Grief is a sacred journey

A Gift of Love Delivered Long after His Death

Vic's Italian hands, 1991

Vic in 1991

My TEDx talk has over 50,000 viewers. The numbers keep growing. I’m glad it continues to help people who grieve. My husband Vic and I met fifty years ago this week. My love keeps growing, too. In honor of that talk and his gift to me, this post is a rewrite and update about a note from my (dead) husband found just before that talk.

***

My mind felt blurry, on the edge of dizzy. I’d practiced my talk for months. I’d presented it to a friend that day, but I was scared and uncertain. Dress rehearsal was early the next morning.

“Go to bed,” I told myself at 9 p.m. “If you get ready now, you’ll be asleep by 10.”

Anthony Damiani ~1970

Anthony Damiani ~1970

I couldn’t wind down, so I shuffled through a pile of papers on the kitchen counter and found a small photo of my first spiritual teacher Anthony Damiani. It’s a duplicate of the photo I taped to Vic’s chest after a night of cardiac arrests. Nine months later, I placed that photo over Vic’s heart when he was dying. The photo went with his body to cremation. How could I be careless with my only copy of a photo I want near me when I die?

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Anandamayi Ma ~1980

I opened my worn red wallet to the hidden pocket where I hide treasures, the place where I usually kept this photo. Contents of that pocket varied over time: quotes by Rumi and the Dalai Lama, photos of Anandamayi Ma and Marion Woodman, and the photo of Anthony. In the bottom of the pocket, I noticed a piece of yellow paper, neatly folded and tucked inside a plastic card holder. Was it a quote I wanted to remember? I unfolded the paper and read:

 E,
         You are the center of my life. Never doubt my love.                                                                                                                                                                   V

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A simple message in my husband Vic’s clear Catholic school handwriting. The words I needed that night.

When did he write it? He often wrote me notes. Had he left it on the kitchen counter or dining room table when he was alive over six years ago? Did he write it when he was sick and we were worried? Did I tuck it away knowing there wouldn’t be more love notes?

I don’t remember. So much was forgotten in those frantic days.

I needed his support when he was sick, and he gave it until his last days. He needed my support even more. I gave it and encircled him with love. As I faced this daring and scary presentation, I longed for his reassurance. Here it was.

How does the mystery of love continue even after death? I felt Vic’s presence in my heart every day, but this love note came from another realm. As I read the words, tears rolled down my cheeks. Thank you for your love, Vic. Thank you, frazzled Elaine, for saving this note.DSC09038

The next morning, I stood on the TEDx Chemung River stage for dress rehearsal, ready to share what I’d learned about loss. Grief is an inevitable and painful part of life. Grief can teach us compassion and connection. Grief is another face of love.

Vic supported me across the veil of time. I didn’t need to remember when or why he wrote that note. I found it when I needed it, delivered on the yellow paper he usually used. That’s enough.

I slid the message into its protective folder and tucked it back into the bottom of my wallet pocket. At dress rehearsal, I carried it in my shirt pocket. During the talk the following day, I tucked it in my bra, right over my heart.

***

Have you received messages from someone after their death or found something that belonged to the person you love or a note in a margin of a book or a long forgotten letter? For other articles about the gifts of love, I suggest Languages of Love or a post about getting help from those who are still on this side of the veil, Traveling Solo, but Not Alone: Managing a Meltdown.

30 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine, what a lovely way to commemorate this sacred anniversary – Vic looking so vibrant and you holding the torch high and strong here in this space.

    To answer your question: You read and commented on a post about my finding a dollar bill in a church bulletin Mother had sent me at college 55 years earlier: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2015/09/23/moments-of-discovery-the-story-behind-the-bill/ I discovered it more than a year after her death.

    I continue to be amazed at your TedX talk – first of all, when I heard it and now to imagine the 50,000 + listeners who have benefited from those well-chosen words.

    • Thank you, Marian. I remember your story and the dollar bill your mom sent long ago. No matter how we explain or deny their continuing presence, they find a way to stay with us. Thanks for the kind words about the talk. I’m happy I still like it and feel warmly toward the woman in me who worked so hard to rise to the occasion. It’s one of the hardest and most confidence building things I’ve ever done.

  2. Divine timing Elaine. Vic was there to remind inspire you with courage when you needed it. Things we keep often find new meaning when revisited. I remember that post you wrote before your Ted talk, and I remember you choosing to wear red shoes.

    • Here’s to red shoes. I hope I get a chance to wear them this winter. In Jungian lingo and in the language of my household, this was a synchronicity experience–simultaneous inner and outer events linked by a sense of deep meaning. As I go through old boxes in a slow attempt to get rid of what I don’t need and what no one else will cherish, I find many meaningful things, but also things that were important enough to keep then but can go now. You did this when you moved. Books are hardest.

      • Oh yes, books are the hardest. And yet, with every consequent moved of purging and donating, I never got rid of a single book. When my time comes to leave this earth, I shall be known as the ‘book lady’ instead of the proverbial ‘cat lady’ LOL. 🙂

        • I will, I promise, deal with the overabundance of books. First possibility is to give to someone who will enjoy them. Some are being donated to Hospice. Others to the Library Book sale (3 boxes ready to go there). I’m working on upstairs papers and boxes and found pictures my husband drew in 1946 when he was 5. I’m taking photos of them so they can be digitalized. I haven’t begun the biggest bookcases because they’re downstairs, so I haven’t made the smallest dent. Somehow or other, I will.

  3. I loved this post the first time I read it and I loved reading it again now. Yow – 50,000 listeners for your TedTalk. Amazing.
    Over the past 2000 days, since my Marika died, I have been aware of a few messages. So often, at a perfect time I would find an earring of hers, or an old note. A card she’d given me would suddenly pop up out of nowhere. But mostly, it is my daughter’s voice I keep hearing at certain instances. “Mom, don’t be a wimp,” and “Mom, you can do this,” are the messages I get most clearly and frequently. And every time it happens, it is like receiving a hug, or sometimes – a boot in the butt.

    • Thanks, Robin. I love how they change our lives even when they’re no longer in body. I hear a lot of “Go for it” and “You can do it.” They were right. We can.

  4. Of course, you know I loved this when I read it the first time in your book, and am still feel the energy in it today after reading your blog post, Elaine. I have a story in my manuscript about a loving letter from my father that I ‘accidentally’ came across on Father’s Day the year after he died. I think I wrote about it in my blog, too.

    Love these little messages from the Other Side.

    Hugs,

    Jenna

    • Hi Jenna, You probably read this in an earlier blog. My book narrative ended long before the TEDx talk. Yup, the energy continues. If you wrote about your dad’s letter in a blog, please let me know. I don’t remember this one. Otherwise, I’ll wait (patiently) for your book. That Vic loved a good synchronicity experience! No wonder he showed up in these ways.

  5. I was very young when I first began falling in love… 2nd grade. My teacher that year began a career that lasted many decades. I had her, her very first year. She must have been in her early twenties and I worshiped her. Six or seven years ago when the neuralgia that has been plaguing me was still new, I felt the urge to track her down and thank her for the gifts her teachings had bestowed within me. How I managed to do so I can no longer remember though I’m certain It was through the intricate and infinite web of google. My phone call was answered by her niece who had arrived from the west coast to celebrate her life on that day, the day of her funeral. She was as stunned and dumbfounded as I was. I have in my possession now a wonderful heartfelt letter from her that she sent me as well as an 8×10 portrait photo of her aunt, taken of her from that very first year as a teacher. Miss Jean Newberger never married by the way.

    • Thanks for this sweet story, Dennis. The sweet love of a boy for Miss Newberger. And it all comes in a synchronicity experience to make sure you know how important this love was and is. I’m glad you have her letter and portrait. I look forward to seeing it.

  6. I remember your first post of this talk and how impressed I was when I first watched it, Elaine. Congratulations on 50,000 views! I’m so glad I was reminded again of how you used imagery and of those red shoes! As it happens, I am going to give a talk this fall at homecoming of my alma mater. My topic is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Northlawn” (the name of the residence hall that was my home for three years.)

    I think I may just have to break out those red shoes in the back of my closet. 🙂

    • Thank you, Shirley. Yes, yes, yes to red shoes or red underwear or whatever makes you feel just how flashy you can be. Your title is perfect for the occasion, and I’m sure it’s true–not that it doesn’t take time for some of those lessons to sink in.

  7. Thank you Elaine – a moving reminder of the beauty of Life and Death and how unusual things happen that show us how linked they are. I loved your TED talk when I first listened to it – I’ll listen again.

    I have my long dead parents’ letters. to me – and my mother’s yoga audio tapes – I don’t know why I’ve just thought of that. I’ll probably get them out and play them – though that may be a bit strange hearing her voice …

    • Vic loved synchronicity, as you know, so it was fitting for him to show up in a few synchronicity experiences after his death. Every letter or note from Vic feels like a treasure. I have his voice on various CDs and videos. Even though I hear poorly now, I recognize and respond emotionally to that voice. (I rarely listen to any of them now.) I’m glad you have your parents letters. My mother saved the letters I sent her, but I’m afraid I only saved a few of hers.

  8. Synchronicity at its very best. What a gift, Elaine . . . your story a gift to me.

    • Thank you, Dorothy. Vic loved synchronicity, grappled with it as a scientist, wrote about it, and enjoyed many experiences of it. He would be happy to show up in my life in this way. Be well.

  9. Your stories always touch a deep place in my heart, but this one goes deepest of all. A love like that, a synchronicity like that, a story of timeless, mythic beauty that will resonate with all who hear it long after you and I are gone. Thank you so much for sharing it again. Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie. It was just like Vic to show up in a synchronicity experience. As you well know, the soul of the universe offers these little unrepeatable miracles to all of us if we pay attention.

  10. A beautiful story and talk. Thank you so much for sharing for sharing your grief and lessons with us.

    • Your words warm my heart, Joan. Thank you. A deep longing for Vic flooded me after my brother died, reminding me that grief is not linear but more cyclic. In Ithaca yesterday, I drove past the shop (now a frame shop) where I met Vic fifty years ago. In the grocery store, I watched the excited and sometimes tense faces of the young ones returning to campus. And the worried faces of their parents. The cycles continue on.

  11. This is beautiful, Elaine. I absolutely believe that those who have passed out of this dimension remain with us always. And they do find ways of letting us know they’re around. I’m so glad Vic was with you the day of your talk, as I’m sure he is right now too. xox

    • Thank you, Mary. I appreciate your perspective. Since the late 1960s, I’ve learned many ways to look beyond the life I consciously know. Each tradition had something to offer me. I tend to look at an experience like this through a Jungian/mythological lens, so as a synchronicity where inner and outer worlds come together through meaning. I stopped trying to figure out just where Vic is other than knowing he’s within me in memory and deeply embedded in my body. I know that I don’t know and that’s OK with me. I love the Mystery.

  12. 51,000+ when I checked. It was excellent. Thanks.

    • Yes, I see that. Thank you for your comment, Jacqui. The talk usually gets around 100 new viewers a day. I’m glad it’s being recommended by many organizations that deal with end of life issues. It’s a relief to make something good from my personal troubles.

  13. I was having a particularly heart-wrenching day last week as I was taking the first steps to clean out my late beau’s house following his unexpected death 9 months ago. Why did we not move in together after 9 years as a couple? Was he waiting for his wife of 32 years, who had left him in 2002 for someone else, to come back? After all, he still lived in their house, surrounded by their things, which I now have to dispose of. I prayed that I might discover something to remind me that he had really loved me, even though I know that he did. Soon after, I stumbled across his old cell phone, a flip model that he used for years before getting his first smartphone. I charged it for a while and then switched it on. The first thing I found was a text message sitting in the phone’s outbox because he had typed in my cell number incorrectly. It read, “Tammy, whatever the future holds, I hope it holds me holding you. I love you.” Message received, my beautiful love. Message received.

    • How beautiful, Tammy. Yes, “message received.” I’m so glad you found a message of love in the midst of the hard history of his house. You’ve taken on a very difficult job, so I hope you take good care of yourself. Sending you love and support. I still haven’t dealt with all my husband’s photos, especially the slides. It takes a long time and each one is loaded with feeling.

  14. Thank you for this, Elaine. It brought tears to my eyes, but also made me smile. Now and then over the years, after my mom could no longer speak or write, I would come across an old card or note from her. I’m not sure if it was seeing her handwriting or reading her loving words – both I suppose – but it felt like a warm hug from her in that moment. One of my favorites, though not handwritten, is a little card she had the florist put in with flowers she sent me after I received a promotion at work. That tiny card and her message meant everything to me – and still does – it says, “I’m proud to be your Mom.” Knowing that is everything…

    • Yes, knowing her love and pride is everything. And your mom (and Vic) still teach us how to love and be proud of ourselves. The lessons keep coming. On Friday, at an art opening, an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while asked if I carry anything from Vic–his photo, for example. I don’t carry Vic’s photo, but I got out my wallet and opened the “secret compartment” and showed him the love note. I carry it with me. I’m glad I have an electronic copy, too. By the way, I love my t-shirt from your fundraiser for Marilyn’s Legacy. Thank you.

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