In two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Australia.
Someone said that I was taking a pilgrimage but I’ve realized that this entire year has been nothing but a pilgrimage of milestones. The first birthdays, the first holidays, the first trip back to the Texas coast, our anniversary in June which by the way is not an actual anniversary if only one of you is still alive, are all the beginning of the end to a new beginning.
After the anniversary was the ritual of going through Hook’s clothes, his closets, everything he ever owned, made easier by the presence of my family. They helped me to pick through what I was willing to part with then adopted some of his things which was more reassuring because it felt like he wouldn’t be far away. Then finally, there was the move back into the Hook House, a house I have to admit that I did not want to return to. Living here again was never part of the plan, but nothing of the last two years was part of any plan ever.
Yes, it’s a great house. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, everyone who walks into this house has said what I said the first time I ever saw it: “It’s so cute and such a perfect location!”
He should have died in this house but if he had, I wouldn’t be living here today. That’s one thing I know for certain and it goes with the only other certainty that I have: I need to finish what we started which is why I re-booked my flight to Australia with little to no time to plan.
Early in 2014, I doubted that I would ever step foot in the land down under. That country no longer held any interest for me. Instead it was a reminder of unfulfilled dreams and not just of a sabbatical but of an entire future. Occasionally I would say without conviction that someday I’d go and take his ashes, but I lacked any enthusiasm to make that happen until I moved back into the Hook House.
[I refer to my home as the “Hook House” because in the future it will become the Hook Scholar House where I sponsor students from outside of central Texas who travel to Austin from all over the world to conduct creative research at the Wild Basin Preserve.]
The first week back home, I had to give myself permission to feel relief, yes relief, that I could start anew, relief that it was okay to feel happy again, relief that no matter what I did to improve my future did not mean I would forget about Hook. How could I? This house was the only home I’d ever known with Allan. It was his home then our home. Now it is my home. His Jeep is parked in the driveway while my Nissan is tucked away in the garage. Do I keep both cars? I don’t know but I no longer feel the need to figure everything out all at once. Somehow being back in this house has released me from feeling like I’d never find my way back to the land of the living. And even as I walk through the house with the constant sense of he should be here, I know I can’t change the past. I cannot make my husband be undead. The only way forward is forward.
He would want you to be happy.
Sort of. I mean, Allan would not have wanted me to be unhappy. He would have wanted more than anything for me to be productive, for me to get going. I could cry all I wanted so long as I kept making progress. Hook was from the generation that if you were too happy, you probably weren’t working hard enough. So yes, he would want me to be happy but not too happy.
What is Allan saying to you now?
Multiple people have asked me this, but I couldn’t answer because I’d started listening more to what I needed than what I believed Allan would have wanted for me. That’s how I decided to make this trip to Australia which is neither a vacation nor a holiday. The same knotted ball that was in the pit of my stomach when I took my first trip back to Port Aransas without Allan has resurfaced. I struggle to feel excitement for a trip I once couldn’t wait to take. But that was when I thought my husband would be sitting next to me on the plane not resting in an urn. Everything is different now even my reason for going.
I go because there is a circle to be closed. I go to complete a two-year journey I never wanted to be on. I go to spread the last of my husband’s remains on the anniversary of his death. I’ll do finally what we’re both now ready for me to do: I’ll let him go.
The widow books that used to decorate my nightstand have been replaced by books about Australia. Each time I open one of the Oz books, I barely skim through the pages, not really reading at all. Instead, I stare at the maps of this continent, mentally planning a counterclockwise, southwest trek from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef then over to Darwin and down to Alice Springs then back down to Perth for one last peek at Hope Street.
Australia’s vastness used to intrigue me and my hope is that once I get there, it will again. I’m giving myself exactly one month. And all that traveling inside the country that I mentioned? I’ve no way of knowing if I’ll actually do it. I’m as likely to hunker down in Perth and do absolutely nothing as I am to figure out that anamoly of an island and make a solo trek around the circumference.
As I live through the next three weeks which this time last year were Hook’s last three weeks, I find it impossible not to return to that time in my head. We had lived a year for every day in that last month. The intensity of feeling doesn’t go away just because 347 days have passed. I can actually see it more clearly now, see that no matter what happens in my life, nothing will ever touch me as deeply as those last days helping my husband to die.
We didn’t know, I didn’t know — our last conversations, our last everything. Some might think that that time was tragic or horrible or possibly even disgusting to have to live through. When you can’t stop what is happening, when you can’t save them, when all you can do is wipe phlegm from their mouth or carry them to the bathroom, then those actions become ultra significant. So you push back any thoughts of he’s dying and instead you think, He would have done this for me, or, I can still do these small things for him. And you make that be enough for both of you and you never break until he’s gone, because he’s no strength left so you must be that for him, too.
If Hook were saying anything it would probably be: Just keep going or “You’re right babe,” a common phrase in our home.
My husband did not want me to take his ashes to Australia. But I have always known what was best for us and now I know what is best for me. I need to release him. I need to begin a new journey that starts with finishing this one. I’ll make this pilgrimage to Australia and I’ll face this milestone like I have faced all the others: With my heart and my mind wide open.
And I’ll cry and I’ll cry and I’ll cry and when I’m done, I’ll remind myself that it’s okay to be happy again.