I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

One year

Laura died one year ago today. I remember that morning, driving home from the hospital, listening to "The Coroner's Gambit" on my car stereo, watching the morning getting lighter after an all night vigil at the hospital. My emotions that morning weren't so much sorrow as exhaustion. I had a hard time thinking or feeling anything about what had happened that night. I just wanted to get some sleep, then deal with the grief at a later time.

I have grieved over the past year, but the experience wasn't anything like what I imagined during Laura's final months. I expected to be devastated, to have a difficult time getting out of bed, to be, at the very least, depressed for weeks and months.

But, in the immediate aftermath, I discovered that the predominant thing I felt was busy. There were phone calls to be made and arrangements to be decided on and a houseful of people who had needs that would have to be addressed. Then, once all that was gone, I had a whole different rush of stuff. I had a book under contract I needed to rewrite, I had to find a new place to live, then I had to renovate a house, then move in, then more writing, and then it was Valentine's Day and then Laura's Birthday and now the anniversary of her death and I find myself wondering if I somehow did it wrong. I didn't go out and wear black for a year. I made several trips to Laura's grave and placed flowers, but I didn't sit by the grave and have long conversations the way you see in movies.

I visited the grave today, the photos of the flowers are flowers that Simon and Veronica picked for her yesterday. I bought some vases and arranged the flowers and we placed them at the grave as a light rain fell. Then, last night the rain really came down, and I woke up this morning certain that the vases had fallen over. I drove back out this morning and found that my suspicions were correct and I propped the vases back up and fixed the flowers. My hunch is I won't be the only person to visit the grave today, and I wanted it to look nice.

It struck me that even today it wasn't grief that motivated my visit as much as it was an immediate task, doing something that needed to be done.

I think Laura would understand. Laura was the person who had to face the reality that she wasn't going to beat the cancer. Her main mechanism for coping with the darkness in her future was to concentrate on her present. She couldn't let despair pin her to the bed, because she had to get up to drive her kids to school, then do laundry, then go shopping, and she did these things well past the point where she felt comfortable doing them. A large secret to her living with cancer as long as she did was simple momentum. She just stayed too busy to die. But, eventually, her energy began to wane.

The picture below of Laura on the couch with Yoshi is from March 17 of last year. This is a fairly representative picture of Laura during the last few months of her life. She's stretched out on the couch because she didn't really have the energy to do much else. Yoshi, her cat, really bonded with her during this time. And, you can tell from the smile, she was still happy. She wasn't healthy any more, and it hurt her to walk or sit or lie still or breathe, and somehow she was, on the whole, still happy. Even on the last day I spent with her while she was conscious, she was cracking jokes, and happy to see visitors. She enjoyed her life. She lived each day to whatever degree her body allowed.

A few weeks before she died, she was laying on the couch in a pose much like this. It was on the weekend, mid-afternoon, and she was still in her pajamas. I asked her if she wanted to go get something to eat. She didn't. She really had no appetite at all by that point. She was always dealing with a certain amount of pain, and didn't feel like going anywhere or seeing anyone, but she was also tired of being in the house. So, I told her we could just go drive around in the country and enjoy the nice spring weather. I wanted to see her up and active, for her to feel like she was living instead of just surviving.

She changed clothes and we went out to the car. She leaned the car seat back as we drove up 54 and I kept turning down side roads to take us deeper into the country. There are a lot of roads that go off 54 and I'd always wondered where they led to. We passed countless rolling fields of yellow and blue wildflowers and wound up in Saxapahaw and drove over the river there, a nice little scenic gorge. We later wound up at a fruit stand near Mebane where I went in and bought her a Jarito's mineral water, and on the way home we found a Sonic Drive-in and she asked me to stop so she could get some tater tots.

I know it's crazy, but I don't think I've ever had a moment of such clear and wonderful hope as I did watching her eat those tater tots. She was hungry, and she was happy, and the fresh spring air and beautiful scenery seemed to have revived her, at least for the moment. I knew, I knew she was dying, but I believed in the healing power of weekend drives, and fields of wildflowers, and fresh air and sunshine and tater tots, and I thought we would be making these trips for a long, long time.

It's that day I remember, more than the hospital. It's that day I remember, more than the funeral home, or the church, or the cemetary. It's a drive I've taken several times since, or a drive like it, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I'll just go out for a drive in the country, and I'll see a road, and wonder, where does that go? And I turn the wheel, and follow the new road, and I watch the fields pass by.


Mary Robinette said...

Oh, James. I want to say something meaningful about sunshine and roads and tater tots and hope, but all I can do is marvel at your resiliency.

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Mary.

Luc Reid said...

I've never liked the thing people say, especially in effortfully emotional movies, that a person lives on as long as they are remembered. While I will want to be remembered, I'm not going to confuse that with living when my constituent parts wander off like unsupervised toddlers in a cornfield. But these things you say about Laura make me realize there's something different, something a little better than being remembered. It sounds like she set off transformations in the world, in you and probably in other people, that will make you and others who are different because of her affect yet other people, and so on and so, maybe forever. A thousand years from now maybe someone will get a job or travel to Saturn or do what it takes to stay in love because of something Laura did.

Sorry for the verbal carrying on, but the only other thing I came up with to say was "I read your post. It made things happen in my brain. I thought you should know," and that seemed inadequately descriptive.

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Luc. I do believe that there's something a little deeper here than simple memory. I think she made the world a little better place in her time here, and now that she's gone she's still rippling through the world because I often consider my actions in light of her actions, as do, I think, some of the other people who knew her.

Luc Reid said...

Crud, I just realized my observation is just another form of "everyone's lives that she touched ..." Oh well, if it's not original, at least it seems to be true.

Tracey said...

Hope you don't mind a comment from a relative stranger...

There is a researcher in New York (George Bonanno) who, for the past decade or so, has been researching resilience, often in the context of grief.

What he's found is that although a small percentage of people studied experience the text-book definition of grief that you described (unable to function, weeping for months, visiting the grave to commune with the deceased, etc.), most people (60% or more) return to their baseline emotional/functional state after a short period of time. He's also found this pattern when researching other populations that have experienced trauma (such as rape survivors, or survivors of 9-11). In fact, the most personally-impacting negative outcomes of the experience for most people are the feelings of guilt for not grieving or responding "appropriately", and feeling that there must therefore be something wrong with their reactions.

I hope, in some small way, that this might be helpful.