awful, perfect prayers.

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I am so grateful for these photos and for this irrepressible need to capture my life visually. I walked the fringes of a panic attack yesterday when I thought I had lost a whole pile of files containing photos of Carl and my first months together as a couple. Yesterday was hard for a lot of reasons. I got slammed back into a wave of grief as intense as that very first week. I stood in the shower. Tears turned into a howl and then a wail. There was no bottom to the well of sadness I was standing in. I reverted back, once again, to the “Please God, please God, please GOD…help me!!!!” prayers. I would have started screaming that prayer if it wasn’t for not wanting to scare my ever-loving and vigilant dogs, who were waiting for me in the next room. To scream wild, desperate prayers out of shear despair while trying to do nothing more than take a shower is a torture I wish on no one.

But these awful, perfect prayers work because, eventually, I feel an ever so tiny increment of peace come over my heart. I text a good friend and ask if I can come over for an emergency bawling session. Without hesitation she says yes, yes. She’s a professor in the final days of finals week and so her gift of time truly is selfless and great. I get dressed, disregard make-up and drive over to her house immediately. After a good cry and good talk, a half hour later I walk out to my car. I return a call to Carl’s mom. I go to Target to refill a migraine prescription (these stupid edges of a migraine that I haven’t been able shake since all this happened). From there I go to the AT&T store to set up a new phone. These places are anchored in a real world. They are outside of myself. I am a figment of the real world’s imagination but as my small actions synchronize with it, even if only in a sharp-edged surreal haze, I realize that I am surviving. I come home and cry some more. Little moments of peace show up in the form of texts and messages from friends. I make orange-spice tea. I read. The story is about the dysfunctions of an impoverished family in Nigeria. The writing captures me. My cat snuggles in closer. When darkness comes, I begin to get tired, even tho it is still early. I have a good conversation with Carl’s sister-in-law, Carmita, who lost her baby only two weeks before Carl’s passing. In our own sisterly way, we pray together. We find that we feel better. A moment later, I am invited and welcomed into a grief group for widows and widowers.

To be widowed. Such a strange thing to be included in this category. Carl and I were not yet married, but our spirits were and always will be–from before the time we were born or locked eyes, we were somehow inscribed with this love that is made of something Infinite. I find peace in the depth of this knowing. While he was living, Carl made sure that I always knew that. I find it incomprehensible that Carl is, in fact, gone from the world in the way I once knew him. He’s not going to call, not going walk through the door, not going to squeeze me in his arms the way he once could. More than anything, I want to hear his voice. My brain doubles back on itself. I find it impossible to escape the looping confusion.

His voice. Yesterday, and for the better part of a week, I have not been able to remember his voice. Carl loved talking. He was also a good listener. He called me twenty times a day. There were certain nuances to his voice, always consistent. He had certain things he always said. His voice and his mind were so unique. He had a certain way of everything. I’m not the only one who loved that about him. Yesterday, forgetting his voice scared me beyond reason or measure. It is too soon to forget. It will always be too soon. I panic. Another wave swallows me. While sitting in the Target parking lot, over the phone, his mom reminds me that I will never forget because Carl now lives inside of me. I become grateful again. We both find relief in the conversation. Constantly, this ebb and flow.

And the only thing holding me, us, it together is this long string of prayers. Unending. For this, I am thankful.

I look at this photo, one of the images I was afraid I might have lost. I simultaneously feel peace and deep longing. I cry big tears. I feel peace again. I feel held. We were having breakfast at Minnesota Nice, a sweet little cafe in Bemidji where everyone truly is nice. It was our favorite thing to do. Everything about our relationship felt so old-fashioned and good. Maybe that’s why we liked that place so much. I savored every second. He would always finish my food.

Today I feel him close to me again. I still can’t quite remember his voice, but I am accepting grief a little more readily for what it is. I let today’s wave carry me a little more gently. I let Carl’s hand hold mine.

I remember. I love. I cut Henry’s shaggy Yorkie bangs so he can see better. His eyes are cute. He wants cheese and so I give him some. I write. I breathe. I watch the snow falling.

I am here. I let Carl lead me to heaven, the way he was always meant to.

I love you, Carl Bratlien. Forever and always and infinitely. I love you.

{originally published Dec 16, 2014}

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