This past summer after an amazing month with family and friends in Canada I returned to Seattle ready to tackle several projects and tie up loose ends that I had not yet been ready to face. There was still a mountain of paperwork to work through. The day I no longer have to show up somewhere with my husband’s death certificate in hand will be a good day indeed. My eyes inevitably wander to the official cause of death and I find myself questioning all of the excruciatingly difficult decisions I made on his behalf. Just the act of searching for a receipt can be painful and exhausting. There is always a little slip of paper with his sweet scraggly handwriting amongst our papers. When I find one of these bits of evidence of his existence, I slow to a halt and trace my fingers over the indentations of the pen. He was here. He made this impression. I become lost, wanting to just close my eyes and take a nap…or have a drink, or do some online shopping…honestly anything but this. To get through it I planned to reward myself with one of the self-imposed loose ends that I had wanted to tackle for the better part of two years! Painting the living room.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, Roger had painted it metallic gold in an attempt to
recreate the feeling we had in our house in California. I wasn’t fully on board but standing in front of the Roger train when he became set on an idea was a dicey prospect indeed. This was a battle I chose not to have and truthfully, if it did help us feel more like we did in our house in LA, then that would be just fine. He painted the entire room in a day, all on his own. Although the finished paint job had its charms, it felt, to me, heavy, dark, and like a growing number of things in our lives, just not quite right.
For over a year after Roger’s death, my eight year old daughter Audrey had been vehemently opposed to any change of paint color. Well, she did suggest one wall bright blue, one bright yellow and one bright green but because I wasn’t opening a daycare I opted to just wait a bit. After our rejuvenating trip to Canada, Audrey gave me permission to proceed.
After an exhaustive search for the perfect grey I settled on Benjamin Moore’s Silver Bells. Not too green not too blue. Not at all sad. Refreshing and crisp. I took my time, slowly taping off the room. I left two stripes of gold paint around the doorframes to honor Roger. Even as I taped, I could see areas where he had rushed, were he used putty to correct some of the overlaps of paint on trim. And I found myself having a lengthy, detailed, sometimes heated internal conversation with him that both thrilled me and broke my heart all over again.
In his final years, he was very critical. In terms of the house there was nothing I could get right. He once said accusingly “I’m the only one who takes this house seriously!” I now know it was the tumor driving him to such rigid thinking but at the time it was hurtful and extremely confusing. So much so that while painting, I found myself having irrational “AH HA! You weren’t so perfect with this paint job, were you!?” moments. Other little slips of his brush seemed sweet and human. As I grew tired, I became resentful of all the extra work that his cutting corners caused me. I railed at him leaving me alone to clean all of this up. (Insert metaphor.) I took joy in nurturing a space that he had so thoroughly covered with his energy.
I had to stop at one point and laugh as I said out loud to him, “See honey, you stick around long enough you get to win every argument!” At the end of this sentence came a profound sadness. I like to think that he had some say in his death so that I can rail a little more but he didn’t. He had talked about just ‘getting through this’ so he could ‘get back to his life’ and that ‘this was the thing that was his wake up call’ and he was ‘going to make changes.’ He was ‘going to take time off work and spend more time with his family.’ It was too late. It is still heartbreaking.
Finally, I finished painting and it is sooooooo beautiful! (I know, beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that but I really do like it!) It is light and fresh and pretty. Even Audrey approves.
The rug, I swapped the old one with my sister in law. Free of charge! But most of the other elements of the room we had before. The Sofa, coffee table, Chinese Camphor chest, and almost all of the accessories were already in the house. I did my best to edit and curate .
I’m really happy with how the dark wood dining table that belonged to his family while he was growing up looks with the light wood floors and grey walls. Last year, I obsessed about finding a light fixture to replace the one that came with the house. Yes, it would have been super easy had I $10,000.00 to toss around, but I didn’t and I snagged the one I wanted on sale at a ridiculously great price.
The rose depression glass, cut glass vase and silver tea/coffee set are all from Roger’s family. The silver was tucked away, wrapped in newspaper and stored in an old cardboard box! Going through old boxes felt a bit like treasure hunting.
The room now represents our past together along with my life without him. …and I am working really hard to feel okay about it. I know that the alternative of pretending we are still married and that he is just away on an exceedingly lengthy business trip is not healthy, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t conflicted.
There is still so much more grieving to do but I am getting there. I try to take each step mindfully so that I can both honor who he was and allow myself to move forward as the person I now am. I feel him. I know he is happy where he is and I know that both while living on this earth and where ever he is now, he wants more than anything for Audrey and me to be happy too. We are learning a new skill, a skill that we never wanted to learn but that has been thrust upon us nonetheless. We are learning to live with out him.
Whether or not he would have actually liked the grey paint? Well as I said, …’you stick around long enough…”and I am still here. Thankfully.