I had the idea that my life would be easier once I got through my 1st year without David. So I toughed it out through the summer where there were no specific landmark days but I couldn’t go to Maine because there were a million memories of him painting, of laughing with family and friends together, and I’m very tired of crying. I discovered that for all my fine words, I can’t reliably be optimistic about my future alone. It’s easier to live like tomorrow is the last day when, for one of you, it is. Acting that fearlessly is more challenging by myself. Certainly, I cry less, not ten hours a day but still most days. I exist in the gap between missing Dave and moving on.
I still struggle to focus with the attention span of a fruit fly and my memory has gaps in it, like swiss cheese which has been rained on for days. Yesterday, I misplaced Wednesday. I was getting ready to go to my bereavement group on the wrong day. A few weeks ago, somebody asked me a question about where I put some papers and it took me seven hours to remember. I sat bolt upright in bed at 1 am and I knew. Hilarious and disorienting! At the end of the first year, I thought I would snap back to myself somehow, as capable as I was before, but that hasn’t happened.
Home is a chaos, not designed to hold an extra 1000 paintings, 200 books and 50 frames plus materials and papers. I am reclaiming it room-by-room, starting with my bedroom. I am grateful that every painting, book and frame has a place but, as my friend, Roberta, pointed out, I have a geometry problem. The space of my apartment will not, will never fit everything. The question is, do I get rid of my things or his? Which choice is less painful? I have no easy answers. I reclaim our home as my home, letting go of the least charged items, like the fireplace tools, since we haven’t had one since 1998.
I decided to start with baby steps and put structure back in my life. I began singing open mic at Bar Thalia in January 2017 some Mondays. My memory is poor so I often have the words, blown up in a big font, in my hands, as I sing. I put David’s work on a website David Beynon Pena Art and started adding in size, medium and materials with prices. That was emotional and exhausting! Recently, a painting sold and I shipped it out into the world which was wonderful and sad.
I began to seek out work, first at a Halloween pop-up store, run by a friend who is also a widow for minimum wage. Our deal was that I promised to work four to six hours a day, no less than three days a week. I doubted my capacity to do more. At the beginning, I collapsed into bed at the end of each four-hour shift, wiped out. By the end, I could work a 40-hour week, not easily, but I did it. I even wore a red flapper dress for the days leading into Halloween (shown above). I was not reliable for many skilled tasks or managing people but I could hang clothes on hooks, do shipping and run a cash register. It was a lot, and very little. Next, another friend asked me to tutor her son and help him get a paper done – twice. It felt good to be of service and to serve with excellence. This required more competence and thought. I also started volunteer tutoring for Saturday School at the East Harlem School again. These have been the building blocks of confidence. When we lose ourselves, it’s necessary to find ourselves with patience.
I am not perfectly free. And I am broken open in many places, patching myself together with love and silly putty. And the result is not who I was. I like my autonomy. I am more than I was. And less. I am impatient with myself after this first year in done. Usually, I make recommendations and have action steps but not today. Today, I would say, after a loss, start somewhere. Start anywhere. Start small and build from there. What I will be is mysterious, even to me. And there is panic and joy in that realization. I lean on love. I invite you to do the same.