I stood with my oldest daughter and three of her friends this past Monday, watching the demolition of the old Ballard Park playground in Ridgefield. As the bulldozer razed the slide she played on as a child, the other girls jumped up and down shouting "WOW, this new playground will be so awesome!" She crouched on the rock wall. Watching. She turned to me, slowly, with searching eyes "That's so sad. Why would they do that? It contains so many memories." She was right. It wasn't about Ben this time, it was memories of "us." Our community, our life.
I was in Ridgefield with her due to a bit of an emotional breakdown at 2 am on Sunday morning. Kyle and I were eating pizza in our kitchen and next thing I knew I was crying. I should have seen it coming. During the Saturday blues festival downtown, they sang an amazing "take you to church" rendition of "A Change of Gonna Come," the song I'd listened to the entire year of Ben's life simply because I had rediscovered Gavin DeGraw. I made it halfway through the song on the dancefloor before I found myself in tears, dialing a friend in Connecticut. What was this aching feeling?
By 2 am, the "aching feeling" came out in words.
I don't know who I am anymore. I'm not real. I'm filling a void.
I'll never be able to put myself in your position, but I've tried to understand what you were going through. Can you do that for me?
Don't you get it? I didn't choose this! Overnight I was uprooted from my entire life and implanted in a foreign land. I was happy there, so were the girls. I MISS HOME - Ridgefield. The community, our "family of friends," picking the girls up from school each day, my colleagues, the park, the restaurants. All of it.
I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was the tree in the beautiful artwork above that our Colorado friend painted.
According to Merriam Webster, to "mourn" means to feel or express grief or sorrow. I'm realizing it's possible to mourn more than the loss of a person, but also your self-identity, your community, your entire life. As I watched my daughter's friends run up to her with huge smiles, I realized...overnight she was here, and then the next day...her seat in the classroom was empty, her spot on the soccer field was gone. Our places at the beach club were empty. We disappeared overnight, poof, like a ghost. And, all of this town and our friends were taken from us overnight too.
Driving down Main street, she verbalized to me that she missed it in ways. When I asked her why, she simply stated, "It's my friends of course, but I miss everything. Even just the streets and town. And Deborah Ann's ice-cream." I've lived each day of the past year deep inside of myself mourning Ben...driving by Kyle's office doesn't affect me anymore, neither does visiting the grave or going to the park. But, losing everything....it still affects me. Maybe because I haven't allowed myself to say it or feel it? I don't have the right to do that. Or do I? Does my daughter?
For many months, all the memories in Ridgefield were painful. But, now the memories have turned into a comfort of sorts. I am enveloped in a warm blanket here. Maybe it is because the events of last year have been integrated into who I am as a person now. I left part of my soul here, when we left overnight in November to save the girls from publicity and DCF. But, this small town community, the coffee shop, restaurants, parks, library....the people...they are all in my bones.
Ben was here, the "old me" was here. I gave part of myself to the people, and I took part of them. He walked these streets, laughed in Ballard Park. Though anonymity is great at times, there is also comfort in seeing those whose eyes show a deep understanding -- this happened, I know "you," and I see you, we miss your place with us. This was my real.
So, yes, I am mourning the loss of an entire life and future in a certain town. A community. Friends. In that singular moment at 2 am last Sunday morning, there was no where else I could be except Ridgefield, no one else I could be with except my friends here. You became part of me, I left part of myself here. I still mourn you. What's real in life...whether it's family, friends, community...it's irreplaceable. Ben is irreplaceable, you all are as well. And sometimes...it's just you...and this town that my heart needs, in the moment. I texted a friend early that morning as well. Her response was "Just come home."
So I did.
As we get ready tonight to fly out early tomorrow, my heart is so very sad...which is grief...which means I am mourning. You.
I'm still searching for my new real, and I can't say I know what that means anymore. I know I have to be true to myself and allow myself to feel and look for it. To look for the irreplaceable beauty that is a certain friend, community, coffee shop, sidewalk, playground....which can comfort your very soul when no one and no place else can.