Set in Stone

Two years ago we set a stone to mark the grave of the person who had been my spouse. The one who I wedded and then divorced. The one who made our children with me. Allison.

Death caught me by surprise. Death pushed me to write. Death reminded me of how much I had loved my husband. Of how much I loved Allison though she confused me. Death scared me. I’m still scared, but now I understand it all a little bit better.

Being ready for death doesn’t mean worrying about it. Being ready for death brings new life to my heart and my thoughts.

I’m sure I’m not saying this right.

I don’t want to die. But being ready for it to end and always saying thank you just in case your last breath is your next, that is peace. After being diagnosed and then treated for ovarian cancer, I glimpse it from time to time.

But when Allison died, cancer wasn’t a known entity in my life. I thought I had known grief. I thought divorce and Allison’s transition from living life on the outside as man to living fully and openly as a woman was like experiencing a death. I didn’t know what I was talking about.

At Allison’s funeral, I said nothing. I let my children, Allison’s siblings and parents and nephew and uncle and her fiancé do the talking. I made myself small and quiet. This was Allison’s moment. Not mine.

But, when we left the chapel and walked to her gravesite, my knees buckled. I tossed a rose atop her lowered coffin. My sister’s hand gripped my forearm. I brushed against her. She kept me standing. All I wanted to do was sink into the grass.

Still, this wasn’t my moment. My tears couldn’t be the loudest. She hadn’t belonged to me at the end. She wasn’t mine. I was just someone who had loved her once.

Her headstone was ready seven months later. When we dedicated her grave under a gray and leaderless sky, this time I was ready. There would be no more waiting. She would never understand if I just stood silent.

During her life, she always had something to say. I didn’t want to let her down now that she couldn’t speak for herself. I couldn’t be the coward who thought she (meaning me) didn’t have a right to speak. I couldn’t be the one who stood in my way.

I wrote the following while flying from Houston to Mexico City. My hand grazed my cheeks in a futile attempt to hide my tears from the man sitting next to me. Finally, he asked me, “Is everything all right?”

“I’m writing something sad. I’ll be OK,” is all I could say.

I didn’t tell him that it felt like my dead spouse was sitting next to me instead of him, the concerned passenger, and that she was helping me write her own tribute. She disappeared an hour later as I arrived into the arms of my own fiance waiting for me in Mexico City. Into the arms of someone who was alive.

A week later, I stood in front of the carved granite with Allison’s chosen name.

Here is what I said at Allison’s graveside two years ago. I wrote from my heart. Is it too much as a piece of writing? Is it too emotional? Too private? Writing that could not win an award because it is just too sentimental? I hope so.

Ode to You

I never see you in my dreams. But, you visit me every day.
You sit with me as I think of you, as I cry because I miss you and as I scream and thrash and pull because you’re gone.

You tell me that all you feel now is love.
Your two selves are together in a healing union.
You are at peace. This is what I hear – when I listen.

We had a catch phrase. A code.
“Maru means submarine in Japanese.”
It was something you said to me within 10 minutes of our first meeting.
A secret knowing we shared through the next 27 years
reminding us of how a random encounter and a chance comment could connect two people for decades.

Remembering our days together on the water, we would wake in the morning to see the shoreline at a safe distance, relieved that our anchor held for the night. You would leave our berth to return with a cup of coffee. The steam rose from our cups and the children slept as we plotted our course for the day.

You were our captain. Together we navigated the waters at our bow.

We will share the passages of our boys lives. Please guide us as they steer through their own rough patches. Stay with me for those moments when their happiness swallows them whole.

You now rest upon the calmest waters. I watch you from the shore – knowing that we will meet again.

Maru means submarine in Japanese.

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