May 28th 2008

Unexpected Journey – Boys Night out

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy


Izzy on Helen’s blanket

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 – Cool, cloudy. -  The two men sitting at the Barn Tavern in Pawlet, Vt. were joking, laughing, relaxing like most of the people at most of the tables, and I wondered if anyone watching could have in any way sensed the wrenching passage my companion was going through, if they could see the grief and loss that permeates his life, but in no way defines it. I don’t think so. For much of dinner, it showed only in his eyes, and close up.
Warren and I are unlikely companions, in many ways. We come from different places, have very different histories, and are at different points in life. Yet we have become friends, a welcome, perhaps surprising benefit spawned by the death of his wife of 60 years, Helen. Friends are valuable to me, always, and finding them or losing them is no small thing.
Or maybe it is not so surprising. Warren and I shared an extraordinary experience, an intimate, unforgettable time for months and he knows that I saw deeply into his great love and loss, witnessed it, understand it. That does not really need to be discussed, just experienced.
This was Warren’s first social outing since Helen died, and he was looking forward to it. So was I. Izzy came in the car, and the two were also very happy to see one another, a visible and affectionate bond.
Warren is careful not to lose himself in grief, conscious of talking about other things, about me, my work, my life, my photography and dogs. He is determined to be aware of other people, to move forward. He told me some of his jokes and stories, and laughed at some of mine. He talked about my raindrop and dandelion photos, and said they reminded him to see the beauty in life, under the circumstances a remarkably generous and gracious thing to say, or even think to say.
This weekend, he said, he went to Helen’s gravesite to put some lilacs on her tombstone. He was, he said, dealing with loneliness, and it still felt strange to turn to Helen again and again and see that she was not there. Mornings, when they used to talk about the day and plan it, were especially hard.
That was rough, he said, going to the cemetery, and he couldn’t stay long. He was thinking about arranging for someone else to go to the gravesite and put lilacs down when he was gone.
He is keeping himself busy, he said, remembering Helen, cleaning out the house, getting their affairs in order, meeting with lawyers, making out his will, taking care of things so that they will not fall on his daughter Roberta.
He looked good, I thought. He is on top of everything, organized and alert. He laughed, smiled, enjoyed getting out, chatting with some other people at other tables.
His legs seemed to be causing him some pain, but his courage, resolve and sense of himself never fades. I told him he should not be bothered if he lost it a bit in public, knowing that is not likely to happen.
We talked for a long time, about his life and mine, Helen and grieving. We talked about the possibility of planting a Willow tree, one of Helen’s favorites, near the house. We talked about e-mail and the Internet and I coaxed Warren to consider getting a computer, and he lit up at the idea of doing his genealogical research online, maybe e-mailing his grandchildren, checking in with some other anthropologists. We talked about where he might put it, and what kind to get. We talked about my visit to Emma in Brooklyn, how strange to see your child in her own life, far from yours, and he understood that.
We did not talk much about grief, nor did there seem a need. He’d love to put together another poem about Helen, about the day on their hill captured in an old photograph.
Warren said he planned to come to Gardenworks on June 8 (2 p.m., 518 854 -3250) to see the Hospice Journal photos, and hear me talk, and see Izzy and Lenore, and see the pictures,  some of Helen and Izzy and Lenore. I told him he need feel no pressure to come, and if he didn’t want to that was fine, but he said he wanted to support Hospice, as Hospice had supported him and Helen.
And here’s the strange thing. I went out on this dinner as a Hospice volunteer, even re-reading some of my books and pamphlets on grieving and when I picked Warren up, he was at the door, ready to go. But I ended up having dinner with a friend, and we talked in the way of old friends who had seen a lot together, and while I was mindful of my role there, I also marveled at the strange way of life, and how it brings people together sometimes in the most improbably and unexpected of ways.
Warren grabbed the check before I could get to it, and he surprised me by moving so fast.  I said the next dinner was on me. He laughed, and said fine.