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Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Dear Kate,

Early this morning I saw you again—in a dream. Better a dream than nothing. It began with someone dropping me off in front of the house. A light was on in the kitchen but otherwise the place was completely dark, and the same outside, except for a snow flurry, the flakes blowing and swirling like they are right now. I trudged up the driveway, my feet crunching against the gravel, the wind so hard it slowed me down until I turned the corner of the house, walked up to the back porch, looked in the window of the back door and there you were, right behind the window, waving an arm above your head, a big smile, an impish smile on your face, your lips moving as if to say, "Surprise, Surprise! I’m here, I’m here!" But no sooner did I see you than I awoke, heart beating, chills sweeping down my body, and a siren-like noise ringing in my ears, the same noise I heard the first few nights after you died.

When Trudy called from New Jersey this evening, I told her about my dream, and she was elated—“How lucky you are, how lucky to see her so soon!” Such a dear friend that she’s worrying about me even though she’s in a vigil for her mother, stricken a few days ago by a heart attack. So I didn’t tell her how I went back to sleep, hoping to see you again and got nothing but another sudden awakening, with all the traumatic sensations. I’m beginning to feel like Pavlov’s dog.

I did see you again—and feel you again—late this afternoon when Carolyn delivered your ashes. I couldn't just take the box and send her away, so I invited her in for a glass of cider, and then showed her some pictures of you that I've pulled out over the last several days—in the kitchen, in your perennial bed, in the backyard with Martha, on the Kalaulau trail in Hawaii, on the Yangtze river with me. I wanted her to see what you really looked like—in life rather than death—then showed her how you had restored the downstairs, stripped all the woodwork, decorated the rooms, designed the gazebo, landscaped the backyard, and so on. I wanted her to see you in all your guises before it came time for her to open the box. By then it was five-thirty, nearly dinnertime, and there was no putting it off any longer, so I got your grandmother's black flower vase from the corner of the living room, brought it out to the kitchen counter, removed the dried statice from your perennial bed that you put in the vase several weeks ago, and suggested that we put your ashes in there, topped by the statice. It seemed like exactly the sort of place you'd like, until I scatter them on your perennial bed this spring.

The minute I set the vase on the counter, she opened the box, pulled out a clear plastic bag containing the ashes, and I suddenly felt an intense shudder ripple down my entire body. And then a great heaving and sobbing overtook me as I began to feel the bag and fondle it, telling her again and again how final and definitive it was. "Yes," she said, "she's gone, but she's still all around you in all she's done to make this such a beautiful place, and she's still in your thoughts, and always will be." Sweet and well-meaning words, and for the most part true, but words I've heard so many times the past several days that I've begun to feel like a connoisseur of griefspeak. Just then, I couldn't resist putting my hands in the bag, feeling your ashes, sifting them through my fingers, and I was surprised by the silkiness. Oh yes, there were little bits and pieces that hadn't been completely reduced to ash, but most of your remains were—and are—so fine, so silky, so powdery they left a pale gray film on my hands.

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