MY HUSBAND BRUCE DIED OF A BRAIN TUMOR IN 2005. WE HAD BEEN MARRIED FOR 36 YEARS AND HAD FOUR GROWN SONS AND TWO YOUNG GRANDCHILDREN. OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS I DEALT WITH DEEP AND CHANGING GRIEF. WRITING TO BRUCE HAS HELPED ME TO DEAL WITH THAT GRIEF.
I write this as I look at your face in a picture frame on the desk. You're wearing your grey stocking cap, one of many you wore over the years. I still have a couple of them and sometimes bury my face in one, hoping to smell your hair, your skin.
Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I trace my fingers over your neck and chest and belly. I see in my mind where the scars and wrinkles and moles are, each one precious and beautiful.
In my memory I actually can feel the curve of your head. The scars of
the surgery fade in my mind, replaced by you, whole and complete and younger. I feel the shape of your face, before tumors and fire and memories of childhood losses
Whether I close my eyes and see you or look at the pictures on the desk, there you are. Your brown eyes crinkle at me, looking deep into my heart. Your crooked front teeth smile with joy and living, not sorrow and dying.
You are so alive in front of me, though your ashes sit on a shelf
behind me. They are not you, the picture is. The death certificate tucked away in the drawer is not you either. The scent of you lingering on your clothes and the trees growing in the yard that you planted
. . . they are you.
The essence of you is everywhere around me even though your body is but ashes in a velvet bag.
Tonight I read again the words I wrote in 2008. I sighed. You had been gone for three years when I wrote the words. You were still very much a part of me back then and thoughts of you still came frequently.
It has been five year now since you died and I think of you
less. My eyes see a new world that has only a faint reminder of you, like the roots beneath a new sapling. You are there but new life has risen from the places and memories of you.
Tonight, though, I yearned for you in a way I have not for some time. I even yearned for the sorrow that cloaked me in the early days after you died. That ache connected me, reminded me of you. Its power put me to my knees and yet kept you alive in my heart and memory. That sense of connection was worth the pain of loss.
I tried to uncover that level of sorrow tonight, thinking,maybe hoping, it was still there deep inside me. It isn't. The grief is translucent rather than weighted and rough. It is a quick catch in my throat, a few tears and a small pressure behind my eyes.
I looked at your photo and remembered you again but more than anything else I feared forgetting you bit by bit over time. In forgetting you I would be forgetting “us.” I would lose 37 years of my life and of our life together.
I tried in mind to reach out to you and recapture your realness
tonight. My hands grasped air. It evoked feelings of fast dropping elevators, stepping off cliffs and standing on the edge of the unknown.
You were gone. We, the boy and girl who loved each other for
37 years were gone. Even the depth of grief was gone.
And for that I grieve and feel some guilt. Do you understand?
You walked with me for all those years. You loved me when I
was grumpy and tired and silly and excited. You knew me as a new bride and a mother of four. You built me a home out of logs and hauled firewood in a wheelbarrow to keep me warm.
You cut the umbilical cords for each of our sons and attended endless track meets when they were older.
You were there for all of us, year after year.
And when you were dying? You raised up your head from the bed
and looked in my eyes. With your last breaths you formed the silent words “I love you."
I love you too Bruce. I always will though the grief has faded. I love you.
Another year has passed. I continue to grow older while you remain 58. I was 55 when you died. The year I turned 59 I felt like a traitor or a winner who won something undeserved. I was older than you would ever be.
Now I am 64 , retired and receiving social security and my job pension. I like being retired even if I get those darn ads in the mail from AARP and cremation packages. Actually I feel lucky to get those ads. I don't take it for granted that I am alive and you are not. I especially don't take it for granted since Robin died.
Maybe the only thing I take for granted these days is that everything is impermanent. What begins will end. Babies being born will age and one day die. Flowers that blooms will fall, becoming food for more life. A sun that rises will set.
I was not always aware of this cycle. Your death changed that. What once was academic is now so, so real. I know loss. I don't just read about it in a book, I am living it. I also know it will happen again and again.
The thing is Bruce, you taught me about loss but you also taught me about living with loss. I can still see you resting in bed those last few weeks before you died. You seemed peaceful as you talked to me about how much you were learning and that it was all perfect. I don't even need to close my eyes to see you lying in the sunlight that filtered in through the bedroom window.
Oh my, you were as shiny and brilliant and pure as that light. I hold on to that image when I face my own challenges. I cherish too your words about flowers and gardens and how we are not alone, none of us.
It has taken time but most days I can accept that "it is what it is." While loss and endings are part of life I do not face this alone. Your spirit and Robin's spirit walk with me.