We are saying goodbye to Lucy on Monday. Lucy is our car, a VW wagon that we absolutely love. Yes, I’m one of those people who names cars. I had forgotten why I come from a family who names cars until I was driving home in a Portland “snow event” the other night and had to get up a hill. It’s super helpful to know your cars name when you are driving up a hill on ice, just so you know how to encourage it properly. Saying “Come on Lucy!” seems to help make it to safety instead of sliding precariously into the moving traffic below which was the fate of many other Portlanders also unexpectedly caught in snow the other night. I learned this technique from my dad who would run our old station wagon up the hills in Alaska in the middle of a snowstorm saying, “Come on Blue!” and we would miraculously make it up and breathe a sigh of relief. I used that technique in what will be Lucy’s last winter drive with us. We made it up the hill and then tucked Lucy into the garage until Monday when we will turn her in and find a new car.
I’m chagrined to say that I’m feeling some rather complex emotions about letting go of Lucy. I mean, she’s just a car, right? But it turns out she’s more than a car. She’s a decision and symbolizes something in the grief recovery process that delves much deeper than purchasing a complex array of steel parts.
I bought Lucy after Michael died. I sold the car that he had painstakingly researched so that I wouldn’t have to worry about buying another car if he died. He bought it hoping that we would all take it on long road trips and out camping but also knew that his old diesel BMW would be hard for me to sell after he died and he wanted to make it easy for me by trading it in and buying more of a family car. He did so many things that made it easy for me and we never spoke of them as if just mentioning the reason for the new car would turn his fate even more quickly.
When I sold the car he bought for us, I felt enough emotion about it that I had to write him a post-humus apology letter telling him all the reasons I needed to make a change. It might sound silly but as a writer I also imagined what he would write back and all that emerged was him telling me how exceptionally proud of me he was for the car and all the other major life decisions I was making without him. As with so many other things with grief, I realized in writing that letter that it was me who was holding the emotion around it and it felt good to clear the energy.
The letter helped me understand that I felt that by buying a new car, I betrayed the decision he had made previously. But really it was a huge milestone in my own grief to understand that the person who dies can do their best to imagine what it will be like for the person left behind but in reality, things change and it’s okay to shift directions. Other than a few things we were rock solid on together in parenting our son, the decisions going forward are truly mine. This reality is liberating and also terrifying.
So in steps this new decision of letting go of Lucy. A decision that honestly was made by Volkswagen and their decision to fake their emissions data, but nonetheless leaves me with one more thing to figure out when honestly I have plenty of other decisions on my plate and I would have liked this one to be completed. Which brings me again to writing. I realize now, after being trapped in the Portland ice going on three days, that letting go of Lucy represents more than just trading in a car. Lucy represents all the things that I hoped were stable and unchanging in the continued journey of life without Michael. She represents the process of making a decision with the best information at hand and realizing I made the best choice at the time but now I have to make a new choice. If I’m honest, then somewhere deep down inside she represents failure. She represented the part of me that needles at anything that feels like having made a wrong decision on so many things that I made my way through in those first couple of years after Michael died.
Wrong decisions, right decisions, grief, joy, cars and snowstorms, they are all a part of the precious shades of gray that emerge along the path of grief that still changes even after four years. The person that bought Lucy three years ago and felt paralyzed by trying to make a car decision that would somehow meet the test of Michael’s love for car engineering, is not the same person making yet another decision about a car today. I’ve changed, our lives have changed and a car now I hope can be just a car. Or maybe our next car can symbolize hope. Perhaps we can drive Lucy back to VW on Monday and look out into the days that stretch ahead and hope to find something that supports the life we live today. We can dream of camping trips with wonderful neighbors, short drives to school chatting about the day ahead, road trips to meet family in Colorado, muddy trips home from the soccer or baseball field, and for me maybe a quiet drive out to the beach to walk the shore and remember that each wave of grief washes things clean and makes room for new footprints. This feels like hope.
In the end I’m grateful for this mini little snowstorm that paralyzed Portland for three days. I’m grateful we had to make one last go up a little hill so I could feel great about Lucy and then park her in the garage and finally feel the nuance of why she felt like such a big decision. I can open to another dose of grief for missing Michael and his joy for researching cars. I can feel frustrated with Volkswagen for cheating on their emissions and recalling thousands of cars including the one I love driving. I can miss my dad and old Blue and the many memories of childhood snowstorms with him at the helm. I can feel it all and let the feelings simmer under the surface until the writer in me is forced to write it all down and get to the core of understanding that life changes and we just make the best decisions we can with the information in front of us. I can feel it all and acknowledge that I’m saying goodbye to Lucy but also hello to whatever chapter evolves from this next decision, one that will be as informed as possible and yet forever vulnerable to the inevitable and subtle changes that shape our lives. And in the end all I can say is “Thanks Lucy, you’ve been a great car”.