A Circle of Love: My Priceless Wedding Ring

Wedding day and wedding ring, 1968

New ring on my wedding day, 1968

“It’s gone,” I cried out with tears sprinting down my cheeks. Vic was building a fire at the campground where we planned to stay that night.

“What’s gone?” he said.

“My wedding ring,” I sobbed. “It’s not on my hand.”

“When did you last see it?” he asked in problem-solver mode.

“At the rest stop this morning near Omaha. I took it off when we did yoga.” Omaha was 450 miles away, impossibly far for two people in a hurry to get to California. “I must have left it on the blanket.”

Vic pulled our yoga blanket out of the Ford station wagon and shook it. No ring. Continue reading

Waiting for Another Dance

My brother Jim and me

With my brother Jim, June 2008

My brother Jim was under anesthesia for the second time in five days. I worried and waited for news from his wife or my niece. He was weakened by chemo, radiation, and major surgery. This was an unexpected set-back.

“Hold on to the image of Jim dancing with you,” a friend suggested. I grabbed that image and held on.

Jim was my first dance partner when I was 12. He was lanky, blond, and 16. We lived in a suburb of Detroit, land of Motown, where a guy needed to learn how to dance. He practiced his steps with his little sister. He liked the heavy rhythms of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, so I did, too. When he came home during college breaks, he brought Bob Dylan records and Beatles. We kept on dancing. Continue reading

Choosing the Path of No Regrets

Martha Walsh Cohen (with permission from Sam Cohen)

Martha Walsh Cohen
(with permission from Sam Cohen)

I was at the Hospicare residence to see my sick friend Martha Cohen. She was asleep so I talked with her sister a while. Before leaving, I touched Martha’s hand. She opened her eyes and beamed a smile at me, the familiar smile I’d known for many years. Her eyes fluttered closed and she returned to the liminal world where she spent most of her time. The shadow of that welcoming smile remained on her lips.

After sitting in silence, I walked down the hall toward the exit. I glanced into the room next door to Martha’s and saw another friend, a writer I’d known for years, but at a distance. I knew she was sick, but did not know she was dying. An exhalation of relief followed the sharp shock of recognition. Good, she’s where she will get the best care and help. Continue reading

Before and After: When My Old Life Died, a New Life Began

With my sons David and Anthony

With my sons David and Anthony

My life is divided into Before—the time between meeting my husband Vic in 1966 and his death in 2008—and After.

I am no longer a wife and partner. I am still a mother, although my adult sons watch out for me as much as I watch out for them. I still have a close community of friends, but some have moved away or moved on.

The woman who was half of an entity called VicandElaine or ElaineandVic is gone. The woman who bounced decisions off Vic, told him every feeling, and called out to show him hawks soaring over the hedgerow. She’s gone. The woman who told Vic her dreams, cooked dairy-free for him, and slept beside him. Gone. Continue reading

Danger Lurked in the Sweetest Days: Artis Henderson’s ‘Un-Remarried Widow’

Artis and Miles Henderson

Artis and Miles Henderson

Artis Henderson didn’t expect to fall in love with a conservative, church-going soldier training for war in Iraq. As she writes in her elegant and poetic memoir Un-Remarried Widow, “there was danger lurking in the sweetest days.”

Artis’s husband Miles died in a helicopter crash only a few months after their marriage. At twenty-six, she lost her life partner and the future they planned, but her memoir is as much a story of love and hope as it is of grief. With rich sensory descriptions, we enjoy tender courtship and gentle love. We cheer for Artis’s resiliency and courage as she faces lessons in mortality at a young age. We empathize and fall in love with her. Continue reading

Sharing Our Grief Lightens the Load

Family without Dad

Childhood family without Dad

“I miss Dad,” I told Mom after my father died when I was 14. “I don’t know what to do.”

“I can’t talk about it,” Mom said. “I have to go to work. I don’t want to cry.”

My only brother returned to college while Mom withdrew into a shell of sorrow. I grieved alone.

No one shared funny or sad memories. No one discussed his absence or his suffering. There was no photo of Dad in our home. I remember his empty chair at the dining room table and the hollow feeling in my chest. I felt isolated and disconnected from my father, my family, and everyone. Continue reading

When I Was Your Favorite Birthday Gift

Vic's birthday 1970

Vic’s birthday 1970

On March 7, 2008 when you turned 67, cancer was winning. We feared it would be your last birthday.

At dawn, I heard muffled banging of wood against metal as you loaded the wood stove. Upstairs, I roused myself, washed my face, prayed for your health, and meditated.

I walked down the steep wooden steps and looked through your office door.  As usual, you sat at your computer, drinking coffee and eating oatmeal. You wore a t-shirt, sweats, and a heavy fleece dusted with firewood flakes. I stood beside you. You wrapped your right arm around my waist and leaned into me. You smelled of coffee and cinnamon with a trace of wood stove smoke. I inhaled you and put my arm across your shoulders. Continue reading

Blessing the Water, Blessing our Life

DSC03007A small group of women and men gathers at the south end of Seneca Lake for a sacred water ritual of gratitude and protection. I wrap a Tibetan yak wool blanket over my winter coat. It’s 15 degrees and the north wind howls. It’s a crazy day to visit the lake shore but we can’t wait for warm weather.

The gas industry has plans to store LPG gas in empty salt caverns under and around Seneca Lake. Will the caverns leak? Of course. Will there be explosions? Probably. Will this turn our beautiful tourist and agricultural region into an industrial hub? Without a doubt. Permits haven’t been granted, but the industry has money and political connections. So I show up for protests locally and in the state capital. This monthly water ritual brings a spiritual perspective to the frustrating political struggle. Continue reading

Healed by Nature, Inspired by Love

IMG_0015In 1967, Vic persuaded me to lie in a sleeping bag on the cold ground in March. We held each other while waves of green, yellow, and pink tinted the sky—a divine aurora borealis lightshow. It was the crescendo of our first winter of midnight love, Golden Delicious apples, Walter Benton’s poems, and Buffy Sainte Marie’s songs.

“Bring your sneakers,” Vic said on a sunny spring morning. He drove his battered VW bug to a rushing creek near the Cornell campus. He stood in the stream bed, grinned up at me, and held out his hand. I grabbed and stepped into the cold water. My feet were numb, but my body was on fire. We waded and walked up small waterfalls. He named the trees and pointed out the wildflowers. He was a physics graduate student, a motorcycle racer, and a wild dancer. He was also a nature mystic. Continue reading

A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Part 3, Tending the Spirit

IMG_5566

Photo by Lauren Cottrell Banner

The previous guides focused on Body and Soul, but Life doesn’t divide into neat categories. Body, soul, and spirit spill into each other, overlap, and affect each other. Here I focus on our relationship to the Higher, to Spirit wherever we find it, including the Divine in Nature.

1. Pray or meditate—in your own way or according to your religious or spiritual tradition. Consider spending part of each day in silence rather than seeking constant distraction. Meditation and prayer comfort us. In silence, we honor our loss and pray for our future. Breathe deeply and be with what is right now, even if your heart aches. Continue reading