Mark died a month ago. Already my world is changing. I no longer forget that Mark is gone, only to remember an instant later in a stab of pain, as I did during the first two weeks. I no longer look forward to telling Mark about something I’ve seen or heard, only to be slapped with the sudden realization that I’ll never be able to do that again. My heart still aches because he isn’t here to enjoy this wonderful summer in Seattle, the long hot days of sunshine, the hummingbirds, the yards in bloom. If he were here, he’d be spending early mornings at the golf course, practicing his swing, and later we’d wander off together to a sidewalk table at one of our local restaurants for happy hour and conversation. He deserved this summer, and I’m heartbroken that he didn’t live long enough to savor it.
I’d been dreading the trip to the funeral home to pick up Mark’s ashes. My friend Joyce offered to come with me, but I kept putting it off because I fully expected that the trip would catapult me into despair. But then, while I was out on another errand, I realized that I was only three blocks from the funeral home. Why not, I thought, just do it now?
The quiet, modest front room, with its displays of caskets and urns, was empty except for one solemn attendant. I signed to acknowledge receipt of the ashes. The attendant opened a wall cabinet in the showroom, shuffling through packages, then finding and presenting me with a sealed box with Mark’s information taped on the front. He put the box of Mark’s ashes in a handled tote bag, the funeral home’s name embossed in gold on the front, and handed the bag to me.
But instead of the despair I expected, I wanted to laugh. Mark’s physical remains were presented to me like a heavy box of chocolates, in a nice swanky shiny bag. I know Mark would have laughed too. The gift bag of ashes rested in the back seat while I drove home, and then I pushed it deep into one of the den cupboards. At some future time, Mark’s sister and I will scatter Mark’s ashes. I know that Mark’s essence still exists, somewhere, but I’m darned sure that nothing of Mark is left in the tidy little box in my den.
The condolence cards were another hurdle. They dropped into my mailbox in twos and threes, in heavy white and ivory envelopes. I appreciated the sentiment and the caring that they represented, but I couldn’t face them right away. I knew that they’d contain messages about how wonderful Mark was (and he was) and how special our relationship had been (and that was true). I piled them into a bowl on the dining table, waiting for a time when reading those messages wouldn’t feel like ripping a bandage off a still-raw wound.
When my dear friend Lisa visited from Alaska, we sat down at the table with glasses of a fine chardonnay. With Lisa by my side, I pulled the cards out, one by one, and read them. They were heartfelt, and evocative, and sad. Although some did make me cry, the cards reminded me of Mark’s importance to so many people, and also of the gracious gift of love and support that I’ve received from so many. A little painful, yes, but the comfort they afforded outweighed the sorrow.
This mix of sorrow and comfort is all around me. Standing at Mark’s end of the closet, where his clothes still hang, is almost more than I can bear, yet I can’t stay away. His clothes still hold his essence, a faint scent. Chris tells me that Mark asked him to help me dispose of his clothes, at some point. He told Chris that he didn’t want me creating a mausoleum from his things. Fair enough, but not yet. Right now, I can bury my nose in the vest he wore whenever the weather turned nippy, and for the briefest of moments, he’s back with me.
The hardest moments are the ones that take me by surprise. Chris and I decided that Chris should use Mark’s phone, since Mark had a recent model and Chris’ is a dinosaur. Before engaging the function that would wipe it clean, I flipped through the pictures on the phone, most of which I’d sent to Mark. But then, I found a video that Mark had made, who knows why, of our cat. In the background was Mark’s voice talking to the cat, coaxing him to look at the camera. Mark’s voice. It was terrible to hear, and it was wonderful to hear. Sorrow and comfort.