Heat from your headstone soaked into my arms as I hugged it, as I had once held your thin shoulders. The mahogany granite hewn from the mountains of South Dakota radiated the warmth of the summer sun. I fought the urge to rub my forearms raw on the craggy sides of your stone. Was it a desire to feel something, to see vibrant red blood as proof that I am alive? My blood carried life to you when you were tucked safely under my heart, could my blood on your headstone bring you back to life?
A flash of red catches my eye. The wings of a cardinal flutter at the forest edge behind your grave. Fireflies blink like lazy traffic lights, the dense thicket glows with their silent conversation. Still holding your headstone, I peer into the trees, willing my eyes to catch a glimpse of you. I glance over my shoulder where my mother, father, and brother rest, haunts of another life. I look back to the forest hoping that if I turn my head quick enough, I can catch your spirit wandering in the green wood. But you aren’t there.
I think of your body beneath my feet. Longing like the ocean rushing back from crashing ashore pulls at my heart. And just like the fierce grip of the wave that buckles your knees and drags you into the water, I can feel my soul captured by darkness. It is inevitable, the rise and fall of grief. Riding the top of the wave is a respite, but then your body hits hard sand and water closes in over your head.
I brush the dust from your headstone as the shadows deepen in the cemetery. The evening summer sky is pink with humid haze. I wish I could stay and melt into the earth and become part of the universe that holds you. The empty arms of a mother seeking to hold her child.
I turn reluctant feet towards the car and walk away from you. The wave of disorientation washes over me as I leave the hallowed quiet and enter the world of the living. Hot vinyl greets me as I slide into the driver’s seat and grab the ever present box of tissues. I glance at the empty passenger seat and wish I could lift my eyes and catch your eyes glinting with some mischief. It is a hunger for a homeland that exists on no map.
The fall into dark grief catches me by surprise. The lifting will happen, the gradual ascent to where light filters in and social ease is not a practiced effort, but a fluid and natural response. It is not a relapse, I do not have a disease. This is the life cycle of bereavement. I make space for it, embrace it as the fabric that makes up my life. I don’t fear the darkness, it is where I find humanity revealed.