Ellyn Wolfe

Ten Years

March 4, 2014
My retirement house. Hemet, California

The photo montage I’m building for my living room wall lies on the carpet like stepping-stones across a pond. Faces smile back at me. The arranging process is slow as I drift off into reverie, reliving moments captured on film. There’s one of Shannon and me hugging each other on the prow of a cruise ship in Alaska’s Tracy Arm Fjord, hair matted, multiple layers of clothing soaked through to our skin with freezing rain, grins showing how thrilled we are with each other and the majesty of our surroundings.

There’s another of Rob he called, “Holding the Whole World in My Hands.” The world is George Lucas’ mansion in the background, resting on Rob’s hands in the foreground. I become lost, listening in my mind to the stories Rob told about how he and his film crew were chosen to use the state-of-the-art sound studio at Mr. Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch for their Indie film, North Beach, and how awesome it was when Mr. Lucas invited them to watch a football game with him.

The photos of Rob go only so far in time. They stop in 2004, right after his thirty-fifth birthday.

Exactly ten years ago tonight, he left this world. I think of ten years without him as a milestone, but not sure why. Each year March 4 is a milestone in itself. One more year without his smile, his wacky humor, his sensitivity. One more year without me smiling when I hear his cheery “Hi Mom!” greeting. He left a voicemail on my cell phone while he was getting chemo. The “Hi Mom” is there, but with a tinge of sadness and fatigue. I kept this voicemail for months after he passed away. Too many times, as I opened my phone, his voice popped up with “Hi Mom.” The repeated shock was too much. I had to remove it, and, with the help of the phone company, saved it elsewhere.

I’m fortunate he was an actor. He left a box of photos, videotapes of TV programs he was in, and audiotapes as lead singer in his band IRATIK. I can see him and hear him whenever I want. I’m grateful for that, as many parents are left with only a few old photos.

When faith is gone, the emptiness is vast.

Is it easier after ten years? In many ways it is. It’s rare now that I see something special and think, “Rob would love this. I’m going to call him.” In the early years it happened all the time. Then the pain of realization would grip me, and my heart would ache. I still cry from time to time, but rarely. I’m crying as I write this. The reality is the pain never fully goes away. It simply hunkers down in a dark recess in my brain. On the rare occasion when it gets triggered and rises to the surface, I find its bite lacks teeth. Now I mainly remember the everyday Rob—the simple things, the good times, the love. It is easier now. I’m out of the habit of expecting him to be here.

This morning I posted a remembrance photo of Rob at Skywalker Ranch on Facebook. I so appreciate the support that flows in from friends. It helps, yet when I look at his photo and see his vibrancy and his love of life, I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been like had he lived. In my mind he will be forever young.

A few days after Rob died, a drunk passed me on the sidewalk. Filthy clothes hung on his emaciated, smelly body. Wine-fueled saliva sputtered from his mouth as he swore bitterly at no one in particular. Anger and disgust consumed me. Why Rob and not him? Rob had so much to offer. He loved life. That sidewalk wino …

I feel guilty for judging him without knowing his story, without knowing what happened to him. A few days after the encounter with the drunken man, I was out walking. Someone smiled at me, but I was so consumed with grief and so detached, I rudely stared at her and walked past. She looked offended. She had no idea I was tortured inside. It made me think about how I responded to the wino and about those who called Rob a druggie when he collapsed in pain after the Chris Rock concert. We don’t know what’s happening inside others. Let empathy replace judgment.

I’ve mellowed over time and have come to look at life from a higher perspective. I realize there is no order in life. Children predecease their parents, and there is no “deserving” to be here because one person is better educated or nicer than another human being who has had hard times. I venture back and forth from believing we all have a predestined time to leave the planet, and believing our departure is more technical, a result of the genetic draw. Spirituality vs. science. Who really knows?

I thought I knew where Rob went when he left his body during the comas. I thought prayers would be answered, requests for miracles granted. My spiritual teachings gave me what I thought was a sound base. Until he died. Then I realized I knew nothing, and prayers were empty wishes for help from the helpless. Where was the miracle that pulled Rob from the clutches of death in the eleventh hour? I believed right up until he exhaled his last breath there would be a miracle, that all the prayers from all the people we knew around the earth would be heard and answered. Why are miracles selective? How do people hold on to their faith when tragedy like this happens?

When faith is gone, the emptiness is vast.

Existential questions haunted me for years. Why? Why? Why? They’re there still, but I’m more pragmatic now and respond with a simple, “I don’t know,” then move on.

I was angry. Kubler-Ross says this is a normal stage of grief, and I know professionally that anger is a coverup for powerful emotions, a way to appear in control when you know you are not. Ten years seems like a long time. It also seems like yesterday. The good news is, I’m not angry anymore. The anger has been replaced with gratefulness. I’m grateful he was part of my life for the thirty-five years he was alive.

Excerpt from the memoir Grateful for the Color Blue: Surviving the Loss of an Adult Child, 2020.

After multiple careers—Human Resources Director, Corporate Stress Management Trainer, Antique Dealer, Life Coach, and Mom—Harvard-educated Ellyn Wolfe stepped into a life of literary creativity. Grateful for the Color Blue: Surviving the Loss of An Adult Child is her debut memoir. Ellyn publishes and is on the editorial team of Straitjackets Magazine, (straitjackets.org). the literary arm of the Diamond Valley Writers’ Guild. She sits on their Board of Directors and is a founding member.

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