After I die, you kids will each get a small bucket with my ashes and you need to take me here and all the other places I will pick out. It’s my bucket list.
I wrote that in “The Borg channel,” our family’s hangouts chat channel.
“Here” was the the Rakotzbrücke in the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau in Gablenz, Germany.
“I will do that daddy,” Mira replied in the channel.
Of course, she would do it. And she’d speak up because, like me, she’s not afraid of death. Death is ten years away from me, maybe twenty, but it’s coming. I am not afraid. We are not afraid. When it happens, we’ll face it together.
This is the woman who grew from the girl who told me that she believed that “grandpa’s come back as a squirrel.”
I go back to bed, and I think: “After I’m gone, I’ll come back and watch over you.” (And your sisters, of course, I add as I edit this)
And suddenly I can feel my mother watching over me. And my Dad. But prominently my Mom, the dominant force in my life growing up.
I can feel her. She’s as deep and as dark and as cold as the river that flows beneath the Rakotzbrücke. Nothing bad about deep or dark or cold. That’s just the image that arrives.
I think, “I forgive you, mommy,” and I burst into tears.
Bobbi, lying next to me, stirs, and sleepily asks me what’s happening. I turn and put my arms around her, and between sobs, do my best to explain.
I’d been reading “A Course in Miracles,” and thinking a lot about the healing power of forgiveness and the harm of resentment. I’ve heard this more than once: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I’d drunk enough poison for one life, had my fill of resentment, a lot directed toward my Past Self, and plenty for my Mom. One day I woke up and transformed my resentment toward my Past Self to gratitude. Later I replaced my resentment toward my mother with gratitude, too.
But the tears were evidence that burdens remained.
I could feel that my mother was at peace. In her final years, as her memory declined, everything in her that wasn’t loving dissolved. “Every day is a blessing,” she’d say. And it was.
But apparently, I had unfinished business with her, and the tears continued to flow. She did not need forgiveness, but I needed to forgive her—and accept hers.
And I did.
I was in a liminal space. I’d learned that word from Bobbi while she studied for her degree in mythology. A liminal space is a place between—a threshold.
I was in between worlds.
I’d been reading “The Snow Child,” a book that Bobbi had recommended. Each time I picked it up and started to read, the book took me to another world. Jack and Mabel; Faena, the snow child; Esther and George and Garrett. I’d only just met them, but I cared deeply for them all. I was moved to tears by their joys and their sorrows. Maybe I loved them.
Then there’s the world of “The Bairn,” the series of books Bobbi had written. She’s been back working on the next book in the series. Yesterday I’d skimmed her last book, amazed to know someone who could produce that, dancing through the universe that she’d created. She’d brought that universe from within herself, as she had brought forth our three babies, now grown women.
In the world of “The Bairn,” I got to know and care about Dani, Ryan, Monya, Mischka, and all the other people that she’d brought to life. Giving her feedback and editing the final version of each book, I’d visited that world again and again.
We all have universes within us, I thought.
Our lives are stories that are unfolding before us, I thought.
I’m happy to be in the story I’m in, I thought, filled with gratitude as I lay, tangled in Bobbi’s arms, sobbing and explaining.
I tell Bobbi, and she understands. Of course. My best and constant friend, my wife for nearly fifty years, my partner and love and lover for longer and still, who has helped me become who I am today.
“You did it yourself,” she tells me, whenever I say that.
“I didn’t do it alone,” I answer.
This morning, I misquote Jack Nicholson from “As Good As It Gets.” “You made me a better man.” But that’s not what he said, I discover later. “You make me want to be a better man,” he told Helen Hunt.
I didn’t need Bobbi to want to be a better man, but I needed her help to become better, and didn’t always welcome the help. She didn’t put up with my bullshit, which made her hard to live with—not that I was easy.
She insisted that I become the man that I aspired to be.
The other day we were talking about our friend Roscoe. His wife, Midge, had died, and—to no one’s surprise—Roscoe had found a new lady, married her, and was off having adventures that he shared on Facebook.
“I wouldn’t do that,” I told her, and I didn’t just mean the Facebook part.
There was a time when I had imagined what my life would have been like if she’d died. I’d make the best of a bad situation, of course. I imagined that I’d move to Boston because I like cities and she hates them. Maybe I’d meet someone. Maybe I’d have been like Roscoe.
Then things changed and changed again.
“I have no interest in another relationship,” I told her yesterday. “I’m completely satisfied with this one. If you died, I have better things to do with my time than to try to replace what we’ve built.”
She doesn’t believe me, but I’m sure. We’ve built a universe together, and I can visit it whenever I want, just as I can visit the universe of “The Snow Child” or “The Bairn Trilogy.” I don’t even have to close my eyes to stand where I stood the first moment I saw her. Or see the way she looked in her black turtleneck, hair spread across the pillow as we lay in bed in Chilling Street Cottage after she returned to England to live with me. I can return to countless other places and times, including this very morning. What else do I need?
I forgave my mother, who needed no forgiveness from me. But I did it because I needed to do it. I think about my brother and my sister, and forgive myself for being the shitty brother I’ve been, and forgive them for anything that I can forgive.
I lie in bed, in Bobbi’s arms, my crying ended, at peace—at least for now.
I’m grateful for this moment. Grateful to be alive. Grateful to forgive and to be forgiven.
And right now, grateful for the inspiration that led me to have written this.
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