My parents have gone to Italy for a few weeks (must be nice) so they left it to me to rotate the artwork in their Laguna Beach gallery. There are about 5 other artists who share the space with them and once a month they move their art around, so that everyone gets a turn at the prime spots. Besides, people see the pieces afresh anytime a room is rearranged.
I was happy to do it, they are doing favors for me all the time. “No big deal—just tell me where to put things ahead of time and I’m sure I’ll be done within two hours.” My mother’s good friend Marcia offered to help, and I agreed. “I’m sure I don’t need the help, but it will make the time pass more quickly with company.”
Of course, like with anything, it ALWAYS takes longer than you think. Even with both of us there, it took two hours. But I was right in one thing, it was fun having a friend alongside me. I’m the measure once, cut twice type, and I carry that theory with me into wall decorating too.
We took our time: guestimating, pulling out nails, hammering nails, pulling them out again.
“Is it even? What do you think? A little lower?”
“Maybe. Wait, I ‘ll hold it and you go look.”
We were like that, the two of us with every piece. Not the most efficient duo. We bumbled along like that till it was time to go. I only hope the others in the gallery think we did a good job. But I expect the artwork will speak for itself.
When I was first thinking of what to write tonight, how I would tie our afternoon at the gallery into some greater reflection of life at the moment, I thought: ok, I’ll wax on how its time to rearrange my life, or my perspective. It’s June, after all: the first month of summer, a year has passed, it’s the first month of the rest of my life. Something about change being necessary. For example, I just started filling out school registration forms for next year and I’m having to call myself a single parent. I’m just leaving Vernon’s contact information blank as he isn’t exactly contactable. It’s definitely another phase of acceptance.
But in my time with Marcia today, I wasn’t thinking about those things much. I was more enjoying how helpful it is to have someone help you as you try to ‘eye’ new changes and judge them as best you can. It’s so much better than trying to figure them out alone, even if it feels like the blind leading the blind sometimes. Neither of us were pros today…we had to keep asking the resident artist in the other room for help. But we did it! With each other’s help, it didn’t feel like work, either. Alone, I’d probably still be there, fourth-guessing everything and exhausted for it.
But there is more.
Over a year ago (March, 2014) Marcia’s beloved husband of 45 years had a surprise stroke. After a few days in the hospital and a hopeful brain surgery, he passed on. Though I didn’t know him well, I went to the funeral and remember being so struck by how loved he was by his friends, but especially his family.
When Marcia visited me in the hospital a few months later, she had to walk by the same room her Denny had been in. It was about then that we started talking to each other in a new way, learning to compare grief.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot more time with her. We are always honest about our feelings. She tells me exactly how hard it is to be a widow to the love of her life. The surprise anger, the loneliness, the having to learn to do things by herself, things that had always been his job. And I love her for telling the truth. I hate that it hurts her so much, that the pain takes so long to fade.
She reminds me that I’m not a widow, that Vernon was not snatched away completely within a week. That I didn’t have to bury him and move on, that my kids still have a dad. I listen to my friend and remember not to feel so sorry for myself.
But then…maybe I remind her of what could have happened if Denny’s surgery had ended differently. Even though his family adored him and wanted him with them always, he could have ended up brain damaged or totally dependent, which would have been hard in a different way. What if he had ended up worse? There is no knowing.
We all want something else. Or maybe not. Maybe we just want what we had. Sometimes its good to share notes with someone in a ‘parallel life.’ Take a few steps back together and really look (or listen.) It certainly helps with perspective.
And to get the best perspective, you need someone else. It’s a lot harder alone.