2:34. The only thing missing is 1.

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I took this photo on Wednesday, the moment before I closed the door to Carl’s place for the very last time. We had finished packing. Everything was thoroughly cleaned. The vehicle and trailer were loaded. I asked to be alone for a moment before hitting the long road home.

And so there I was–looking into the sun-drenched living room of Carl’s farmhouse–trying to memorize an entire history of sunlight, wishing for things that would never be, attempting to remember everything that ever was. I picked up my phone to take the photo and, when I looked at it, the time read 2:34pm. I knew it was Carl’s way of letting me know he was with me. 12:34 was our number. If the clock fell on those numbers and either of us noticed, we would send a text simply saying “12:34…I love you!” It made me smile every. single. time. We noticed it so often that it started to seep into lots of other hours, too. After awhile, any hour ending in 34 turned into an ancillary twitter of goodness and love.

This morning, just before sunrise, I had another dream of Carl. The dreams…they have been coming more often now. Some are more difficult than others, but I am grateful for all of them. These dreams feel like moments when Carl’s and my spirit are able to more easily access each other. Other times, they simply feel like grief-stricken conversations with God. Either way, always, for this I am thankful.

This morning’s dream was especially poignant. The cat meowed and I woke up crying. In the dream, we were out west. Carl had been diagnosed with a completely unexpected and quick moving terminal illness. We were all working to get things in order, to get things back to Minnesota. My dad and uncle were there, fixing hitches and trailers. Carl’s people were there taking care of a million details. We were all in a state of shock, a blur of movement and impossible emotions. Carl was trying to get as many things done as possible so that others wouldn’t be left with a mess. I was helping too, but all of a sudden I had a painfully acute and urgent need to talk to Carl. I needed answers to questions while he was still here. He was worried and busy and so I had a hard time getting him to stop long enough to see how desperate I was for him to tell me what I needed to know. But then he stopped. We both stopped. I asked and he answered. And then the grief came. That crushingly deep wave of grief that sometimes comes…and I started to cry. I told him I loved him and I didn’t want him to leave. He wrapped me up in his arms and, together, we both cried from a deep and infinite place, that place made up purely of our souls. The intensity of our sadness and love were the same; our bodies had no beginning or end. We held this embrace for a long, long time and it is from this place that I awoke today.

It feels good to write again. I was afraid that, after the pause I needed to take while in ND, that I might not be able to return to this daily ritual. In its own small way, this writing habit has been saving me.

Last night I took my first bath since all of this happened. The bathtub is my go-to mode of “self-care,” but I have not been able to take one since before Carl’s passing. Never mind that my body has been a tangle of knots and discomfort. You see, I couldn’t remember the last time I took a bath without talking to Carl on the phone while I did so. The bathtub became a painfully exaggerated reminder of his absence. After the funeral, my friend Erin came to stay with me. She gifted me with bags of epsom salt and oils. I’ve been self-medicating with ridiculous amounts of lavender and peppermint in an attempt to stave off the worst of this depression and bodily aches. But I told Erin that the salt would have to wait, that it might be a long time before I would start taking baths again. Last night’s bath marked some sort of minor turning point. I soaked in that salt and oil infused water until it went cold. I dog-eared the pages of a book that spoke all the words I needed to hear.

And then I slept.

Healing comes in the tiniest of increments. Like little crumbs that are nothing on their own, but will someday, hopefully, add up to something easier and more functional. That embrace I received from Carl in my dreams this morning, it is still living and holding me tight. I’m nowhere near ready to feel better or normal for anything longer than a fraction of a moment. I’m not yet ready to leave this grief.

For now, there are dog kisses and Henry smiles and long baths. There are good books and great friends. There is Carl’s family and prayer and song. There are Carl’s blankets and a mountain of good memories. There is this old flannel shirt. And still…there is an ocean of tears that I do not doubt will carry me somewhere extraordinary, even if this new paradigm is nearly impossible to get acclimated to.

I love you, Carl. Thank you for your light.

{originally published Nov 28, 2014}

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