I was late walking Sam this morning. Day was beginning to dawn when the school bus came around the corner. That was when I realized that it was an ordinary weekday; a Tuesday. I’d been on Katie time.
Katie is my mother-in-law and friend. She died early Saturday morning, was waked on Monday and her funeral was today. It might seem odd to some that I’m writing so soon after, but I feel the need to write.
Katie time is the kind of suspension of the everyday that you experience when a person you love dies. It is mundane: I won’t worry about the recycling now. I can do that later. And it is foggy: I start out to do one thing and do another and then walk around in a circle. Katie time has been gentle, sweet, sad, and busy in a totally non-ordinary way.
I don’t think I ate a sit-down meal from the time she went in the hospital on Wednesday until what is called, in our church, the “mercy meal.” I am told that 500 people were served. That is not an ordinary number.
I called a couple of my friends who knew Katie. One said outright, “Ohhh, that’s too bad. Katie liked me.” The other didn’t say “Katie liked me” right out, but that’s what she said. I decided that this was the key to Katie’s iconic stature in her church, neighborhood, and community. She didn’t just like people. She made them feel liked.
At one point in the day a couple of her friends were talking to me and I was looking around for Donny, totally accepting that each of my conversations would be brief as I passed through the crowd and shadowed my husband. Only later did I think of how Katie never did that. She’d have 15 minute conversations here, and 15 minute conversations there. She didn’t look around. We’d tease her that she’d hold up any line she was ever in. If she didn’t know you, she’d get to know you.
She was very like my dad that way, and I’ve thought of him a lot in these weeks when it seemed so clear that Katie was failing, and as we waited for the doctor appointment that would confirm what we could see and sense.
I fell in love with grief during the “Dad time” of his preparation to die and his death. I fell in love with the suspension of ordinary time, with the feeling of intensity and meaning that hung about each day, and with the hidden nature of the dying that slowly revealed itself. I lingered a long time with grief after Dad died.
Tomorrow life is supposed to start getting back to normal. I will take out the recycling. I’ll start to clean up all the messes I’ve left in my stupor or my haste. The ordinary conversations will start up again. And then, just when life’s texture seems to be returning to normal, I know that Katie time will rear up again. There will be different Katie conversations and the “business” of death to attend to. The effort to follow her wishes. All the transitions of the grieving, the adjustments to the change.
Katie has been my mother-in-law almost 25 years, and my elder care companion for the last two of those. Her living has been part of the fabric of my days. As my own mother talked of a recipe the other day, I found myself thinking, “Katie would like that.”
It was both a relief and a challenge to let her go into the hands of the medical professionals who assisted her last days. I’d grown accustomed to looking out for her.
The beauty of grief is the beauty of all of those things – like the weather – that are beyond effort, intention, or feeble attempts at control. It is a visitation with surrender that does its best to become total. Grief sweeps you up and deposits you on the other side of life’s door.
And you realize, once outside and beyond the threshold, that you can’t turn back. You stand somewhere new.