essays grief and death

29

August 25, 2013

remains-of-the-day-1

Twenty-nine years ago today, Lee and I were married.

I remember waking up at that morning about 5, in a panic. Lee was sleeping soundly, so I got on my motorcycle and took a long, bracing ride to see if I could calm myself down. It helped only a little. The entire day, I could barely take a sip of water, let alone eat. But, since we were putting the wedding on by ourselves, there were lots of things to do, and being busy helped.

The nerves were just that: nerves, and nothing more, but I couldn’t explain them. I had no doubts whatsoever about marrying Lee; of that I was sure.

Looking back on it through the lens of twenty-nine years, I now know that something in me realized that this was the biggest thing I would ever do in my life. I was taking a leap into a world that I had no idea existed only a year before, and it scared me. Lee told me later that it scared her as well, but the fact that we–she and I–were doing it together calmed her.

It wasn’t until about an hour before the ceremony that the butterflies disappeared. I went in to give Lee one last kiss as she dressed. I walked in her room, and there she was, standing serene, confident and stunningly beautiful. And, with a short, “I love you” kiss–the kind that many couples share a few times a day without ever really thinking about it–all the nervous energy that had tangled itself up inside me just washed away.

Lee always radiated that power and that confidence, and that’s one of the things that I will miss most about her. A month and a half after her death, I’m only just learning how to try to pull that strength out of me to push me on through each minute of every day.

Grief turns out to be surprisingly tidal. It has an ebb and flow that that moves outside the normal cadences of life, making it hard to grab on to a consistent spot in time that you can reliably claim for rest. I have been reflecting hard upon this over the past few weeks, and have come to accept this. If grief truly nestled within the contours of my daily life, I think it would dig a pit of despair inside me.

However, the thing that has surprised me most in this short time is discovering how much Lee is part of me. I feel as though that many of the things that make me the person I am today are a direct line from that beautiful, strong and loving woman to whom I married 29 years ago. I just never really noticed this before she left, because her physical presence was so great in our daily lives.

And right now, when that presence has been replaced by an unbelievably deep silence that shadows me daily, there are times when I am able to draw on the essence of her that has burrowed inside me. I use it as a protected piece of shoreline that remains safely above the tides of grief, but still lets me view the majesty that was our relationship.

Knowing how much Lee loved the ocean, I think she would approve of that metaphor.

I wish I had a better image to share than the one above, but this is the best I can do for now; it’s how I feel. But I’ll also leave with my favorite photo of Lee, taken right around the time I went to give her that kiss on our wedding day (her sister Anne is on the right). She was so happy, excited, and ready to go on an adventure into that unknown new world with me. And an adventure is exactly what we got.

lee-wedding-pre

[Click the image to see it bigger. Image of Lee © Phil Dorion.]

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8 Comments

  • Reply Maria August 25, 2013 at 4:55 am

    What is it about 29 years? My relationship lasted almost that long, too. And it also ended sadly.

    I wish there was something I could say to take away the pain, but I know there isn’t. Remember your adventure together, remember your love for each other, remember that even good things come to an end — even if that end is much sooner than we want. Cherish the memories of the time you spent together doing the things that made your relationship so special. But then remember that that part of your life is over now, like a long and very good book that you’ve just finished. There’s nothing left now but a few blank pages. Close the book and put it on the shelf. Move forward with your life. Try not to let your sadness prevent you from starting the next book.

    Best wishes to you always.

  • Reply Jennifer B. August 25, 2013 at 10:57 am

    This is really beautiful, Rick. Having been married to my perfect match for 7 years, I already feel some of the “part of each other”ness that you’re describing. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply Terri Stone August 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you for this, Rick. Lovely image, lovely essay. I hope you don’t mind, but I shared it with a friend who has been dealing with losses in her own life.

  • Reply Carolyn August 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    The gifts of your love grew and grew. You a very much a reflection of this process. I cherish the memories of your physical union but as we spoke tonight, I thank and appreciate the power of that love. The man who is my big brother is amazing, and offers great comfort, wisdom, and compassion to others. I believe these gifts grew and matured as your loved and hearts entwined enhancing your inner qualities. Happy Anniversary my loves!

  • Reply Hudson August 26, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Both photos are heart touching, but no photo can compare with your accompanying words. Just beautiful Rick.

  • Reply Jim Rea August 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Rick, I’m so sorry to hear this news. My wife and I lost our only child almost a year ago, your metaphor of grief as a tide that ebbs and flows at its own rthjym very much matches my own experience. After a year the tide still rages from time to time, though to extend the metaphor a bit, you’ll probably eventually find yourself building a partially effective sea wall. Of course the problem with that is it blocks out the joy as well as the pain. So I try to keep it just enough to prevent drowning.

    If you haven’t already, you might want to read Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking”, which chronicles the year she lost both her husband and daughter. I found that she very artfully expressed the experience of her grief in a way that helped me deal with it a bit. I find that no matter how empathetic a person is, if they haven’t been through this kind of loss themselves, they have no idea (and that includes the younger version of myself).

    I haven’t been to Portland in many years, but I hope our paths cross again at some point. Until then, best wishes.

    • Reply rick August 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Jim,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine how awful it must be to lose a child.

      I read “The Year of Magical Thinking” when it came out. I thought it was an amazing and touching book. It’s on my list to read again now that I’m on the other side.

      Peace,

      Rick

      • Reply Jim Rea August 28, 2013 at 11:01 pm

        I think I’ve read pretty much everything by Joan Didion, it sounds like perhaps you have also. But “The Year of Magical Thinking” sat on my shelf for years — given how powerfully her writing affects me, the subject matter intimidated me a bit. I would look at it from time to time and think, now is not the time. As it turned out, the timing worked out just right.

        The last time we met was at MacWorld Expo a few years back. You gave me your card with your e-mail address, but when I went to drop you a line when I got home I discovered that I had somewhere misplaced it between the show floor and the trip home. I always wanted to keep in touch with you, if you are agreeable please drop me a line. I assume you have my e-mail address since I registered it with this blog, but if not, it is jim@the same damn company as the last twenty-nine years! In the meantime I’ve been following you on Google+, which is how I found this post.

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