It has been 12 years since Ernestine Mitchell Bugbee died and I have worked very hard to process the enormous grief of losing her and making a new life that is inspirational and meaningful to me. I have moved to a place I love…scaled down my life to what is more reasonable and affordable and, most remarkably I have discovered love in my life again. By all measures I am happy and very involved in meaningful work. Yesterday I picked up a rideshare customer and driving her to her destination, she told me that her husband had died 16 years ago and we agreed that for people like us…the annual holidays were difficult. And that is the truth about losing the people we love. Grief does not end. It is always there…just under the surface and can reappear at any time…often inconvenient ones. Grief is something we must learn to live with and I think most of us do. I remember when it was only a few weeks since E had died and I was gripped by a fear that I would lose the intense memory of her in my life. I know now after so long that this simply could not happen. The part of me that was created from the years of the love we shared is still there….if anything more real and intense than it has ever been. And there are good reasons why it becomes more active during the holidays. As I unwrap the beautiful small trees she decorated with flowers and ribbons and tiny artificial birds…and place them around my small apartment each November…that very act of unwrapping brings me back 20 years to the days I watched her make them with the loving care and bright energy that characterized everything she ever did. And when (as I did today) I collect them, find the two boxes they are stored in and carefully wrap each of them in the old wrinkled tissue paper she wrapped them in after that last Christmas we shared together in Providence…she is with me again and it still makes me both happy and terribly sad for her loss. And I miss her again. And the grief returns. One of the many things E did to celebrate the season was to make Pomander balls (fresh oranges heavily studded with cloves so that when the orange dries over time, the cloves scent the air with a beautifully sweet spicy blend). She would sit there for hours studding the oranges with the cloves so that no sight of the orange peel could be seen. Then she would tie a little plaid ribbon into a bow around them and gather them all into a large glass bowl which sat in the living room of our home. Today I decided to put them away both to protect them and to allow the memory of their creation to rest a while before I brought them back out next November. So I wrapped them very carefully and packed them away with the trees. It has brought me some sadness as I still miss her as if she has just left me. A few weeks before she died I had a panic attack and broke into tears. Ernestine put her arms around me and asked me what was wrong:
“What am I going to do when you are gone? You are the one person in this world that I have always turned to for love and advice and concern and direction. What am I going to do when you are not here for me to ask you what to do?” I said as we hugged.
“Robin”, she said, “We have been together for so long and you have asked me about every question you could possibly have…so don’t worry about that. I will always be with you in your heart. All you have to do when I am no longer in front of you is to go ahead and ask me the question and you will hear me answer you as I always have.”
And I have found this to be true. I frequently ask the questions, and I hear her voice giving me the answers I need to hear. And right now, she is telling me to put this away…to stop thinking about all of this because it is making me sad and to get on to living the wonderful life I have now and doing the work that brings me so much inspiration and joy.
And that, my friends is exactly what I am about to do.