The process of going through Melissa's things started in earnest this week. Her sister and Mom came to Phoenix on Monday afternoon to help me go through it all together. The three of us spent most of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning making decisions no one should ever have to consider. It seems at times like we're trying to decide what her physical legacy will be. What pieces of paper and cloth mean more than others? What can be let go of? What is too painful to consider?
This is all too soon. We had to stop on Wednesday. It was too much. We instead got in the car and went to Sedona, to create new memories, rather than feel the current pain of the past. I am amazed by the amount of hurt that still exists in my life. It has been months but feels like decades; and yet finding a piece of paper with her signature dated the day before our loss makes it feel so fresh, so raw. The why and what-for remains a mystery, and likely always will. Her things feel so partial, so incomplete, and yet so magical and significant.
The process of deconstruction has put me in a mood to consider what will come of my life. When it is my time, who will be the one to go through my scrap paper? Decide which t-shirt is the memory they want to hang on to and which will go to the donation bin of history? It is a temporary life, sometimes lasting decades, well in to old age, and sometimes not. The legacy is not so much the stack of pictures and hand written letters left behind as it is the memories that are shared and the love that is given and received.
Among the things Melly left for us were hundreds of papers written by and for her students. Some were reviews of their work, others were individual lesson plans and notes to herself. The overarching impression from each is the amount of care and life that she breathed in to each interaction. It was not uncommon to find a student essay with margin notes longer than the paper itself. For Melissa, it was either 150% or nothing. You can see the level of detail, the knowledge with tenderness that she was trying to impart. She was putting three hours in for every hour spent instructing. In the end I worry that it took a toll, but know that it made her happy. Seeing these papers, smelling her in the air, hearing her voice in my head, makes me wish for better days. There is nothing that I would not give to be with her for just one more of her three hour-hours.
This magical thinking, this feeling that she will be back, that her things are her, is the source of the pain. For I have allowed the demons of my grief to build a home, a place to dig in. See them there, in the doorway, ready to pounce if I turn my back on them. Ignoring them makes them more powerful. What is not seen is always worse than what is exposed to the light. The demons want to hangout, so you have to let them until they get bored, and then they will leave. Grief is like a toddler denied, its all screams and tantrums in anticipation of the unobtainable. Ignoring it makes it louder, acknowledgement and reason makes it mundane, makes it possible to live in this world again.
I had felt alright leading up to Monday, but did have that sense of dread in knowing what was headed my way. Everyone says that the anticipation is worse than the event. In my case the event is so much worse. The thing about it, though, is that it is temporary. This first trip through the closets and drawers of her life is just like any other first time. It is awful, but it will get better. Time will dull the shock so that I can once again see and appreciate the delicacies of her life.
Her legacy is not in her things, it is in the lives impacted. In the students who have gone on to college, in the letters and cards of thanks, in the note she received from a student wanting to someday be a teacher just like her. It is why she did what she did, why she poured so much of herself in to the lives of others, with two and four-legs alike. Making those personal differences, big and small, one at a time if necessary, was the reason she brightened our world. Why she continues to brighten mine.