A few weeks after Alec died I randomly came across a little poem that perfectly captured the essence of what I was feeling at the time. It’s so cool when poems do that (although the poet was thinking of who knows what when he wrote it; again something I love about poetry and [good] song lyrics for that matter: their ability to be interpreted differently.) It was even neater because I came across it completely by accident; while looking to see if my favorite songwriter Chris McCaughan (whose own gorgeously impressionistic lyrics are the closest thing I have to favorite poems) had any upcoming shows, I stumbled upon a blog he had recently started and there was this poem, just waiting for me to find it:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
– W. S. Merwin
Wow. My breath caught in my throat as I read and re-read those few words. Yes, I thought, this is the way things are now. Our bond has changed, not dissolved. My relationship now is with his absence. (This blog has been taken down, incidentally, or I would link to it.)
Since those early days of our separation, the books that have been most helpful, the ones that enabled me to keep breathing, have been those that conceptualize the loss of a loved one as a change in the relationship rather than the end of the relationship. This I felt intuitively when Alec was dying. The cacophony of desperate thoughts that filled my mind during this time were all variations on this single theme: we will not be parted.
I did not know then that many bereavement counselors believe that an important component of “successful” grieving is exactly this: forging a new relationship with the deceased. I highly recommend Ashley Davis Bush’s book Transcending Loss if you are interested in this topic. It’s hard to explain the twists and turns of my process in working through this (not moving on, but moving on WITH…not closure, but transcendence) without launching into a dissertation, but suffice it to say it has been the most useful concept I have encountered so far on this lonesome road.
But when I found Merwin’s poem back in August, I was far from being able to articulate anything about being separated from Alec. At the time, I only knew that his absence loomed as large as his presence. Far from being a void, this absence was tangible; it had weight and color. It took up space, and painted over everything.
It is in this space that I struggle every day to create a new relationship with my baby shepherd: a relationship that transcends life, a love that continues after death. I stubbornly cling to a dream that lingers at the edge of my consciousness because I feel something too strongly in my heart to ignore. This is a temporary separation. Things are not, will never be, the same. But I will discover what is left. Not of me — of us.
Because what if there is something in the shadows beyond our empirical perception?
It is perhaps appropriate that the one photo I have been able to bring myself to display of Alec is a silhouette. A few weeks ago I did look at some older snapshots that I keep in a shoebox (I have not been able to go through the ones on my computer yet), and I cried and cried, but I did it. I selected this one and put it on my fridge. I can look at it. Maybe because of the presence of the shadow. Maybe one day I will put up more photos. Maybe I won’t. But it doesn’t really matter because I am not interested in creating a memorial to him, as if he were gone, as if he could be.
No, Alec, you’re not gone. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you aren’t here. I will keep looking for you in the margins, listening for you in the cracks, feeling for you in the shadows. I will never leave you.