Stop Counting

family Grieving story

“Back then the kids still had their Dragonfly wings, they needed to be held just so.”

I wrote that around the third anniversary of Terry’s passing. We were in the in-between place; the past was still haunting the present. Now that we’re five years out, remembering her is less about grief and more about love and longing. She still finds a way into our conversations, sometimes daily, but she is fully a part of the past. She belongs to another time.

Truly has sprouted elegant, strong, feathered wings since her gossamer wings fell away. She has been knocked around by the death of our fifteen year old dog Bella, one of her beloved Guinea Pigs – Nick, and numerous hamsters and fish. She has traversed the length of 2nd, 3rd and most of 4th grade. If you weren’t aware, 4th grade is no bullshit. She has endured heavy academic challenges and even a little verbal bullying. Still, she spreads her wings. They are in no way delicate. They are built to give her lift, to weather storms.

Tadg is in his teenage years, we’ll have to wait until it’s his time to take flight to know what his wings are like. He sequesters himself away in his room, with his friends from school yammering in his headset as they game together. I see him enough, we talk about things we both enjoy, but he requires his space. I bet his heart will still outsize his wingspan when we see him finally take flight.

I wake him before dawn, knocking on his door at 6 am and turning on his light.

“Morning bud. Time to get up! Happy Tuesday. Prepare yourself, I’m about to swear.”
His face emerges from his impossibly tangled mass of long, dark curls, “what, why?”
“Because it’s mid April and there is another motherfucking winter storm warning.”
“What! No.”
“Yes. It’s tax day and twenty two goddamned degrees outside. You’ll probably hit 40 in Redmond but we’ll see snow here. Fuck. Good morning.”

This has been the longest winter in memory. I spend much of my free time tending to our German Shepherd puppy – Dandelion Rose Flynn, (True’s name for her if you hadn’t guessed.) She no longer requires two pee breaks a night and can stay bedded down with Truly until 5:30 AM. It’s exhausting bringing a new puppy into a home in the dead of winter. You can’t just put her out alone in the backyard when it’s still dark, fifteen degrees with hungry Coyotes about. She has never known a really warm day in her short life. Even so she breaks through the ice at the edge of the river when I stop there to do my movement work. She presses with her oversized paws until the thin ice gives way and she gamely ambles in. She’ll be a river dog. Four months with us and she’s already woven herself completely into our family.

Unlike the kids I’m not working on sprouting wings right now. My daily movement practice has called me to embody Cattails and River water. This morning when I woke up I felt like I had sprouted a tail. Terry always wanted a tail. Maybe it was a gift from her. And yes, it all feels totally deliciously wondrous.

Terry’s time of year was Spring. She loved growing food on our homestead. I still have our garden journals from that time. They’re magical, messy colored pencil affairs with plants and seed names and dirt and coffee stains and muddy fingerprints. This Spring has no warmth to it so far but we are all warm together. We garden each other. Even Tadg sneaks out of his room to spend time with Dandelion when he thinks we don’t notice. Because he appears so rarely, the puppy thinks he’s Elvis. She’s finally stopped peeing on the carpet when she catches a glimpse of him. Total fangirl!

Our lives can no longer be measured by loss, it’s time to measure them by how we are each unfolding. A new puppy will put you over that threshold. I was surprised by how uplifted by her I have been. For a while, tending to a sick older dog and a new born, I was thrown back to caregiving for Terry. But it was easy to brush those feelings aside. When Bella passed and I had a few weeks to catch up on sleep, I got to settle into puppyhood. It has been so sweet.

Five years out, I think I get to stop counting these anniversaries now.

I get to stop imagining that I’m holding this whole show together. They hold themselves more and more each day. Of course I still need to be there for Truly religiously, but she turns to her own solutions more than mine. She’ll be a young woman soon. I can’t even imagine what that will be like. It’s already bittersweet and it’s not even real yet. There’s still time to enjoy her childhood with her.

This morning, shortly after waking up I saw a FB post by one of my favorite wise women, Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She wrote a beautiful tribute to the many fathers who have been a part of her life. Finding it first thing in the morning was another gift from Terry. I responded to Clarissa’s post:

“What a beautiful gift to receive on this, the 5th anniversary of my wife’s passing. Our children were 5 and 10 when she died. Every day since her passing I have made a deep home, a burrow of my heart for them so that they will feel loved and grow to sprout wings some day. Often I feel invisible as a single Father. I’m ok with that. But what a gift to see other fathers so well seen by you. Thank you!”

I feel that place in me, that deep burrow. I sit in it, work on it all throughout my days. I carve it deeper, line it with downy feathers I might find in the world. I know that is my job. Their job is to be young and wild and grow and stumble and make mistakes and finally take flight. It was good to feel seen today, as a Father by the world through Clarissa’s eyes. Somehow I feel seen by Terry too.

Grief is different now. I see it’s always been there, invisible to people until we happen to stumble over it. Once you’ve seen it, not just a small dose, but the giant-soaking-you-where-you-stand dose, you’ll always see it. From that moment forward it’s in the landscape. It was making trees grow even before you were born. It was turning the snow to be especially crisp that last day of Christmas break. It was making the heavy, rhythmic breath of a puppy even more comforting.

I get to stop counting because we are just in the flow, part of the river of life carrying us forward again.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.