My husband is now on a plane headed back this way. It’s Wednesday night here but we won’t see him until Friday night, due to whole living on an island in the middle of the sea on the other side of the planet thing. We’ll meet him at the ferry terminal and things will be easier for us again but also much harder. Harder because with him gone, our grief was displaced, as if he had carried it back with him.
We’ve been so busy just trying to survive each week that we never had a chance to pay attention the monster lurking in the shadows. It caught me just the other day by surprise when a student asked me if my husband was in America because his mother died. I was rushing through the auditorium to grab my tote bag of tricks when she asked this question, almost two months after the accident. She asked because it was news to her and the other students. It is not the type of thing the school wanted to explain to preschoolers, if they could avoid it. But there had been no avoiding the truth when last week my youngest got the mumps and I missed work to take care of him. The situation was revealed to the students and parents and then naturally the students needed to confirm it with me when I returned. As she asked the question, other students crowded around, also curious about this story. I understood their interest as death is still abstract for them, something none of them had experience with up close. So I answered the question, yes, his mother died. And his younger brother, I added. Then I praised the student’s pink barrette in order to distract not her but myself from that truth. I inhaled sharply to stop the sob that was trying to escape and went about my day. Because that is the only option I have right now. To keep going, to push past the emotions and get as much as I can get done every day, every hour, every minute. I believe this is known as repression. I am not much for it in general, as I think that bottling up any negativity leads to cancer and aneurysms (not because I am a medical professional but because I take language too literally and in my mind’s eye see little bottles filled with mercury darkness, clanking against each other until they break and mutate cells and clog arteries). And yet if not for repression, how else could I manage as a solo-parent of four schoolchildren? I just have to fill another bottle and press the cork down as far as it can go and the laundry will be folded and the homework will be checked and the alarm clock will be heeded. But my husband is bringing his mother and brother back with him, in little ceramic vessels we bought from the Buddhist shop down the street. Once he returns, there is no hiding from the new reality that we live in. His grief is free and flowing and in sharp contrast to the collection of bottles the kids and I have been building since his departure. It is a healthier grief, to be sure, and I am glad we could give it to him. At the same time, I am a little nervous about the collision of griefs that will occur this weekend. Because while his grief is as deep and unpredictable as the sea, the grief trapped in the little corked bottles the children and I have is untouched and fermenting.
And yet, he will not be here until Friday and until then there are still two days of chores and school and work to get through.