“We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.” -Paulo Coelho
I’m not sleeping much these days. Sleep and I have never exactly been great friends, but in the four weeks since Ara’s death, sleep is acting more like a bitter enemy, taunting me with dreams and constant waking, or avoiding me completely as if I talked about its mother or something. During the day, it is easier to busy myself with household tasks. I am working my way through every closet, drawer, and cabinet, mercilessly tossing anything I can’t even remember buying or receiving. Of course, I can’t apply the Marie Kondo method because right now because very little is sparking joy. Anyhow…
Daytime is manageable. But in the middle of the night, when organizing a junk drawer would at the very least wake the dog, I lay in bed and desperately try quiet my mind. My thoughts wander through questions about “life, the universe and everything,” to borrow the phrase from Douglas Adams. I am certain of only one thing, and that is the answer is most definitely not as simple as “42.”
So, I read. My attention span is significantly shorter than it was before (there is a new before and after now), so I am not reading books cover to cover. Instead I read articles, book chapters, blogs. I am seeking out ideas that might help me match words and concepts with this inexplicable sadness and confusion I feel so often these days. (What I am not looking for is a reason. There can be no reason satisfactory to me.) In all my searching, I have come upon two ideas that have given me a small sense of peace, at least in the fleeting and far-between moments I am able to let it in.
The first one is the Paulo Coelho above. I know that many people are comforted by their belief in an afterlife. For them, the idea of a “different room” would surely sustain the belief that a lost loved one resides in heaven. But this is not so for me. I do not disparage anyone who believes in life after death, especially since some of the people I love most in the world do. But I spent years grappling with religion and faith, and I am comfortable with the place I have landed- I believe in love, I believe in good, I believe in myself. I am living a life that I can be proud of, here and now, and not simply to earn a greater reward, and I refuse to believe that suffering and loss are part of earning that reward.
I have sometimes considered myself spiritual, though I think my definition may be different than others who refer to themselves in this way. When I talk about a spirit or a soul, I do not mean to say that I believe in a consciousness that exists outside of the body, one that lives on after the body is no longer living. What I do believe is that there is a “human experience” and a common set of human emotions that connect us. There is a human “soul” that exists because of the way the human brain works, even if it does not exist outside the body. There is a desire for connection that runs like a thread between people. There are bonds that are forged of love stronger than any steel, that, while they may feel the fulfillment of destiny, are the product of time, devotion, sacrifice and hard work. Our brains perform the amazing feat of making things “meant to be.” I love this about human nature.
So, for me, Coelho’s words do not mean heaven, or another life. For me, they simply mean that my child exists in a room I have created in my own consciousness, in my own heart. And that room is beautiful.
The other idea I have been reading more about is the fact that the universe itself is a closed system, such that the total amount of energy in existence has always been the same. The forms that energy takes, however, are constantly changing. Most of the the atoms that make up our bodies were created billions of years ago inside exploding, collapsing stars. As Carl Sagan said, “We are made of starstuff.”
In high school, I was closed off to science. It felt cold and unfeeling, and I thought it took the magic out of things. I preferred language over science as a way to describe and understand the world. While I still love language, I have come to feel very differently about science. Just the way I have an appreciation for the way our brains make us feel connected, I see that the physical world, and the scientific truths that make the world possible, are their own kind of “magic,” and I find that just as amazing and miraculous as anyone who believes in destiny.
So, this is where I find myself, unable to sleep, formulating my own mash-up of science and philosophy. In the moments when I can let the peace in, it comes on wings, and flies away as swiftly as it came. But in those moments, my thoughts are of different rooms.
Ara is in a different room, the room of memory. The beautiful room she made in the hearts of those who love her. She exists still, and forever, in the stories we tell, the tears we shed, the love we share, and the things we will do in her honor. And she is also quite literally in a different space, taking a different shape. She is, as she was, “starstuff.” She is energy changing form. Her scattered ashes will merge with the soil in which beautiful flowers will be planted. She will be in the petals, in the sweet smells and bright colors. Atoms that were once a part of her, forged billions of years ago in a star that exploded, will now be part of trees, part of the the sands of beaches and the waves that crash upon them. They will be in the songs of birds and the wings of butterflies. They will be in the vibrations made by a guitar strum, or the beating of drums or the brand new heart of a child who will sway to music only she can hear.
It is my deepest wish to still occupy the same physical space as Ara. A place where holding her is still possible. A room where I can hear her laughter, watch as she grows and becomes the incredible human being I am certain she would have been. But we are in different rooms. This will always be true, and it will always be a burden I must bear. It is the price of having shared a space with my sweet baby girl, if only for a little while. And, moments of peace notwithstanding, it will hurt until the day that I too am the stuff of stars.