November

Someday, in some distant future, I like to think that a time may come, when November won’t hurt. It seems hard to imagine that now, but it’s what I like to tell myself.

Returning to Linz the day before the second anniversary of Peter’s death seemed like a good idea when I booked my flight months ago, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite think that plan all the way through. Two years ago I was wholly and completely incapable of remembering any dates or times, so I was grateful for the notes posted for me in the hallway, telling me where I needed to go and when, notes I could simply read out whenever anyone called to ask about the memorial. Two years ago I could not remember that the memorial for Peter would be held on 22 November, that on 28 November we would take the urn with his ashes to the niche I had picked out for both of us. Now it feels as though I will never, ever be able to forget those dates again.

I had made plans for 13 November ahead of time, the same comforting, reassuring plan as last year: going to the cemetery together in the afternoon, a nice dinner with family and friends at Gelbes Krokodil, eventually ending up in Solaris, of course, with Paddy, Agnes, Christopher and more friends. That worked. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how hard it would hit me in the days after that, the whole flood of memories of exactly what I was doing at this time two years ago. For the past two weeks I’ve had the feeling there is gray film constantly running in my head, replaying memories on top of or behind everything else I’m doing or thinking in the present.

Actually, though, it might even be considered encouraging that I was so unprepared for that unexpected flood of memories. It means they don’t otherwise dominate my life. It means there is space now, two years later, in my life, in my mind, in my heart to reflect on and remember what happened, what was, what is no more. It means I can stop to feel sad now, because I’m not constantly struggling to just somehow keep going.

On 14 November, the day after the second anniversary of Peter’s death, I finally transferred the last installment to pay his income taxes, for which I am deeply grateful to Peter’s parents, because I could not have done it without their generous help. The only thing left now is the last instrument Peter started and Claudia Unterkogler finished, which is only waiting for a case to be made for it so it can be delivered. Then I am finished. I have completed all my “widow’s tasks”.

My “widow’s tasks”, dealing with “death & taxes & telephone companies”, all the many, many “first times” – sometimes the first year felt like the longest year of my life. It seemed interminable, insurmountable. As the first year spilled over into the second year, as my “widow’s tasks” finally became fewer, less urgent, less daunting, it was time to take up the next challenge of “rearranging my life” without Peter. It was also time to stop needing so much help and support and start taking care of other people again. It was time to get back to work and to earning my living again. New projects, new people, new interests also new low points, new disappointments, new loneliness.

So many years ago, I found the symbolism of the threefold goddess fascinating and encouraging. The three figures of the goddess with their respective colors – white for the Maid, red for the Mother, black for the Crone – stand for different phases of life, but not in a linear progression: like the changing seasons, there are different times in life, where the focus shifts, responsibilities and efforts change, the light is different. White is for those periods in life, when a freedom from ties and responsibilities is needed to reach a goal, to grow and change, a time of light and clarity, not uncaring, but unfettered. Red is for periods of caring, loving, nourishing, protecting, gathering in, a time of strong energy and strong bonds, like a flame with all its capacities for warming and for destroying as well. Black is the time of winter, like the black branches of trees that had to let their leaves fall, in order to survive the cold and the snow. Letting go, taking down, taking leave, retreating, death. And there can be no life without death, in all its many forms and manifestations, physical, emotional, global, personal.

Looking back, I would say that the first year of my life without Peter was red, the second was black.

Now my color is white.

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