An incomplete portrait

Originally Posted on September 5, 2011

This last weekend, I had the wonderful Aldouses (Aldous’s? Aldous’? Aldi?) over to the house for some seriously good grub consisting of duck and Vietnamese side dishes of rice noodles and an unbelievable green papaya salad. The leftovers are in the fridge. I’m going to destroy them as soon as I am done with this post…

We spent an incredible four to five hours hanging out and just being in community while our children played as only children can do: with ebullience and unfettered joy. Their laughter filled my small house and made even the brownish walls look pretty. That is the quality of the laughter of children: to me, it is the sound of sunshine.

But I digress… we had a marvelous time. They left at around 4pm, and as their car pulled out of my driveway and I stood in the entrance of my garage holding Sophie in my arms and with my arm around Sean as I pulled him close to my leg, I felt Janie’s absence in a way that brought the heartache and sorrow up in a powerful way. It is as though I had an out of body experience, looking at the three of us standing there. The portrait lacked something. It lacked her.

All the child grief counseling books say it’s good to allow your kids to see you crying, but this time I hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. I ran the bath and stuck the kids in it for bathtime, went outside and wept.

There’s not resolution to this sort of thing. I can’t graft her back into our current family picture. She’s not here any more.

These moments come unannounced. I was very happy right up until the point I had that insight. I am amazed at the power of that image in my mind, the three of us standing there, lacking something.

Nevertheless, we are still a family. The fact that mommy isn’t here doesn’t change that.

Perhaps it was the sound of the children’s laughter, the wonderful time all of us spent together, something in there made me realize that Janie would have enjoyed the communion immensely. Something at that moment of parting drove home the immense hole she’s left in us.

But we’re still a family.

Seanie told me earlier today that he makes me very happy. I try and tell him this often, that Seanie makes daddy very happy. So he said it back to me today, quite out of the blue. I was delighted to hear that.

Because Seanie still sees that I get sad. I want him to know he brings me joy. I miss mommy, but Seanie makes daddy very happy. I want him to know that. I want Sophie to know that. It’s mind boggling that in the midst of such sorrow, these two babies make me so happy. They really do. They are lights on a stormy, dark night to me, drawing me home.

Seanie calls our house “home” now. I’ve succeeded in another goal: he knows where home is. This house lost its heart when Janie died. It felt odd and strange to be in this house right after her death. Somehow, Seanie’s acknowledgement of this being our home makes it true for me as well. Who says a three year old can’t teach you something?

It’s a funny thing, because despite the fact that I don’t want our family to not have Janie in it, I can’t for a second discount that we are very much a family. We are somewhat diminished by her absence, and that is perhaps unavoidable, but in no way does that negate that we are family. And I am learning the value of family in such a powerful way right now.

Seanie went up to his grandpa the other night and told him that daddy is happy now. Last night, I wrestled and played with the kids for ages, chasing them around their grandparent’s yard. We laughed and cavorted, it was fantastic. It seems bizarre in hindsight that so much joy can be experienced despite the gaping hole I feel in my heart. I so wish Janie was here. I so want her to experience those moments. It just crushes me that she’s not here to play with these two beautiful babies. However, while my joy is somewhat tempered by these things, I cannot deny that I am feeling the joy of parenting these two amazing little individuals. Her absence does not so much diminish the joy I feel as perhaps frame it in a different light. It is a different type of joy, but it is still joy.

Some will say it’s bittersweet. Yes, that’s part of it. It is bittersweet to see our family reorganizing itself around a different dynamic that, while unwanted, still has its massive positives. It is good that I am bonding with these children in the way that I am. It causes me to pause and wonder if I would have this level of connection with them if she were here. So, that in itself is a good thing. It is not a good thing that she is gone. But what is happening between me and the children is good. What a strange conundrum!

Out of the darkness of this event, a light shines. A hope that we will find our feet in this new paradigm that none of us would have chosen, had that sort of thing ever been on the table in the first place. No one would choose this, I don’t think. Not when what we had before was so undeniably good. Nevertheless, that new good things are emerging is both stunning and humbling. I am bursting with gratitude and heartache simultaneously as I write this. How I long for her to be here. How grateful I am for this new depth of love between me and the children.

Given that I cannot change what has happened, the only sane thing to do is be grateful for what is. Affirm that a wonderful thing is taking place, completely unlike what came before. A wonderful thing that is likely to be the fertile soil that will provide the nourishment for our little family to continue to thrive as we move on into the future. I can be thankful for that.

I can be thankful for what came before. I can also be thankful for this. The one does not negate the other. They were (are) both good things. I think that to be grateful for both allows me to frame this event in a different way: death doesn’t get the last laugh. Death claimed my Janie. It doesn’t get to devour my future, nor that of our children. Our future will be very different than what was envisaged, but it can still be good. Very good. Excellent, in fact.

And I realize this is the first step in letting go of Janie. That is what I would call bittersweet.

Because she was such a fabulous partner, friend, lover. She was such an incredible human being. How am I supposed to let go of her?

That’s not something to answer at this time. It is enough to be grateful for the 13 years of our blessed acquaintance. It is enough to be grateful for the budding of a new, savage love for my children.

It is enough that this incomplete portrait of a family is still a good thing.


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