I drove out to the nursing home listening to Barry Manilow, lending some theatricality to what was probably a false alarm. My parents often played a Barry Manilow record when I was in preschool. So it isn’t my fault. I was listening to “This One’s For You,” which has a bold, swelling orchesteral sky, and the sun was setting brilliantly along the interstate. I had been out for this final visit with Grandma several times already. Her dying happened with a lot of fits and starts.
I waltzed into Grandma’s room, and my family was all standing around her bed, and not talking much. After I’d been there a minute, I said softly, “How is she?” And my darling aunt whispered, “Oh, honey, she passed about ten minutes ago.” Which wasn’t funny right then, but became funny to me very shortly afterward.
I decided, the next day, that I was going to go to Target and spend my troubles away. I have a $100 Trouble with a Capital T allowance that I occasionally permit myself. They have everything at Target, of course, and $100 will go a little ways.
Housewares was usually the area where I could bribe myself most effectively. Lo and behold… the lamp of my dreams, which I had decided was too expensive, was on sale. Forty percent off. It’s ceramic, rectangular, and painted with black and white Chinese patterns, and if you don’t think that’s a good-looking lamp, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I scooped it up and gazed at it, goo-goo eyed, as I set it in my red cart.
I was feeling much enlivened as I carried it up the front stairs of my apartment building. The circle of life and to everything a season, and I had a new lamp. I set down my shopping bag to get out my keys. Then I opened the door, knocked over my shopping bag, and there was a terrible crash.
I think I could tell a story like this about every time I have grieved a loss. Every time, there’s some crude event in the physical world that funnels the problem of loss into one contained spot.
I carried the bag of ceramic fragments up to my apartment and was talking to myself a lot: “We’re going to glue it back together. We have glue. I’m sure we can glue it back together.” I was not at all sure I could glue it back together. One thing that seriously held me back was my lack of spatial reasoning skills. This was the part of the IQ test and the SAT and the ACT and the GRE that I had consistently flunked. Putting a 3-D puzzle together is very hard for me. It’s shocking that I share so much DNA with so many engineers.
The lamp was repairable. It looks just fine now, with cracks that you wouldn’t notice, and they do not represent how I have healed from my grief and have grown stronger or anything Hallmark like that.
It was just something I could do, struggle with those pieces and matching the blacks and whites of the pattern, while I was thinking about how sharp and helpless loss can feel, and proving to myself that some things are repairable.