Some days are better than others. Yesterday wasn't one of those days. Lots of memories were flooding into my head at work, all day long I had watery eyes, and at least two times I heard my voice crack while I was speaking with co-workers.
There's no telling why, but some days at work are just basically a day at work, while other days are an eight-hour challenge to avoid crumpling myself into a fetal position and bawling. Some days, ordinary office duties almost fully occupy my mind, and the memories and overwhelming feeling of missing her don't hit me hard until I'm on my way home; other days — like yesterday — Stephanie is in my mind virtually every minute I'm there. I'm auditing forms and finalizing documents and wishing I wasn't, and doing it all with about 25% of my mind, while the other 75% is all about Stephanie, and I just want to shriek out, What's the point?
Today, though, is Saturday. There's no work, and there's nothing on my mind that isn't about Stephanie. At the top of my to-do list for the weekend, I wanted to get the Shrine out of my head and into the living room.
The shelves in the living room weren't spacious enough to display everything I want to see, so today they were pushed and pulled into the kitchen, and swapped for some free-standing shelves that we'd been using there. The shelves from the kitchen are a pair of matching wooden cabinets, each about 4½ feet tall, bought at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for $110. We called these shelves "the pantry," and they were full of foodstuffs. Now they're full of Steph-stuff.
Stephanie was passionate about cooking, and thus the pantry was important to her, so I think she'd be happy with the purpose I've found for it. So far the display includes her favorite books and DVDs, some of her favorite snacks, her pillows, some of her blouses, her allergy medicines, her wallet, her watch, her glasses, her purse, some old baseball tickets, Fairy Tale Palace reservations, her cell phone, her right shoe, and anything and everything else that inspires a memory of her — including, of course, her cookbooks and loose-leaf recipes, her Dutch oven and measuring spoons and cups, and all things related to cooking. I even moved her entire spice rack from the kitchen to the Shrine, because I'll never use anything but salt and pepper for what little I cook, but especially because the spices were a key ingredient to the joy she gave both of us via cooking.
The Shrine is also going to include a six-pack of Cherry Coke. Until yesterday, a leftover bottle of A&W root beer was on that shelf, because that was her beverage of choice over the past several years. But I saw Cherry Coke in the grocery store yesterday, and it reminded me that root beer was only Steph's second favorite soda. Her first choice was always Cherry Coke, but cola of any kind is high in phosphorus, which makes it verboten for kidney patients, so she'd rarely had Cherry Coke or any kind of cola over recent years.
Well, to heck with that. Kidney concerns aren't an issue any longer, right? It was very strange to be (sort of) buying something for Stephanie at the store; never thought I'd be doing that again. But in her Shrine, my lady gets Cherry Coke.
Everything in the Shrine means something to me because it meant something to her. And I've tacked her favorite t-shirts onto the wall above the cabinets. Sitting here looking at it all from about ten feet away, I'm verklempt (a Yiddish word, meaning overcome with emotion). I had thought that the t-shirts would add a nice touch of color to the Shrine, but it's not just color — the t-shirts add Stephanie to the Shrine. Verklempt and amazed.
The other things in the Shrine are things she liked, things she enjoyed, things she cared about, but the t-shirts were what she wore when she was having fun, so how could they not bring a touch of joy to the Shrine? In many of my happiest memories of Stephanie, she's wearing one of those shirts.
Her five favorite t-shirts, on the wall above the shelves: "I met Li'l Sebastian," with a picture of a pony from her favorite sit-com, Parks and Recreation; a Wonder Woman t-shirt that I gave her and she loved; a Beloit Snappers t-shirt, from the ball park where we watched so many minor league baseball games; a Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre shirt, from our favorite drive-in; and an ancient Bucky Badger t-shirt that she'd had since high school or college — longer than she had me, and faded and stained just like we were.
Now I know, absolutely, that the Shrine is the right thing to do, that it's going to help, and going to truly honor Stephanie. It's set up so that it dominates my field of vision when I'm sitting in my favorite chair in the living room, and as I sit here and look at it, I want to cry but also laugh, and it makes my heart ache but simultaneously makes me smile, and I am tremendously sad yet ecstatic. It's complicated, like she was.
Normal people, I suspect (because what would I know about normal people?), feel these strong emotions when they visit a loved one's grave, but Steph has no gravesite to visit. And that's as she would've wanted, because we both thought graves tend to be creepy. Instead, Stephanie has a Shrine under construction in her own living room, and today it began coming together. It works. It's her.
I'll post a picture, as soon as I can figure out one of the electronic devices lying around the apartment. [There's a photo at the top of this post, now.] Meanwhile, I'll offer a brief description, and ask a question.
Serious question: Have you heard of anyone else doing this? It seems like such a good idea — too good an idea to be mine — so I don't understand why all my life I've only heard of people memorializing their loved ones in graves and urns and speeches. Trust me, setting up a Shrine in the living room works way better.