We were deep in the winter of mid-February, and I was wearing everything possible: my jacket and scarf, my ear wraps and gloves, my leg warmers and tall winter boots. I had arrived with my suitcase in tow at my daughter’s work show to help her manage some overflow. We worked all day and into the early evening, and then we made our way to meet her other half and my son for dinner.
The cold chased us to the subway and then through the streets of her neighborhood and over to the restaurant. The plan was for her man to arrive at the restaurant earlier that evening and put his name down. Then he’d go home to wait until it was time to come back again. My daughter said he promised to meet us there.
“He’s always there,” I would tell her on more than one occasion. I liked this about him. When he said he’d be somewhere, he was always there.
We burst through the doors of the restaurant, eager to warm up. It was a full house! People were packed into the space, and a row of patrons lined the bar, huddled with their backs to the door. Servers made their way among the people and between the tables, zigzagging through the conversations that rose as high as the steam from the ramen bowls they were serving.
I didn’t know which way to look first, but my daughter did. As soon as we stepped in, she kept going, straight to the young man with the beard and the beanie at the bar. His back was to us, and I watched him turn around to greet her. Of course he was there, as promised!
My son arrived shortly after, and we all squeezed into a corner table. The three of them came to quick agreement on the menu, and we ordered several plates. I now look back on this dinner as one of the best that we had together. On that cold night, it was warm in every way; we were at ease and easily shared everything.
But since that night, time has gotten away from us. It went missing just a few days later when we lost my daughter’s young man. And now it’s hard to believe that he left a year ago today, when that dinner feels like it was only yesterday.
He was someone to everyone who knew him. He was a soulmate to my daughter; a son to his parents; a brother to my son; an uncle to his brand new niece; a brother to his older sister and her husband; a nephew, a cousin, a colleague; a friend to a host of others, and so much to so many more.
We can’t turn back time, but none of us knows where it went. Four seasons have come and gone, and we’ve braced ourselves against each one in the impossible effort to make time stop. For there’s been the feeling that if time passed, then he would be left in the past, and we’ve not been ready for that.
It’s taken a lot to get through the days and the weeks and the months that have followed. All at once there was so much to do, while at the same time there was never enough that could be done. Our loss has made everything new, and nothing is the way we are used to.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago when my daughter put on her favorite red top to meet him for their first date. Nor does it seem like that long ago when she introduced me to him over dinner with carrot cake for dessert. And when they decided to move in together, it seemed like just the right time. And then in no time he was insisting on my staying with them when I visited there, and he easily made himself at home in my home when they visited here.
It’s just that we never knew how short their time would be. My daughter had no idea that he would miss their third-year anniversary.
“Where did he go?” she begs to know. She’s moved into a new home and fears that he might have disappeared, and that makes her afraid for him. “He’s right here!” She points to his face, smiling from the photographs that she’s put around her place.
He’s on the refrigerator with his arms around her brothers and grinning with their friends. He’s on the windowsill, dressed to the nines and pressing his cheek against hers. He’s on the shelf, tying his shoe after a day of skiing. He’s on the nightstand, snuggling close to her in a photo that he wanted kept at her bedside, in case he was away.
We’re doing our best to grasp what happened. Over the past year we’ve read books and attended classes and met with various spiritual advisers in our efforts to understand. But it’s hard. And now I think it just might be something that we may never understand. I think there are just some things that we don’t get to know, no matter how badly we want to, and this might just be one of them.
Maybe all that we’re supposed to know is our part in it, what he meant to us and the impact of his life and loss on us. In the words of one of his closest friends, “We cannot make sense of it, [we can] only fold the experience into our lives and who we are and obviously help all of us who are suffering to be stronger and live fuller each day.”
My daughter picks up yet another photo and gives his face a kiss and tells me how handsome he is. They’re in bed and he’s sleeping, but she’s looking straight at the camera with such peaceful eyes, as if she knows she’s won the biggest prize.
We talk a lot about where it is that he might be. It’s a short conversation, but we have it often, because it’s been a lot to process, and it takes time. She wants for him to be okay. She wants for herself to be okay.
“He is somewhere,” I tell her. “He is not nowhere.”
This is part of what we’ve learned from all the books and classes and discussions. We’ve learned that we’re all made up of energy, and energy is something that never disappears. And we really want to believe this. We want so badly to have it be part of what we get to know.
Moreover, we’ve learned that our being here is about more than just the fact that once our parents met. If we’re to believe, then our energy is something that exists long before we are born, and it flows back and forth through many lifetimes, according to a larger plan that we don’t get to understand.
We arrive in this life and put our names down, and after a time we make our leave, and then we wait until it’s time to come back again.
It takes a lot of faith to believe, but we are working hard on it as we grieve. In doing so, we’ve had to expand our minds, along with our concept of time. And there are days when it works and days when it doesn’t, but on the days when it does, it seems to expand the rest of us, too. Somehow it opens us up.
And when that happens, we can embrace the many signs that he seems to send and really believe that they’re from the energy of him. On those days we take refuge in the thought that he is okay, and that how we tell time might not be the only way.