The instant I hear a few bars of Neil Young singing Harvest Moon (I want to see you dance again) I’m dancing with my husband Jim again, on a warm, late October night in 1996.
I glimpse the oh-so-familiar dark brown neatly combed back of head striding ahead of me on city sidewalks and I think there he is! My heart jumps, causing trembles up and down my body and my knees weaken a bit, until my brain can catch up with my body and remind my heart brain and my gut brain that it can’t possibly be Jim walking up ahead of me, because he died so many years ago.
But don’t tell that to my body – it wants to run up and embrace the figure getting steadily smaller as it walks ahead into a time of its own.
This is why I remind my patients grief is not linear – it moves back and forth, needing only one tiny flicker-flash of scent or song or sunrise to bring you back years to one short moment holding an eternity, like the early morning moment when Jim said I feel dizzy, falling backwards onto the bed while his soul flew out the window, and me not knowing he was gone yet, trying everything in my power to keep him here and not there.
This moment is always with me—a crisp early morning fall sunrise or Neil Young singing Harvest Moon and I am instantly transported in time to the day he died. Our bodies know grief has no timeline. It exists beyond the constructs of mind, palpable and real, brought to the present again with a brief blink of eye or strumming sound in ear.
Do we glimpse the future as we watch our loves walk away? Are we slipping into the liminal space between worlds, allowing us to see them for just a second, long enough to trip our brains, to let us know this space exists?
Do we see that little girl with brown braids and crooked smile in the park, throwing a red ball to the tiny barking black dog and see ourselves as we were, back before life and grief and loss and love changed the innocence? Do we see ourselves as that sparkle in our parent’s eyes before we were born?
Or maybe that boy over there racing across the green lawn, proudly looking back at his father for approval at how fast he runs, his strong swift legs like an antelope. Could he be the boy I may have had if Jim and I had the child we tried so hard to conceive before he died? Or could he be my father when he was a boy, and I’ve been graced with a minute to see him in a way I never could as his daughter?
This is grief and time, always playing with us, dancing around us. If we open our hearts the world expands and expands, the universe opens up and wraps its arms around us, allowing us the solace and the wonder of where we come from and where we go with the golden light of love the thread slipping and sliding through to connect us always. Limitless, boundless love.
The flash across a gap of being. I wonder how many lifetimes exist around me, I see the child I was before I was born and I see the child my father once was. I see Jim and I am no longer tortured, though the longing for what may have been had he lived remains. There is comfort still in seeing him on the street, of dancing with him again, frozen in time, forever young and forever loved.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.