In the movie "The Jerk," Steve Martin's character Navin Johnson begins a new life by standing in front of the family shack and holding his thumb out for a ride. Hours later, standing in the dark, he's in the same place when a truck finally stops for him.
"How far are you going?!" he eagerly asks.
"To the end of the fence," the tobacco-chewing local says.
"OKAY!" says Navin as he loads in his luggage, travels 10 feet to the end of the fence, gets out, thanks the bemused driver, and raises his thumb once more.
I'm sharing this because I feel like I'm having a Navin Johnson moment. Sunday marks the first anniversary of Kathy's death and, when it comes to making progress on my "grief journey," I've gotten no farther than the end of the fence.
Not for lack of trying. My not-busy-enough life these days includes a variety of self-help tools and activities. All of which have some value, but most of which lack the social interaction that I suspect would offer the most healing. In other words, countering death with more life.
Despite my puckish sense of humor and my rakish good looks (Santa Claus looks rakish, right?) I simply don't have a big community of friends to spend time with. I'm trying to find activities that will change that, but I'm an old introvert and deathly shy. I recently got a one-year membership to the local Seniors Center and I'm sure it's a fine place, but looking at their activity calendar I found potential adventures like "bingo day" and "scrabble day", and I'd like to be doing something a bit more vital than that. Although if liquor can be smuggled in there's at least a potential for some fun.
Some folks have said, "you're a writer and you're funny - why not write a book on grief?" And the answer is pretty much the same as why I'm not writing books on losing weight, making an Internet fortune, or picking up women: because I suck at all of those things.
About the closest thing to wisdom I'd have to offer again references a joke. A blond goes to the doctor and says that she's in terrible pain. He asks "what hurts," and she winces in pain as she touches her ankle, her hip, her chin, her knee, and her elbow. "Ah," says the doctor, "you have a broken finger."
To me, grief is that broken finger. It's just one thing, but it seems to make everything hurt. And just as the blond should try using her other hand for a while, so too is it important for me to interact with the world by exploring it with something other than my grief. But it's hard and is a slow skill to learn.
What has helped me is my ongoing connection to Kathy. I keep her picture next to my computer and throughout the day I'll look to her and get a quick pick-me-up hit of love and understanding. A tangible feeling that although we're not together in the same way as before, we're still together. I can't explain it but I'm grateful for it.
Daughter J and I have no specific plans to commemorate this anniversary, though it's possible we'll do some much-needed housecleaning and maybe plant some flowers. Those are things that Kathy would not only approve of, but she would point out "well, you didn't have to wait until now!"
And on that day, I'll also make a toast to all of you (using the "good stuff"), who have done so much to sustain me throughout this first year. Your friendship, honesty, patience, and support mean more to me than you can know.