Debby Titlebaum Neuman

Mourning and Living

I am sitting on the earth in the shade, my cat is licking his belly at my feet. The winter wind is blowing through the pines. I stare at the sky, sometimes noticing patterns in the clouds; more often seeing nothing.

For weeks the kids have been doing the dishes every evening while I stare at the vacant spot on our couch. Nauseau has become my steady sidekick.

People tell me this is mourning, bereavement, loss.  No word can suffice.

At first I sprawled on the ground, my shirt torn, my body a mass of bones threatening to collapse. I was held, suspended in time.  I looked out at eyes, so many eyes.  People placed food in front of me and I dutifully stuck fork into food and food into mouth.  I chewed and swallowed.  Is this what we call eating?

There were words and tears; there was laughter, I smiled.  I also screamed and clawed at my skin, my body collapsing, my nose catching your scent.

And after seven days I rose, trusting my legs would carry me.  I walked slowly up our wooden steps, I turned right and continued down the muddy path that led me to your grave.  I lit a candle and said some psalms.  People said this is what I was meant to do.  I wanted to feel you there.  I wanted to, but I did not.

Now I am slowly returning to the world of the living.  In this place I move my limbs and open my mouth when necessary.  I notice the shadows that blades of grass leave on each other and I wonder about the angels that encourage them to grow.  Where did your angels go?

Here comes the wind again, never to be seen except in relation to the things it touches; just like the dead, alive in those they have touched.

I’ve been thinking about my childhood and that day we walked through Harper’s Ferry, across a bridge and over a rushing river.  Or that night when we ate pizza and drank Boone’s wine in a historical hotel off the Appalachian trail.  Later, with our bellies full and our minds buzzing, we sat under a dark summer sky  and witnessed a star blaze a new trail above us.

When I went to work last week, I walked slowly and tried to ignore the things in my life that need attention; that phone bill I forgot to pay, the car tire that needs air, my daughter’s swollen thumb.   I concentrated on the ground in front of me and saw that the calendula leaves had sprouted.

I wondered  if this was  a memory you would cherish? Me staring at green leaves still weeks from flowering.

‘These moments will be the memories to keep me warm on a lonely winter’s day’ you would say as we watched the sunset from my deck with steaming cups of herbal tea, when the kids baked cookies,  or on a typical morning over coffee and toast.

I place one foot in front of the other.  Mourning feels more honest than living.

But I do need to answer my phone again some day, and to teach the classes I committed to, I need to re-enter the grocery store, and go to parent/teacher meetings. I will, but not now.

Yesterday was the third shower I have taken since you died.  I remember the last time you stood under the shower head, steaming hot water dripping over your curved shoulders and sagging breasts.  You were not a fan of showering at the end of your life and yet that day it was holy; you were blissful, purifying for death.

When will I stop counting?  When will I run my fingers through my soapy, wet hair and wonder if my husband remembered to pick up cucumbers, or some other banal thought?  On that day will I have forsaken you?  Will your soul no longer be lingering close?  Or will I  have just rejoined the living who do not count the days from death.

About the Author
Debby is a mother, writer, childbirth educator, spiritual teacher, forest gan manager, and doula. When she is not teaching, writing, or attending births she can most often be found wandering the Judean hills with her five daughters, foraging wild edibles, strumming her ukelele, and feeling gratitude at the wonders of creation.