I keep writing my grief journey because there is more to say. It is January and the days are starkly reminiscent of what it was like three years ago to watch fearfully as my husband of 57 years began to fade before my eyes. The snowstorms, the freezing rains, the pewter skies trigger feelings of anxiety. Winter in the Midwest, cold permeating, many months to go, and me, with a dull dread underlying those months leading up to March 7, 2016.
Today I visit a favorite store in Glen Ellyn. It is a place where Bob bought me jewelry for special occasions, a place where the proprietor “knows my name” and knew his. A place where, when I visited a few weeks after he died, the owner, Margo asked, “and how’s Bob?” When I told her he had died she began to cry, came around the counter and hugged me.
Today I am on a mission. I am on a mission to replace the last gift he bought me on Valentine’s Day 2016. He bought it three weeks before he passed to heaven.The gift is a beautiful bracelet with semi-precious stones of variable colors and designs, linked with silver so that it hangs loosely on my wrist. He writes a Valentine message in an accompanying card which I keep in my Bible. I wear the bracelet every day. And every night I take it off with my watch and place it on the cherry red velvet seat of an antique chair in my bedroom, ready to be worn the next day.
The cemetery is familiar territory. A solemn respite in Midwestern environs. A family plot. A place where a young sibling, both parents and my husband’s earthly remains reside. We gather in scattered twos and threes. A stone urn our focal point. Early morning sun gleams gold, long rays streaking turf. We shiver for autumn chill penetrates. We are here for Pat, oldest Carlson sibling. “The smartest one” who lost her daunting mental capacity a little more than three years ago. Whose keen awareness as cognition failed wounded her heart, our hearts. We watched her slip, slip away.
I’m losing my knee in a few days. Oh it’s not an amputation. They call it a “replacement”…a “new knee”, a “titanium wonder”. I’ve tried the gels and shots and creams and sprays and Physical Therapy stints. I know I should be thankful to be living in an era when knee replacement is an option. And part of me IS grateful for that fact. But part of me is sad. Another loss, another transition, another reminder of time passing and body parts wearing out and things not how they used to be.
Once a widow client of mine said year four was the hardest. Just into year three I find I am struggling with an alone-ness that is visceral, the proverbial “lonely in a crowd” feeling that lives with me, now tugs at my heart, lurks in the recesses of my mind, conjures memories without warning. I’m dreaming often, of Bob, he on the periphery perhaps, or center stage but still obscure, a shadow person whom I long to grasp, to hold, to lean against, to breathe in. The dreams are not nightmares. But they are elusive, painful.
Spring comes hard to the Midwest. This morning a 29 mile an hour wind buffets oaks, slants rain horizontal, creeps into window crevices, plummets temperatures to high 30’s. It could snow tomorrow! I clutch hot coffee with both hands. Watch from my bed nature’s onslaught. Defying the golden hope of warmer days, benign winds. Defying a spring when all of Nature’s varied greens abound.
My old Jeep Cherokee sits forlorn, hunkered among the gleam and glitz of models who glare new-ness in the afternoon sun. My old Jeep served us well. Never mind leather worn seats, a nick or two on her body. Never mind I’ve put money into her since Bob died, me on yet another learning curve called “car maintenance”.
Robin Sharma is often quoted for the popular saying, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous in the end.” Not many of us profess to liking change. We tend to fearfully avoid it, and stubbornly resist the inevitable waves that flow through our lives at various stages. Change demands a response from us we may or may not be prepared to give. Change, whether chosen or forced upon us can bring incredible opportunity for something greater to develop than we ourselves imagined. But why is it so uncomfortable, even when we know it is good?
I loved his hands. Neat, square and strong. Nails clipped, slightly callused. Capable hands. Hands that gripped an ax, chopped wood, built a fire with finesse. Hands that tinkered. Hands that produced a distinctive, legible cursive. Hands that raked an acre of land with 20 odd oaks every autumn for 44 years.