In the weeks since I got back from Nelson, I have been naked on a massage table during another major (but not too damaging!) earthquake, had a meeting with a financial advisor so that I can get my multi-hemisphere act together, baked a lot of cakes and cookies, listened to a lot of history podcasts, read politics and social commentary online, realized my long-held dream of touching a live octopus(!!!), and sorted myself out for a job until the end of the year. I’m hosting a clothing swap tomorrow and starting to think about my Christmas and New Year’s plans, a full two months after everyone else in Wellington. It’s very cold and blustery out as I write this, even though on Sunday everyone was walking around in t-shirts and going “Well, that winter wasn’t so bad!” It’s been a good couple of weeks.

I haven’t worked full-time for almost a year and, at the end of my second new week at my (totally great) new job, I find myself realizing every morning at six-thirty: ‘oh, right, they want me to go in every day’, with a bit of chagrin. I like it though; I like what I’m doing and who I work with and the things I get to think about every day so far. I don’t like the uncertainty that comes with fixed-term contracts, but what can I do? I have to work, when and how I can. I’m super lucky that I already knew the organization and that I like them very much, but frankly I’m not in a position to say no. Few of us are.

At the financial advisor meeting, the first one—the second one is contingent on my filling out, if not exactly a mountain, but at least a small tussock of paperwork–they asked me all sorts of deceptively simple questions about what I want to do with the rest of my life. “What are your two-year goals?” asked the forms. “Your five year goals? Long term goals?” I hemmed and hawed a lot as the very nice advisor looked at me with a kindly concerned and furrowed brow. “Uh, I want to…travel?” I bleated. “And do stuff? I don’t know that I want to do anything crazy like buy a house but maybe I should or whatever? For, like, an investment?” I overtalk when I’m nervous, and she sat there as I explained to her in richly rendered detail that I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my money, for, like, the rest of my life? Because actually maybe my life won’t be so long because, hey, look at my mom? But on the off chance I live past sixty-six maybe I should have some sort of plan for that? And I guess money is sort of a part of that plan that maybe I should have?

“I can see you’ve got quite a lot going on here,” she said. Put it all down on paper, she told me, and then pay a lot of money, and she would sort it out for me. I’ve agreed, but the neatly stacked pile of paper is steadily gathering dust on the table and I haven’t done what I said I would.

I have kept saying, this year, that I didn’t want to make any big decisions about anything, that I didn’t want any big changes. I just wanted, and still just want, to cool out. I just wanted to go to work and bake some cakes and go to the movies and to the Sunday markets and to feed a live crab to a very inquisitive octopus at my volunteer gig. I am doing all those things, and I want to continue doing those things. A quiet year, a grief year, a recovery year.

But the anniversary of her death is approaching. Soon it will be a full year since the day I knew I had to go back, and then the day I got on the plane, and then the day I saw her. It will be the anniversary of the day that I signed the DNR, and of the day she stopped speaking and looking us in the eye, and of the day she finally drifted away from us. I imagine—am I wrong?—that something will change, that day, the day when my loss clicks over, to something less immediate. No one but my very closest ask how I am grieving anymore: after all, it has been almost a year, and life does go on. I know that.

So how will my life go on? What do I put on the forms? How am I supposed to be almost forty? I begin to suspect that soon No Big Changes will just…end, somehow. It’s almost a year since she left us, and I can’t talk to her about what it’s been like, or ask her advice about what to do next. I bake the cakes and walk to work and go to the movies. I promise myself I will fill out the forms tomorrow. I start to feel an undertow. What is it? Where is it taking me? What will change?


  1. Love you, lady. All the hugs, and tea and bickies, too.

  2. These are all really good questions. I wish I had answers, too.

  3. I write this only because I wish someone had told me: The first year of grieving a loved one’s death has the feel of the non-routine or surreal, and so it didn’t feel “normal.” The second year, however, was when it sunk in that there was a new “normal.” It’s another stage of grief.

    Handle your life and your heart on your own timeline. Time may move forward, but we are not required to keep up its velocity if our hearts need a slower pace. Trying to neatly box up emotional milestones into the discrete narrative frame of a year is grossly unfair.

    All the love in the world to you from us in California.