There’s a rooster next door. Considering I live at the end of a cul de sac in bustling Stuart Florida, this is an intriguing development. As I reside in the end apartment of a quadruplex, and my unit is its own little oasis surrounded on two sides by wooden fences and a small expanse of grass, I find myself able to close my eyes and pretend that I am on a gingerbreaded veranda down a back alley of old Key West. The chicken crowing adds that audio that completes the fantasy I have tried to create here at the end of the boulevard.

I’ve added the visual elements – palms, orchids, pothos, lilies, hibiscus and a (recalcitrant) spider plant. I love that chicken.

I long for another stray cat that yowls at my back door and lounges on my patio (or the roof of the shed). For a while we had one hanging out here. Everyone had a different name for that cat. I called him Max. Max lived at the apartments next to us but he really belonged to the whole neighborhood. I came home from work one day to find the neighbor chasing Max around the yard. “What’s wrong,” I asked.

The man gave me a harassed look. You know, the look an owner gets when they need to catch a cat who doesn’t want to be caught because…well because he’s a cat. “We’re moving,” was the owner’s answer and with that he plunged into the shrubbery after Max. I never saw the cat again. Sad. He added to my Key West illusion.

So we have the chicken to the right and, for some odd reason, we have a mallard duck to the left living in the backyard of the house behind us. I have not named him or her (who knows with a duck?). And really, he does nothing for my Key West fantasy. But he’s interesting and I chat with him each morning as he bangs his/her beak against the wooden fence rattling the seashell chime that I attached to the fence when we moved in here.

And now I am off to thinking about my shells and the windchimes I make with them. Funny how the mind responds to trigger words and rambles on and on.

Which reminds me that I gave one of those windchimes to my mom last year. She hung it on the back porch by the pool, smiling appreciatively (I think) while she hunted the perfect spot for it. It’s been three months since she died, and I sit here wondering if that windchime is still hanging on the back porch. I don’t think it is.

Which reminds me that she is gone, not here anymore, lost to who knows where.

Grief is a queer beast. Everyone seems to have their opinion of how it should look and are more than happy to remind you of it. One person said to me, “Ah well, this is your first loss so…” I cut them off and changed the subject. What? The first loss has some special meaning? And it is not my first. First parent, yes, but not my first heartwrenching hole in the heart, don’t know what I’m thinking half time anymore, loss. Another person tells me “You are too emotional.” Really? Like I am supposed to stop grieving now because two months have gone by? Like this experience is supposed to be over now and I should rejoin the world as the person I used to be?

I am not the same person since Mom died. I don’t know who I am actually. Because this integral part of who I am is not there anymore, and I honestly am not quite sure how to fill that hole. Helen Macdonald describes this feeling far better than I in her book, “H is for Hawk.”

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there are are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.

Macdonald, Helen. H is for Hawk. Grove Press. New York. 2014

So, you find yourself navigating this new world, trying to fill in those gaps, trying to make a sense of rightness out of this new place that honestly just makes no sense. And you know truly now that there will be more losses, more gaps, and with each one, more people who will tell you how to grieve. Each loss is a different experience. There is no first one. They are all firsts.

The rooster is crowing next door. It is time to go back to my Key West fantasy. Here I can access the memories and the grief and the occasional joy of a moment. There are always moments if you look for them.

Peace, Karen