Common Place Press announces the publication of Verona Rylander’s memoir, Seeing Through Death Into Life, a deeply moving and intimate look into the transformative power of grief.
When her husband is diagnosed with lymphoma just as they are departing Houston for a new life in Colorado, Verona is pulled into the unexpected role of caregiver. With inspiring honesty she shares her path through fear, ambivalence, anger, and grief into an awakening to deeper authenticity and fresh purpose.
[From Chapter Eighteen – “Inheritance” pp. 191-194]
Seeing Through Death Into Life, a Memoir, by Verona Rylander
A phone call broke into the stillness that filled the house one afternoon as I sat glancing through the mail.
“Can you come out this evening?” a friend asked. “I’m getting a few women together for a glass of wine.”
“Yes, thanks, I’d love to. What time should I come?”
Of course I would come. Had I turned down any invitation in the six months since Jim died? It was surprising that I didn’t already have something lined up. Anything that would take me out of the tomblike silence of the house, silence that swallowed me up relentlessly as soon as I walked in the door, silence I refused to placate by turning on the television or the stereo.
“Come on in, we’re out on the deck,” she called, as I opened the door.
The women reclined in lawn chairs, their faces gilded by the sun setting over the foothills still black from a recent wildfire that had come very close to the house. I slipped into their midst and accepted a too-warm martini.
“Thanks for the call. I really needed to get out of the house.”
I swilled the drink and switched to wine. I felt daring, desperate, like I was going for an edge. The temperature dropped with the sun and I pulled my sweater around me. The women’s voices blurred into the background. I couldn’t mix my mind with their conversation.
“How are the kids doing?” someone asked, puncturing my detachment.
I looked at my full wine glass and couldn’t remember if this was a refill or a first one I hadn’t drunk yet.
“I think they’re fine. Karen’s got her new apartment in Denver at Wash Park, the basement floor of an old house. They had to cut her box springs in half to get it down the stairs.”
Darkness pressed against us and we moved inside, away from the unknown prowling out beyond our circle of light.
“I had a date with this guy but I know it’s not going anywhere,” a woman said. “He’s all into himself. Men just don’t know how to relate.”
Her arm reached out along the sofa back and her thin skirt cradled her thighs. She looked beautiful but hard, like she had solidified into an impregnable fortress of opinion. Was my heart as hard and wounded? I felt absolutely no desire for love and couldn’t imagine opening to another man. A flash flood of tears erupted suddenly from my eyes. I rushed desperately out the door and poured vomit over the railing, unable to protect whatever lay below.
Spasms racked my stomach and then ebbed. My friend led me to the bathroom to clean up, helped me take out my contacts, gave me nightclothes, and tucked me, childlike, into her guest bed. Her cat landed lightly as it jumped up next to me, seemingly solicitous of my condition.
Tears carried memories up and out: his footsteps on the stairs, his long body against mine, the crescent scars along his ribs, his lace-up shoes by the bed, the way he shifted the gears of his car. All the years of our common life condensed into just this, this handful of air and emotion, insubstantial as the breeze, yet strong enough to contract my body in pain.
Why did death feel so strange? Was death a physical impossibility in the mind of someone living? Everyone died. It just didn’t seem like he could. I couldn’t connect the two concepts, Jim and death, like trying to fit something very large into a small box. The container of my normal mind was not adequate for this transubstantiation, this mysterious conversion of form into emptiness.
“How are you doing? Do you need anything else? We’re just in the other room, so call if you want something.”
I smiled weakly and murmured a small sound that I hoped would convey gratitude as she quietly closed the door. As I drifted into sleep, I intuited a basic equation of existence. The big events of physical birth and death had an obvious coming and going, but actually, each moment followed the same course, dissolving into the vast, empty ocean of Being and then rising in a new form out of the same timeless, inexplicable milieu. Out of these appearances and disappearances, memory created a thread that made things seem solid and persistent. In the darkness, the presumed solidity felt nebulous and uncertain. Yet something continued through all the change, something so pervasive and fundamental that it hid in plain sight, as subtle and luminous as the sheen in an infant’s eye.
That night, in my friend’s protective surrounds, I dreamed Jim had traveled to South America and had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. I realized I should file a missing person report. The next morning I still felt the anxiety portrayed in the dream and realized that I, the woman whose sense of self was so tied in with her husband’s, was the one who had been kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. She had to endure the fire of demolition and reconstruction. Her old images and identities had gone missing and she required a new covering with which to reenter the world.
Change was insatiable. It ate up the old without asking and left behind an incalculable gift of newness. We used incredible energy in our attempts to hold on to the old. But change took the old and mercifully composted it into the soil for fresh growth. Without its infinite generosity, suffering would continue forever and happiness grow stale with use.