I wait for Vic to call. I saw him exhale without inhaling again. I washed his body, shrouded it, and zipped him into a body bag. Still I wait.
“May I speak to Vic,” a voice says when his cell phone rings a week after his death. How do I tell her without burning her ears and hurting her? I don’t even try.
“He’s dead,” I say.
I turn Vic’s cell phone off and leave it on his desk, but wonder how he will call me. I turn it back on and charge it. It sits for a month. Occasionally it rings. Occasionally I say, “I’m sorry, but he’s dead.” After two months, I am ready.
“Hello, customer service,” a young woman chirps when I call Verizon. “How may I help you today?”
“I need to cancel my husband’s cell phone.”
“Oh, we’ll have to talk to him to do that,” she says. So innocent. “Is he there?”
“He’s dead,” I say, trying to hide the catch in my voice while I wipe dripping tears with paper towel.
“Oh, oh,” she cries out. “I’m sorry. We’ll need a death certificate. Please hold while I look up the account.”
“It’s in his name,” I tell her, “Victor Mansfield.” I sob out his name. I hear gasps on the other end of the phone, then sniffling mews, then a sob.
“Please,” she says, “let me put you on hold while I compose myself.”
“No, stay, please stay,” I beg. “It’s OK if we cry. It’s good if you cry with me. We can cry while we make the changes. Please stay.” The line is quiet. “Are you there?”
“I’m here. I won’t put you on hold,” she says in a whisper. She blows her nose. We cry as she tells me where to send the death certificate and agrees to send the details by email.
“I can’t remember things,” I tell her. “I’m muddled by grief.”
“I’ll email everything,” she says. “Don’t worry. I’m so sorry. I just lost my mother.”
“Oh, that’s hard,” I say, realizing she’s probably overstepped the boundaries of what she should tell a customer. “I’m glad you told me. It’s not good to hide our grief. Being human hurts.”
By the end of the call, I am the primary and only person on my cell phone account. A few hours later, I put a copy of Vic’s death certificate in an envelope with the forms she emailed and send it off. I hold his cell phone in my palm and press it to my cheek. This phone was our lifeline when I spent a few hours sleeping at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge while he slept in his hospital room during the stem cell transplant. It kept us connected when I went to town to buy groceries. This magic tool allowed me to sleep upstairs when he coughed all night, knowing he could call me with the push of a button.
A week before he died, my cell phone rang on my bedside table at 3 A.M. It was Vic. I knew things were bad or he wouldn’t disturb my sleep. He was downstairs, but too weak to climb the steps or call my name.
“I can’t breathe, E,” he whispered from the phone. “I need you to help me.”
“I’ll be right down,” I said.
Two months after Vic’s death, I place his canceled phone on my altar near his photo. It will not ring again, but I’m not worried. If he needs to call, he’ll figure out how reach me.
Did you experience “magical thinking” after the death of someone close to you? For other posts about life after loss, see The Cancer Survivor or My Wedding Ring, My Lucky Charm.
Oh Elaine that made me cry. I can’t even touch Pete’s death certificate. Hell I can hardly even think about it. After 18 months I’m still in denial of his death. I really related to this. I too have had to tell various official people that he died. They always say how sorry they are but I know they are just doing their job. This one sounds lovely.
Hard, Jan, and no hurry. My walls are hung with photos Vic took and I still have some of his clothes because my younger son uses them to work in the woods when he comes home. I live in a physical world steeped in Vic and build a new life on this strong foundation. After more than 5 years, I’m considering, just considering, sorting through and digitalizing thousands of Vic’s slides and negatives. There are so many memories in those images. This will be heart-breaking, but also a treasure for my writing and for my sons because they’ll never have the time or will to do the sorting.
Yes, the people on the other end of the phone do their job. I begged this woman to stay with our feelings and not compose herself at a distance. Surprisingly, she agreed. I wonder if she remembers the conversation, too.
I can soul identify with this…when we would talk about Web’s death together, I would ask him to call me or send me an email when he got “there”. I am also still waiting… gentle hugs my sweet friend.
What a smart idea, Kay Marie. Vic told me he’d help me from the other side during my life and at my own death–if he could. It’s all such a mystery, but I feel his support everyday. Is it Vic or the Vic in me or the strong foundation of the life we built while he was here? So good to share these memories with you–and gentle cyberhugs.
How magical these cell phones seem in the aftermath of loss, Elaine! After my son died, I would call his cell phone number just to hear his recorded voice telling me to leave a voicemail message. I also read and reread the months of text messages we had exchanged, just trivial things like arranging to meet for dinner or a ride home, but they seemed so valuable, a link to what could never again so casually be taken for granted. We must hold our beloved Collin and Vic in our hearts now.
Suzanne, these small “trivial” memories became the most precious tokens of love for me. We didn’t have text messages when Vic was alive, but I saved every little email and love note he sent. I am glad my son’s text messages are in my phone. Everything seems impermanent now and every message could be the last. This is not a depressing to me, just realistic. You know better than I. I’m grateful for the photos Vic took of the two of us the summer before he died. He set up his camera on a tripod outside. I said, “I don’t have time now and my hair’s a mess and I’m wearing a stained shirt.” He absolutely insisted. Thank you, Vic. And thank you Colin for being here while you were and sending messages to your mom. Maybe you know this poem or read it in a recent post I wrote about grief poems:
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
Oh, Elaine, I wept my way through this…my tears are for you and for me and for all those who have heard that final exhalation. Well after Bill died, I took his phone up to the cell phone store. We knew the people there. The gal put his greeting on a CD for me. I have very little of his voice and it was his voice I fell in love with before even meeting him. I listen to that message on occasion and all those magical feelings return along with the tears of course. And yes, I still wait….knowing, of course, he will not walk through the door but the memory is sweet and sad.
Thank you, Mary. I’m so glad you had loving help with the cell phone and have a CD of Bill’s voice. I have Vic’s voice on a few CDs and video clips. Sometimes I watch the videos, weep, and wonder at the magic comings and goings of life. It was hard to take Vic’s voice message off the answering machine of our house phone, too. AFter I put up my own message, my sons said, “Mom, you have to make a new message. You sound so sad.” I was, but finally I recorded a more cheerful greeting. This waiting and longing are so common. We know the body is gone, but something so strong remains.
I can feel Waiting for a Call in my skin (as I did when you read it aloud in class). The conversation with the customer service lady is so tender, so painful, and so comforting all at once. The addition of the picture of Vic and the death certificate add visual dimension. The last picture, covered in glass, with the phone and the Dali Lama, provides a further visual layer of literal and metaphoric reflection. Thank you, Elaine, for such a moving piece of writing.
Ellen, I am deeply indebted to you for hearing my stories for so many years now and helping me write from the heart. Thank you for reading this and admiring the photos. I love laying out my stories on Word Press and finding images that work.
With gratitude and love,
I grabbed for the Kleenex box twice today thinking about your recollections of waiting for the call from Vic. I spent a year waiting for Sam to call collect from Bolivia like Sundance, like he’d escaped with Butch Cassidy somehow. In my own experience of sudden loss, I learned to be open to all channels of communication, and in so doing, leaned into Spirit.Thank you for your generosity in sharing your story of a cell phone which surely resonates with so many others touched by grief.
Jill, I love the way you write a little story in a few short sentences, but it’s a sad story. Almost anyone who has lost their partner has had this experience of waiting for a call or seeing their beloved driving a car down the road or seeing them in a crowd. I think it’s even more common with sudden death. I wonder if our mystical magical mind knows something the rational mind doesn’t. I guess we won’t know until it’s our turn to go to the other side. I don’t expect to see Vic outwardly anymore, but I feel him inwardly and he’s always available. I get to do all the talking, answer my questions any way I want, and inner Vic never interrupts or gets bored. He feels so far away and yet right here.
Your words resonate with me. “I learned to be open to all channels of communication, and in so doing, leaned into Spirit.”
And I’m so sorry for your loss.
Kathleen, thanks for bringing attention to that beautiful line in Jill’s comment: “I learned to be open to all channels of communication, and in so doing, leaned into Spirit.” Jill is not only a top-of-the-line book development editor and social media expert with Swenson Book Development, she’s also a wonderful writer with a blog at jillybooks.wordpress.com.
Goodness gracious Elaine, this broke my heart and opened the floodgates. I am once again sorry for your loss. I commend you for your strength to carry on writing, and so eloquently. So glad to have connected with you 🙂
Thank you, D.G. This is such a common experience when we lose a spouse or a child or parent we often contacted by phone–and for many, like us, the cell phone became a connection that allowed a little separation if only for a few hours to run errands without worrying that we couldn’t get in touch. So important while he was in the hospital so I could take a walk in the Mount Hope Cemetery across from the hospital each day. (“Conveniently located cemetery,” Vic quipped. I miss him and his sense of humor.) Thanks for writing. I’m glad we connected, too. I need to visit your site. I’m behind because of a guest blog this week and running a bereavement group. I hope to get there tomorrow.
I agree, this writing was powerful, & I especially love how you began it. My mother relied on her phone so much in the last few weeks; it was her “trusty companion.” Over 1 year later, I regularly start to call her, otherwise, how will she know how I’m doing? I appreciate your altar photo, too. It’s a comfort for me to have a physical presence like an altar, to stand in for the physical presence of our loved person.
Thank you, Lisa. I put my husband’s cell phone back on the altar in front of his picture to take the photo and it still sits there. I’m glad he visits in my dreams, but mostly he’s an inner presence. I know you miss your mom, too. A year is a short time, although our culture tells us we should be over it. Not true in other cultures and we are changing that notion here, one step, one dish at a time. I love my ever-moving, ever-changing, living, loving altar(s). I have special altars in the woods, too.
You are so sweet Elaine, no worries, when you have time, I’m always there! 🙂
This really made me cry E, then I had to run off to the laundromat… ah life.
Come back from the laundromat and read these replies. Crying again.
Love is beautiful.
Love is beautiful and also sad. I’m glad my piece touched you. I think we all have experiences of feeling the person we lost is still around and also isn’t.
Somehow your note made me think of a photo Vic took of a scowling me talking on my cell phone in AZ. He found something to love in that grumpy part of me, too, and that made our relationship work. Thank you for reading and commenting, and for always, always being there.
Thank you, Dear Elaine….especially for reaching out across a cultural barrier to let you be person to person in shared grief with a phone receptionist…gratitude
Jayne, in a state of young raw grief, I didn’t think it over. I just begged. I didn’t want her to leave me emotionally and I didn’t want to call back and go through the procedure again after finding the resolve to make the cancellation call. I was taught, as I was throughout Vic’s illness, that everyone suffers and carries a bag of grief. Thank you your loving note.
A riveting story, so poignant, Elaine. I still have my husband, but sooner or later, one of us will be in the throes of grief and mourning like this. It’s biblical to “weep with those who do weep” and so therapeutic. Your use of dialogue makes that truth even more vivid.
As I was reading, I had to think of Joan Didion’s My Year of Magical Thinking.
Marian, I read Joan Didion’s book soon after Vic died. This magical or mystical thinking (the one who died is here and not here) is such a common response to loss. We expect that person to call, or our mother to show up, or the child we lost to walk through the door. We see a dog and think it’s our dog, the one who just died. I have many private responses from women who focused on the phone the way I did, especially if they used their phone to keep in touch with the person when they weren’t at the bedside. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I hope my writing is not only for women who have lost partners or spouses. I want it to be for everyone touched by mortality–and that’s all of us. Thanks again.
Your stories continue to touch my heart, Elaine. What a priceless gift you gave to that cellphone representative. This is a lovely example of what can happen when grief is openly acknowledged and shared, even with a stranger. (I seriously doubt that this woman will ever forget this conversation.) ♥
Thank you, Marty. When you love my pieces, I know I’ve scored. So many have resonated with this post as they too wait for a call or catch a glimpse of their child who has died or see their deceased wife drive by in a car. And then, of course, we expect to hear our beloved dogs bark or our cats meow to tell us they’re back home. I wasn’t able to hide my grief from the representative. I needed to follow through and grief was not going to be contained. Ii also imagine she remembered, too. Thanks for your encouraging words.
Elaine, I cried reading this. Thank you for showing us the way to allow ourselves to cry with grief. You did a service to the customer service rep you spoke with.
A friend of mine found a cell phone Adrian had lost in the woods–about a year later, in the snow. He was not good at keeping track of things. Even though the phone was rusted and ruined, it took me a long time to part with it.
Thank you, Lynne. This brings up associations for so many who have lost someone through death or abandonment. And when I could not hide my grief (and I’m still not good at holding back tears), I found that people were nearly always empathetic and there was a meeting of hearts. Thank you for your comment. I still have Vic’s cell phone and put it back on my altar after writing this piece. Just a reminder of how deeply in touch we are inwardly.
Why did I want to laugh when I saw the death certificate? Just to release some of the pressure from the grief? I don’t think so. It’s just all there in your writing, and this piece, in my opinion, is the one where you don’t pull any stops, all of your tricks are there. Stunning.
Thanks, Fred, for your gorgeous praise, if tricks are praise. I take it that way. Hey, we’re all going to have a death certificate. I’d never seen one until Vic’s death. And so many need it–insurance company, Town Clerk to change title of house, holders of IRA, bank, and I don’t remember who else. The car was already in my name, but if Vic’s name was on a document, they needed a death certificate–with an official raised seal. I watch other widows in my groups struggle with all the official necessities soon after a death. One of the most bizarre and common parts of modern death. This piece rang a bell for many who read my little pieces. I’m glad it rang yours, too.
I didn’t cry until I got to the part where the young lady said she’d just lost her mother. For some reason I busted out bawling. One second I was reading along and the next second I had to stop, have a good cry, then finish the story. I stared at the photo of Vic and his phone for a long time. I love that you have an altar where you keep things to remember him by.
As you know, I just lost my dad this past May. I wasn’t even thinking of Dad until I got to that part where the young lady talked about her mother. I still have my dad’s cell phone number on my address list and I’ve tried to save a couple of his voicemails. Sometimes I listen to him say, “Hi, it’s just Dad calling.”
Thank you for helping us grieve… I just tweeted this link and will share on FB.
Hugs to you and Willow,
Thank you for sharing this widely, Kathleen, and for your beautiful reflections here. I hear those simple words, “Hi, it’s just Dad calling.” Just dad. Who could have imagined how precious that phrase would become. So glad you found a way to save the message.
My cell phone piece felt simple and close to my heart. There were many things happening at that time as you might imagine, and I didn’t include this scene in my book. Maybe I should rethink that since it strikes a cord for so many. It certainly did for me as I began recalling the details and writing them down. I also returned to my trusty journals to see what I’d said about it at the time.
I deeply appreciate your support, Kathleen. I know Denton does, too.
Elaine, thank you for sharing this elegant and eloquent account of waiting for that call. Many years ago, when my husband was murdered, I experienced a sort of magical “seeing.” I would see him everywhere I went: malls, cleaners, grocery story..he seemed to be trying to tell me something. I never found out what it was, but his appearances came and went for almost a year. I’ve never felt free to tell anyone about it until this very moment. So, thank you for jostling that memory.
Joy, I cannot imagine the shock of your experience. Absolutely unbearable. I honor you for putting a life back together and getting through to where you are now. I know others who “see” the person they love and lost wherever they go–sometimes fleeting, but sometimes strong images or a sense of truly physical presence. I saw Vic in my dreams many times a week in the beginning, and dreams helped me absorb and face how traumatized I’d been by witnessing some of his suffering. His death when it came was gentle and peaceful, and I am thankful when I hear your story. In time I felt he was sending this message: “Even though my body is gone, love is still here. You don’t have to give up our love.” And in time, I felt the love grew wider than just my love for this one person and became a more Universal Love. I send you a big hug. Thank you for sharing this deep experience. I know you are not alone in it.
For weeks after my best friend died in a crazy traffic wreck, I moped about, mentally planning my own funeral services, always talking about her in the present until my kids were rolling their eyes. I missed and miss her more than my parents or other family. No one understood. Another friend said “You will always have her in your pocket.” The magical thinking kicked in and I heard a whisper “Stop it. If you keep on moping they’ll think you’re nuts and medicate you and separate us.” I put her in my pocket, comfortable for 13 years now and shut up about her for the most part. I talk about her very, very carefully. I’m pretty sure she is in at least one other person’s pocket too. I don’t mind. Maybe I am nuts.
Not one bit nuts, Judy. This reminds me of the fairytale Vasilisa the Beautiful (sometimes called Vasilisa’s Doll). Vasilisa’s mother dies and as it is in fairy tales, the girl has to go to an unknown place in the deep forest to get fire or light from Baba Yaga (the old Death Mother or Witch). Of course the journey was frightening (just as life often is), but Vasilisa’s mother had left her a doll that the girl carried in her pocket. When Vasilisa didn’t know which way to turn or how to deal with Baba Yaga, she consulted the doll. With the doll’s help, Vasilisa survived, got the fire, confronted her fear, and returned home safely. If you read the story (maybe you already know it), you’ll know you tapped into an ancient mythological wisdom. Now you have your sister with you all the time, always there, in your pocket. Some might call me crazy, too, but I’ve been a student of Jungian Psychology and mythology for many years and find such experiences bring out universal human truths. I’m glad you’ve found a way to carry your sister with you–but we won’t talk about it at the grocery store or to most Verizon representatives. I’m grateful you shared your experience.
I haven’t lost my husband and I hope and pray that time is still a long way away….Today almost to the hour, 50 years ago Jackie O. lost JFK in such a horrific way…..and I have always had a huge soft spot for your Vic. And he spoke at our wedding as you recall. I am so appreciative of your writing and cry often when I read something of yours. I could easily have been that customer service person from the phone company and I would have asked your permission to call you back now and then to see how you were doing….
Lisa, yes, you would have called me back to make sure I was OK, but the Verizon rep did a lot by staying with me and my feelings and her own when I needed her. I always wonder if she remembers that conversation, too. Then you help me remember that day in Dallas and where I was at the time (a freshman at Cornell) and how stunned we were as a nation. It marked a big sea change in this country and the images and feelings stay. Thank you for reading my posts and for remembering and loving Vic with me. It’s a blessing to have old friends with deep connections. We are lucky. Sending you and Bill love.
Thanks for this, Elaine. I still hear a car pull in the drive, especially in the fall when fallen leaves crunch, and expect it to be my daughter coming home with her dirty laundry, wanting a home-cooked meal. If I happen to hear her old cellphone ringtone I break down. But I love these little triggers. It makes me sad but more than that, it makes me feel like some part of her is still nearby. Funny what a sound or odor can bring to mind. Cheers.
Robin, it’s been 5 1/2 years since Vic died. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by intense aching and longing and bottomless tears. I lived more in the past than in the present, going over and over the experiences, writing them down, needing to remember everything and replay the scenes, especially the hardest ones. Now, I still miss him and wish he were here every day, but it doesn’t hurt so much and I have a new life built on the strong foundation of my life with him. I know it would be different with a child, but you see similarities, too.
Once again. Beautiful piece Elaine. Always touched by your ability to be so raw and sensible both.
I am still open to my sister Devon making her presence known, even though I think the individual entity dissolves after death. These contrary feelings stay even though my rational mind says they can’t. Dissolve into the All and yet retain enough mind stream to communicate? It’s all so murky.
I love the way you tied the Vasalisa story to Judy’s experience in your comments. You are good at seeing and explaining the wisdom these stories carry.
Thank you, dear Lauren. I love seeing my writing through your generous lens. I also wonder about presence and dissolution and share your questions. Vic the individual man with that particular body is gone. But does some essence of that individuality remain? I had frequent vivid dreams of Vic, some carrying essential information and lessons. In many of those dreams, he was both dead and alive. Is my sense of his presence something in the outer world or is it all the Vic within me? And I’m not even sure there is a distinction. Murky, yes, murky. I do know Vic marked this land everywhere and I feel him in that way. I feel his presence and absence at the same time, with me no matter where I am.
This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in falling in love again. I don’t look for it. I don’t expect it. But if I were given that gift, I’d go for it in a second. Who can resist love?
Oh my goodness, Elaine, I went through almost the same thing with my husband’s cell phone when he died in 2008! It took me a couple of months to have it turned off. It seemed so final, like cutting the communication between us for good. I would call it just to hear his voice message. But after taking the plunge and turning off the phone, I was fortunate to have many experiences of synchronicity in the months that followed to let me know part of Harold was still with me: a song we loved played at 8:14 am on my car radio on the way to work (Harold was born Aug 14); two eagles flying low overhead in sky outside my office on my first day back to work after his death (we both loved raptors and especially eagles…I never saw eagles in that area before or since); a movie picked at random…not knowing the theme…about a woman who loses her husband and learns to deal with the grief (I had my longest cathartic cry I’d had since he died after seeing that movie…the man playing the deceased husband reminded me so much of Harold)…and on and on.
Thank you for this post. It is good to know that others have experienced what I went through and that there are many ways to deal with our feelings of loss and grief, including magical thinking!
Thank you for telling your moving story. I had many experiences of Vic after his death, but the strongest were in dreams. I also felt him everywhere on our land (he loved and tended the forest) and within my heart and mind. Five one-half years later, he is still my constant companion, encouraging me to live a fruitful and good life as I promised him I would. He still visits me in dreams, but not with the ferocious grief and raw loss that was there in the beginning. Now there is a loving inner calm masculine presence supporting me.
Thank you for reading and commenting. I know Joan Didion’s phrase magical thinking and resonate with descriptions in her book. I call the continuing sense of presence that many experience after a death “mystical thinking.” It has a gravity and depth that magical doesn’t imply. I don’t try to figure out if this presence is purely inner to me or something to do with the outer individual. And I don’t pretend to understand the concurrence of a sense of absence and presence.
Do you know Vic’s first book was called ‘Synchronicity, Science and Soul-making’? It was the most popular of his three books and is still available. I need to explore your site.
Sending love back to you,
Thank you Elaine. I agree about the mysticism and connection between loved ones…I have many, many more stories. I’m currently writing a book about dreams and synchronicity. I must check out Vic’s first book. I may have already read it…did my master’s thesis on journaling events of synchronicity…read dozens of books about synchronicity at that time.
Jenna, Vic’s book was popular for a book about an esoteric topic. First published in 1995 and 4 or more printings until 2001. Now it’s available as print on demand. I look forward to reading what you write. I write about dreams and mythology (Orpheus and the Green Man) a little in my book and just did the Orpheus piece on Jean Raffa’s blog. It hasn’t been easy for me to write about mythology in an engaging way, but Jean gave me the opportunity to practice. I will do more. It just struck me in responding to you that I have studied goddess mythology for over 25 years with a mythology class that has been meeting all those years and with Marion Woodman. We had never focused on a god before, but we were studying Orpheus when Vic was dying. Then 8 days after his death, I dreamed that I would live in the house of the Green Man for one year. The dream is more complex, but it was a huge ray of life and hope at a bleak time and let me know that I would find healing in nature. I obviously needed support from the male archetypes.
I wasn’t home today, but have your website at the top of my list for this week.
Thanks so much for being in touch. Have a peaceful safe holiday,
thank you for this. My dad passed away last week and dealing with all the administrative stuff has been very bizarre.
One thing happened, when I emptied my dad’s ratty beat up wallet, I simply could not bring myself to throw it away. I am keeping it. I guess it was because it held so much of his energy, it comforts me.
Jessica, I’m so sorry you lost your dad. My dad died when I was 14. I still think of him (and write about him.) Whether your dad’s death was sudden or expected, it’s a hard time for you and your family. Dealing with things like death certificates, car registrations, and cell phones feels odd–as though we have to change things and face what has happened before we’re ready. When we’re dazed and exhausted, it’s hard to focus on worldly decisions. But the government and credit card company don’t want to wait.
Hang on to that wallet or anything else of his as long as you want to. The things they touched many times or held close to their body are precious (to some of us). I kept my husband’s wallet for a long time. One of our sons now has his wallet, but I still have his glasses. Writing down what happened (just as you did in this note to me) helps us digest the experience and preserves the memories we most care about.
I wish you well and hope you have plenty of support. If you could use more, you might look up Grief Healing Discussion Groups http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/
I sorry for your loss, Elaine. The Verizon customer service representative was unusual and kind. I salute her.
About the waiting for a call is not unusual. Might I suggest a book that taught me a lot when my mother left us recently. You have probably heard of Joan Didion. She wrote, “The Year of Magical Thinking”, which explains how she vacillates: cannot visit places they knew together; she sees him / she doesn’t; if she had…than;
You own writing is remarkable. You are an excellent writer. I enjoyed this excerpt.
Thanks, Tess. I’m so sorry you lost your mom. Our difficult human condition. My husband died five years ago, so in this piece, I write about an event that happened then. (My life has gone through many changes, of course. I’m now a bereavement worker at hospice and lead groups for women who have lost spouses or partners as well as working with individuals. I’ve digested a lot–and miss my old life, but I’m always grateful for my wonderful 42 year love affair with my husband.)
Joan Dideon’s book was one of the first I read. It helped and is a good one to recommend. I think of this experience as “mystical” thinking more than “magical.” There is hidden truth in our experience that the person who died is both absent and still very present. I take it as a hint about the Oneness of all Being. Waiting for a call is common, or a glimpse in a crowd, or driving by in a car. My husband appeared in dreams many times a week in the first few years as I struggled to digest his loss and stop replaying his suffering in my head. I love being places that my husband and I shared, because I like remembering him. I don’t try to avoid grief, but let it in and let it transform me.
I found writing essential to healing. I kept journals during my husband’s illness and have written many pieces (and a book that will be out in fall 2014) about our experience, often using notes from those journals. Thanks for reading and commenting, and thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this. I’m honored.
Thank you for sharing such a poignant story…
The young lady from Verizon was blessed to pick up your call that day; perhaps hearing the voice of someone who understood was what she needed more than anything.
It sounds like that call had less to do with conducting business than with the human connection you both felt in those few moments.
As I read your writings, I think how proud Vic must be of you. By sharing your experiences and innermost thoughts and emotions, you help all of us immeasurably.
Yes, Vic would be proud of me. He already was.
I think when we’re in that most vulnerable and open part of grief, the place where we want to tell the check-out person at the grocery that someone we love just died, We usually hold back. Sometimes I didn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t, and sometimes hearts met. When we talk about losing someone, there can be instant intimacy and the other person empathizes and relates because they’ve lost someone, too. And yet we are so afraid.
Sending love back your way,
It’s all about taking that chance and possibly making the connection.
I think one of the hardest things following a loss is that everyone around us so quickly returns to “normal” life, when we want to scream out — “WAIT… do you realize that I have lost my (parent, spouse, best friend, etc)! Stop acting like everything is okay! It’s NOT okay!!
And then when we connect with someone who understands, it’s like magic… so comforting.
I agree, Ann. People forget or head for the hills. I have a community of friends (many since the late 1960s and 1970s) who stuck with Vic and me, and I don’t know what I would have done without them after his death.
But when I walked out into the world to do the ordinary shopping or go to the bookstore, people didn’t know. They seemed like a distant dream to me–from a time before “tragedy” I could hardly remember–and I felt invisible. Reaching out to a complete stranger on the phone and connecting from the heart was magic, just as you say. And through the phone from wherever she was working, I was comforted and seen. It doesn’t take much, other than a willingness to feel another’s pain. And for many of us, it’s just too hard until we’ve been through it ourselves.
You captured the essence of fresh grief so accurately, Elaine. I remember going out to eat the weekend after my mother died and I started sobbing as the server came to take my order. I managed to tell her my mother had just died so she understood my emotional state and she was very empathetic. I allowed myself to cry whenever or wherever I needed to which was often. To this day I cannot delete contact names of my parents (I have since lost my father) and my sister. I had my sister’s last voicemail saved on my phone and when I got a new phone I recorded it on another device so I wouldn’t lose it. When I need to hear her voice I listen to it. My condolences to you as you travel this path of grief.
Thank you for taking time to comment and send support, Molly. The hardest grieving is behind me, but it sometimes surprises me when I don’t expect it. I let the tears flow. This story was written about a time soon after my husband’s death in 2008. I couldn’t listen to or watch audio or video clips of him then or for a long time, but eventually I found great solace and comfort in his voice. A friend (with my permission) took photos of his dying day, and after a year or so, I looked at them many times and found them comforting, too, because it was a sacred day and we had created a sacred space. I have videos of my husband from healthier times, too, and those are the sweetest. Grieving takes a long time, doesn’t it? I also send sweet comfort to you.