When a friend and neighbor died in May, I checked her Facebook page daily—sometimes hourly. I read all the condolences with tears running down my face, looking back through all the photos and posts she’d made documenting her life as a wife and mother. When her husband posted updates, photos, and thank-you notes, I cried harder. It felt important to pay attention; to not immediately return to my normal life. I was, in some strange modern way, holding vigil for the family; attempting to carry a small portion of their terrible tragedy in whatever way I could.
I know others have wanted to do the same for me, but I haven’t been able to face social media since Eric died. I’ve opened my accounts to read condolence messages and share them with my kids. We’ve felt the love and the shared sorrow from family, friends, and people I only know through the computer screen. I’ve been grateful for a way to get the word out while also remaining grateful for the barrier my friend Kat helped create by posting updates and information for me. It formed a mental barricade between the reality of engaging with people and my own personal mourning.
I thought eventually I’d be able to post on those accounts myself, but so far I haven’t been able to. Instagram and Facebook are pretty painful places to be, especially during a holiday season. So many of you are living your beautiful lives with your very much alive spouses and partners, and while I’m happy for you (so, so happy for you), I also can’t take it.
But this space—this weird, historied, complicated blog space—is all mine. No one else’s stories are here. No one else’s photos. I don’t even have to look through pages of happier times because I archived years of blog posts and printed it all into books back in January. That feels extremely apropos now; I just need a clean slate. I do enough wallowing in our family albums as it is.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever resurrect this site, let alone for something like this. But now I’m glad I didn’t completely set it on fire. I’m glad that I wasn’t certain; glad that I let it just sit here, waiting.
I have no idea what my posts will look like or if I’ll post with any kind of regularity. I don’t know if my RSS feed is working or if anyone checks this space anymore. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have a plan. I don’t care about branding or influencing or monetizing. It’s okay if the posts are just for me. For whatever strange reason, I need this outlet on the internet.
I keep a private journal too. That space is important in different ways and for different reasons. It feels a little odd to need both this space and that one, but it’s okay. Like I tell my kids, grief is going to look different for all of us; however we need to get through this is okay. So I’ll post here when the mood strikes and I’ll see how it feels.
I wish Eric had kept a journal. Even if it was full of, “Jessica is driving me bananas,” I’d still read it, cherish it, and weep over his handwriting. Other than our binder of printed emails from when we met online in the year 2000 (a year you can’t just say, you have to add “the year” in the front, otherwise it sounds and looks strange), I don’t have much else. We didn’t send each other sexy texts or emails full of love notes. He wasn’t a letter writer and would struggle for hours over a Mother’s Day card only to give up and write “Happy Mother’s Day — Love, Eric.” And that was just for his own mom. I don’t know if he ever got me a card. Instead, he showed love through acts of service; just quietly taking out the trash, feeding the dog, doing the chores I hated, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, bringing me stacks of pancakes if I was working long hours, doing the dishes, and working hard for us even when he didn’t want to.
You know, just life. A happy, content life—a good life. But I can’t frame any of those things, or press them between the pages of a book. I can’t pin them up on my corkboard or put them under my pillow.
That’s not to say they didn’t leave their mark; they did. My heart is fingerprinted all over with Eric’s quiet, steady acts of love. Still, I long for something more tangible to save, to hold, to cry over.
The second worst day of my life was spent sitting at the funeral home watching the funeral director tally up the cost of Eric’s services. After touring the terrible back room full of caskets, I passed a display of necklaces, pendants, and lockets. Each featured the embossed fingerprint of a loved one. I reached toward the necklaces prepared to scoff–most grief-mementos I’d looked at had been awful, and I thought these would feel the same. But when my fingers touched the raised fingerprint on a pendant, I started to cry.
The funeral director told me they scanned the fingerprints of the deceased and kept them on file. He had a pin number for me that I could use to order a necklace through Legacy Touch. The pin number would allow them to access Eric’s fingerprints so I could make a piece of jewelry to wear.
My mother-in-law offered to pay for my locket and I also ordered a pendant for my daughter.
The necklaces arrived last week. I have yet to figure out how to get a photo of Eric printed in the right size and on the right paper, but the fingerprint is amazing.
Caption: Wearing his giant flannel shirt, wishing it felt like a hug. He always had one pocket unbuttoned so he could carry a pen or pencil.
It’s not the same as having him here and it’s not even the same as having a packet full of love letters to read. But it’s something.
I like the weight of it around my neck. I’ve never been much of a necklace person, but this is nice. It’s something to hold onto when I brave a crowded store and find I don’t feel ready after all. I can flip it open and run my thumb over the fingerprint when I’m driving around in my car at night, bawling over the steering wheel. It’s not the anchor Eric was for me, but it feels like a link; a connection. With it, I find I suddenly understand prayer beads, shrines, and pilgrimages to relics. Sometimes having something physical to represent the unseen, the invisible, or the unknown is all we need to feel just a little bit stronger.
The death of a beloved is an amputation.
— C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed