What if Vic’s cancer had been caught earlier? What if the diagnosis was a mistake? What if they’d tried a different treatment? 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. Maybe there was a hidden cause for this strange cancer with no known risk factors.
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 geese dancing over our fields.
After his death, I was that harsh word “widowed”—a woman by herself, black inside and out. My old life was over, but time and I would go on. Without Vic. I didn’t imagine otherwise. I didn’t want to throw myself in the cremation fire. I wanted life. I wanted to live my grief and not pretend it away. I wanted to learn what I was being taught and get to 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 remembered 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. I praised the good fortune that I was not forced to make fast decisions after his death to survive.
I was given 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, by grace, he was no longer afraid.
I watched his strong body go the way of all bodies. I watched him suffer and hang on. I saw his courage and my own. I learned that kindness is an essential spiritual practice at the worst of times.
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.
When I miss Vic, remind me to be grateful for the world that remains rather than longing for a world that could have been. Remind me to be thankful for my friends as we light our candles and say our prayers for the missing. Tell me to rejoice that I get along well with my family and that’s the biggest gift of all. Remind me that I still have love and life is good just as it is.
For articles about creating a personal grief ritual, see Creating a Grief Ritual or Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead. I highly 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.