Between whatever it was that we were doing – whatever I needed to be wearing the nice, black dress for – and breakfast, I drove my car to the beach. I changed into my bathing suit. I walked straight out into the lake. It wasn’t an especially cold morning – but it wasn’t especially beachy either. I was the only one in the lake though there were a handful of other people milling around on the beach. I walked straight into the water until it was up to my chin. I didn’t cry. I just talked to my parents (It occurs to me, Dear Reader, that you might not realize – if you haven’t read my blog before – that my Mother died two years before my father).
While I walked into the Lake, I thanked my parents for giving me Lake Michigan, for giving me Frankfort Beach and Elberta Beach, for giving me this beautiful home (the Lake) that would always be there for me.
It is a terrible odd thing to be absolutely parentless, to be orphaned. At any age, it feels wrong, it feels impossibly hard. Once, there were two people in this world for whom you were the world (whether they knew how to show you that or not – whether they always loved you the way you wanted to be loved or not) and now those two people are gone.
This moment of walking into the water at Frankfort Beach was like a baptism, like a coming home, like a promise I was making to myself and to my parents and to the Lake. Though, I’m not sure exactly what it is that I promised. I dove under the water over and over and over again and just felt myself held in every direction by this good water. There are some lines in a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, I believe, that go something like, “Water, Good Water, It is I.” I kept saying this line over and over. I wasn’t able to articulate what I was doing in this moment. I just thanked my parents. I just committed myself to the Lake. I just reminded myself that despite the fact that they were gone, they had left me something – a living entity – that would continue to hold me as long as I lived. I wasn’t articulating this to myself in this moment. It is just what I was doing. It is just what was happening.
And then I walked back out of the water, changed back into my nice, black dress, threw my hair up in a wet, sloppy bun and went to breakfast with my brothers. Mitch was there. Robert too. After breakfast, before we all went our separate ways, I hugged them both. I told them I loved them (Dear Reader, again, you may not know, since that day, we have lost Mitch too, we have lost Robert too).
I have heard a thousand metaphors for grief. None are sufficient. Grief is grief. You get busy about your day. You are distracted by groceries and work and helping the kids with their homework. In very good moments, you are busy holding life so close to you and being so grateful for everything that you have that there isn’t space in your mind for the darkness, the depth of grief. In other good moments, you kiss the edges of all of the good memories you have and you are grateful for those too. But then a moment will come that reminds you or makes you feel the lack of someone you will always love, who was once here, right within your reach, who is not here anymore. And it’s a soul-pain, it’s a pain you can feel in every cell of your body.
When I’m in Lake Michigan – especially at Frankfort Beach or Elberta Beach – that pain is buoyed up. Every cell in my body feels injected with… I don’t know… not hope… not acceptance… not love… just, maybe, peace. It’s the closest feeling to the peace I remember in my mother’s arms. If you have lost your mother or your father or someone else very close to you, Dear Reader, you can imagine – I know you can – how important it is to be as close as possible to that feeling.
I have many friends who, like me, continue to grieve their losses. A friend who aches for her mother. A friend who was recently, and suddenly, orphaned. A friend who misses her father every single day. This is a pain that all of us, sooner or later, will endure.
Something I learned from giving birth is that not all pain is wrong. Not all pain is without reason. And almost all pain can teach us something. It’s our job to be good students. Maybe this was my promise to the Lake – to be a good student. Knowing this doesn’t alleviate the pain. Nothing does. As in labor, you just keep pushing, through the pain, past the pain… into what… I do not know yet. But when I get there, I will definitely try to let you know.
In the meantime, I’ll be in Lake Michigan every possible chance I can get.
Swim through it with love, Dear Readers, always always always, with love.