Posted by: AgingChild | June 7, 2008

Reflections on Grief, part 1 (of many)

With nothing better to do well after 4:00 this morning, the inscrutable Spartacus – schoolmate of mine forty (somehow) years ago, grown-years friend, ex-USAF, proud papa himself, and occasional provider of incisive blog-fodder here – happened to read last night’s brief and (I’ll admit) wrenching posting, and sent me a gentle e-note of encouragement, mentioning similar ache he and his much-better half are working through as their oldest one prepares to enter a sprawling high school far different from the small, intimate, cozy schools she and her tight circle have heretofore lived and grown and learned through these eight-plus-plus years. His gentle words – belying the butt-kicking, bear-tracking, blunderbuss-waving machinist he usually shows the world – included these:  

—-Original Message—–
From: “Spark” le Klaus [mailto:SpartaCuss@Yahoo.com]
Sent: Saturday, June 07, 2008 4:50 AM
To: A. Gene Childe
Subject: Graduates
  

Hey Buddy! 

Read your blog post today–congrats on your daughter’s graduation!! 

I feel for you. In the beginning it seems like there is all the time in the world, then one day you wake up to find time running out. Four years–once that seemed like a lifetime.

Sparks 

I began a response as soon as I saw his email (some five hours after he’d sent it), and found myself unloading a bit of the already-lifting burden of my heart:

Thank you, kind sir! 

I feel improved after a good night’s sleep, but the grief remains, though dulled/lulled, and tolerable so long as I don’t touch or accidentally bump into the bruised and freshly-scabbing-over areas… which simply is not possible. Trying to fall asleep was very tough for a while, last night (or early this morning), with the faces and voices of beauteous Portia and her lovely mother vivid behind my eyelids and speaking still in my ears, to the still-echoing strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”. 

This depth of grief I’ve known only three times in my life – even when Shellie, my oldest, went off to college herself seven years ago, it was only to the other end of the state, and I could be there in a couple hours when needed, and then some (e.g., when she wanted to come home for a while amid the horrors and fear of 9/11/01, and the near-simultaneous passing of both her grandfathers). We’d been together nearly every day of her life since her birth, so I had a much-bigger armload of memories to clutch to me while waving her goodbye (and amazingly dropping none of them). And now she lives across town – I helped move in and install her furniture last weekend (while she was conveniently at work, the brat… and she did call later to thank me). Portia, though, has lived with her mom from the beginning, and stayed overnight with me and Shellie just a few times this entire past decade. 

This particular bottomless grief seems to come into my heart when someone I’ve been wrapped around, and vice-versa, for many years… leaves me, selfish as that may sound – and I don’t mean it in a selfish way at all, because I’ve never wanted my children (or friends, family, etc.) to be all mine / only mine, and it has been the greatest (and most proud) delight of mine to share them with all the rest of the world, including my little corners of it. 

First was in 1981/2, when a girlfriend of mine of three-plus years went off to college, coming into a whole new circle of friends and experience and growth, so of course we emotionally had to go our own ways within a few months. Yet only with my heart backed to the wall, and having my (ex-)girlfriend Sandy metaphorically stab me there repeatedly at close quarters, was I cornered into letting go of her (as I should have months – years – earlier). 

Third was the sudden passing of my father almost five years ago, and I was faced with all the things still unsaid, undone, unresolved… now forever beyond my reach, along with his loud voice, lousy humor, and distant (though softening) heart. 

And the second was with Pauli, Portia’s mom. At last, in October of 1992, after three years of mutual colossal blunders, missteps, and poor choices involving the other (a still-painful litany I needn’t enumerate), we at last clicked, had found the love and trust and devotion we should have been able to give each other from the very beginning… and then she announced that she’d be moving to Germany in two weeks with Portia, for good.

The scene at our parting just before month’s end, with blood-red leaves still on some trees, and at our feet and under our wheels, was right out of a movie… up to and including her mouthing “I love you!” through her tears (and my own) as the heavy door literally shut between us, and the plane took off and flew away with two of the three pieces of my heart – the third, Shellie (only nine at the time), furnished the shoulder I wept on right there in the concourse. 

Again the separation was too much, despite all the letters and expensive calls and dreams and hopes and plans and intentions. Pauli and Portia did return less than half a year later, and she never-never-never offered any explanation for why – nor even why she broke off with me, shortly before, other than the inadequate and weak “It’s over” and “I’ve changed”. 

The piece of my heart (her own big piece, not Portia’s) that she’d taken with her was never returned to me; certainly it was no longer in her possession in 1993, and only time has allowed me to grow some thick scar-tissue in its place. Pauli I nonetheless never ceased loving (I vulnerably / honestly / helplessly mentioned this to her a couple times over the years since; she kindly acknowledged but did not otherwise respond), though I consciously and realistically had already shelved that forever once we were back on speaking terms. 

At Easter of 1997 – at a couple years’ hard promptings of my heart (and the opening of encouraging doors to that end by Pauli), I brought Portia into my family’s life (they barely even knew of her, and had no idea she was my daughter), and they embraced each other quite literally whole-heartedly, and have never let go since. 

For years afterward, even until recently (it would be pointless now), I’d have married Pauli had I/we been given one more chance. We never were, and though I dated just a bit afterward, there really was, and is, nothing left in me to cut in half and exchange with a woman who’d bravely do the same. So my heart I dole out today in little pieces (doesn’t hurt, and they grow back very easily and healthily) among friends, and family, and as I continue/begin to give myself over to more active spiritual ministry. 

Shellie and Portia remain the two big portions of my heart, and always will so be. Just as Shellie carries her mom’s beauty and fortunately little more of me than attidute, Portia, too, is particularly precious to me: she remains the perfect joining of me and Pauli, reflecting the best in each of us (and virtually none of the less-than-good), a genuine physical manifestation and incarnation of the love of her parents for her… and, in its own ways, for each other ‘way back then, and even through the years since.

And having still spent far too little time with Portia over the last eleven years (let alone eighteen), each moment together in my memory’s scant horde is a treasure on its own, even if (as in so many of these instances) it merely involved a gentle walk through some little colonial-era downtown to look through the little shops and get her something, or simply to look, and to listen to each other. And the remaining moments still before us – as yet unspent, unharvested, yet painfully finite – are already gold-draped, with gilt frames and jeweled boxes ready to receive them. 

Talking/writing it out helps… so thanks, O Sparkly One, for reading – and for nudging me into conceptualizing the living grief of letting my little one grow, and go. I do want to spin some more voice-of-experience words for you and the Goodwife over your own eldest princess, and what’s next for the three / two / one of you. But later; later – really need a break here, and just might have to track down and administer a handful or two of badly-needed Prozac.

And – do please pardon my Anglo-Saxon – what the hell were you doing up at 0450? 

Regards,

O. Watagu Siam

I’d barely finished the above, and begun planning out the rest of my day, when my mother – who’d visited the mailbox on the way in – stuck her head in the door and announced I’d received something in the mail from Portia.

When I foolishly indulge in my hurt, rather than simply getting and continuing moving, the paranoia sometimes kicks in… given the source of some of the hurt I’ve allowed myself the last few decades, it is very little wonder, perhaps. In any case, my stupidity-/paranoia-reflex assumed it would be a letter from my golden new graduate, declaring her total independence forever of my heart and life; it’s been great, now buh-bye.

“Stupid” I said, and “stupid” I meant; this would have been utterly uncharacteristic of her great, gentle, innocent heart, and reflected only my unreasonable inner feel of “what else can come along and add to this hurt?” Stupid.

No such letter, of course. It was just a little postcard (and Portia hadn’t sent me one in years) she’d picked up and mailed from one of those little colonial downtowns I’d mentioned to Sparks; message thereon simply that the town was one of her “favorite places in the world”, with a bonus-hello to me from a school-chum of hers she’ll likely be rooming with on campus in Massachusetts.

As a professional actress, Portia is unequalled and totally captivating. As a young woman and flesh of my and Pauli’s flesh, her intuition is stunning and far too easily overlooked. For this little card, with simple message (and a quirky aside) and lovely sunset-photo of that antique town… made my morning, day, and weekend.

Did she know that in advance? Undoubtedly; perhaps even my guardian-angel-at-large, Okunda (whom Portia had helped design and image for me several years ago: strong, noble African figure in russet kente, and wide, rich red wings), had whispered in her ear. But I doubt she needed it.

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