Missing Peter

Where are you, my love? Whatever has captured your attention elsewhere, it is time to stop and come home and focus now, before things get completely out of hand.

Recently I dreamed that Paddy managed to find his father and bring him back to the workshop, just as I was discussing clearing it out with other people. I turned around and Peter was standing there, looking happy and energetic, slightly embarrassed to have overlooked a situation where he was needed, but ready to jump in and take over and put everything back the way it was supposed to be. As I woke up from the dream, I remembered going to the morgue in Windischgarsten, the feeling of my hand on Peter’s poor, cold head, and the dream and the memory merged.

By the time I had had enough coffee to distinguish which was the wishful dream and which was the real memory, I had the feeling that the dream was just cruel and unnecessary. Then I realized, though, that at some level, I don’t really want to finish taking everything apart, to finally close all of Peter’s affairs and confirm, absolutely and irrevocably, that his life has ended. I have had enough experience of death to know that there are different phases of grief and mourning that alternate, merge, recur over time in spiraling cycles. I keep telling myself now that this experience can help me to accept the current phase: I miss Peter.

No relief, no comfort, no alternatives, no other options: I just miss Peter. I miss teasing him, scolding him, talking with him about my concerns about other people, complaining to him about the unreasonableness of telephone companies, regaling him with descriptions of the complications I have to deal with, sharing with him what I’ve heard from the boys. I miss hearing his voice in the other room, then walking in to ask him whether he is talking to me or just thinking out loud. His usual response was a blink and then the answer “both”, because he could rarely tell the difference. I miss him interrupting me, and I miss being able to say, “It’s your turn to clean out the compost drawer.” I miss his laughter, his silliness, his deplorable sense of time, the warmth of his arms.

Sometimes when I’m missing Peter, I want to talk with the person who always listened to my outbursts of exasperation and was best able to help me understand Peter’s perspective while still sympathizing with mine. I want to talk with Amy. But not only is my husband dead, my sister is too. As much as that hurts, though, there is also something oddly comforting, reassuring in that pain. It is a reminder that, in a sense, I’ve been here before, I know how this works. I remember sitting in the hospital with Christopher going through his cycles of pain and delirium, missing my father so much that when I recall that hospital room now, in my mind I can see my father sitting there with me. I remember the feeling of hitting a wall when I needed to talk to Amy and I couldn’t, the helplessness of feeling that I would never be able to move again beyond or away from that wall, yet somehow it did dissolve. I’ve done this before, I can do it now. I can live with the pain of missing Peter now without fear that I will be trapped in this pain forever.

Of course, every experience of death is different. One thing I wasn’t prepared for at all, even though I theoretically could have been, was the shock of realizing that when Christopher and Paddy come to Linz now, they are not coming home: they come to visit their mother in a house where only their mother lives now. They both live in Vienna, where they are getting on with their own young lives, where they already needed their parents to take a step back and stop meddling before, but when they come in the door now, Peter’s absence is all the more palpable for them. As my children have become young adults, I have become their past, but now I am only a part of their past, and it makes me feel small, insufficient – and very, very lonely.

Fortunately for all of us, I am not dependent on my sons for consolation and companionship. There are still so many, many wonderful people who take time to help me with practical matters and time to just sit and talk with me – my friends, Peter’s friends, our shared friends, even the boys’ friends. People from all different phases of our life help me to craft memories I can live with now, remembering experiences that Peter and I shared, the different crossroads we came to, when we had to choose again and again whether to go on together or take separate paths, what we shared with one another from the work we each did, all the things we were involved in as individuals rather than as a couple, all the things we could only do as a couple – all the major and minor occurrences that make up a relationship of twenty-five years. And with these memories, I will be able to go on living, working, being involved in things that matter, caring about people.

There is an end in sight for my “widow’s tasks”, and there are many reasons for working to reach that end. There are all of Peter’s wonderful customers, who have been so generous, understanding and patient, but that is all the more reason to see that I can return the downpayments to them as quickly as possible for the instruments that Peter will no longer make. There are projects and translations and friends in need of my full attention and energy. There are new and very small human beings in need of an extra person to love them. There is a life I want to live, not just as Peter’s widow, but as myself.

That reassurance, that hope allows me to accept that for right now, I just miss Peter.

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