I share here an instrumental of a very special song, which can be heard by clicking the blue link below:
My post title comes from the lyrics to my song “More Than You Know.” The full line is, “How can I believe when the warmth of you did leave?” It actually refers to my ability to go on living after seeing my five-year-old son dead. That image haunted me for years; picturing his open eyes and blackened lips. His body was ice cold and I held onto him and didn’t want to let go!
Not too long ago, I wrote about Relinda. She is a grieving widow and her writing has moved me very much. More about her and her unsparing words are on my post entitled: YOU HAVE NO HOPE.
Today, another widow left a comment on Relinda’s blog:
I have been reading through your blog, so much of what you’ve said could have come from my hand. My husband left our life one year, four months and four days ago, but I’m not keeping track.
This particular blog about the “vacation” really struck me more than the others. This life I find myself in isn’t comfortable, it has no warmth, no appeal, it isn’t mine and I want to go back home. But home isn’t there anymore, it’s an empty lot – the house is gone and only the memories of it remain. Like you I am so tired of all the bullshit lines we feed ourselves – truth be told the only way any of this could get better, would be if I had a time machine and went back to when my life was mine. I hope someday that maybe those of us that just exist will feel a little life once again.
I want to share Relinda’s post and then I want to respond. Relinda’s post title is a link back to her blog.
This is the longest vacation I have ever experienced. It began the day the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. It continues years later. I always thought of vacationing as an escape from the monotonous realities of everyday life. Vacationing in hell is much different. It is a place where you accept the realities and disappointments that come with living, embrace them wholeheartedly and recognize that it is a vacation from which you will never return home until the day you die. Welcome to hell.
Astonishingly, my house looks the same if you overlook the absence of laughter and the immaculate kitchen. That is the first thing you notice upon arrival to hell—the silence. It is so loud that when I enter a room, I can hear my heart pounding inside my head. Ironic that silence is actually the loudest noise in the universe. Sometimes I can hear echoes of laughter from my real life. It is very faint. There was so much laughter in this place before that I suppose it is inevitable that some imprint seeps through the walls.
There are not fires and brimstone as depicted in sermons. There are the usual disappointments, but new ones surface each day. Disappointments such as realizing you will never again know the simple joy of sharing a banana split with your best friend in the world. Disappointments such as knowing that you will never again experience the fun of dancing in the rain with someone you love. Disappointments such as knowing that every trip you make will be alone. Knowing that any accomplishment you reach will never be celebrated is one of the harshest disappointments.
I want to return from my vacation in hell, but it was a one-way ticket. “Life is what we make it.” If I had fucking known that, I would have molded it differently. I would still be whole. I would not have buried you. I would not dread waking each morning.
“Time heals all wounds.” Bullshit. Some wounds cannot be healed, especially while you are vacationing in hell. “Prayer fixes everything,” really? Because it did not work so well for me. I think we pull cute little quotes such as these out of our asses while under the illusion that they make people feel better. They do not.
So, here I am, sending you a postcard from hell. The weather is lovely this time of year. All I really want is to go home though. I want a ticket home. Perhaps there is some type of lottery in which one can win a ticket home. If only someone would send me home. I cannot get there myself. This vacation blows.
Dear Karen and Relinda,
You will not hear me say, “Time heals.” I have said that hearts can heal and it happens unconsciously. Even joy is possible, because that happened for me.
That is not the same thing as expecting that time will heal us. I do believe that time lends some anesthesia to the gut-wrenching pain, but for those who succumb to their grief it is too late. Grief certainly wrecks lives and destroys a person’s health over time.
Healing from grief is torturous hard work. Many people don’t believe they will heal and I was one of those people. Healing isn’t about fixing anything so that it goes back to how it was. Those scars are forever. And nothing heals when it festers either. In my fourth year of bereavement I wrote: How can my heart ever heal when it continues to bleed? The answer was that it couldn’t!
Take your postcard from Hell, Relinda and put it somewhere. It will be a postcard to remind you of the place where you never want to go back to. Your own words unconsciously gave your post a perfect title. You see; a vacation is a place to visit. One does not associate a vacation with living somewhere.
That is true. You are not really living.
You cannot go home either. There is no home for you to go back to.
That is the sad nature of grief. We grieve for the person we lost that we loved. Then we grieve for our former life and the innocent, naïve person we were before grief slaughtered our existence.
Therefore, your post title was a perfect description of where you are right now.
I do not know about your personal grief or anyone else’s. I share my optimism because with grief there is so little. We live in a world where grieving is supposed to quickly end; we’re told to just “get on with our life.” Amazingly, there is a belief that after one year a person should be “over it.” Those platitudes such as “time heals,” usually aren’t coming from someone who has suffered a loss of a magnitude such as yours.
It has been three years for you. I can share what I’ve observed through my connections with many bereaved people. I’m talking about people who seriously wanted to die.
The second through fifth years are quite horrible. I don’t usually like to go to a place of honesty about how many years I suffered with grief. But I still remember when another bereaved mother told me that it took seven years for her to live without extreme agony.
That was absolutely true for me, as well.
I think the reason the second year and those that follow are so hard is that the reality has truly begun to sink in. The first year is all about coping with the horror. By now though, it has become apparent that the horror is permanent and goes on forever. That is quite impossible to grasp.
How do you cope with the hell? You just do the best you can, and the two words I often used to help myself were: hang on. Surrounding yourself with people who understand is important. Expressing your pain is also helpful and you do that very well.
I am sorry for the horror you are living with. I am sorry for anyone entering this vacation in hell.
I am waiting for you to write the post with the title “Moving into my new home.” You get to leave the horror and move to a place that is quite different from where you began. I do hear some hopefulness with your words, “I want a ticket home.”
Your ticket will come. One day, it will arrive. Of course, many people succumb to grief. But you write with such clarity, so I see you as someone who will make it. You’re never going back but you are going to somewhere that won’t be hell.
Recently, I wrote about a widower named Joe. Part 1 is on my post:
JOE’S GRIEF JOURNAL – PART 2
I begin Part 2 with Joe’s reply to another widow’s message on an Internet grief form. His words are in brown:
I miss my husband’s company, his big frame, his hairy belly I would love to touch and the warmth his body put off in the bed; the kisses on the forehead as he headed to bed. Mostly, I miss the feeling of comfort when I could snuggle up to his back and feel safe.
I miss that big bushy beard and the way it felt between my fingers. The hugs that I thought would never end but improve even more as we got older. I miss his snoring. I also miss his rough cut up scarred hands so big yet so gentle.
January 12, 2011 Joe wrote:
I understand that longing. I don’t want to sound salacious, but sometimes I just miss my wife’s body, the feel of her and the physical closeness. I feel terribly touch deprived since she died. It hurts as bad as my heart some days.
April 7, 2011
I’ve lost my lifetime mate. I have been altered on a cellular level. I have a cancer that can’t be seen. It’s still there, however. It is just as real as the kind that one can see under a microscope. It’s the daily leaching of my heart energy, the daily uphill struggle to take the next step, the daily difficulty of functioning with the burden of being in a totally foreign condition where I’ve never been before: alone.
I am not in denial, I don’t believe in pretending to have a positive attitude. I believe in being honest with myself. That’s not easy all the time. I look forward to a time of feeling something other than sadness and loneliness and depression.
April 30, 2011
My doctor told me yesterday that I am living in a fantasy world, just because I said that I want my wife back. I know that I have to go on and live a new life without her. I just am not ready to do so.
People who haven’t been married and truly bonded just don’t understand that the feeling really is like a part of me has died, too. While some may say that’s not a healthy way to feel, all I can say is that it’s real for me. I want to feel better, to feel peace again. I have periods of time when I seem to be doing pretty well. Then, out of nowhere something triggers me and I can barely function.
I will never feel the old “normal” again and that tears me out of the frame some days.
June 13, 2011
I’ve been feeling a soft kind of sadness somewhere between my chest and throat. When I finally inquired of it, it is about thinking that if I had paid more attention to my wife’s symptoms I might have intervened months before she got so sick that she had a heart attack.
It’s a kind of self-flagellation thinking. It’s a part of the way I wish something were different even if I have to blame myself for how things turned out.
This is another teary phase that will last a few days and then pass. I’m not concerned. I’ve become accustomed to the ache in my sternum.
June 13, 2011
Your writing always touches me. Only a week ago you offered comfort to someone else on the forum who was suffering. I have often felt that by helping others with their grief, I have helped myself, too. Perhaps you didn’t even realize that as you offered comfort.
Your awareness and honesty as you write about your grief is very moving. Even though you might feel what you have said is self-flagellation, you are just processing whatever wishes you have about changing the outcome of your wife’s tragic death. I used to feel that way when my son died after heart surgery. I had to make a lot of decisions about which type of heart valve to use and even wondered if a different surgeon could have changed the outcome.
Expressing all of your feelings is helpful to heal. I love that you understand that with your last sentence knowing your tears would pass.
There’s only one thing I want to tell you, though. Don’t believe that you will always be accustomed to the ache in your sternum. I want you to know that someday the ache will fade, not completely, but enough to find joy in life again. Your expression of feeling through writing and love for your wife will heal you and others someday, too. I am certain of that.
June 16, 2011
I’ve been saying my heart is broken for two and a half years.
Monday morning it quit on me. I had a heart attack. I was flown to a hospital and got a stent inserted in the offending artery. Doctors think I’ll be able to return to full activity in a few weeks. Man, that attack really hurt.
While my physical heart seems to be healing my metaphorical heart remains broken. I’m not stuck in grief all day as I once was, but I still drive into a hole in the world with regularity in which her absence is the essence of my whole experience.
I don’t think that will ever change. I chase her in my dreams, but she remains just out of reach. I miss her in this world but there are no changing facts. She’s dead.
One good thing came from my heart attack. During the helicopter ride, I was able to let go and allow myself to die. I always thought I would release myself to death given the chance but a part of my mind doubted I had the courage to do that. At least now I know I have the balls to die. I know I can release this life if given the chance.
Although this post is long, I want to share Joe’s story about how he met his wife, Beth. It is very moving and adds a lot to his words about grief:
I turned fourteen in July of 1959. Fourteen was when puberty was just hitting its full stride in me, unlike today when kids seem to grow up so fast. It was coat weather already in early October. The day was sunny, but winter was a breath away.
I was playing basketball with my friends. We were all interested in girls and the topic of that mysterious gender dominated the conversation. None of us knew too much, weren’t experienced with girls beyond fumbling exploration, and didn’t have a clue about emotions. Although we knew there was a connection between our gonads and the opposite sex, we weren’t sure what the real deal was.
I had kissed a girl once. She lived next door and I kissed her as she was taking out the garbage. I didn’t feel anything and wondered what the big deal was. I had touched the pubescent bumps on the chest of a girl named Becky, too. But that experience left me flat as well. Like I said, the opposite sex was a mystery. Late that afternoon, I was with my friends when we all went to Eighth Street where this new girl lived. It was dusk when we arrived at Beth’s house. My friend boldly knocked on the door and a girl came out on the stoop; a girl like none I’d ever seen before. She had black hair, dark horn rimmed glasses, a red sweater and charcoal slacks over penny loafers. I still remember feeling like I was going to swoon.
Beth was a member of the Student Council, part of the Latin Club, active in our schools social calendar and a straight A student. He said everyone liked her, even the teachers. Seeing her, knowing she was what we referred to back then as a “good girl”, and knowing I was a cigarette smoking, school skipping, just skating by grade wise half-assed punk I couldn’t imagine there was anything reciprocal possible from this vision I was seeing. I just stared, dumb struck by her beauty and the sound of her voice.
She smiled easily, laughed quickly and was smart and articulate; just the kind of girl who was way out of my league. I don’t know how long we stood there. Time seemed totally irrelevant. I was transfixed and at the same time broken-hearted. I was totally smitten by a girl way out of my reach. For the first time I sensed that the connection between my maleness and the female of the species was visceral and real. My heart ached with unnamed emotions and my pulse raced from an overload of hormones. I wanted to leap with joy and cry in agony because I felt like I was completely in love with the perfect girl who was absolutely and forever unattainable.
When the talking was over, Beth had gone inside to her parents beckoning. I walked home, stopped at a small corner store and bought a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a spice pie and some Orange Crush soda. Between my hormones and the sugar and nicotine I was higher than a kite all the way to my house. I barely slept that night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw that girl, the face and the clothes and the sound of her…I didn’t know what it all meant, but I knew I felt stuff inside of me that was entirely different from anything I’d ever felt before. I was swirling with confusion and hope and despair.
The next day I went to school and as I stood at my locker, one of my friends came up to me. ”You son-of-a-bitch,” he swore at me. I was flummoxed. “What the hell did I do?” I asked, not understanding why my friend was angry with me. He sighed. “Beth has your initials pinned to her sweater,” he said.
I almost fainted. I suddenly knew what “weak in the knees” meant. ”No she doesn’t,” I answered him disbelievingly. I thought he was pulling some kind of cruel joke, making fun of me because he could see that I was totally taken with the new girl. “You better believe it,” he said and as soon as I had my books he led me down the hall to where Beth stood at her locker. When she turned to smile at me I could see “JB” in brass letters pinned to her chest.
I think I may have lost consciousness for a moment. I don’t remember what happened next. All I know is what began in 1959 continued to 2008. We were bonded in a relationship that took us from pubescence to old age. That was the day it all began for us. I can still picture her on the steps of her house and I can still see what she wore. I can still remember the intensity of that moment, the moment when the mystery of the opposite sex deepened and my life really began in earnest. I loved her then beyond my ability to describe. I miss her today in a way I have no words to express.
And, I still have the brass initials that she wore and kept in her jewelry box all of these years.
April 4, 2012
It’s been over three years now and I am beginning to feel a sense of healing. When I remember my wife now the memory is warmer, filled with a sense of love that the pain overshadowed for a long time.
I am fully in support of each person taking as long as it takes…not to be bullied into compromising their grief and feelings of despair. I am here to say that even if years pass, so too, eventually, does the terrible feelings of loss.
I will never be the same person I was before my wife died, but I’m becoming okay with that. I am more than ever convinced that by feeling everything that arises in me I will eventually see that energy move and change into something else. Despair becomes melancholy, suicidal thoughts become manageable sadness, and loneliness becomes a strange contentedness with my own company.
May 23, 2012
My wife has been gone for three and one half years.
I am no longer suffering the way I was. Sure, I miss her still, think about her, but I’m no longer driven by my sadness. Additionally, I had another piece to my agenda. I promised myself that no matter how lonely I got I would not bring someone into my life just to fill the empty space.
Honestly, that was as hard as following my feelings into their darkness. I think I have held to my integrity, kept my promise to myself, and I have remained alone. Until a few weeks ago, that is. I met someone in quite innocent circumstances and to my surprise I actually felt something toward her. Confused, excited and acting like an adolescent, I approached her and confessed what I was feeling. She’s been a part of my life for a short while now and I like her presence a lot.
I’m glad I waited. Even if this new relationship falls apart I can still learn a lot about my ability to feel love again…I’ve no guilt about loving again. I am the last person who thought I’d have any happiness in a relationship again. I didn’t believe the people who encouraged me.
I thought I was the poster boy for grief and being alone for the rest of my life. I might still end up alone, but I’m aware I’m capable of feeling good stuff again. Thank you all who have been here with me during these last three years. It’s been a bitch, but maybe my life has turned a corner.
I hope someone will find encouragement in this writing.
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