Boy, the death of your long-time partner can really shatter your world, maybe especially if you’re an atheist, because then you have no pleasant notions of her being in a happier place or hanging around to make sure you’re okay, or that her spirit will slip into a newborn so that at some point she’ll re-enter your life, albeit in a different capacity.
It’s a natural disaster unlike any other – maybe something like a major earthquake where your heart used to be, followed by a volcano of anger and a tsunami of tears, and it all lasts not for split seconds or days but week after week after week. What with all the shaking and searing and drowning I haven’t been able to write a word since Laura died three months ago tomorrow. The earthquake threw me off a cliff, the tsunami rolled me into a cave, and ash from the volcano sealed off the entrance, turning it into a deep, dark hole. Just continuing to breathe has been a victory.
But in the past couple weeks I have also managed to kindle a small fire in my hole, and by its light I can once again see that I had been working on a story, and I’ve recovered enough to remember that writing brought me joy and satisfaction. In the flickering light, I could even see the writing awards framed on my office walls and my collection of press cards and the stacks of magazines that have published my work. I think I used to be good at writing. Maybe I could be still.
The benefit of being an atheist is that I don’t have the guilt of thinking that Laura is out there somewhere shrieking at me to stop being so self-centered and to keep crying for hours on end every day. Not that she would ever do that, but if we exist post-death, who knows how the event might have traumatized us and what we might need or want from our partner?
I haven’t enjoyed being an atheist these past few months. Despite my avowed lack of belief, some part of me fully expected to feel Laura’s presence around me. I was afraid of but deeply wanted a supernatural experience that proved to me that I was wrong to be an atheist, that Laura still existed on some plane.
But either I’m so obtuse that I can’t sense her, or Laura did not survive her death. I’ve spent weeks just trying to come to terms with that, and I’ve been a non-believer pretty much my whole life. All the sobbing and self-blame didn’t help or please Laura because she’s, she’s … argh, I still have such a hard time saying it. She’s gone. Somehow that’s even harder to say than that she’s dead. She hasn’t just died; her light is extinguished and I will never bask in it again.
No, I am not going to cry, and I am not going to keep telling myself I failed her by not saving her. Those things are only harming me and, as far as I can tell, aren’t doing Laura any good.
Instead, I’m going to try to reclaim myself. I’m going to read and I’m going to write a blog and I’m going to get back to my novel.
Um, well, I may not get to the novel today, but I do feel something stirring in me again, like those first few days that you feel a baby moving in your uterus, and I’m trying hard to feed it so it will grow strong.
I started by reading a novel by the light of my little fire, and now I’ve come to the edge of my cliff-side cave where the volcanic ash is finally blowing away to holler out a few words and hope someone hears them. (Can you hear me?)
I’m going to strengthen myself so that I can stand relaxed at the edge of the cave watching the sun set into the water, looking for the beauty I know nature possesses despite its frightening cruelty.
Then I’ll sidle out onto the ledge and find a handhold and a jutting rock for my foot and start climbing back up the face of this cliff. One day I’ll find myself on solid ground and the purgatory I’ve been living in will be in the past and I will find myself again.
I’ll regrow those wings that have flown me through imagined worlds and brought me back safely time after time since I was four years old.
Laura’s love changed me for the better. Laura’s death blew me off the cliff. But as one songwriter wrote: I’m not lost; I’m not gone.
I can see the way back. And, atheist or not, I do have faith. My magical world of writing is still there, waiting for me. I can reclaim it. Doing so may mean quite a struggle, but I’m up to the challenge.
I have found my faith in that.