Joy and family left yesterday for their drive home to Billings. It was blustery and spring-time cool most of the week they were here, but we had one day early on when I sat out by the water to read, and Duncan and Anna lounged at the end of the dock in the warm sunshine. We had a game night, a movie night, drove down the east shore of the lake for a picnic by the water in Polson, and, on their last night, we saw the new crescent moon and bright Venus shine in the twilight sky. There was a bit of making art by painting and drawing. Anna and Joy emptied my chaotic spice cabinet, consolidated the duplications, and carefully alphabetized the spices, and evenly spaced them on the shelves. And, then, the week was over, they drove away, and it’s back to just the two of us, to shelter in place.
There’s always a chasm in my heart when family leave, before I can settle myself back into the quiet solitude here at the lake, but I felt especially sad to say goodbye yesterday. I feel like we’ve been through a lot together, since their move to Finland on the first of January. We were the only family members who were able to visit them, see their apartment, their schools, the grocery store. It’s been their journey, of course, but as I told Joy, nearly every day for four months, she sent an email and recounted their adventures and misadventures in Finland. When the pandemic broke out, first thing, in dawn’s early light, I would check the computer, holding my breath for reports on Anna’s illness, her visit to the hospital, and their struggles to get back to America. Now, that chapter in their lives has been cut short, and the new chapters are yet to be written. Like the pandemic itself, so much has been lost, and we don’t know how the story will be written going forward. I am saddest for our teen-agers. Already in foreign territory–no longer children but not yet adults–the loss they must feel in direction, in their future, must weigh heavy. Is that what they are texting on their phones day and night? Sometimes, they send me their Spotify playlists and I listen to the lyrics to see if I can glean what they are thinking, and I often conclude that they are simply feeling like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
It’s the kind of day I like here, late in the month of April–a pleasant 50 degrees with light rain showers moving across the lake. I walked down to still water this morning and heard the loons calling out to one another. I’ll make a soup for dinner this afternoon and read by the fire while it simmers. In thinking about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, I found Judith Viorst’s adult book, Necessary Losses, high up on one of the bookcases in our library. Judging by the wrinkles and tears of the book cover, I gave it quite a once-over, back in the mid-80’s, when I was dealing with loss and unknown territory in my own life. She introduces her book…”In fact, I would like to propose that central to understanding our lives is understanding how we deal with loss. I would like to propose in this book that the people we are and the lives that we lead are determined, for better and worse, by our loss experiences.”
At the end of the book, I’d dog-eared another passage:
“We lost not only through death, but also by leaving and being left, by changing and letting go and moving on. And our losses include not only our separations and departures from those we love, but our conscious and unconscious losses of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusions of safety–and the loss of our own younger self, the self that thought it would always be unwrinkled and invulnerable and immortal.”
Her words feel especially true, in this time of coronavirus.