Born. Died. He was here – and then he wasn’t. For every name in the cemetery, what separates the dates of birth and death — is a dash, a line that connects all the living in between. A dash not only separates a whole bunch of years but also connects all we were meant to be. At least that’s what we hope for anyway.
A dash says ‘you were here’. You toddle around in diapers, go to school, run headlong into becoming an adult. And then what? Dates of graduation, wedding, children born are markers that all fall into the living. Jobs are listed on resumes, annotated with a succession of start and end dates. Even vacations are hyphenated periods of time we set aside to explore and relax.
How about marriage? The years spent with the person we marry carry their own dash. Sometimes they stretch far into the horizon; other times years can only be the length of an eyelash. However long or short, the dash attaches pieces of our all parts of our lives. Fortunately, even though my husband and I didn’t get much mileage out of the dash that strung our marriage years together, we had a small but pretty cool chunk of the ‘before’. Now the dash is in my court. And, at the moment, I can’t predict what it will say about me. Continue reading
Like it or not, we just stepped into a brand New Year. For those who’ve lost an other, a parent, or child the thought of moving ahead is more than layered. The past holds the person who is gone from us and we cling to it fiercely. Though we want and need to move forward, it’s hard not to worry that we will forget the sound of their voice, their scent, the way they hugged, laughed or…sung in the shower. But I don’t think it works that way; the past has a mind of its own.
My once young brother has been gone a very long time. Sometimes I can’t recall the planes of his face or how tall he was but I can still envision his eyes, his pranks and the way he loved anything to do with cars or building radios. We all remember how he would do anything he could think of to tease my father – and it always worked. And that same wise-ass little bro surprised me with a booklet entitled ‘How To Boil Water’ his handwritten engagement joke gift.
His siblings grew up, married, had kids, and he never was gifted with any of it. A long life is promised to no one. To his family, he will always be frozen in time, a 19 year old boy never to forgotten but not his memory not the stark, raw pain that followed his death. His pictures are a bit faded now, the color a fainter hue but he still exists in spirit. No matter how long he’s gone, he’ll always be my little brother. We never forget; the pain just loses some of its bruising edges. Continue reading
Nope, not the Hugh Grant comedy. Jill Smolowe’s book, Four Funerals and a Wedding, is pretty much anything but comedic. Her book chronicles not only her personal grief journey but how she coped and grew along the way. In one chapter she mentions how her therapist suggested that her grief began on the first day of her husband’s diagnosis. That struck me as pretty profound. Given that my husband’s diagnosis was levied 3 months before we were even married, I realized it would not be at all surprising that unconscious grief followed us through those years. Even as we lived and loved as fully as we possibly could, we grieved by inches.
How do you measure the knowledge, however much you stash it in the closet or ‘put on a happy face’, that many dreams just won’t come true? No, my mind never went in the direction of Charlie Brown’s Sally who said “She didn’t want to live and threw herself in front of a Zamboni”. It was just that gray leaden feeling, a sense that no matter what your plans, there would always be an expiration date that coexisted with the daily business of living. Where cancer lives, everything becomes more complicated and layered. All of life takes on a different hue. Continue reading
We were word people. We both loved words so much that my husband was forever making up his own puns – and himself up cracking in the process. We watched Jeopardy and did the crosswords – competitively of course. I kidded him about being the grammar police. It’s hardly surprising then that words can also make me scratch my head, thinking ‘what’? Really?
As I stood in line at a wake this weekend for the wonderful young son-in-law of a dear friend who lost her own husband as well, I couldn’t help thinking of what I would say to this heartbroken young wife. I knew her since she was a teen and it seemed more than important that I say something, anything that spoke what was in my heart. I knew most on that line behind and in front of me might be thinking the very same thing. Don’t we all want to speak words that make sense of the unthinkable? Being so recently in her place myself, I know how impossible that is. I know it is as hard to receive most words of awkward consolation as it is to say them. Sometimes, seeing their struggle, we often want to comfort — those who comfort. We all want so much to say what is comforting, gift verbal pieces of our heart and sometimes just mumble odd sentiments instead. We say tired clichés. We offer what we’ve been conditioned to say, hoping somewhere in there, the person who’s hearing the words knows that our clumsy attempts at consolation are heartfelt. They do. Because let’s face it, we all are awkward – even those who’ve been on the receiving end of well meant words.
Maybe the next time we yearn to say what’s in our hearts, we’ll measure the words differently. Maybe we can hear them as the bereaved might. Maybe we’ll even say no words at all because sometimes silence is better than words and phrases like: Continue reading
Sometimes your heart needs more time to accept what your mind already knows
One night, this past October, my life got real in an instant. A terrible, unimaginable real that at first doesn’t even compute. It actually took a moment to understand what I’ll never unsee – and never change. That was the moment I found my handsome, loving husband crumpled on the stair landing. It was the moment I went from wife — to widow.
Gone for only a hour, one nondescript hour, I could never have known my breezy ‘see you in a bit’ would be the last words I said to my man. There would be no warning that his red shirt was the first thing I saw as I reached the landing at the top of my split stairs. Even when I saw his awkward position and didn’t hear a single word in answer to my wailing pleas, it was still hard to comprehend. It would be the infinitesimal moment before confusion became pure panic. It wasn’t until later, much later, that it would strike me how I never noticed how partial he was to red. Crazy, right? But then, crazy would be kind of apt for this kind of night.
What do we all wish for when we realize something is not a nightmare but more ‘real’ than we ever bargained for? A miracle? A time machine? No matter what you pray, hope, wish for, nothing is crazier than what just happened. Continue reading