A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the circular nature of grief (A Tuesday Kind of Miracle). When we lose someone, the path through grief is a looping line, not a straight one. As the years pass, the loops become smaller and spaced further apart. I ran headlong into one of those loops today and that’s how I found myself sitting at my desk sobbing into a Kleenex…all because of a typo on some paperwork. Or maybe it wasn’t a typo. In some world, it might be true.
It’s been eight years since Richard died. I’ve slogged through the months and months of estate paperwork and had it all settled. I hadn’t looked at that brown accordion file in years. Nevertheless, at the end of 2012, I got a big envelope from the university where he had taught. I inherited one of his retirement accounts, but I didn’t bother to open the envelope because all that was SETTLED. I got another envelope…put it in same dusty stack. (I know, I know, I know) He ended his career as a professor of finance, so both of us had great retirement plans and aggressive commitments to our savings. So I already had and have “My Own Money.” When this account came to me after his death, I kept it separate for tax purposes and viewed it as my super duper safety net, a sad windfall. Whenever the financial news got me scared, or I had a bad day at work, I would pull up that account online and take a deep breath. That money was an extra egg in the nest.
(TAKE HEED: If you ever inherit a retirement account, DO NOT roll it in with your own funds. If you ever have to take money out in the event of an emergency, you can withdraw from the inherited account at a much lower penalty rate.) (This message brought to you by the ghost of Richard A. Grayson, MBA, PhD.) ‘
Well, one day after the beginning of this year, I was feeling kind of blue so I logged in to the account to cheer myself up. The balance was $0.00. GACK. The image of those big white envelopes from the university came racing back to mind Might have been a good idea to look in there! I’ve had other estate related glitches (like the letter from the IRS that said I owed $86,543.78…that was a sphincter release notification). I calmed myself down pretty quickly and opened the damn envelopes. Yep, the university had switched investment management companies and I was going to have to do the paperwork ALL OVER AGAIN.
It took me a month to call Investor Relations. Another month to fill out the Beneficiary forms. Another month before I made it to the bank for the fancy Medallion certification stamp (who knew?). Seriously, I haaaaaaate this kind of paperwork, even if it puts me back in my safety net. ARGH. Hate it. Hate it hate it hatey hatecakes.
Now it’s been a couple of weeks since I mailed all that stamped and certified stuff in…and I get another white envelope in the mail. I took it out today and opened it up to read that they need a copy of his death certificate. Sigh. While I was bracing myself to open up the big brown accordion file to find a copy of that clinical green document with Dr. Marrano’s signature and all those dates and codes and finality, I skimmed over the letter from the investment company. I was listed as the primary account holder, with all my information as I had entered it on the forms. Richard was listed as the secondary account holder. And for some unknown reason, the form listed his age: 46.
He died at 38. He’s never going to be 46. Not in this world.
Thus the sobbing. 46.
For the first few months, maybe years after he died, I sometimes thought I caught a glimpse of him in crowds. He was distinctive looking–5′ 4″ tall with reddish hair, an Irish tan, broad shoulders and a narrow skier’s butt. His body was beautifully proportioned and compact. When we hugged, he fit right under my chin. So if I was in a crowd and saw out of the corner of my eye a body shaped like that or a russet haired man with a bouncy step…I kept looking, out of the corner of my eye, and I pretended that it was him. It was a way of hanging on to the notion that he wasn’t really dead, just NOT HERE. I don’t believe in a heaven where this that is “I” and that that is “you” remain. I believe more in the conservation of energy and the way our selves remain part of the great equation of the universe but not in any distinct being…but it will never be mine to know. I do know that when you have to wake up one day into a world that no longer is home to your beloved, it’s easy to pick out pieces of them in a crowd and let your brain relax into the fantasy that they are still somewhere nearby.
But to think of him as 46? Right there, in black and white on a form. Stomach punch.
I once found myself on a train across Canada with the Cowboy Junkies and some of their favorite singers and songwriters. One of them was Fred Eaglesmith–his song “Crowds” speaks to me when I think about Richard being 46, somewhere:So I look for you in crowds
In train stations and bus stops
On sidewalks in the middle of the night
When I go driving by
Little churchyards on Saturdays
I check to see if you might be the bride
Hope you’re happy now
I still look for you in crowds
Forty six. In another place, maybe, another life. In a parallel universe, he is 46. And maybe now and then, he misses me too.