I’m told you’re looking down on me from above, but I don’t believe it. I don’t want you looking down on me from some lofty perch. You never did that in life, so why would you start now? It’s odd to even think about you hovering over me – how high I’m not told – viewing my life as a spectator, watching me move from here to there, seeing me make my mistakes and not being able to prevent them, having little to do with me really, other than to observe my days and pray for the best.
In life, this life, you were always by my side and I felt your deep presence. You were my sanctuary – where love flourished, where healing occurred, where life was restored each day, where hope never died.
On this side of the veil I still look for you in this sacred meeting place where egos fall away and love without conditions abides.
You don’t look down on me from above. You look as you always have, into my eyes, with a tenderness too deep for words. You draw me out and love me, unreservedly, truthfully, and that is a gift that can only be given from the inside.
The pillows you bought last year for the futon are lovely shades of lavender and blue and we both loved them yet we knew right away they weren’t nearly big enough.
So, I bought larger ones in a complementary color to slip behind them. I hope you don’t mind.
The dining room tablecloth of earthy browns and deep reds we have had for years has never been my favorite (sorry for not telling you) and especially now as I seek out cheerier colors.
So, I put a bright floral tablecloth of many colors on the table and may go in search of others like it. I hope you don’t mind.
Reddish brown pottery pieces you picked up at local pottery sales have been displayed on a shelf one taller than the other and while the designs carved by the artists on them are intriguing the colors have never appealed to me.
So, they are now in a box in the garage that will eventually go to the thrift store. I hope you don’t mind.
The living room where the final weeks of your life were spent in a hospital bed looking out at the trees and plants rabbits, squirrels and birds needed a feng shui makeover which I’ve attempted complete with a little garden of green and flowering plants in the windowed corner of the room on what was your puzzle table.
At this table where you stood often gently moving to music while working a puzzle I have placed the living urn gleaming white with a Hawaiian Umbrella tree planted and nurtured in the soil with you. I hope you don’t mind. (In fact, I hope it pleases you.)
I’m not trying to erase anything, sweetheart, about our lovely life together.
But I realize I can’t leave everything the same or I will soon be mired in the past.
And I can’t change everything either (nor do I want to) or I might become forgetful of all that was so beautiful about you and me together.
So, I make room in the here and now moments of each new day to simply be present to that which opens up before me like a holy invitation to live again.
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
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
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.
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!
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.