I wake early in the morning with the lamp on between Lilly and me. I know it’s late because I don’t remember falling asleep. I hardly ever remember where I left off in the story. I usually close the book and turn off the lamp and leave Lilly alone with her breathing and walk across the hall to my room, the room that feels so empty without Lilly’s mother. I lie in bed staring at the ceiling or the walls until the sun crawls up and I fall asleep for an hour or two until the nurse knocks on the door and wakes me.
The nurse changes Lilly’s clothing and refills the liquid packs of vitamins and checks all the life sustaining elements. She leaves and I make a few calls for work, just to be doing something. I’m useless. I make myself something to eat and get down maybe two or three bites before I can’t eat anymore. I feel sick. At the bathroom mirror I don’t look like the same person. I lean into the image and see the stubble, the dirt in the cracks of my skin, the clogged pores. Each individual hair protrudes outward to the world I inhabit. I stare into my eyes, I try to numb myself. After a while I start the shower and get in, the water steaming hot.
Everything is different when you’re grieving. A newfound microscopic significance inhabits the mundane. All actions and all thoughts are weighed down and replete with meaning. Values are assigned to inanimate objects. Light is no longer just light, a bar of soap isn’t just a bar of soap. Grief is a process, a deeply emotional response, an imbalanced characterization. I read the ingredients on the shampoo bottle six times in a row, silently annunciating each chemical. There is an odd comfort in grief because the grieving person feels so close to the recently departed, holding onto their memory with everything, as if it were the waning force of life or as if even the memories would also soon be gone. What’s difficult is maintaining a firm grasp on one’s identity; do not confuse the life force of the dead or dying for your own, for no matter how intimately entwined you might have been, no matter the volume and significance of what you shared with them, one’s will to live will always be one’s own.
The towel is my friend, the shower helps clear my head. I decide that everything’s going to be okay. I walk into Lilly’s room and sit next to the lamp and open the book. I start reading aloud again.