Four years without Jane

Four years of avoiding

I picked up my sister-in-law this morning just before 8 a.m. We drove to a local mall where we walked for about 90 minutes. We talked about a number of different things as we paced along–her father’s health, the weather, the economic climate locally–but there were two things we didn’t raise at all, though I am sure we both thought about them. She is going in tomorrow for a biopsy of a suspicious lump. I am going along to keep her company. That came up–but only briefly–when I dropped her off.

It was raining this morning. It was raw and miserable. She commented on that and I said the weather suited my mood. That was as close as we came to what happened four years ago today. But it was the first thing in my mind when I got up this morning.

Four years of traditions

I drove home, showered and shaved. I had soaked some raisins in cherry brandy overnight in preparation for putting together a pair of fruitcakes today. Jane and I made some every year from my old family recipe. I’d pried it loose from my parents a couple of years after I graduated from college. I may have the only copy of it that still exists. The world has stopped caring about fruitcake. And given how bad the store-bought ones were, I’m not surprised.

Making a homemade fruitcake is not for the faint of heart, however. The ingredients can be–some of them–hard to find. And most of them are not cheap. Worse, the ingredients have to be prepared in five different bowls before being combined–and the final mixing requires a strong arm. There is comparatively little flour in a good fruitcake–just enough to bind the fruits and nuts together.

Four years at a grave

The baking takes about two hours in a slow oven. While the heat transformed the sticky batter into something edible, I made my pilgrimage to the cemetery. I took a Christmas basket with me made up of fake Poinsettias and real pine cones and pine branches. It joined the wreath I had placed there after Thanksgiving. There was a soft rain falling and a light breeze. Other than me, the cemetery was empty. Not even the birds were interested in being out there today.

I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to talk with the living or listen to the birds. Four years after Jane’s death, I still hurt–I’m still angry–I’m still frustrated. Of all the cancers she could have had, why did it have to be this one–the one without a cure? The one with endless diarrhea? The one with endless gas and bloating? The one that destroys your heart? Part of me knows the answer to those questions, but the answer brings no real comfort.

Four years of growth

There is some lichen beginning to take root on the stone that marks the grave she and her mother share–that eventually her father and sister and I will share. Part of me thinks I should clean it off come spring. Part of me thinks it gives the granite more character. It is most visible on cold, wet days–like today. It is a pale green against the dark gray.

I left three kisses and four touches on that stone as I left–as I do on the tenth of every month, on every Saturday–and on every other one of the important days on our calendar. Right after she died, I tried to go there every day that I could. I took flowers and small stones and other decorations with me. Those visits tore my soul to pieces.

Four years of painful days

Sometimes the visits I make there still do. Her birthday this year–she would have been 60–and our anniversary–our 25th was September 2–were especially difficult. Today was easy by comparison, but still brutal.

I came home, took the fruitcakes out of the oven, then made bread. Jane taught me about single-rise yeast early in our marriage. It takes what was once a day-long chore and cuts it back to a couple of hours. I’ve been experimenting with a new bread recipe of my own devising. It makes a very fine-textured wheat bread that I like for toast and for sandwiches. I played with the recipe today, scalding the milk and putting just a touch more butter and honey in the mix. It seems to slice a bit better in its freshest state this way. But the weather could be playing a role as well.

Four years of creative tension

Jane is dead. She died four years ago today. Part of me died that day, as well. Sometimes I feel all my movement is just the dying inertia of our life together–that my body is still moving because it does not know it is dead yet. Other times, I know that is not true–that I move forward every day because I still have work to do in this world–that I still have things to discover and invent and experience.

There is this constant tension between those two things. There is constant tension between observing tradition and creating the new. There is constant tension between living and dying. There is fruitcake–and there is bread–and both have a place in this life I am living.

Fruitcake and bread are apt metaphors for my experience today, the fourth anniversary of Jane's death.

Fruitcake and bread are apt metaphors for my experience today, the fourth anniversary of Jane’s death.

Posted by walking with jane on December 10, 2014

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