I finished a book a couple of weeks ago called “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. I have been compelled to write about it several times, but stopped myself. The book chronicles Didion’s grief from the unexpected passing of her husband, while her daughter lay unconscious in an ICU bed. I have written countless posts about grief. What else could I possibly have to say?
As I’m typing this, I catch myself glancing at a photo of Chris I placed next to my computer screen. He’s onstage, a microphone in his hand, smiling, in his element, fully inhabiting that moment. I catch myself talking to the photo from time to time. Some of those conversations bring me comfort, others leave me hollow.
In the Didion book, she talks about reading through one of her husband’s manuscripts after his death. They were both writers and often edited each other’s stories. Unfortunately, I returned the book to the library, so I can’t find the exact words. But she described reading the manuscript and coming across a sentence that contained what could be an error but could also have been intentional wording. She could no longer ask her husband what his intention was. Any value she assigned to the error would be a guess, a product of her imagination.
That is how I feel about my conversations with Chris. I can’t help but talk to him, but what I really want is for him to talk back. Any dialogue I exchange with him from this point on is merely an assumption of what I think he would say. I don’t want pretend Chris. I long for Chris.
The title of the book refers to the crazy things we do, secretly hoping somehow, some way, our loved ones can return to us. There was a night not long after Chris died, where I had too much to drink and dozed off watching Amy Schumer reruns on the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I swore I saw Chris sitting in the chair next to me, watching along. Of course, when I looked, the chair was empty. But one of the last things I did with Chris was drink some beers and watch Amy Schumer. Yes, I was convincing myself that my brother came back from the dead to watch comedy with me.
A few moments later, my couch began to shake. It lasted only a second- just long enough to make me wonder if it really happened. A minute or two later, it happened again. I turned to the chair and inquired out loud “Did you do that?”
I grabbed my cell phone and logged on the the all knowing Facebook. My hope plunged as post after post confirmed that what I felt was not communication from the other world, but was in fact, a small earthquake.
Perhaps Didion’s book should have left me crestfallen, but it didn’t. It felt good to know someone else had these crazy thoughts, this hope against hope that perhaps our stories would be the ones that are different. I was brought up in the age of movies like “Ghost” and “Field of Dreams.” Hollywood had led me to believe if my love was true enough, if I wished hard enough, that love could overcome anything- even death. That’s Hollywood. Didion understood that none of us escape the sorrow, we simply learn how to move past it.
It’s been nine months since Chris passed away. For awhile, every occasion felt like a dismal milestone- the first Christmas without Chris, the first trip to Colorado since his passing. The milestones are fading and the days are returning to being just days. Most of my hours are happy ones. I have a good husband, wonderful children, amazing friends, enjoyable hobbies, a new job, a nice life.
But I am aware of who I lost. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. Against my better judgment, I still talk to Chris. I still hold out hope, that he’ll talk back.