold of a body from which life has ebbed out leaving nothing but matter. The adrenaline rush from not knowing how to handle grief. The focus on the practical. The obituary. The calls to family. The hunt for pictures to accompany the death announcement. The bills. The priest. The rituals. The glass cage in the center of the room. The relentless demand of coffee. The smell of death. The vacuum that the sight of the van carrying his body created. The soul sucking emptiness that followed. The tears, hot and plenty slowing to nothingness.
The years that followed have been tainted. Tainted with the knowledge that it could have been so much different. Watching my mother navigate widowhood, watching my children grow up not knowing my dad, watching responsibility settle gently, lightly into the pores of daily living, saturating it with a heaviness that is undefinable.
If the world around has moved on, Appa stays the same. As still as his picture in my curio cabinet. His blue tee shirt the same, his smile frozen forever. I pass him a million times each day rarely pausing to touch or linger. He comes up in conversation every once in a while, an afterthought, a part of the frame of reference, invisible, integral.
I browse through pictures on the eve of his anniversary, squinting, trying hard to recall exact moments, trying to remember inflections in tone, trying to summon phrases, words and voices. Some come fairly easily. Some are hard. The grief builds up in stages, layering on each other, until it is thick, muffled and leaks into my eyes and drains my smile.
I wonder if I should start a new tradition for grieving, create a ritual that will ease the sorrow and give me something physical to hang on to. Like the Christmas tree or the stockings that hang from my mantel. Should it take the form of a temple visit or a culinary excursion I wonder. Then I realize, I already have a ritual in place. Year after year, I follow the same trajectory. I take time to experience my sorrow. I remember the man that was my Appa. I take time to recall images, remember smells. I write them down so I will have them for when my memory fades. This is my pilgrimage, my journey to healing.