The things you notice

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Pacific Grove, California, 2015

The Things You Notice

How sometimes you say we
and sometimes you say I
and you mean essentially the same thing

How there’s hardly a moment goes by
without a thought of her

How the sky is still a fainter blue

How the sound of Latin music
instantly has you imagining
her swaying body

How the birds sing a sweeter song
when she is in your thoughts

How the sun still chooses to rise

How you search for every scrap 
of memory to sustain you
through the lengths of night and day

How your heart is warmed
whenever someone says her name

How the road home still stretches north

How even everyday household tasks
remind you of the loving care
she took in making your home a refuge

How the softness of one of her sweaters
leaves you longing for her tender caress

How the waves still collide with the shore

How an image of her
often triggers
an avalanche of emotion

How your hand reaches in the night
for her side of the bed

How there is still no cure for the broken heart

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
April 2021

Let the birds sing

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Let the birds sing
in early morning light

Let breezes sweetly whisper
through the trees at midday

Let clouds drift lazily
across a buoyant spring sky

Let the sun’s brilliance
gild rugged hillsides nearby

And let it all remind me
that this day is holy

Let friends call
and listen tenderly to my pain

Let strangers offer
a kind word or gesture

Let hours pass
and leave no trace of regret

Let this day unfold
with a gentleness born of grace

And let it all remind me
that this day is holy

There is no denying
this world looks different to me now
my future blurred by uncertainty
love’s healing work barely begun
and the cruel finality of death
no longer merely an idea

But let the birds sing in the morning
let friends be present by my side
let moments of contentment quietly come
let memories wash over me like a balm
let joy one day follow these days of mourning
let healing imperceptibly take root and grow

And let it all remind me
if I have the courage to see it
that this day indeed is holy

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

A world ended on this day

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A world ended on this day

January 27, 2021

I didn’t truly understand before
how deep loss can pull you under
how traumatic death can feel
how it ends a world

I knew that death was profoundly painful
for the ones left behind
I knew it was life-altering
I knew it was accompanied by many tears
and heart-stopping screams in the night
and even cursing of the darkness
but I didn’t really understand

I knew that life is fragile
that our days are not guaranteed
that while we bear the divine image
we live in mortal bodies
and that it can all end in an instant

I knew that I wanted to show others empathy
that I wanted to accompany them in their pain
and that because of my calling 
I was a visible reminder of the holy
whenever I visited the dying or grieving
but I didn’t really understand

A world ended for me this day

January 27, 2021

While the world around me carried on
as though nothing had happened
my world collapsed
it burned itself out
it shut itself down
it ended

My world was you and me
in all the sacred messiness of our relationship
in all the hopefulness for life yet to be lived
in all the simple joys of faithful companionship
in all the blessings of traveling this road together

Then in a moment it was gone

And I finally began to understand

Had I tried to imagine the searing pain
the throbbing heartache
the sickening permanency
that accompanies such a loss
I doubt I could have

Empathy only reaches so far

So here I am
wounded
disoriented
vulnerable
frightened
alone

A world ended for me this day
It was the world with you, my beloved, in it

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
March 18, 2021

Morning memory

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Photo credit: Sallie Woodring

In the morning
as you cautiously rise
from your side of the bed
I am there.

I am waiting
hoping
it has been a restful night. 

You are out of breath
from the simple act of sitting up. 
You are tired
in more ways than anyone can know.

Yet your smile reaches out
and melts me.
Will I remember
the feeling
of this moment?

Memory is imperfect
when up against the complex beauty
of a human soul.
Memory only goes so far
and then you want nothing less
than to be in the presence again
of the one you love.

You are sitting there
on your side of the bed
and motion me to come near.
The nearness
is the most comforting
to you
as well as me.

You lean forward
placing your head against my chest
and rest
and breathe
quietly
prayerfully
beautifully

and then
you raise your head
and look into my eyes
and I into yours
and without words
we are reassured
love is here.

Our vows
till death do us part
will soon reach their consummation
and yet love only increases
and mystifies me
in its tenacious hold over me.

You are the rest of me
you said to me more than once
and I truly believe it
for in those eyes
I get lost
in you
for all time.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
For my beloved Dallis
March 16, 2021

Attending to the broken places

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Eight years after her initial stage-4 breast cancer diagnosis, my wife Dallis, the love of my life, succumbed to this horrible disease. She made a valiant and determined effort to live, and thoroughly enjoyed all the remaining days and years she was given, and yet on January 27 of this year, she breathed her last breath with me and her daughter Wendy by her side. Since then, my emotions and frame of mind have been swinging wildly all over the place, and I write to give voice to the internal struggles I feel and to try to make sense of my place in the world now that she is gone. Here is something I wrote a few days ago, and then let sit for a while before sharing. I wouldn’t read it if I were you!

Attending to the broken places
(Just when you thought it was safe to read my writings)

Among the questions that grip me and won’t let go are:
How was it possible for her to leave me?
How could she say goodbye to our shared life?
How was she able to give up on our future dreams?

The very questions trouble me, 
for they sound like accusations.
They also sound unanswerable, 
and yet not considering them hurts too.

My intellect tells me that my beloved 
needed to choose personal agency
over the constant intrusions of medical necessity.
Her quality of life had deteriorated so much
that no other path seemed tolerable.

In a sense, she had no choice but to say to everyone, 
including those dearest to her,
enough is enough:
I don’t want to do this anymore.
I feel more like a bundle of problems to be tackled
than the living, breathing human being
who once found so much joy in being alive!

Still, the questions haunt me:
How was she able to pull it off?
Was my love for her too little to hold her here –
at least long enough
to bring her nearer to a time a healing,
to tip the scales toward life and wholeness?

And lamentably there are other unanswerable questions:
How did she think I would feel when she was gone?
What did she suppose would be left of me without her?
Did she not imagine how abandoned I would feel?

In case there’s any doubt,
this is me stumbling around 
in the murky land of self-pity and blame.
This is me doubting myself and the adequacy of my love.
This is, in other words, 
the ugly, petty underside of grief
where it’s all about me,
all about my struggle to breathe again,
all about my pain,
my sorrow,
my emptiness
palpable in every room
every movement
every decision
every discarded dream
every flood of tears.

So, I urge you to avert your eyes.
This is the pathetic, needy portion of grief.
There is nothing lovely here,
nothing beautiful,
nothing worthy of admiration.
Only sad proof of all the broken places 
where my wounded heart now lives.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
March 7, 2021

An Agreement (to get through this day)

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Dal and I in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2018


Let us be in agreement that death is a thief 
that robs us of what we most cherish. 

It may be the natural passage from this human life,
it may be what is expected out of this crash course we call living,
it may be the final remedy for being chronically mortal,
but it robs us, nonetheless.

Let us be in agreement that death does not treat us kindly.

It creates a gaping hole in our lives that cannot be filled,
it turns us inside out and upside down in our grief,
it brings us to our knees where we can only beg for mercy,
and it stings with deadly force.

Let us be in agreement that death takes no prisoners.

It causes us to question the worth of our own lives,
it guilts us into wondering why we live when our loved one does not,
it menaces us with our own imminent demise,
and it cares not at all about trampling on our will to live.

Yet let us also be in agreement
that death can never have the last word.

It cannot sever love’s bonds forged through unbroken daily loyalties,
it cannot break apart the commitments we have made to one another,
it cannot steal our memories of our beloved’s beautiful being,
it cannot annul our deep affections for the one we have loved and lost,
it cannot silence the resilient song of love in our hearts,
it cannot prevent us from choosing to love still.

Even though it hurts beyond imagining,
death does not have the final word –
love is stronger than death!

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
March 5, 2021

The sting of death

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Tomorrow will be one month since Dal died. In all of our nineteen years together we were never apart for more than two weeks. This is our longest separation and it’s only going to grow longer. I cannot make sense of it. I appear to be alive – I’m breathing by some miracle, I’m seeing friends and talking to people, I’m walking the dog, I’m eating occasionally, although I’ve lost twenty pounds – yet I don’t feel very alive. Contrary to the Bible, death does in fact sting! Not only does it sting, but it renders the one left behind feeling mortally wounded.

Dal and I talked about the end of life sometimes, and we always agreed that we needed to go out together because neither of us could imagine life without the other. We understood the foolishness of this thinking, of course; nonetheless, it was our way of naming how deeply connected we felt to one another, as though we were one flesh. Indeed, we were, and that flesh has been torn asunder.

The reality is, as I sit here in this home we created together, as I contemplate this life we built together, as I recall the future we dreamt of together, it all keeps coming back to this – I don’t know how to live in this world without her, not really. I can’t see the way forward. I can’t imagine ever feeling whole again. Often, I’m not even sure I have the desire to live. What’s the point? This is not me being suicidal. It’s me plumbing the depths of my grief where my desire to live lies beaten and bloodied, struggling to get back up. 

Clouds

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You were playing in the clouds today
as cottony puffs were slowly teased apart
and feathery wisps were pulled out along the edges
of a dramatic blue canvas of endless sky
where your artistic vision could be unfurled.

So many times, you pointed out cloud formations
and marveled at their enchanting possibilities
for holding both memories and dreams
as you paused in awe before each intricate display
and wondered why delight didn’t meet everyone here.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
For Dally

Ashes

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Ashes to ashes
dust to dust
take on new meaning
when the phone rings
and a cheerful voice on the other end
informs me that my wife’s ashes are ready

ready to be picked up
ready to be brought home
ready to remind me of all I have lost
ready to humble me before my own mortality
ready to make me weep at the sight of them
ready to strip me down to my core
ready to reveal the naked truth

our bodies return to earth’s body
our finished flesh is accepted back into earth’s sacred folds
we are never merely our own
we are made of star dust and earth dust
we live in eternity’s flow

ashes to ashes
dust to dust

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

The only thing to do

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There is no adequate consolation right now
There is no this is going to get better
There is no lessening of the sorrow
I cannot see the path forward
Only darkness, nothingness
I see no future
No home for me
Not without my beloved
Though I am told there is one

I am also told she lives now in my heart
Or that she lives on in the memories we made
Or that she will always be with me in spirit
None of which is enough right now
I want her
Her body, her mind, her sprightly spirit
Only her presence soothes me
Only she gives a day meaning beyond itself

Being a partner with her in life meant everything
She was my safe harbor in the storm
She knew me better than anyone ever has
She loved me fiercely in spite of my shortcomings
She was protective of me and of our love
She spoke so endearingly to me and about me
In the absence of these, who am I

Most of all she made my heart sing
Especially watching her love this life
A life we were creating together
And seeing her revel in genuine friendships
And laughing with such ease
And appreciating the small gifts hidden within each day
And hearing her tender words to me
And tasting her sweet lips
And feeling her body next to mine
There is no consolation for losing these things
There is no adequate measure to the loss I feel

In the meantime,
I will get up in the mornings as best I can
I will look for life wherever I can find it
If only for you, sweetheart
I will remember our devotion to one another
I will not lose sight of how deeply you loved me
I will grieve, and then grieve some more
It is the only thing to do
It is the only thing
You, Dally, make my heart sing
Though for now the song is awash in tears

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson