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

A letter to my love

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Dallis & I on the Big Island November 2014
(Photo: Wendy Granger)

My dear Dallis,

Sweetheart, I know I told you as you were dying that everything would be okay … that I would be okay … but it was a lie. I don’t like lying to you and I didn’t intend to do so; I was just trying to convince myself, and I was telling you what I thought you needed to hear so that you could let go and be released from a body that was failing you. But now I am utterly heartbroken. I feel completely lost without you. I want so badly to hear your voice again. I want to kiss your lips. I want to hold you and be held by you.

What touched my life so thoroughly during our love affair and marriage is how you would look at me with such affection in your eyes it melted my heart. You brought me to tears so many times just by being honest with me about how you felt. We told each other our deepest truths. We relied on one another to always care most about the other. 

I can’t believe how lucky I was to have you in my life for nineteen years. If I had known sooner that our time together was nearing the end, I would have stopped working earlier and devoted all my time to you … to us! I would have reveled all the more in your smile and laugh. I would have asked you to tell me more about the greatest joys of your life, all the way back. I would have wanted to watch your New Zealand slides with you, and have you regale me about that favorite adventure of yours, years before we met.

I would also have wanted to hear more about the places of pain and disappointment in your life, many of which I know about and others I imagine were left unsaid.

This grief hurts beyond imagining. I feel like I’m dying inside. I struggle just to do the simplest things and get through each day.

I wish there was a way to communicate with you, my beloved. I write these thoughts I’ve been thinking and wish I could get this message to you. You were the very one I needed in my life. You cheered my successes, savored our relationship, and gave me every bit of yourself to love and enjoy. You were my anchor, my safe haven, my source of lightheartedness and joy. 

I’m trying to figure out how to live without you near to me, your physical presence that is. I have never been through more painful days than these. A heavy sadness follows me everywhere, even to sleep. Nothing in my life experience compares to this aching I feel in body, mind and spirit.

Dallis, my beautiful one, it is my deepest hope that you are where there is no more pain and no more crying, and where you know deep and abiding peace. I also hope to see you often in my dreams.

You will always have my love,

Mark

When memories won’t do

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This is the hardest day yet.
I am worth nothing today.
The grief has gotten hold of me
and won’t let go.
There is an empty void
nothing and no one is able to fill.
It follows me around.
I want to go back to sleep
and wake up in the past.

My grief is complicated
by the fact that in my line of work
our lives are set forth as examples
of faith being lived out
in good times and in bad.
What if my faith isn’t holding up that well today?
What if I’m more than a little pissed with God?
What then?

As I hear from good people
trying to offer me solace
they don’t realize there is none to be found.
All the greeting card talk
of being comforted by memories
leaves me feeling comfortless
in these moments when it’s not memories I want.

I want her to peek around the corner and smile.
I want her hug that lingers and won’t let me go.
I want to hear her voice again calling me.
I want her laugh, unique and contagious.
I want her …
not memories of her …
but her.

This is where I am in this moment …
for better or for worse …
with tear-flooded eyes!
Dallis, my heart aches for you.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson

The Sweetness of Life

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The world is a brighter place
with you in it.
The ocean is a deeper blue
for the color
you splash into my life.
The trees are a softer green
for the compassion
you offer me.

The road is a wider way
for the happiness
you spread before me.
Life is sweet
and sweeter still
with you
and only you.

~ Mark Lloyd Richardson
For Dallis Ann Day
June 2002