By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 7, 2016
Many people assume that a few months after a sudden death, the family is feeling better. After all, the initial shock is wearing off, and the family is surely growing accustomed to the empty place at the table, the absence of a certain laugh, the lack of a special hug.
In fact, though, grief just intensifies as the months wear on. For me, the realization that I won’t take another long walk with my husband, talking about whatever is in my heart, totally unedited, that I will never see him again or touch his fuzzy face—is painful beyond words.
And yet as a writer I have to struggle to put feelings into words, which at times seems impossible. What word can convey that pounding of the heart usually associated with fear, which now happens unexpectedly during the day? What phrase can capture the sinking realization that I am no longer a wife but a widow?
Usually mornings are the least painful time of day because I enjoy the early sunlight warming the trees, and the chipmunks and squirrels that come to beg for handouts on the porch.
But one morning recently I awoke with the frightening thought, “Now that I am no longer his wife, who am I?”
Of course, I know I am still a writer, but being his wife was the core of my identity. In fact, if faced with the choice between ever writing another word and having him back again, I would tell God, “Him. Forever and ever. Just him.”
That morning my brother-in-law was planning to stop by with some baked goods for me. When I opened the door to welcome him—and noticed for the thousandth time how much he looks like Jef—I burst into tears.
“Bad morning?” he asked as he bent down to hug me.
Of all people, he should know, since in the past few years, he has lost his sister and his brother to heart attacks—and his mother is in a nursing home with dementia.
“I don’t know who I am anymore since I’m no longer his wife,” I sobbed. “Who do I belong to now?”
“You’re still his,” he said without a moment’s hesitation.
I drew back, startled. “Of course, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that!”
It’s what my husband would have said, had he been standing there. Because my husband was a man of deep faith, someone who believed in the Communion of Saints, which is the mystical union of all souls—those still alive on earth, those being purified in purgatory and those in heaven.
A few years before his own death, Jef wrote these words to comfort a friend about the inevitability of dying: “There’s something about having someone just ‘not be there anymore’ that I don’t think anyone ever gets used to. I still think about my sister (Lisa) a lot. She died … five years ago, but I still find myself thinking things like ‘Gee, I wonder what ever happened to such-and-such from high school … I’ll ask Lisa about her.’ And then I realize I can’t anymore. It’s a lonely feeling.”
I agree wholeheartedly that it’s a lonely feeling. It’s like looking into the distance and glimpsing a procession of people whom you love, crossing a bridge to a realm outside your reach.
But he added, “I honestly believe I’ll see Lisa again. It’s just like she’s gone on a long trip overseas and will be out of touch for a long time, but I really believe someday we’ll be chatting together again.”
Now I cling to my beloved’s words, and on the whiteboard in my study I have written what I know he would say to me, “Lean on your faith.”
Each day I remind myself that in the Communion of Saints, I still belong to my beloved, while at the same time, I belong to God. And now I realize that the bridge connecting earth and heaven is closer than I once thought.
Artwork (“The Last Bridge”) by Jef Murray. You may email Lorraine at email@example.com.