Grief is a Broken Clock
On the mantelpiece of the room in my house which most would call the "living room" but which I glorify as the "library" (both because for as long as I can remember I've wanted a dedicated library and for the very simple reason that it's where the books live) there sits a clock, set in the body of a wooden elephant. It looks a bit like it should be a family heirloom with a history, but it really isn't...or at least, its history is a comparatively short one. My late husband and I bought it at a World Market one day, about eight years ago now. We had just purchased our very first house and were enjoying the special kind of impoverished, dusty glory that home ownership confers. Aaron especially fell in love with the clock immediately. It was a stretch, but we were approaching our one-year mark, so we decided to buy it for each other as an anniversary gift.
After Aaron's death, when our son and I moved into the home we live in now (which the boy-child has christened Brunswick, and which Aaron would have loved) the clock instantly found its home on the mantelpiece and it has lived there ever since. But about six months ago the clock started getting off time. I changed the batteries and reset it and it started ticking again, but went back to it's own erratic time...until one day I just took the batteries out and stopped it for good. But I couldn't bear to get rid of it, so I set it back on the mantel...then went back a few minutes later and set it to twenty minutes to nine...and that's how it's been ever since.
For those reading this who did not spend their adolescence buried in books as I did...the twenty minutes to nine is a reference to Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. In it, we discover that in her youth the eccentric spinster Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day. The groom did not arrive, but instead sent a cruel letter, which she received (at 8:40) as she was dressing for the ceremony. In her grief and anger, she lays waste to the whole house, stops all the clocks in it at twenty minutes to nine (the exact time at which she received the letter) and shuts herself up to waste away mind and body in her mouldering wedding dress while the mice and spiders take up residence among the decayed remains of the wedding feast.
It's not a healthsome reference. It's extreme and melodramatic and pretty much the opposite of a healthy reaction to grief in every way: the major freakout, the isolation, the one-way ticket to crazy town. But it functions as the extreme illustration of what grief (no matter the cause) does...of how it makes you feel stuck in that moment, like the stopped or broken clock...how it turns you into a little island out of time, while the rest of the world moves on around you.
I haven't fallen into Miss Havisham crazy. I'm moving forward...even when sometimes it feels like swimming upstream. I plan things for the future to keep goals in sight, and even in my darker moments, my son gives me a constant lifeline to the sunlight. I try to live a life Aaron would have been proud of, to fill it with bright spots and beautiful-souled people and laughter and warmth and adventure...and the clock starts moving again. I know it will glitch. I know I will have moments when I feel like I've fallen down a well. I know that occasionally I will want nothing so much as to descend into a bout of full-on Victorian crazy. But I also know that I'll pick myself up, pull myself together, and start the clock going again. Because a half-life isn't enough. Because as I see it that feeling of being left behind in a void is a challenge to climb out of it. Because I can only fail Aaron and his memory by giving in to cowardice and failing to embrace the life I've been given.
Happy Anniversary, love. I promise not to eat the moldy wedding cake.