Grief is a sacred journey

The Half-Life of Love: Eight Years Later

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The half-life of love is forever.  ~Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her

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Eight years after my husband’s death, I carry our love in my heart pocket. I’m used to the ache. Longing doesn’t surprise me. I don’t need to get rid of sorrow or move on. This inevitable aspect of love is mine to hold and share.

buttercups

buttercups

Vic lingers. Not out there in an embodied way, but as a reassuring inner presence. In dreams, he drives my car in blinding storms or helps me find a lost passport. In my waking world, I consult him as a positive inner masculine or animus figure. After forty-two years together, I know what he’d say. Where should I plant the new trees? Does the back porch need painting this summer? What part of my new writing works and what should be ditched?

Where are you? To that, there is no answer.

I don’t wake up sobbing. I don’t expect him to call. Grief doesn’t stop laughter and joy. It’s a quiet daily companion in a rich life.

I miss walking on our land together, admiring hawks and buttercups. I miss knowing Vic is working in his office while I work in mine. I miss the times when he read me poems. I want to show him the fat pollen sac on the bumblebee hanging from the bleeding heart. I miss having a clarifying disagreement. I miss watching sunsets side-by-side.

I miss being loved when my worst flaws are obvious even to me.

DSC05948I miss the companion who would help me carry new sorrows like my brother’s death. I miss long hugs and tender pats. I miss his smile.

Good things have come from life on my own. I became a better and more focused writer. I shared what I know about the ingredients of a strong marriage during good times, hard times, and lonely times after a spouse dies. I’ve become comfortable speaking publicly and leading groups. I’ve become a decent amateur photographer. Despite hearing loss and white hair, I take more risks.

I’ve learned to hold the opposites of joy and sorrow at the same time.

DSC05963Outside my windows, in the fields, lupines bloom. Thousands of them. Their extravagance says life is good, even in hard times.

Last week, I borrowed the children’s book Miss Rumphius from the library. She planted lupine seeds to make the world more beautiful. It’s a lovely award-winning children’s book if you don’t know it.

Vic and I planted lupines in our fields when he was here. They greeted me with tall purple spires on the day of his death. After he died, I planted more.

DSC05658On June 3, I’ll pick a bouquet of lupines and take them to the place where we buried Vic’s ashes. I’ll read a poem and give thanks for the goodness of love. I’ll sing “River,” the song we sang at my brother’s death. I’ll welcome the feelings that come.

Without planning on it, before knowing the book, I became a  member of the tribe of Lupine Ladies, doing my best to sow seeds of beauty in a struggling world.

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IMG_0001This year, I took a silent gardening retreat before Vic’s death anniversary. I needed to assess where I am in life. Which goals are realistic and serve me? What can be left behind? Is a pause to consider and reconsider where you are in life part of the way you celebrate meaningful anniversaries? For other posts about creating meaningful anniversaries and rituals, see Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead or A Personal Grief Ritual of Remembrance and Relief.

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40 Comments
  1. I love the way you create rituals for meaningful anniversaries. I do that for dreams that touch me deeply. It helps me remember insights and messages I don’t want to forget. My mother’s ashes rest in the shade of a giant rhododendron bush beside a gurgling creek. She loved the sounds of moving water and it comforts me to know it’s always there right beside her. It’s amazing how restorative nature is when we’re faced with a new phase of life, or remembering an old one. A helpful reminder. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Jeanie. I love those dream images, too. I often paint them when they’re strong, but I like the idea of including them in rituals. Come to think of it, I do that with elephant images. They’re all over the place around here in various honored spots including one at Vic’s cairn. You wrote about the beautiful place where you buried your mother’s ashes. It must be a lovely place to visit and remember.

  2. Lately, I’m noticed that lupines often appear in your posts, I suppose because they are blooming around Senaca Lake now. It’s no secret that those seeking spiritual fulfillment are attracted to the color purple, symbolic of mystery and power. According to one source, in the language of flowers, lupines bring one inner strength of recovery from trauma and show the pathway to new opportunities (http://www.universeofsymbolism.com/flower-symbolism-page-two.html) which you are obviously doing.

    Probably none of this is news to you, but I had to satisfy my own curiosity, Elaine, and you sent me on a mini-research expedition 🙂 I will be taking a pause to consider where I am in life as we prepare to move.

    Also, I’ll check to see whether I can find Miss Rumphius in our library. Thank you for this – all of it!

    • Marian, it is lupine season here but they generally grow in flower gardens or on mountain tops. Vic and I began planting wildflower seed mixes on our land about 15 years ago. Most of the wildflowers didn’t last long, but the lupines loved the lousy acid soil in the fields and seeded themselves along with our continued seeding. I’ve not seen them growing profusely in the fields anywhere except my land. I love the symbolic significance of bringing inner strength and recovery from trauma. I had no idea that was a universal experience. Thank you for looking that up. I’ll go to the page Lupines shouted “you’re going to be OK” on the day of Vic’s death and they keep shouting it.

      It’s should be easy to find Miss Rumphius. It’s become a classic. The author also did the illustrations.

      I wish you success with your move. It is stressful for sure, but so good to clear and cleanse.

  3. Elaine, this post really speaks to me in so,many ways. Bill a d I loved the lupines in our mountain yard. And all the lessons you have learned resonate so well with me. Thank you for this. Mary

    • Thank you, Mary. Because your beloved Bill died and now your best friend, I know you understand the way we live and long at the same time. For me, it’s a spiritual practice.

  4. Elaine I loved the lupines and your dedication to beautifying the land with wild flowers. May you continue to hold beauty, sadness and love in your heart and impart your goodness to those who meet you.
    Love,
    L

  5. Thank you Elaine for this heart-felt post. Joy living with sorrow – sorrow is holy ground I remember Oscar Wilde saying.

    What a lovely message from Miss Rumphius and her saying about planting seeds to make the world more beautiful … if we could all do that in our way, as you do Lupine Lady …

    The photographs are truly beautiful, thank you!

    • Susan, as you know by now, I agree with Oscar Wilde. Joy can also be holy ground, but sometimes we forget to notice the sacred in the rough spots. About ten years ago, a friend told me about the Lupine Lady. I read the book then and felt like I needed to look at it again. The illustrations are spectacular. The moral to the story–it’s our responsibility to leave the world a better place–is spectacular, too. So many of us have neglected that responsibility. Thanks for taking time to comment.

  6. Meaningful anniversaries are definitely opportunities to reflect on my life, how it’s been changed and influenced by my father and my daughter who died. I devote most of the day to this as I also do things “together” with them in my thoughts. The anniversaries are my time to treat myself as they would treat me, if they were here. I am REALLY good to myself on those anniversaries. And so I look forward to them, more than dread them.

    • Thank you, Robin. I love your term “Nevergones.” Vic’s death anniversary is tomorrow. I’ll spend part of it taking care of his mother’s needs and her needs grow. In the evening, I’ll focus on being good to myself and thinking about love. Also a long walk and flowers to his cairn.

  7. It’s wonderful how you can move on in your life without Vic, yet keep parts of your life together inside your heart by keeping him with you always in so many way. 🙂

  8. It’s also one of my favorite children’s books and I envy you the field of blue. What a lovely love letter to Vic.

    • I was first introduced to the book after taking a friend for a walk in my lupine fields. “Do you know the book about the Lupine Lady,” she asked. I read it then and again this week. I love the illustrations.
      Yes, it’s a love letter to Vic and also to myself. Thank you, Jill.

  9. Beautiful, Elaine. I have some lupines in my front yard that Adrian planted before he died. I love them!

  10. This post is so timely. I recognized the first anniversary of my husband’s sudden death on May 27th. All I did that day was walk and hike. I am a little stronger now. I enjoy the trees we planted on our property, the native shrubs and trees we planted along our creek. Everything is particularly lush, vibrant green and tall this spring. Oh how I wish Ron could see it all!

    But sometimes, I feel he is part of it all. That maybe, just maybe he is somehow alive in the trees, the bushes, the sound of the creek, the wind and the bird song. This feeling comforts me. And sometimes it doesn’t. Those times, I just long to have him back, occupying the body I lived with for 30 years.

    This morning as I listen to the gentle rain and watch it through my open doors and windows, it reminds me of his gentle spirit.

    Even in the presence of others I am at my most alone. More so than when I am alone. It has been a dark, long, sad year. I can hardly believe I have lived it. When I look back on this past year I am filled with love and compassion for the woman who survived it.

    I received the most wonderful gift a few days after Ron’s death anniversary. The opportunity, to step outside my grief, and validate another woman’s recent loss of her husband. Our hearts United, for a short time. Sharing a similar pain, we felt like sisters. My heart was lightened being able to give, and her’s was lightened, being able to receive.

    I see light through the darkness every now and then.

    Thank you, my dear Elaine.

    • What a beautiful message, Deb. I know Vic’s death this time of year helped me stay strongly connected to nature and life. I did a little planting this morning before the rain.

      I understand your desire to have Ron with you. A Korean Zen monk told one of my sons and me that we would experience Vic everywhere in nature now. I didn’t want to hear it at that time–a few months after Vic’s death–but now I know it’s true. I long for his body…AND I feel him everywhere.

      And also yes to that sense of being most alone when with others. This isn’t universal for me, but it happens often enough. It’s not my experience in very close friendships or in situations such as the time she shared with another who grieves. It helps to pass along our assurance that we will survive and even thrive. Hospice bereavement work brought me those experiences along with friends whose partners have died. It’s a gift to see each other, to be open about grief and connect for however long it is.

      May we both stay in touch with that light within the dark–which reminds me of a favorite book which Vic and I read together during his illness. The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant. It helped us hold the darkness and find value in it.

  11. Your beautiful writing is a love letter to all of us, Elaine. Thank you for the precious gift of you ♥

    • Marty, thank you for your affirming message and the enduring help you give so many. I must mirror you: thank you for the precious gift of YOU.

  12. Dear Elaine, I’m listening to “River” again as I write these words. Your story inspires me to pause along with you to assess my own life. Just back from a Celtic Pilgrimage, I have hosted our children and grandchildren and then said good-bye all too soon. I don’t have the same grief you have, but I do know the experience of joy and sorrow mixed. We don’t get out of life without knowing it deeply sometime.

    I ordered Miss Rumphius from Amazon. She’s on sale for $4.83. Next time I Facetime with Owen and Julia, I’ll have a new book to read them. I’ll tell them that the Lupine Lady recommended it.

    • Thank you, Shirley. Now that I know the words, I sing “River” to myself where I hear it from the inside. It will be part of my brother’s memorial service in July.

      Seems to me you’re great at those reflective pauses. We all have sorrow mixed with joy–and if we imagine about the trajectory of a life, we know loss is part of the cycle. So glad you have a copy of Miss Rumphius. I hope you love it. She’s a gentle soul. The lupines are magnificent and Willow and I are on our way to the woods.

  13. Thank you Elaine for sharing your heart and for keeping Vic’s memory alive, you are helping so many of us through your grieving/loving process. <3

    • Thank you, Carmen. I think Vic’s memory will always be strong since the love was strong. And, at the same time, I feel how I’m moving in a new life that wouldn’t have been if he were still here. Wishing you well.

  14. Such an exquisitely beautiful post, Elaine. Much love to you on the 8th solar return of your journey through this world without Vic in the flesh, but firmly anchored within your spacious heart. Jenna

    • Thank you, Jenna. It was a good day with deep appreciation for life. I gathered lupines and other flowers and delivered to Vic’s cairn with a song, a poem, and a tear. Sweet love interactions with my sons as they remembered in CA and NC. And on we go into the great unknown.

  15. Thinking of you on this anniversary, Elaine, and I can’t help but imagine how proud Vic must be. Despite the depth and breadth of your grief, the life you have made is rich and inspiring. You touch the lives of so many of us through both word and deed – even just through the way you live life to the very fullest. I love the way you embrace all it has to offer and never forget to appreciate the small miracles. You set a beautiful example in teaching us that it’s okay, and in fact most healthy, to “welcome the feelings that come.” Thank you for being you.

    Fondly,
    Ann

    • Thank you, Ann. It can sound simplistic or trite, but during Vic’s illness I learned there was always something good going on and it was my job to notice it. A red flower in a vase. A kind nurse with a gentle touch. A warm blanket. It was important to bring my attention to these things when they happened so I didn’t fall into a black hole. I know you understand. I imagine one small smile from your mom’s lips or a moment of contentment in her stormy mind.

      Thank you for your ongoing Alzheimer’s work in honor of your mother and my mother, too, Ann. And thanks for remembering me when my brother died not long ago. We’re only one state away from each other. Sometime you’ll come east or I’ll drive west. Let me know when you’re coming. I’ll bake a cake.

      • One day… perhaps that will be my solo trip in 2017, Elaine. Funny you should mention that. I’m going to have a chance to meet an online friend in Maine this fall – first time in person. I would love nothing more than to spend a few days with you – mostly to give you a great big hug and thank you for inspiring me. On another note, I have a friend who just lost her husband very unexpectedly and I’m going to recommend your blog to her. I think she’ll find comfort in your words and experiences.

        • Thanks for recommending my blog, Ann. An old California friend drove me through crazy Oakland freeways to meet a new FB friend for tea in Berkley last year. It was a resounding success and the two of them are now friends and in the same dream group. More west coast friends. I know we’d enjoy each other. It’s beautiful where I live. NY State wine country and gorgeous Seneca Lake. Come visit. (The Jungian writer I gave a workshop with in March and I are sending a query to give our workshop in Ohio as well as other places. It wouldn’t be until 2017. It might happen–and it might not. Don’t know until we try. I think you’re in the Columbus area. I would stay an extra day to meet you.)

  16. Ah MIss Rumphius. I remember her well. Thank you for the Naomi Shihab Nye poem; it was not one I knew.

    • I didn’t know Miss Rumphius until 10 years ago when a friend saw my lupines and told me about the book. It was published when my kids were a little older, so I hadn’t heard about it.

      I love that little poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. I can’t remember what I said about it, but on the fifth anniversary of Vic’s death, she and I were interacting by email about my use of her poem “Kindness” and her endorsement of my book. I told her my family was having a five-year ritual of remembrance for Vic before my son’s wedding a few days later. We were making space for grief so we could all celebrate. Naomi sent the poem when she heard that–and gave me permission to begin my book with it. I’ve never met her in person, but she has a generous heart.

  17. Thanks so much for sharing my article at your site. I left a comment there.

  18. I was grateful for your perspective, Skip–and for this comment, too. I know where you stand about helping educate and save the human family. I’m glad you feel I have thoughts worth passing along. I agree it’s the job of the elders–and we are the elders along with many others in that tribe. I also agree we all need to talk to men about these ideas and not be easily dissuaded by resistance or uninformed lack of interest. There is no time to delay facing that we all have a shadow and are quick to project our own darkness and rage on others in an unconscious way. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, my teacher Anthony Damiani insisted his students learn about the unconscious and shadow as well as other Archetypes. Meditation and philosophy were not enough. He wanted us to live and use the ideas. I’ve been grateful since.

  19. Thanks so much for including a link to my blog about “The Lupine Lady.” The illustrations for Miss Rumphus are spectacular. I love that the author also illustrated the book. I was introduced to this book by an elementary school art teacher and will forever feel identified with Miss Rumphus. I look forward to exploring your blog.

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