Increasingly, over the last few years, summer in my city has been curtailed by the arrival of the smoke season.
The sky goes flat and blurry and grey, the thick layer cutting off what were predicted to be sunny, hot days.
The smoke blows in from the province to the West where wildfires burn through entire towns, devastating them.
I don’t remember this season of smoke last summer, though I’m sure it was here. I even scanned the letters I wrote a month after he died, looking for a sign of the weather but there was really none.
As I was looking, I realized that I started writing At The Bottom of Everything on September 15, 2020 — exactly 1 month after my husband died.
That surprised me. In addition to not remembering the smoke, apparently I hadn’t remembered that I started writing so soon after.
Since then, I have written over 100,000 words about my grief and my (almost) first year as a young widow, as well as opened up part of the love and relationship and life that my husband—Kurtis—and I shared.
When I began, I wasn’t sure how long I would write, though I thought, somewhat loosely, that it would be for the first year.
Now though, as the year is looming, I found myself wondering if I should keep writing into the second year (there is so little, generally, on the second year).
Yet, despite this thought about continuing, ultimately, I have decided that Sunday, August 15, 2021 will likely be my last letter on this project, in this format.
(I say, ‘in this format,’ because I think I might make these letters into something longer form, like a book, and I say ‘likely my last letter’ because you never know, I might sneak an extra letter or two in this year after August 15th).
There’s a couple reasons why I’ve decided this way, but foremost among them is the fact that writing the letters is difficult. I always have to go to places, to memories, to photographs, to feelings that often feel too bright, too painful, too tied up in a life that I no longer have, may never have again. The thought of carrying that kind of weight much longer feels daunting.
And, of course, it’s always frightening to write so visibly about my life.
Admittedly, when I first opened the letters up to a public readership, I was very nervous. I was worried about saying the wrong things or being too self-pitying or maudlin. I knew I would make typos and be too tired to catch them.
It also doesn’t help that if you know me in person or meet me in person, you’d find it takes me time to show up, as it were. Even with people that I am comfortable with, I still struggle to say the things that I really feel. My independence of thought and spirit can often make me private and careful.
I am slow to know, in some ways. Kurtis would note this, a year or so into our relationship. He had come to realize that I possess a very silly and playful side, and that this aspect of my personhood took the longest to emerge and even still only really showed up in private, in our home.
“I love Silly Amy,” he would say when the mood struck me.
My silliness, of course, would always make him silly, would set him bouncing around our house, waggling his body in wicked and riotous ways. Silly, of course, was something that came easily and beautifully to him.
His phone’s lock screen, for all the years I knew him, was a ridiculous photo of me.
It was taken late at night, in the kitchen. I was wearing my rattiest pajamas and had a blue migraine ice pack strapped to my head. My eyes were closed, face pale and drawn, and I was grinning a dopey smile that I would only have made because I was in pain but also I was with him and he’d asked me to pose for a photo.
I begged him to change the picture, he had tons of others where I looked far, far better but he refused to swap it out.
“Why this photo?” I would ask but he would never answer — an enigmatic silence that he rarely, if ever, employed.
If I had to guess why he loved that photo so much, I would say that it was because the photo showed a side of me nobody but he ever saw. It was, I think, a treasure to his mind.
This kind of privacy that I hold, a slowness to be known, is obviously part of the reason why my therapist encouraged me to write the letters.
“How can you be known to people, if you don’t tell them?” he said.
Despite my hesitancy, I am glad that I listened to him.
In risking opening, what a community I found here, among you all. Your readership, witness, and care has been, is still, a remarkable mainstay amid a turbulent time. All of you have been an essential part of my moving through this past year.
Indeed, the vibrancy of this community has been almost entirely the reason for my hesitation around ending the letters, but, as in most things, a change has to come.
I say this not only because of the obvious change my life has undergone but because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about change, in this case, change as it relates to my living situation.
Ever since the night at the apartment with my friend, that night that seemed like it went on interminably, and left me exhausted and emotionally hung over for days, I’ve been caught between two closely held but contradictory beliefs: I want to live in our apartment but I don’t want to live in our apartment.
For so long, our apartment was my home. It wasn’t just a place that we lived, or a structure that gave us shelter, it was our, and my, place of belonging.
Whenever we’d go away, even if it was just for the weekend, when we’d return, I’d walk through our front door and sigh so deeply with relief that we were back, that we were in our home, that Kurtis would laugh.
“You just love being home,” he would say.
Of course, he was right. I really felt something so connective and calming about being in our home with him.
But now, after months of living here on and off, I have realized that as much as I want to live here, I also don’t want to live here.
Without him, the apartment is cavernous with his absence. Even when I am here and I find an equilibrium, the state, while steady, is still sad, still aware that in every part of the home that once was ours, he’s missing. The shadows don’t even seem to fall right.
I know that I’ve managed to hold such opposing wants together for so long because I have convinced myself that if I just work harder, if I just spend more and more time in the apartment, then this will change things: the apartment will one day feel like home again, I’ll feel like I’m home again.
This kind of thinking is a particularly insidious and sly version of the magical thinking that grief so often brings to one’s mind.
By convincing myself that if I just keeping going, if I just keep staying here, if I just work hard enough at acclimatization, I manage to convince myself that somehow, impossibly, things will change. This is how I manage to hold together both the desire to stay and the desire to leave.
I could be happy here, I think when I’m making a meal in the kitchen that we used to cook in together. If I just keep going long enough, things will change.
For months, though, things haven’t changed. All that’s happened is I’ve been caught here, in the apartment, in a kind of equilibrium that’s painful but stable.
For people outside of the magical thinking involved in this endeavour, it seems obvious that I need to live somewhere else.
“I think you need to consider a new place to live,” my therapist has said to me, on more than one occasion.
“I can’t,” I have said. “I have to keep trying.”
It is hard, after all, to choose the unknown over the known — especially when what you know, though painful, is something you love with a tangible intensity.
Still, I have chosen. I am looking for a new place to live. I don’t know where or what shape that will take, but I have begun.
It’s sad to make this choice, and it is another difficult loss; it is also frightening to face the reality of living on my own (which I haven’t in over a decade) and the thought of finding a place on my own, without him, when we always dreamed of doing this together, is a painful one.
I am not entirely sure what prompted me to disturb the equilibrium and make a decision, to reckon with the reality that I am still unhappy in the apartment, to see my magical thinking for what it is: unreal.
I think part of my decision has been prompted by that fact that as the one year looms, the difference between what it is like and what I thought it would be like is especially stark.
I remember so clearly, when I first started writing, months ago, that I really believed that the one year would bring about some kind of resolution, a measure of progress, a lessening of the agonizing wringer that grief puts you through.
Now, two weeks from the 1 year, I see, through experience (and I think nothing else but that could teach me this) that there is no resolution, no measure of progress, no lessening.
Deciding where I am going to live at least feels like something. It doesn’t feel like progress or resolution, and most of the time, it just feels like loss, but in a year where I could do very little, this was something I could do.
As I consider where to live, so many questions have already arisen, so many things I would have asked him, that he would have known the answers to. I worry about finding a place that he wouldn’t like and then panic that I’ll make a choice he wouldn’t. I mourn the chance for us to scroll listings, debate furniture, share our Pinterest board called Home.
He had been pinning photos in it for a long time, longer than I realized. When I logged back into the board a week ago, I saw it had over a hundred pins. I had only contributed a few, years ago.
All this time, he had been envisioning our future — our home.
“How are you doing?” a friend asked this week me on a particularly raw day.
“I’m in pain,” I replied and I felt like screaming it.
When I tell my grief therapist all of this, she nods.
“That makes sense,” she said. “You’re so close to the year, everything will feel like it’s intensifying.”
She asked me what (or if) I planned to do to mark the year.
I told her that my instinct, as it has always been with all of the month anniversaries, was to ignore it as best I could, to curl up, watch Netflix, and hope that it would pass and the heaviness that always found me would leave me sooner rather than later.
My grief counsellor shook her head slightly. She told me that while I could do that on the day itself, she really encouraged me to do something else, perhaps on a different day to mark the anniversary.
“Even if it’s small,” she said. “Think about it.”
“Why?” I said. “Why would I want to think more about how he’s gone? All I think about is that.”
“Yes,” she said, “it is his death but it is also the one year of your survival.”
There was a pause.
“You’ve survived this long,” she said. “That’s worth recognizing.”
Until she said it, I hadn’t thought of it that way.
I suppose it’s because it doesn’t feel like I have survived — the ‘I’ that I was before Kurtis died, that woman is gone. I miss her (especially her decisiveness, her laugh, her clarity of mind) but I grow increasingly weary as the days go on, tired of waiting for a woman I don’t think is coming back.
I do get what my therapist is saying, broadly. I have survived, albeit in a different being and self. How many more days I could survive, I can’t say. I still take each day one at a time, still have a moment most days where I think: tomorrow, if it’s this bad, then that can be the last one.
When I tell my two friends, who are also widows, that I think like this, they nod. We all talk about the ways in which our loved ones knew what to do when we didn’t.
As they were talking, my mind wandered to early May, years ago.
It had been snowing for months. I hate the cold, that’s no secret, and the relentless weather had ground me down, dropping me into a deep depressive episode.
Kurtis had insisted that we still go to the charity book sale that I attended every May, typically enthusiastically. Usually, I would take huge bags and crawl through the aisles, stopping to look at every spine in every cardboard box.
That year, though, I said I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to do anything.
Still, he bundled me into my camel coat, drove me there, sat near the entrance, likely freezing, while I browsed. I bought far less books that year but I still did buy some. He got me a hot tea, him a hot chocolate. As he drove me home, I remember looking over at him and feeling a deep tenderness that was so close to sadness that my eyes burned.
“It’s beautiful,” he said as we got out of the car and I knew he meant the snow which was still falling in slow, heavy, dizzy flakes.
“It’s cold,” I said.
He looked at me over the hood of the car, snow collecting white on top of his head.
“It’s okay,” he said. “We’re home now.”
As he walked me into the apartment, I did take a moment to watch the snow above our heads. It was pretty but I could only see it that way with his hand tight around mine.
“Do you think anywhere will ever feel like home again?” I asked my two friends but they only shrugged. None of us had any answers.
As always, you can reach me by hitting “reply” on the Sunday email or by leaving a comment. Thank you so much for being here.