That Hollow, Empty Place of Grief

I’m writing to you now from that hollow, empty place of grief.

This is new territory for me, and so I write to you not knowing quite how or where any of this will lead.

What does this place feel like? I’m discovering it. Though the snow is melted, it almost feels as though everything around me is covered in a deceptive, thin layer of smooth ice.

I am cold; I am attentive.

As I move through place and time, I notice color pallets, the brown of Walnut Street, the grey of the coffee shop floor, the peach of my hands.

Through the window I see the pink streak in the horizon, courageously holding its own far past dawn.

The trees–do you think about the trees? The way they simultaneously ground down and shoot skyward…how the branches yearn for the sky and sun yet the roots could not be more terrified of leaving the warm sticky dirt they’ve settled for.

Trees with bellyaches, I muse. Because certainly pulling yourself in two directions would give you an upset stomach.

Or a heartache, perhaps.

People are funny, too. Moving about in this one room: hushed conversations, loud banter, chattering, chatting. Drinking. Munching. Just moving. Just doing. Just going.

Foggy Frosty morning

I didn’t get the first phone call about Hannah because I was in the middle of directing the scene in “Into the Woods” where the Baker’s Wife dies.

I was trying to explain to high schoolers, specifically my Baker, what this moment might feel like. It was our first time working the scene.

“This is so sad,” my cast said. “Everyone in the audience is going to be crying,” they said.

Were those genuine tears from my wide-eyed freshman Cinderella?

I was glad to go home. It was one of those weeks–you know–when your Baker’s Wife comes down with strep (and tonsillitis) and your boyfriend and you can’t find more than 10 minutes of quality time, the dining table still needs assembly so you keep eating standing, and Trump is going to be president.

So I learned about the accident on Facebook.

Hannah had just finished designing the poster for my production of Into the Woods. Just–a few days ago. I’d asked her if she wanted to do the gig because I had fond memories of a similar collaboration in college for my senior show. It had been a wonderful reconnection in a time and place that was very dark for me.

When I heard yesterday that her car had been struck, that she had died–that–that stupid Into the Woods poster was the first thing that came to mind.

Stupid thoughts–what do I do with the invoice? What do I do with her unanswered emails? Do I hang this around Lancaster? How can I hang this around Lancaster? Should I write a tribute to her on it? If I write on it, would that tarnish her artwork? Wait, was this poster her very last piece of art?

It was even the topic of first email I received after calling my mom, Alicia & Jake, mutual friends. It popped up on my phone. An email I was CCed on, confirming we could send her poster to print.

I panicked. I shot off texts to staff asking if we should halt it all. Hold up, hold the phone, wait, wait, wait! No!

This is hers and she is gone and how could we possibly move forward!?

All the while, the lyrics from the show spinning in my head on repeat, “Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood…”

I don’t know. I’ve met and known a lot of people, and I gotta say, Hannah was gold. She could weave in and out of your life and bless it in the meantime–and that smile. That laugh. She made me wonder, how could someone be so joyful?

I imagine my pain is only a fragment of her family’s, her young husband’s, the friends that were nearest and dearest to her day-to-day life since college.

I imagine, too–though how trivial it seems–that Into the Woods will feel different now. I haven’t looked at the script. Her poster is on the front of my binder and I’m scared to see it. But when I go back to rehearsal, and I open that binder, and I watch as the Baker loses his young wife in the woods…

I wonder.

The story doesn’t stop there, of course. Though Lapine and Sondheim are too kind (or not kind enough) to fake a cookie-cutter ending, they at least turn the page and keep writing.

I hope, after this time, here, after the nonexistent ice thaws around me and the all-too real rain stops (but of course it is raining now), I’ll be ready to continue with the score. To go to the next song.

The part that sings,

Nothing’s quite so clear now
Do things, fight things
Feel you’ve lost your way?
You decide, but
You are not alone
Believe me
No one is alone
No one is alone
Believe me
Truly

Thanks Hannah. From me and a lot, lot of other people. You made our Woods a more beautiful place.

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2 thoughts on “That Hollow, Empty Place of Grief

  1. jerryptd

    Beautiful tribute, Vanessa. I only knew Hannah from watching volleyball matches. Her energy and joy on the court were palpable. I’m so sorry for your (and those close to her) loss. Thoughts and prayers with you.

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