A Trace of Grace

Do nothing.


Watch him.

Don’t flurry the room with fuss; funereal calls, friends with nothing to say I want to hear. Let his spirit shift in peace.

‘Where are you now, Daniel?’ I whisper. If only he can answer, quiet my nights, diminish the fear…or just unlock the mystery. His eyes are closed. No need to touch him.

‘Be present,’ he’d say, if he could speak. But he can’t, so I’ll have to construct his instruction. I suck in a giggle. He never bloody talked like this. Settle, girl. Breathe. Slow down. This is hardly a surprise so keep a lid on it. What about — breathe into the magnitude of the moment? I windmill my arms to increase the drama. Will that do Daniel? Is that what I should be doing?

A cup of tea. Yes. I’ll make a pot and sit with death – and him – till the pot’s empty. My mum’s teapot existed with a purpose, to make everything better. Lost your job/boyfriend/virginity darling? Have a cup of tea.

I ferret out the blue and gold fine china cup and saucer that little Josie got from the Mother’s Day stall last year. It’s special. I mean, apart from the Queen, who drinks out of a cup and saucer now? My own spirit wriggles away and drifts to the ceiling for a lost second and smiles down on Mum and Her Majesty sharing a cup of this oriental elixir or two, pinkies raised. What would they talk about, recalcitrant children, kids with no backbone like me…can’t handle a teensy weeny death…always blubbers when the dog dies in the movie…

Jesus wept. I snap back, suddenly afraid of becoming entangled with Daniel’s 21 grams of loose bits up there.

I put the jasmine tea—Daniel would choose this—brewing in its little green pot, and the fragile china on the expensive bamboo tray he bought me. The one inlaid with pink and gold-streaked resin. The memory of his face, his joy, when he bought it for me squashes the anger broiling in my throat, the anger that is threatening this stupid tea ceremony I am falling into…I see blue and gold shards when the china will smash into the bedroom wall right over his head…when I throw the whole ridiculous tea party…

Breathe. Slow. Calm. Clear the mind. Focus on the light…outside the window. Easy, yes, I’ve got this.

Anger? Why? Where the hell’s that come from?

‘Mum, why is your cup and saucer smashed all over Dad?’ Josie would ask when I let her in the room. If I let her in the room. See, the decisions, things you must think about. Should a nine-year-old see a dead Dad?

Of course, they’ll mutter, hands and eyes stroking me when I just do not want to be touched, a healing process they’ll whisper.

Bloody not, Janet, the others will bawl at me, upright, distant, logical left-brained right-wing mob. She’s a kid, Janet! She doesn’t need that horror yet. Let her be a kid!

Daniel befriended anyone.

Anger. I feel it tripping me up. Oh god, selfish again, here I am trying to peace up the air as Daniel would say for his passing, that sacred moment when the veil parts for him and the divine claims him. Have I just stuffed up – as I forever do when he’s around?

Why, why, why do you still say you love me I scream on our fight days. Well, my fight days to be correct. He never really responds. Never shouts back. Silent. Silence. Subjugation by silence. That’s what he does.

I am sorry you feel that way is his stock rollout defence. Never owning up to whatever I might be verbally throwing at him, what ever thing he has done that can get me literally to screaming point. Always turning it around on me with a benign smile and subversion of the blame. I am sorry you feel that way.

I am sorry that I feel someway, what way, any way right now. They don’t teach you how to feel when the coma sleep becomes real sleep, a real damn pushing-up-whatever-flora-you-may-favour sleep. What to feel that’s decent, how to unravel all the should haves, could haves, if onlys…

Be present. Back, bring it back, Janet, to death. It’s here with you. Say hello to it. Ask it questions for god’s sake, it doesn’t pop up in your bedroom too often. Will Daniel have a friend to show him the ropes/clouds, oh hell this is nuts. Go on, try again, girl. You owe it to him, and yourself perhaps. Okay. Is he pleased/disappointed/scared or already divine? What colour is he? Does he look like himself? Have You got Daniel now? Who are You? I’ll give You a big Y as I’m scared not to, ‘cos You might come for Me too. Oh, for crying out loud Janet, quit the shit!

Sit, Janet. Just sit yourself down, put the tray beside the bed and drink the bloody tea. No one’s going to talk in here. It’s just you and a dead husband. Experience it, feel it, let your soul uncurl and absorb it before your sanity is yanked upstairs too. You’ll never get this moment back, gobble the whole sensation up. Eat it, squeeze it through each cell in your body until you thoroughly know it, know it as well as your own skin, your own breath.

I move slowly towards the bed, like one of those dancers who seem to glide without a rise or fall. Slowly. To stop my own soul leaving my body, sucked up by mistake.

‘Joined at the hip those two,’ people say, ‘Daniel and Janet.’

‘We’re not joined!’ I yell.

The china rattles on the tray when I jump as my shout bounces back at me from the wall, from the exact spot where the china might have gone. My sound. Me. But, who do I truly think I am talking to? Jeeeeez, sorry, Daniel, I say and let a tiny laugh escape, a slight release of the pressure valve.

Daniel and Janet hey? It’s always Daniel first, never Janet and Daniel. It’ll be Janet and Josie now. Nice. Softer. Her name makes mine softer somehow. I’ll make sure people say Josie and Janet though, she needs to come first. She’s my diamond, I’ll keep her shining.

Finally, I sit.

And look.

My body has been racing, planning, burying or burning – blast, what did he want again, it’s all been too sudden, and yet not. I think he told me but my head must have been galloping as always; dinner, nurses, timetables, cleaning, school, his family’s birthdays, apologies, fear of losing face, control, falling into a welcome darkness….my body’s doing it again, working on working without actually working in any sense of the word…STOP!

But looking into his face, my soul hasn’t moved. It’s there curved across his lips, arched over his eyebrows and again I can feel it held in his hands. Strong, blunt fingers curling tenderly over my soul. He has it! Yet again, Daniel damn well holds my soul in his hands.

And I am glad.

I am so thankful.

He’s pulled on the brakes. Lifted me once more from that edge. The place that follows me around like a tattered baby blanket that I can never, never throw away.

His lips shiver, shy but lovely. The last nerve to hear the message of death, like the glorious image of a long-departed star we still sight in our sky. Bodies can shoot forwards, but sometimes our souls haven’t caught up.

I trace a finger across his lips. The finger circled by a golden band. The ring that holds the curve of my soul that catches on the thread of grace I need.

Don’t be sorry you feel this way it says.

I will walk Josie into this room. Yes. Of course she must see her dead Dad, and I’ll help her find the trace of grace he is gifting us.

by Sally Ryhanen

Meandering through a writing degree in a Queensland surfing town, Sally’s companions are an ancient Finnish marathon runner and three borrowed budgies. Shortlisted for the Iceland Writer’s Retreat Alumni Award, she has been honoured in local and international competitions and journals, with her work presented regularly by professional actors in Adelaide, South Australia. She recently completed a family memoir for clients and is creating a Narrative Heritage service.