It's All Connected--from Andy

  • Posted on: 20 March 2020
  • By: readersbooks

This coming week marks the one year anniversary of the death of my wife, Lilla, and to say it is freighted with emotion for me is, well, an understatement. I went out to the cemetery the other day to pay her a visit. I don't do it as often as I probably should, in part because it's a bit of a drive, but mainly because whenever I do, I realize again just how important a role she played in my life and, in the wake of all that's happened since, how much I've taken hold of my own destiny  This is as much a shock to me sometimes as losing her: to see how much in one short year I've changed.

We were partners, she and I. We took turns dreaming. She agreed to take our two small children and come with me to live in Japan for a year; I agreed with her to leave our happy home in New England and come back to California and start a bookstore from scratch. It was a dance, and often, my role was that of the junior partner, in that I appreciated the various visions Lilla had for our future and was mostly willing to go along with them (I did balk at the romance of camping across the United States, I remember, and she eventually owned up that that was one of her dumber ideas.)

But now I'm on my own, which means that my judgments (informed, uninformed) are irrevocable, and no matter what I do, at the end of the day I own my mistakes. Suddenly, things are grim, existential. There is no partnering, no palming it off on the misguided thinking of your mate. No shock absorber or shoulder to cry on. You do your best to think things through and cross your fingers. You never want things to go wrong, but the truth is, things go wrong from time to time. That's the nature of the universe: you can only control so much

The one year anniversary of a death, the yahrzeit, it's called in Judaism, is important. The rabbis say you are supposed to grieve for a year, then, after that time, you are instructed to move on, renew. That's the tradition, although I've found that while I've been grieving steadily over Lilla, it has not been as simple as reciting a prayer each and every day. There are days when I miss her terribly, and others when she's almost a perfect stranger, when I have to remind myself that she was by my side for forty-four years. Days when I see her reflected in the bookstore and in casual conversations, and other days when she's absent altogether. 

I can't see how I will ever come to the point where she will fade entirely from my memory--not after so many years, so many mutual experiences, the pain, the joy, so much back and forth. But a year has passed, and of course I want to have a fresh, new life. Or let me put it this way: it would be refreshing to have a new life, especially in the time I have remaining. How one goes about that, though, is another matter.

It took them many months to construct her marker. She's buried in a lovely spot, quiet and unencumbered by other graves, and it is a beautiful green stone slab. Simple. Elegant. I think I did well in choosing the elements. I'm sure she would have approved. I stood there and thought about her. And I laid a bunch of lilacs over the marker as a present. Here, I thought to myself, here Lil, I brought these for you.Then I picked up nearby stone and laid it down it as well. Stones is another thing Jews do: we lay them down on graves to show that we were there. That we haven't forgotten. That we're reliable and we'll be back.

Lest you think it's easy to write these words, I probably ought to tell you, it isn't. It tears me up, in fact, but I force myself to do it because not only does it keep me connected to my previous life, it's the only way I know that will pave my way into the next. I don't believe in angels or God. Grief, on the other hand, is real. And grief and redemption are interwoven, at least in my mind. It's how I roll. 

--Andy Weinberger