Yesterday was a sweltering hot day, the kind that makes your thoughts evaporate leaving you wondering if your whole mind might simply vaporize. A steady stream of ice water allowed for the flood of feelings to flow around the project I was attempting.
The last time I saw her, your mom entrusted me with the precious momentos she had saved from your First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Priceless articles commemorating that day. They had been waiting patiently in our room for me to find a particular frame with enough depth to create a layered collage.
Doing things I don’t want to do, but want to accomplish has defined much of this past year. Shopping included. Black clothes. Urns. Designing a Memorial bench. Frames. Photos. Food. Literally every item has been painful to research and purchase. If ever I were to accidentally swallow a sock, I would be well acquainted with the feeling. The excitement of accomplishment, success, job well done, now rolls itself into wool and stops right where I swallow, tickling my gag reflex, a torturous tickle that isn’t funny. Overcoming nausea and finding emotional strength for these projects has eluded me. It's a bit like life was with morning sickness, only…...not.
After finding just the right background, the Vatican dome under a full moon on a winter’s night, I spent hours rearranging the items. The photo was in an old book published almost 30 years ago, at a time when I had only seen your eyes once. I think I purchased it from the library. During our life together, I have collected so many books on Italian art and food, stories and travel that have fed my soul. You introduced me into this delicious Italian world and wove me into the fabric of you. You admired and encouraged my own interpretation of its beauty, as you and I became us.
Now us is me.
After writing this I read Rumi had this same epiphany hundreds of years ago. “His poetry went deeper, his core longing became radiant and vital, reflecting the depth of communion that was their majestic relationship”.
As I dismantled the frame I could see you shake your head and smile at me. Though I looked, I couldn’t find a ready made frame that would work, so I improvised. Instead of using a frame that would quickly pop open and close, (they do make those), I had to remove dozens of staples and glue from the one I hoped would work.
Laying down the image of the moon shining over St. Peter’s Basilica, I thought the immense thought of it being the same moon that has shone from the beginning of time…over every soul….ever
Here in my hands...two pages cut from a book.
For me, it’s bordering on blasphemy to cut a page from a book. I am admittedly guilty, but only when the separation reverently creates something equally or more beautiful. Careful thought and decided consideration proceed what feels like a surgeon's knife in my hand approaching a sacred life.
A framed couple locked in the most romantic kiss, passionate and safe has adorned our room for years, an intentional page freed from the confines of a book in order to inspire us.
Pages of Don Quixote cover a small area of your wine cellar, excerpts from a play you held me through as I wept at the innocence of such a man who saw only pure beauty in Dulcinea. Such a man as you. That solemn surgery was accomplished six months after you had flown to heaven. It was long and complicated with so many words, and cuts and deciding which side should show. All the while the healing salve of your unconditional love seeped into my broken heart in between the story lines.
The moon, la Luna, is waiting. Suspended in time, on the page.
But never truly.
13 Gennaio 1974, what were you doing my dear friend, Luna? Waning. Slowing. Whispering to the winemaker it’s time to move the wine. Out of the barrel and into the cup to serve this innocent soul a sip of eternity.
Your dad worked three jobs and put money in the jar to make that trip so that family could be there on this occasion. Your godfather’s brother or cousin worked as a clerk at the Vatican and made the arrangements. Your mom remembers her first experience of cafe affogato, being served in a Vatican cafeteria that day and feeling like royalty. By the time we met, this dessert was common in your life, but new to me. A breeze of royalty was always mysteriously in the air around you, hinting at my heart, hidden in the commonness of life.
I wish you were here to share an espresso and ice cream, to swish your forefinger around the cup to get the best part , the crema, and I could ask you if you remembered. You would smile and tell me your story.
Your certificate embellished with wheat and grapes and a chalice, is officially stamped Parrocchia di S. Pietro Vaticano encircling a key insignia.
Bows. The ribbonry that ties things up neatly, gifts, lessons, stories, favors, but not always lives. Nothing is tied up neatly anymore.
I had to remove the hidden parts that attached the bows to you so instead I could attach them to the moon lit sky. Now exposed, I tied the previously hidden ribbons around the silk flowers from your favor. I’ve heard about the sorrow so many suffer, finding hidden parts after a loved one dies. I know I’m so incredibly lucky to have a husband of such integrity, a star in the moon lit sky. Mourning sickness returns with this thought, I choke on the gratitude that burns my heart.
I placed your armband, a white bow with the symbol IHS fringed with gold in the corner and nestled your faded purple bowtie beside it. IHS stands for the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator, or Jesus Saviour of mankind.
The long white sash that was wrapped around your forehead was faded and wrinkled and missing a few beads, so I ironed it and added a few beads of my own. Ribbons have long been one of my favorite elements to draw or incorporate into art. They wave and curl like water stopped in time.
I lovingly twisted and swirled that ribbon, God’s word wrapped around your young mind, over and over. The immensity of being the receiver of God’s word lived out in you overwhelms me.
I thought I might faint from the heat or the longing or the grief.
I stepped away , a dehydrated flood.
When the tears subsided and the ice water had cooled me I returned to what I desperately wanted not to be doing, and yet wanted to do nothing else.
Your tiny gloves.
Over the years, I have wished I would have known you as a child, because of your honesty and kindness. I always felt so lucky to be yours, to be the one to know you intimately. I guess what I mean is, I wish I could have experienced you then. I saw the look in so many peoples eyes when you interacted with them. All your life you let them know you cared, older or younger, they were all important.
You told me you remembered hearing the adults say how cute you looked in your suit and gloves. How you tried to keep your eyes closed and head bowed, but that you really didn’t understand what was happening.
This morning, in that space between waking and sleeping, while I laid in our bed in the forest I could smell the big city smells and hear the bustling of that place you had taken us to. I watched you walking through the faded streets of Rome, holding your parents hands, being told to stay close. You alternated between taking in your surroundings and paying attention to your parents and brother. Walking with a slightly clumsy gait, you bit your finger not really knowing where you were going, but trusting and following. You had traveled across the world, leaving family that loved you to stay with family that loved you. Your parents had worked hard to make it happen. You understood that much of what was happening, and that was enough for your seven year old self to experience the heart of Christ. This morning I experienced a sweet gift of seeing.
The photograph and favor both stamped with Made in Frosinone, Italy, have traveled across space and time as if from another world.
Connections that felt like threads and ropes and silver and golden chains while you lived seem to melt into an unidentifiable substance. These very tangible articles that you touched and wore and experienced have become so mysterious. Everything has returned to mystery.
This last Easter, my first Easter with you in heaven, I attended a service and took communion in a park. A single ladybug joined me. I searched all around me in the grass, but didn’t see any others. I wept uncontrollably, at the emptiness I felt, over the years shared with you, the Easters and countless communions celebrated with you, the indescribable all encompassing pain I was in, and the mystery of love and grief, of celebration and suffering, of life and death and resurrection. I wept at the gift of a single ladybug finding me. I placed that creature in the box, and a butterfly too.
Candied almonds were a delicacy I think I’d enjoyed once or twice in my life before you. Another royal treat you introduced to me. These luxuries became a staple in our life, as we celebrated each gift of life, each child, each Easter and we enjoyed them through my pregnancies when I carried our children just because I discovered they were my favorite.
Almost half a century old, the candied almonds in your favor are still in their flowery wrapping. A tiny paper with your name and date and first communion identify them. Your children think it’s funny, these ancient candies tempting me.
I think it’s heaven offering me mysterious sweetness, something to savor in my soul.
Perhaps someday, if I become very old, and begin to see you come for me, we can share them as my last meal and taste eternity together under the moon eternal.
written July 1, 2021