The Grief Manual: At Two Years

What no one ever told me is that when loss soaks in for more than a year, the memories of the person you lost bleed through the time they were here in the flesh. You start to remember them in the moments you were mourning them, which have become distinct memories in themselves.

I think about Hannah now as the little girl I would split the last stick of gum in my pocket with as we walked to the middle school playground around the corner from our house, where we would then swing on impossibly (and arguably dangerously) high swings in the empty summer fields where we were then the only children. I think of her also as the singular woman in the world I could tell absolutely anything to without recourse or shame — never diminishing in her mind as the person she loved from the moment I met her in the hospital where she was born. I think of her, too, in the days after her death when I swear she was sitting next to me on the edge of the curled wooden arm of the cane chair with cream flowered cushions in my parents’ living room, holding my hand while the rest of our family was gathered in front of us.

I think of her in the impossible grief that I couldn’t knock, scream, cry or wrest out of me, that grief that became the new binding tie between us. A grief I both wanted exorcized from me — because it represented that she was dead — and that I wanted to stay forever because at least I was stirring the embers of her in the hot, fiery coals where she would never be forgotten.

If my grief were a little canary songbird — one like my great-grandmother used to allow to flit around her kitchen — I would make it sing an impossible song. Sing until it, too, expired. Sing as all my memories collapsed on themselves. Memories of the way (unbeknownst to me at the time) Hannah and I shared moments of seeing my dead grandfather in so many other faces walking down the street — uncanny and irrefutably the same glasses, hair and beard. Memories of the last Christmas when Hannah and I sat, as we always sat at family events, entangled together on a sofa, whispering something inane or just deeply, simply loving to each other.

I touch on the near-forgotten safety of her beauty, loveliness and comfort. What must I have done in a past life to have been so lucky to have known her and to have shared 28 years? 28 years which I certainly would do differently in ways if I had known I wouldn’t get 80 or 90 together, like the batty old eccentrically jeweled and makeuped cheeky ladies we planned to be together.

I would have been so much less selfish. I would have punched the air from and deflated my jealousies. I would have just held her longer, sat with her longer, vacationed with her longer. I would have laid out beside her out in the lush-treed Connecticut backyard as she sunned herself in any bit of sun the leafy garden would allow. Hannah was a little sun-goddess birthed in late April just as the Spring shoots give way to the explosion of brightness and hotter days of May. She was born in a moment where April sits like a thawing tundra, always seeking just a little more light.

If I had known she would die so soon, I would have curled myself into her more when we inevitably gathered in one of our beds in the morning with Roxy dog jumping all over us to find the most comfortable burrow to bury herself in — being then the same heat seeking chihuahua-missile she remains today. Roxy, Hannah’s eight-pound dog who tolerates all of us now compressing our love for her and our wandering and exiled love for Hannah into her. Roxy, who I sometimes see looking out the window and wonder if she is just waiting patiently with us until Hannah comes home — or until she returns to Hannah.

We search for and see Hannah in the long hair of other tall girls and women who are strangers to us and in the images that come to us when we are silent in our rooms, cars or minds. Our mother, my daughter and Hannah’s friends have dreams of her. I envision Hannah as Artemis: flowing ethereal dress, fierce longbow, incandescent hair long and lifted behind her, facing the wind on the top of a mountain just outside the woodland thicket. Hannah the empress; Hannah the warrior; Hannah the brave. Hannah the immortal. Real-life Hannah is messy and always late and inconsistent and layered and fierce and soft and kind. Real-life Hannah is now the collection of framed photographs and iPhone video snippets and reel-to-reel tapes that she has left behind, like a trail of breadcrumbs my songbird canary pecks at to keep her strength.

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