Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for churches that follow a liturgical calendar. It is the most holy week of the Christian year and leads up to Easter Sunday. I have posted about Holy Week before, but each year the internal experience is a little different because our experiences of the past year have necessarily been different.
This is the first Holy Week since my husband’s death so this Holy Week is fundamentally different to start with. But adding to the already high emotion of the week, we lost two members of our retirement community over the weekend. In a retirement community that provides care for the rest of your life, it is natural for deaths to occur. But there are 250 people in our community and the grief of a death is not felt equally by all. The deaths this week, however, both hit hard. One person lived with his wife just two apartments down in our short hallway, and the other death was of a dear friend of both my husband and I. Both were 15 years older than my husband, so they had had a full life. But that doesn’t really soften the emotional blow of their passing. I feel the loss, and I grieve. But I also feel an additional lack, for normally I would be remembering these lives with my husband beside me and we would be able to tell the stories of our friends and grieve together.
The photo below is extremely fuzzy. I only had my phone with me, when what I really needed was my good camera with the telephoto lens attached. The photo that I was able to take showed this egret as a mere speck in the picture. By the time I had enlarged it enough to actually be able to see the bird and its reflection in the water, everything was terribly out of focus. But I love the photo, and decided to use it anyway because two things occurred to me.
1. I am a perfectionist. I have to constantly remind myself that rarely do we achieve perfection in what we do. “Good enough” is also beautiful.
2. During intense grief, everything inside and outside your head feels out of focus except the grief. Your brain can barely process what you see and hear from the outside world. Even the thoughts inside your head are totally jumbled and you feel incapable of rational thought. (Which you more or less are, actually.) Thankfully, after my husband’s death, both the hospice workers and friends who had been through this themselves told me that all this was normal. Even though that period of constant intense grieving is mostly gone, there are still moments, or days, or sometimes several days when missing him overwhelms me, and everything else in the world feels off kilter and fuzzy.
I decided that this picture, imperfectly capturing beauty, could be a touchstone for me. A reminder to not judge myself too harshly. And a reminder especially to have some compassion for that part of me that still grieves.
Almost 7 months to the day since my husband died, I am finding that a sense of peace often settles over me. I’m not saying that there is not still grief, or that I don’t still miss him. There is, and I still do. But I am finding that as time goes by, I am remembering more and more often our many decades together when he was not sick, and remembering less the awfulness of the illnesses that preceded his dying.
Last night I went with two friends to a small concert venue to hear an evening of music written by Schubert. As an Austrian composer of the late 18th and early 19th century, he was unusual in that he not only composed music for small and large orchestra, but also wrote transcendently beautiful art songs for voice. Saturday was an evening of both.
I am fortunate. Much of music speaks directly to my soul. It bypasses my analytical brain and goes straight to my heart and fills me with a sense of peace and beauty. Sometimes it feels as if the music inhabits me and I sense little boundary between me and it.
Such was last night, and I realized, not for the first time, that the intense grief of my husband’s death has continued to lessen, giving me space to exist in the world. Such is the grace of time, I think, and love. As I sat there fully present in the music, I realized that this is exactly what he would want for me. He would not want me to stop living after his death, but rather fully embrace life for the both of us.
So much has happened in these intervening 2 years that I don’t know where to start to catch you all up. But the most obvious is often the right place, so I shall start there.
Or here, I should perhaps say. Here in this still painful place in my heart where my sweet love of a husband has resided for 44 years. He died unexpectedly 6 and a half months ago from a fall. I had pneumonia, and so he was walking the dog for me. He had walked the dog, many, many times before over the years, as this was a task that we shared. But this particular time he himself was recovering from surgery, and he lost is balance just as he was reaching for the heavy door of our building. He fell strait backwards and went down like a felled tree. He sustained a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and was severely impacted from that. He improved for awhile during a month in acute rehab for brain injuries, and continued to improve a little once we got him home. But he needed to be re hospitalized, and ultimately, his age and the injury were too much, and he died at home with family around him on September 2, 2018. We observed his birthday a mere two and a half weeks later, and on December 28, we would have celebrated out 44th anniversary. We buried him 2 miles away in the East Bay hills that he loved. I can see those hills from our apartment, which is a comfort, but I miss him terribly.