A Separate Place
Neither here nor there
It was a familiar but uncomfortable space. Someone I loved very much was nearing the end of their life. My partner was their full time caregiver and I would help on weekends to give my partner a break. Together we performed the loving but difficult work of caring for our person in home-hospice. Cleaning, cooking, alert to every sound. Time and sleep and reason all get a little fuzzy.
During that difficult time I couldn’t help but remember what it was like the last time I had experienced this. It was the loss of another loved one. Similar yet different.
I described to a friend what I was feeling. I said, “It’s like I’m in this separate place. I walk down the street and everyone is going about their day. I am there and I exist, but I don’t live in the same world. It’s a parallel universe but on the same planet.
She replied that I was traveling through liminal time. Like I’d packed my suitcase and was taking a ride. Headed somewhere, just on a short layover.
I had heard the word liminal before but I didn’t really know what it meant. So of course, off to Wikipedia for me.
Liminality — the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.
I started thinking about this concept of liminal time, and realized how powerful it is during a loved one’s illness. There are other times in life when we walk in that liminal space.
For example, the time when my sister gave birth prematurely to twins. In terms of care and feeding, it does seem that multiple babies are more exponential than additive. She was exhausted all of the time and all that mattered was keeping her two babies alive. The rest of the world went on outside while her entire world existed side-by-side in a crib.
I would imagine people who suffer a major catastrophe like a house fire or hurricane damage also dip into that liminal space. That which once existed is no more. That which will be has yet to evolve.
I became fascinated with this concept of liminality and found myself dipping deep into the Liminal Space subreddit. The photos give me a funny feeling. Some feel downright creepy. Some have a sense of longing. Some are just lonely.
But they all denote that sense of travel. A short pause on the way. It’s about the places you traverse, where you exist, but where you are not supposed to stay. Something left behind, the future not yet fully formed.
After our person, so beloved, passed on, then came the job of cleaning out her apartment. The small but sunny space was so filled with the memories and the moments of her. It’s an incredible task to be in so much grief and sift through the possessions of the one you just lost.
Smells that remind, photos that show a different time, mundane objects that become so dear. Once the job is complete, and the space is empty, it’s almost like they were never there. Erased.
Two weeks after she passed when the grief was still overpowering, we waited for the movers to arrive to take things to storage. Late afternoon sun poured in her now empty bedroom window. I sat on the floor stared at those shadows. I wanted to remember their diagonal. I wanted to capture and hold on to that moment.
Only in hindsight did I realize that I had captured a photo of my own liminal space. My journey is not yet complete.
Karen Fayeth was born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-teller. From her New Mexico roots she is constantly evolving through global experience. Karen has won awards for her writing, photography, and art. Currently, she is working on a collection of her many short stories titled, “A Delicate Pain”.