What if Vic’s cancer had been caught earlier? What if the diagnosis was a mistake? Maybe he was sick because of foot x-rays in his childhood shoe stores or the irradiation of a scar on his neck before he was ten. Or maybe there was a hidden cause for this strange cancer with no known risk factors.
In 2006, Vic and I soon gave up the game of alternate realities and settled into life as it was—chemotherapy interwoven with publication of his new book or a day at the hospital followed by watching white hawks dancing over our fields.
After his death in 2008, I was that harsh word “widowed”—a woman by herself, damaged inside and out. My old life was over, but time and I went on. I hadn’t imagined otherwise and didn’t want to throw myself in the cremation fire. I wanted life but also to live my grief, not pretend it away. I wanted to learn what I was being taught and find the other side of the abyss.
Maybe I caused Vic’s cancer because I cooked too much tofu or didn’t use enough turmeric. Since that led nowhere, how fortunate I knew how to make Grandma’s tapioca pudding when his mouth was sore or he had no appetite.
I focused on gratefulness for the many years with my best friend, lover, and sparring partner. Gratitude for our family and friends, too. I thanked the heavens that I was loved fully as many never are and praised the good fortune that I was not forced to make fast decisions after his death to survive.
I had the gift of time to grieve. I wept and ached and never lost sight of my good fortune.
I remembered how his warm arms felt as he held me just days before he died, how he told me he would never stop loving me, how he snarled when at wit’s end and I snarled back. Was I sorry we snarled? A little, but mostly I was glad we trusted one another enough to growl, weep, and apologize. I was grateful Vic and I wrestled with his fear of death until, after the grace of a hug from the Dalai Lama, he was no longer afraid.
The Dalai Lama said, “Kindness is my religion.”
I learned the art of kindness by watching Vic. A nurse stuck Vic ten times as she searched for a vein. It hurt and he had been hurt so much already, but he didn’t wince. She was nervous and clumsy. He reassured and soothed her.
He breathed deeply when she poked again and found a vein. He smiled, thanked her, and apologized because it had been so difficult for her. Kindness created an alternate reality on the spot. It became my religion, too.
Remind me to be grateful for the world that remains rather than longing for a world that might have been. Remind me to be thankful for my sons and friends as we light our candles and say our prayers for the missing. Tell me to rejoice for the blessings and remind me that this life is good just as it is.
For articles about gratitude and grief, see Creating a Grief Ritual or Now Our Minds Are One: An Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Prayer of Gratitude. I also recommend Coping with the Holidays by Marty Tousley of Grief Healing. Marty has a kind wise heart, healing ideas, and a long list of resources.