The great secret of death, and perhaps its deeper connection with us, is this: that in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, letter to Countess Margo Sizzo-Noris-Crouy, January 23, 1924
Some days, thoughts of my husband Vic fade to the edge of consciousness, but love is always close, waiting to be called. When life hurts or when I have a special joy, Vic shows up in dreams and vivid memories.
If I look for the individual man as he was, I can’t find him. His body and laugh, his talents and flaws are gone. As Rilke suggests, death bring a “more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.” It also brings an idealized view of the person and the past.
Without the living person to block the light, I’m left with ideal images, some private and some shared, all seen through the hazy lens of memory. I remember Vic’s warm brown eyes and enveloping arms through a veil of time, but something remains that’s as strong as when he was alive. Maybe stronger.
My human lover morphed into the Beloved Inner Masculine, a mysterious joining of Vic the man and the masculine aspects of my own psyche independent of him. In the language of Carl Jung, Vic became my Animus Ideal, my Divine Lover and Masculine Friend.
“You are my Guru of Love,” he told me before he died.
I was. And he was mine.
He didn’t push me away when I was upset. Instead, he was curious and tried to understand. Sometimes, our egos grated against each other, but we could disagree without inflicting mortal wounds. We eased each other’s fretful anxieties and cheered each other on.
I’m grateful for those times. I miss the love in his eyes. I miss sharing dreams and talking through life’s joys and confusions. I miss having an animus projection with a body.
We walked together for forty-two years. Almost eight years after his death, we’re still crossing paths, but our relationship is interior now. My new animus is built on images of a lover and friend, but it’s more than the remnants of memories and the past. My inner masculine changes as everything does, so it isn’t stuck with an old image of Vic. It transforms along with me.
One dark night before Vic was sick, wind rattled the windows and the woodstove filled the room with warmth. Lights were low. We had just meditated. My tears blotched Vic’s clean shirt. He rocked me side to side. I wept for something I’ve forgotten now, but I remember what he said.
In time, those words became a mantra, an idea I could return to, a place to rest. Life doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to look for the goodness as it is at this moment. I made it through the winter. Spring is here.
“It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Even when the conscious me forget, my inner masculine remembers. I bring myself back to the warmth of the wood stove, the protection of his arms, the sweet scent of the man, and wrap myself in the truth of those words.
How does your relationship with someone who has died continue on? Are you strengthened by your continuing bonds, or is their absence too painful to endure? Or are both true? It’s taking me many years to shift from outer to inner. I’m still working on it. For earlier posts about living with love after a spouse’s death, see Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead or Before and After: When My Old Life Died, My New Life Began.