Grief is a sacred journey

Love Notes: The Magic That Made Our Marriage Work

During an exhausting week of moving my husband Vic’s 102-year-old mother to a nursing home, I searched through an old file cabinet looking for a paper needed to fill out her insurance forms. I hadn’t visited those files since Vic’s death in 2008.

After finding what I needed, I wondered what else was in there. My heart skipped a beat when I saw a manila file labeled “Vic’s Letters.” It was tucked between a file of Marion Woodman’s letters and a file of notes on the Greek/Roman story of Eros and Psyche.

I was exhausted, resentful, and sad about moving Vic’s mom. I longed to have Vic with me. Vic’s first book was Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making, so before and after his death, I linked him with synchronicity (an acausal connection between inner and outer events). This wasn’t the first time I’d found love notes from him at a hard moment.

My maiden name was Ware, so some letters are from 1967

Marion Woodman was my most influential and closest Jungian teacher. The tale of Eros (Love) and Psyche (Soul) has been part of my life since first studying it 25 years ago in a women’s mythology class and more recently in workshops with Marion Woodman. Uniting Love and Soul mattered to both Vic and me.

No matter how sick or busy or overwhelmed, Vic and I took time to connect. It was Valentine’s Day every day. When he packed for a trip, I slipped a note in his suitcase between socks and undershirts. He left notes on my pillow before leaving. He sent email or letters when away. He rocked me in his arms when he came home.

Still, even a good marriage has rough spots. Vic took up too much space with his teaching and writing, space I wanted for myself. After childhood with a difficult and often insensitive mother, he craved mothering as an adult. I didn’t always want to give it. He taught two hours away from our home, so for years we lived in two places and commuted with two boys and a dog. Guess who kept that show on the road?

“We don’t have enough sex,” he complained after I went through menopause.

Eros & Psyche, Francois Gerard, 1797, Louvre

“You’re too fast for me now,” I said. “When we were young, you had many orgasms in a night so that gave me lots of time.”

We tried new tricks with some success. Then, the summer after his stem cell transplant, we found a perfect spot. Cancer slowed him down while Viagra kept him up. We enjoyed delicious unforgettable passionate slow sex I’ll never forget.

Ah, sweet Eros!

Despite bumps, our marriage felt solid and strong. And honest. This week, I dug through my feelings about being left alone with his mother. With the help of a dream and my therapist, I realized I wasn’t angry at Vic. He didn’t ask me to take care of his mother. Caring for her was my idea. It was the right and kind thing to do even though it’s been hard.

My anger told me it was time to change an impossible situation that no longer worked.

The file labeled “Vic’s Letters” held twenty letters, some in red, white, and blue overseas airmail envelopes from the 1960s. I counted them, but didn’t open and read each one. Instead, I read the first. That plunged me into the Underworld of grief and longing. It also made me feel held and supported. The rest of the letters would wait. Just one was enough.

(The trick he mentions in the note is writing love notes.)

Oct. 2005

My dearest wife,
I learned this little trick from you—just as I have learned all about love from you.
Let’s never forget the blessing of our love. Tonight as you fall asleep, remember that my love surrounds you.
          Vic

 He was not perfect and I was not perfect, but we freely and frequently expressed love and gratitude for each other. That was the magic of our marriage.

His  notes became enduring gifts. They still show up when I need them, even ten years after his death. In 2005, he wrote the words I needed to read this week. I fell asleep surrounded by love.

Put a heart or a poem or a few sweet words on a piece of paper or a posted note for someone you love. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Repeat often. The person you love may save those notes and open them many years later when they need to remember your love.

***

Do you write love notes to your partner, children, grandchildren, or friends? Do you save notes and letters written to you? Have you found notes you didn’t remember stashing away? Have you printed emails from someone you love and put them in a file? Yes, I read all those letters from Vic many years ago, but they will have new meaning and significance now.

For another article about finding a powerful love note the night before I gave my TEDx talk, see A Love Note from Beyond. For a post about my relationship with my mother-in-law, see  To Forget and To Remember. I’m taking notes about what’s happening with my mother-in-law and pondering my relationship with her during this big change. I’ll share that soon.

21 Comments
  1. Great, touching and inspiring. Bill had I had a similar way of feeding our love. We exchanged cards, notes, poems on the 22nd of every month a d celebrated our marriage anniversay which was Ju e 22. In between cards, many ho emade wouulld show up with love notes eing exchanged. I have boxes of these and on his birthday, our anniversary and other days I will sit with some of these. His poems are treasures to me. Thanks for the memory. Peace, Mary

    • I’m glad you have those notes, too, Mary. They may bring longing and tears, but tears mixed with love and gratitude. Vic’s notes were not fancy, but there are many of them. After his death, I didn’t remember I’d filed away so many notes over the years–sometimes in a file cabinet but often stuck in a pile of photos I still haven’t sorted. I assume I’ll open that file cabinet again fairly soon, but with Vic’s Mom’s Medicaid forms and clearing out her old apartment, I decided they needed to wait until I have time to read a few slowly and feel my feelings. They aren’t going anywhere. Sending love and gratitude to you.

  2. Reading letters from our beloved after their death does take us back into the Underworld, because we hear their voice again, and our longing for them is renewed.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mark. In letters, notes, and emails, I hear Vic’s voice in his words, not in my paraphrasing memory. I like that. As a lover of Greek mythology, I think of the Underworld as a place where the Ego is clearly not in charge. It’s also a realm of deep renewal. Synchronicity works from that realm of the Personal and Collective Unconscious. So when deep longing for Vic surfaces, I welcome it. “Hello, Vic. Thank you for walking with me and in me through this life. Thanks for your love.” There may be tears, but that’s OK, too.

  3. Blessings as you navigate this next chapter. Lynne

    • Thank you, Lynne. It’s always interesting to find a note from the past that feels like the needed message. Vic would be glad about the changes that are happening with his mother’s residence. We couldn’t sustain 24 hour private care financially or give her the level of care she now needs. I write him (in a Jungian style called Active Imagination) and tell him what’s happening. He (or his voice that lives in me) writes back: “It’s about time.”

  4. So lovely Elaine your discovery of this particular note of Vic’s at this particular time after moving his mother. From feeling exhausted to feeling revived –
    Yes I’ve kept letters. From my husband when he was working in London for a year while we were ‘courting’ a long time ago. I’ve kept my sons letters from their boarding school days, from my parents, friends, – and they do seem to ‘have new meaning’ when I occasionally re-read them –

    • Susan, it’s so reassuring to find those old notes when they’re needed–and to know that you have them now. Who knows when you’ll be moved to read them? I didn’t have many synchronicity experiences as a younger woman, so it’s interesting that Vic often shows up through synchronicity now.

      I also have a file of letters I wrote to my mother when I was in college. She saved all of them. Long before studying Jung or doing 1960s encounter groups, I loved to discuss psychological states. My mother found it perplexing that I wanted to know how she was feeling, and was less interested in what she was doing.

  5. Dear Elaine, Thank you for sharing your beautiful article and timely reminder to gift each day, a day of hearts, with our lovers. To read of your recent discovery and the memories those twenty love letters evoked was deeply moving. The unprompted giving and receiving of love notes, often in challenging times, fills this poet’s heart with joy! I love your honesty throughout and to say, the Viagra pun did make me chuckle! Writing and leaving poems is more my thing, although I’m a pushover for those blank, symbolic cards, birds especially!

    Love in a hard moment is such a tender song. I imagine the deep patience, inner strength and staying power you developed in previous years are serving you well in these difficult and exhausting times. God knows you need the patience of a saint right now! Yet, Eros and Psyche, see how they wander in and pull up magical chairs beside you. Symbolically, I wonder if blue, white and red embody the healing stages of a grief-stricken heart returning to life. I love that you recall ours is a two-eyed story, one inner, one outer. In soul, Deborah.

    • Deborah, I’m glad you noted the Viagra pun. Most readers are being discrete about that. I didn’t include in the piece (can’t include everything) that after a stem cell transplant, most men can’t get an erection because a stem cell transplant destroys testosterone. So that’s why Viagra came into our life briefly for one short summer before cancer returned. Vic told his doctor: “I want to WANT to make love.” How we laughed.

      And you also pick up on Eros and Psyche (of course). I gave two workshops on The Four Labors of Psyche in 1993 (one alone and a longer one with a Jungian friend). The fat file of notes is from that time and those workshops. Many look polished and almost ready to publish, but I want to revisit it all including returning to original sources and James Hillman’s long and creative sections on Eros and Psyche in The Myth of Analysis. Those notes are treasure. I knew they were in that file cabinet, but haven’t looked at them for 25 years–because I still haven’t sorted through many things that quietly gather dust without taking up much space. I wanted to forget moving my mother-in-law, filling out the mounds of forms to make it happen, and cleaning out her apartment. Forget all that!! I’d so much rather read about Eros and Psyche and see where those Four Labors take me now. I look forward to an exciting inner journey from the perspective of 25 years later. Soon.

  6. How amazing to find these love letters lodged close to notes about Eros and Psyche – ha!

    Your Forever Love is a care bear too. It strikes me that some women, even married ones, live all their lives without feeling the unconditional love you experienced. Vic loved you from head to toe, and everything in between.

    Cards and letters are powerful vehicles of caring, even some wthout words and don’t cost $$ to send. Next week I’ll post such notes, one “faces” on a breakfast tray and another, a duet of clothes hangers.

    It’s probably not just coincidence that you found this precious stash just when you thought you might break in two. Ah, the power of love lives on!

    • It is amazing, Marian. And amazing to have 19 more notes and letters to read. I haven’t looked. They make me emotional and I need to stay willful and rational as I complete this move for my mother-in-law. I’ll read more when I’m done with this job in a few weeks.
      I never doubted for one moment that I am one of the luckiest women alive because of that unconditional love. As Vic was dying and after his death, I felt gratitude as much as grief.
      I know you’re a card sender and a card saver and I know Cliff writes the best cards. You must have many to share. I look forward to seeing your notes. The power of love lives on and on and on in memory, but even more in those letters that outlast our memory. Some people (I set them straight) seem to think that continuing love ties us to the past, but I find it empowers me for life and never held me back in any way. Vic wanted my life to be as good without him as it was with him. I’m working on it.

  7. I loved this Elaine. And I love how you openly share your grand love between you and Vic. What a gift to still have all those letters to envelop you in everlasting love.
    I’ve written many letters and notes to my husband through the years – particularly the earlier years in our relationship. He’s not a writer nor a man of many words but I’m most proud that I taught him the meaning of giving cards at birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. He’s never forgotten one of them and through the years has learned to enjoy card shopping and the grin on his face he gets when he see’s he’s sparked a few tears from my eyes when he sees how touched I am by the card, reminding me every time that if he were a writer those are the words he would have written himself.

    • Ah, Debby. He’s a person who expresses feelings and that doesn’t always come in words–as you know. Some of the moments I remember most were the moments of silence, looking deeply into each other’s tear-filled eyes, holding nothing back, and trusting completely. I hope you or he saved the letters you wrote and as many cards as possible. They are forever precious.

      • So true Elaine, those ‘silent’ moments can be so golden. Oh yes, like you, I never throw out a card or letter. 🙂

  8. I was talking to my 82 year old cousin this am on the phone. She shared with me how much my letter had picked her up last week. She doesn’t use a computer, so she said, “Did you think of that while you were typing it. That’s amazing.” Made me laugh. Even though the kids dad and I don’t even speak much anymore, I still have the letters he wrote me and wouldn’t give them up. A couple of nights ago, I was sitting in San Diego, feeling sad not to be with my son in New York. Maybe wistful would be the right word. I sat down and wrote him a “love letter” and sent it email. I suddenly felt into what a sweet, honest, happy little guy he was and how it was rarely met in good measure in the world after he was around 9 or 10 and I felt into what that had done to him. And I cried. My point being not that I find my son anything except what I said, but you can grieve what has not died and write love letters to your son. Thank you.

    • “You can grieve what has not died and write love letters to your son.” Your words made me weep. There is so much sadness in the world, more than I have experienced and more than I can imagine. We can stay awake to it and help a little by writing letters, even if we only write them in our heads. How kind of you to send joy to your cousin and feel how much that mattered to her. And your son? I don’t know enough to guess what might be the right words, but I’m glad for his happy childhood and sad for the world my adult children face now. I hope writing him a love letter made you feel closer and more connected. I’m always grateful for those quick text or email communications with my sons where we share a few drops of sweet love. Thank you, Stephanie.

  9. Such a beautiful and touching post! I keep handwritten cards between my husband and I. They’re some of my favorite possessions.

    (Side note – I’d love to have you join my annual blogfest! http://www.augustmclaughlin.com/boaw2018-register/)

    • Thanks for the kind comments, August. I’m glad you keep those treasures. I printed out and kept a copy of the last email my husband sent me 5 weeks before his death. It’s so beautiful and my response to him which I also kept is an equally heart-opening reminder of the power of love.

      Thank you for inviting me to your blogfest. I’m interested, but I’m in the process of moving my 102-year-old mother-in-law to a nursing home, clearing out and cleaning out her apartment (thankfully with helpers), and completing application forms for Medicaid which she’ll need by summer. That, along with a few pieces I’ve agreed to write by early March, keeps me uncomfortably busy. Still, I’m interested in your blogfest, love new things, and look forward to exploring and learning more.

  10. Loved the piece Elaine.
    After mom died I found her notebooks, many of them. Clippings from newspapers, poems she loved, thoughts about this or that, and her own deeply personal reflections too. I am floored by what I didn’t know about her. It is sad to think that all those years she didn’t share her feelings with us. She knew we were interested in psychology and spent time herself reading Jung and others. Why didn’t she open up to us when she was alive? I would have loved to have piled up on the bed with her some foggy afternoon and talk about her childhood, marriage, us. I can only read a little at a time, my heart swirls with conflicting feelings and questions that will remain unanswered. Notes from the beyond. Not to me specifically like Vic’s were to you, but she knew I would read them someday, because she knew I look inside of everything.
    My husband is off in sub zero weather now helping to get a “convicted” water protector freed. Although I speak with him daily by phone, I think I will write him. Thanks for the nudge. The written word carries something the voice does not.

    • Ah, your mama kept things close to her chest and carefully guarded–just like my mama. Although my mom didn’t have journals or save letters she wrote, she saved everything I wrote her. Those letters were returned to me after she was moved to a nursing home near me. Saving those letters was her way of expressing love, but I had no idea until it was too late to talk to her about it. By the time I knew about them, her memory was gone (in a clean erasing of all memory that is nothing like Vic’s mom short-term memory loss and confusion).

      I hope Chuck is managing OK. It’s sad to have him so far from home for so long. I love what he’s doing and he is so needed, but that doesn’t make it less of a challenge for both of you. Writing him is a great idea. He can read your words over and over. You could put a little image or treasure in that letter. Anything he loves. A flower petal or two. Sending you love.

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