Saturday I went to the post office to pick up my held mail from while I was in Alaska. I flashed my ID for the postal clerk, who squinted at it and said, “Wait, who is Jeri Merrell?”
I stuttered, tried and failed to explain, and he shrugged and handed over my stack o’ mail. I made my pensive way back out to the car.
Jeri Merrell is someone I was for twelve years, someone I used to be. I’m not quite sure when I shed that skin so completely that it doesn’t even occur to me to answer to that name, although I still get her mail from time to time. (And, to be honest, although I answer to Jeri Sisco now, I’m not quite sure who she is either.)
It has been 19 months and 19 days since my life was turned upside down, since, waiting for the ferry on a Tuesday morning, Bryan collapsed and was gone in an instant. We have worked hard at rebuilding, at standing on our own, while still honoring Bryan’s contribution to our lives.
I’ve taken my maiden name back. I’ve bought a townhouse in West Seattle while the boys got their own apartment near college. I’ve discovered the amazing blessing of friendship & family. I’ve worked idiotic, insane hours, but I’ve also rediscovered interests and avocations that make me happy, like swimming, quilting, gaming and hiking.
On the whole, the boys and I are happy. We’re thriving. Still, though, grief is a sneaky thing and the littlest triggers let it come flooding back into my life.
Right now, we’re cleaning up our old house to sell. The place is cold and empty, the carpets peeled up and the garage filled with junk. Five and a half years ago I walked into the same empty house as we moved south to Washington. Then it was warm with promises, hopes and plans for decorating; now it’s cold and echoes with emptiness and grief.
One of the reasons I moved to Seattle – well, besides the smaller easy-care townhouse and the short commute to work and airport – is because I found the ferry ride tough, especially walking daily past the bench at the bottom of the boarding ramp where EMTs treated and couldn’t revive Bryan. Objectively, the ferry ride is beautiful and is one of the parts of Puget Sound culture I enjoy, but the meaning for me is intrinsically symbolic of my loss.
Today I found myself meditating on ferry rides past in the MINI, with Bryan… a quiet ride to work with newspapers & coffee on the occasional morning, to social events on weekends, to visit family. There were many crossings like today, where we wrapped up in the car quilt Mom made us so we could stay in the car for a cold weather crossing.
My last memory of Bryan was pretty horrible; it was at the funeral home, before sending him off to be cremated. I am not a big supporter of the formal viewing, but in this case, losing Bryan and not seeing him again, I needed the closure. We all did! Still, the sight, feel and scent of him, cold, stiff, bloated, waxy, awkwardly made up, seeping pink embalming fluid as he lay on the funeral home gurney in his Seahawks jersey, is intensely etched in my mind and has eclipsed happier pictures of the man I loved.
We scattered Bryan’s ashes in the Sound after we lost him, the water was such a central part of our lives. When I take the ferry, when I drive around, when I’m on a boat or wander a beach, he is there. Some tiny fragment of his physical matter still remains, and some part of his spirit as well.
In some sense it’s comforting to have grief flood through my mind in response to simpler, happier memories of our life, rather than the eidetic minutiae of his death – the empty house, the car blanket we once shared, the music playing on his iPod.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by my sneaky old friend grief crossing the Sound with me. Memory, love, honor and grief are inextricably intertwined. As long as I remember Bryan, as we strive to honor his integrity and gifts with our actions, he lives on.