My aunt had a heart attack last weekend. She's in the hospital now, with her husband and oldest son hovering close by keeping an eye on things. From what I hear, she seems to be okay and will be going home soon.
Part of me would like to be there myself, but my aunt and uncle emigrated to New Zealand years ago and are (almost) quite literally on the other side of the world.
They were living in New Guinea twenty years ago when my father died of a heart attack, and it took them several days to make it back to New York. This didn't seem strange to me back then, this delay in their arrival. She was my father's baby sister, my wild and wonderful globetrotting Auntie, living on a sailboat and exploring beautiful and exotic places and doing the most gorgeous watercolors of her travels and sending us kids the sweetest handmade cards and fabrics and gifts from all over the world.
Last summer my aunt and uncle decided to cut back on their months of sailing every year and settle more permanently in their house in northern New Zealand. I fell in love with New Zealand during three weeks I spent there back in 2006, but it's a damned long way away and a damned expensive plane ticket to get there and back, and somehow the news of their settling there made me feel very sad.
Yesterday morning when I first read the email letting us know about her heart attack, I didn't feel anything but distance. Later in the evening, when I was talking to my boy on the other side of the country, I mentioned it almost as an after-thought. He looked horrified, of course, because it is never good to hear about one's girlfriend's beloved Auntie being hospitalized, and I think surprised at first that I didn't seem more upset.
And strangely, the more I talked to him about it, the more I felt an almost shocking anger welling up behind my eyes. I found myself crying with rage over the distance between here and there, and over the distance between my father's death and her arrival in our house in Mohegan Lake. The choices she's made over the years -- to be so far away from family so much of the time -- seem alien to me, especially now as she and her husband are growing older and facing the inevitable decline that comes with that.
(Of course here I am in New York City, thousands of miles away from my family, from my boy, and well aware of my own hypocrisy. Yet there are degrees of distance -- at least in my head, at least during last night's bout of anger, which of course was inextricably linked to my fear of losing her, of losing another connection to my father, to my self.)
I've been thinking today about the myriad ways in which grief can surprise us, years or even decades later. Yesterday marked four years since my boyfriend's older brother killed himself -- not very long at all in the grand scheme of things, and certainly close enough to still feel unbearably raw. But instead of being filled with sorrow or rage, my boy somehow managed to find some solace -- walking out in the forest lands, down to his beloved ocean.
He wrote this last night, and I keep coming back to it today as I am trying to be more aware of my own anger, my own fear and seemingly ever-present grief:
"I found myself by the water. It hit me that all of this will
forever come in waves. Like when you're sitting on the beach, and
sometimes the waves come almost to your feet, but then the next wave is
way out there and doesn't come close. Bigger or smaller, stronger or
weaker. But always waves. There's nothing you or I can do to stop the
waves. The forces behind them are bigger than us. But if we can accept
them, and watch them from just far enough away, we can usually hop out
of the way before we get our socks wet, or before they swallow us up."
Which, finally, brings me to where I was wanting to go with this all along. I've fallen out of the habit of meditating in the last few months, and in a weird way I can't help but think that last night's anger came, at least in part, out of that lack.
So this morning I sat. Just for ten minutes, but it was okay. Nice, even, and calming. I wrote to a dear friend last weekend, before even hearing about my aunt's heart attack, that I'd fallen off the meditation wagon recently. She wrote back, "Your morning ritual of tea and meditation sounded so lovely! You deserve to start your days so sweetly, my dear."
Perhaps tomorrow I will sit again, or perhaps the day after that. And perhaps if I keep doing that, some of these waves will recede a little bit, or at least stop threatening to swallow me up. And then -- then hopefully I will be able to to think of my aunt only with love, as I want to and as she deserves, and not have that love tinged with hurt.