The Color of Forgiveness

Blue Morpho Tom Hilton Flickr

“Will you meditate with me?” he asks.
I’d said yes for many years.
Chemotherapy was ordered hours ago.
Salvage chemo.
A cursed name
That hasn’t yet arrived.
I have nothing left to give.

At 3 AM that morning, my cell phone rang.
He’d called from downstairs.
“I can’t breathe,” he said.
“Will you help me?”
“I’ll be right there,” I said.

It’s been like this for days,
For months.
I feel his pounding pulse and call the hospital.
“Take him to the nearest ER,” the doctor says.
I’ve done that many times.
They don’t know what to do with the mess of him.

with Vic in healthy times

“Can you make it to Rochester?” I ask.
“There are hospitals along the way.”
He nods.
I pack his bag while he uses a borrowed cane,
Staggers to the car.
My warrior husband reduced to this.

I hold his hand while I drive through darkness
Toward his doctors at the cancer center.
Listen to him gasp.
We arrive in a pink coral dawn.
Birds sing as I run inside for help.
Two men in blue scrubs bring a wheelchair.
No rooms ready in oncology.
I beg and change their minds.

No one stops me when I raid the linen room for sheets.
No one helps me make his bed.
I roll his head up so he can breathe,
So he can rest,
But I cannot.

Our favorite bluebird friends

Two kinds of cancer now his doctor says.
He offers one last chance.
Salvage chemotherapy.
It will kill him fast or give him months.
My husband’s name is Victor.
He considers the choice.
His hero energy flickers.
Mine is snuffed.

“Will you stay with me until the chemo comes?” he asks at midnight.
“I must lie down,” I say.
That means no.
For the first time I say no.
“I’ll be back early.”

Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer, 1640 (wikipedia)

Burning with shame and hopelessness,
I drive to the Cancer Society Lodge,
Crawl in bed and sob before I fall asleep.
My phone rings at 6 AM.
“I’m OK and I love you,” he says.
The infusion has begun.
He’s not OK, but I’m forgiven.

Alone in bed, eleven years later,
Regret drops me like a wave.
A memory so raw and deep.
I sob until I fall asleep.

At dawn, I dream a Blue Morpho Butterfly,
Sapphire wings as wide as my outstretched hand.
As blue as the Virgin Mother’s robe.
The color of forgiveness.


Tom Hilton, Flickr

I rarely write poetry, but the memory came in this form along with the dream. Thanks to Ellen Schmidt of Writing Room Workshops who encourages my experiments. Do you have regrets, even though you know you did the best you could? How do you forgive yourself for being human? For other posts about marriage and caregiving, see Bookends of a Marriage or Give Thanks For This Imperfect Life. I also suggest Dealing with Regret and Grief by Claire Bidwell Smith.

  1. I’m reading your post at the beach today Elaine. Here, I’m sat on a large rock watching the waves (a million white horses!) flow back and forwards to the shoreline. The crashing down noise is mesmerizing and strangely soothing as I allow myself to get tangled up in the sea and your poem’s rhythms. Apart from a strong breeze, it’s beautiful and sunny here in the UK today.

    These are such thoughtful, heartfelt verses my friend. I can sense the weight of your heart as you write about the events of this long, memorable night and how the image of two hands holding each other in the dark, lingers long in the (reader’s) heart. After, we greet the “pink coral dawn” and those “two men in scrubs” two blue wings I’m thinking, two wings! And suddenly, poetry and dream merge.

    Hopefully, I’m better at recognizing (and accepting) when I’m “running on empty” these days. Many years back I recall having to say “no” to looking after my friend’s children when I was too tired to look after my own, whilst she was dying. Luckily another friend was able to help her husband out but I do remember crying about my decision for a long time, following my friends death a few days later.

    I hope your May workshop goes well (how can it not with you at the helm!) and that your hearing is slowly and steadily improving as you continue adjusting to your cochlear implant. As always I enjoy your photos and their vivid connection to your colour of forgiveness. Oh, the Blue Morpho, the Madonna and the blessed bluebird, all spectacular! Beautifully penned, love Deborah.

    • Ah, the beach. I’m so glad you’re there sighing with the ocean rhythms, Deborah. My memory was surprising–not because I’d forgotten it but because I don’t think about those days with anguish and wasn’t aware it still held so much regret for me. I’d worked with that memory many times ten years ago and taken in the lessons–but there it was again, this time with a dream gift from the Soul. After digging into the whole dream which I didn’t include in this piece, I realized I don’t know how to take care of this fragile exquisite soul image. I need to help it thrive and feed it the right flowers which seems more about my state at this moment than after Vic died. I’m grateful the Unconscious gave me a butterfly/psyche gift. After the workshop this weekend, I have some painting to do. Lots of blue.

  2. Regret is part of the territory of grief: self-compassion is everything…i pray that you will write more poetry. Your words are so provocative, direct and honest. Your love for Vic manifested in extraordinary commitment and care. Then you cared for his mom, despite the challenge that presented. Now you continue to care for and support others, with such creativity and generosity of spirit. You inspire and empower. Blessed to know you.

    • Thank you, Patti. I hope the caregiving will now go to my Blue Morpho soul in a way it hasn’t before. That’s where I’m going with this dream image at the moment. I had little regret when Vic died and worked psychologically to ease it–but it came pouring in the night before I had the dream. I knew I’d done a good job walking Vic to the edge, but there’s always that one thing or those few things. But now, all those years later, this magic dream butterfly is in my house. In the full dream, it needs my care and I’ll figure out how to give it. Sending love to your green world.

    • Regret is part of the territory of grief. So wise.

      • Yes, it definitely is. I had little to regret from an objective point of view, but those “what ifs” sneak in as our ego wonders if we couldn’t have changed the inevitable. I talked about that this weekend at the workshop with the mythological example of Orpheus.

  3. I have no words for this exquisite rendering

    Except . . .

    You are true blue, the color of courage!

  4. Exquisite. Painful, real. And that blue…

    • The blue, Lauren. It’s time to get out the paints and spread papers and brushes across the kitchen counter as I did after Vic died. More butterflies! Blue!

  5. Your words so beautifully chosen from the heart.

    I can hardly believe it’s been 11 years since Vic passed. Clear as day, seems like yesterday.

    I’d love to walk with you on the 3rd if you’d like that.

    Love you, Janet

    • Thank you, Janet. You were there. I haven’t thought about Vic’s death anniversary much, but will when I return home. The lupines, another kind of purple-blue, are trying to survive the rain along with everything else. We’ll hope for a beautiful day on June 3 to walk to the woods, pick lupines, and create a ritual.

  6. I just read all the comments and each one carries its own beauty, its own appreciation of your words and the images they create and you. I see your poem as a reflection into the blue water of a pool that mirrors the sky. When I look at the sky today after so much rain these past days, I see that blue as a source of peace and hope, like robin’s eggs, like the indigo bunting who passed through for a few days last week in the cold rain, and something like forgiveness, something like the bluebirds, the color of your and Vic’s clothing, the madonna’s robe, and, of course, the rare and exquisite blue morpho. To morph is to change, to make a transition from something to something else. And it might even come from Morpheus, the god of dreams, the stories that have compelling powers to transform us.
    Brava, Elaine! Let the poems emerge, workshop unspool, and energy flow throughout you.

    • Thanks for supporting my experiments, Ellen. I hope there will be more. I love the way this piece emerged after a painful memory and then a dream. Thank you for suggestions for refining it. I can’t imagine I’ll be a poet in the future, but who knows? It’s a wonderful way to tell a story that reaches the core of an image and the heart. I didn’t have any indigo buntings this year, although there were 3 for a short time last spring and I saw a few at the edge of the forest. They look like escapees from a tropical zoo–like the Morpho. I’m off to Ohio. “All shall be well…”

  7. Elaine, your poem brought tears to my eyes–for you and for me. I could have done so much more, been a more patient caregiver–on and on and on. Now eight years after my husband died, I still try to forgive myself. I’m sure he forgave me long ago.

    • I’m sure he did, Lynne. Vic felt sad about the burden he placed on me and always felt I was his angel. He needed my support desperately and I was almost always glad to give it. There were moments of exhaustion and impatience. Those stick in memory because they remind me of my human failing, but in the overall picture of those two years, they are small. We were both tested in the art of patience.

  8. All good wishes Elaine for your upcoming workshop. This beautiful post would be a wonderful addition to it. It speaks straight to the heart, a true blue arrow. Your dream from the unconscious has given you such a gift, of reconciling the pain of shame and hopelessness you felt leaving Vic’s bedside and his words in the morning.

    I saw a couple of butterflies yesterday morning in my garden – their blue was so startling. I dashed indoors to get my cell phone to photograph them but I was too late. I hope they appear again. It was so special to see them.

    I excerpted this from google: ‘Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect’. I love that the height of the sky and the depths of the sea are noted.

    • Thank you for the good wishes. I leave for the airport in a few hours and I’m as ready as I know how to be. I love the inclusion of sky and sea, too, Susan, and after cochlear implant surgery, I had a powerful dream about a circle of women on a white beach overlooking a deep blue ocean. For some mysterious reason (or is it brain fatigue?), I don’t dream often since the implant surgery, but when I dream, they’re memorable. My experience and dream work well with going down to the Underworld and rising to the Heavens. I hadn’t planned to use it in the workshop, but it might slip in. I hope there’s ample time for spontaneity as we discuss our Underworld journeys of love, grief, and letting go. That blue is also the color I’d choose to represent Soul.

  9. We are so ready to expect so much more of ourselves, that those moments of saying no are accompanied by guilt and shame and regret. What happens when we extend our compassion to the outer limits to another, but it does not include ourselves? Your post has touched my heart deeply as I mourn a loss and also question, “Could I have done better?”. I am learning that when I am truly in my heart, from my heart, compassion is present for all. it is only when I go back to my head that those judgements exist. In forgiveness we transform like your blue butterfly. Thanx, Elaine……

    • Thanks for your supportive wise comment, Lisa. I agree with all you say–and that compassion needs to be extended to myself. The dream was longer and more complicated than the image of the Blue Morpho although the butterfly was the star and focus. The butterfly was fragile and I had to learn to take care of it–and I didn’t know how. It reminded me of a dream I had 6 months before my husband died where a starving baby girl was given to me and I had to take care of her and help her thrive. I knew then than a part of me was dying under the weight of my husband’s illness and needed my care, so I’ve been tending her since. And now a whisper of that theme with more to do about self-forgiveness and acceptance of humanness. The head gets us/me in so much hot water, but the heart knows. I’m sorry for your loss, Lisa. This weekend I’m in Ohio giving a workshop on Aging and Loss. Grief and loss come with the territory of life and we’re usually ill prepared by our culture. Your words will help me stay in the heart all weekend. Thanks again.

  10. Such a moving poem Elaine. Sometimes we don’t know what form our words need to take in order to express our thoughts and emotions. Your words and sentiments flowed beautifully, despite the grief that seeps in between the lines. 🙂

    • Debby, I’m in Ohio to give a workshop on Aging and Grief (with archetypal examples from Greek Mythology), but when I get home, I plan to spread paper, watercolors, acrylics, and brushes across the kitchen counter where I painted when Vic died. That blue needs to be worked with, seen, and taken into my body. I hadn’t remembered until looking it up that Blue is the color of the throat chakra, a good color to have with me when speaking of these life lessons with others. Thanks for your reflections on the poem.

  11. Hello Elaine,I’ve been thinking of you giving your workshop this weekend, wondering what it is like with your new hearing and your overworked brain. I imagine your wonderful passion came through (how could it not?) and that the color Blue also showed up in some way. I look forward to hearing about it in a future post.

    • The workshop was well received and I enjoyed it, too, Anne. My adrenal system rose to the occasion and I was energized. Airport sound was the hardest, so I finally gave up, removed the audio receiver, and used only a hearing aid in the other ear. I read signs and asked for help. At the workshop, I heard well, but I’m not used to 4 solid days of constant listening. It was soon for my brain’s capacity, which meant tiring, but the workshop didn’t suffer which was the main thing. I’ll recover. I loved talking with people who were interested in delving the depths of life and loss, learning from mythological stories, and doing ritual together. Excellent all around. I mentioned the Blue Morpho and on the second day a man brought a gorgeous large print of a Blue Morpho he’d taken in a butterfly house. It’s an excellent photo and a powerful gift and reminder. My inner judge left me alone all weekend. Maybe I’m beginning to learn how to forgive my human flaws.

  12. I love your poem format. I traveled through the stanzas as if I had been there. I wish to know more about dream interpretation. A powerful dream on the full moon we had earlier this week has me wondering what to do with the message, how to integrate. A “sit” in my tiny studio may reveal what I long to know.

    Thank you for sharing your poem and all the best as you further work with the blue.

    • Thank you, Monica. The words came in the middle of the night in short lines, so I went with it. I work on dream images on my own, but don’t always take time to paint them which is needed for this dream. This butterfly needs luminous blue acrylic, I think. I’ll start with that and see where it goes. There were more details in the full dream connected with my need to learn how to nurture and feed this delicate fragile beauty of self-forgiveness. I have a soul assignment and hope to take it up fully when I’m rested from travel. I love working with a Jungian dream therapist 1-2 times a month so we can dig into life and dreams. We focus on exploration of the images presented by the unconscious. I hope your sitting time brought you insight.

  13. Wonderful poem. I am grateful to be inspired by your honesty. You’re doing such good work in the world. I have always admired those who take their pain and boil it up into something that helps others and you are doing that.

    • Thank you, Kim. I hope I share my experiences in a way that heals and encourages others to do the same. Grief can isolate, but it can also connect when we share our losses and vulnerabilities.

  14. Beautiful post, Elaine; touching. And best wishes for your upcoming workshop. I love the selflessness, then the need to care for self and then the forgiveness. Complementary parts of the whole. The color of forgiveness — yes, I would say so: that blue, perfect. Reminds me of my mother, a Virgo, whose color is sapphire blue. All of this recalls my decade as caregiver for my mother. She loved butterflies, and now we are certain she is one and comes to visit us periodically. –Carol Child (I leave my pen name, email and website address below).

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Carol. The workshop happened on May 17-18 and it went very well. That blue was also my mother’s favorite color and a color I love in nature. Like your mom, I’m a Virgo. Ah, you went through many long caregiving years. My mom lived in an Alzheimer’s care facility for years. Her husband could have provided home care with helpers, but he chose not to, so I had no choice in the matter. I took care of my husband’s mother until her death at age 102. I helped her stay in her apartment until she was 101 with 24 hour caregivers, but in the end her physical needs were too much. She adapted to skilled nursing well and could communicate, enjoy activities, and knew the people she loved until her death.

      • I know I’m in good company when I am among caregiver’s, Elaine. More power to you. You are a trooper, and have become wiser through that, as you know. BTW, I am a Virgo, too. –Carol

        • Here we are in the Virgo caregiver’s club. I am a trooper and just wrote a piece for this coming week about my determination which can be a gift or a curse. At the workshop I led last weekend, it was a gift because it helped me take a leap into a new place despite some obstacles. I’m glad I dared.

  15. Wow, Elaine, thank you for penning this, so powerful and moving. I can relate so very much. Thank you. The exquisite blue in your dream, yes! I know that blue. It comes when I need redemption, self-love and yes, forgiveness. Thank you for sharing your incredible experience of the love for yourself and your husband. Angela

    • Thank you, Angela. This is the first time I’ve shared a poem since I began blogging in 2012. I’m not much of a poet, but the words emerged in this form after waking from the Blue Morpho dream. The dream provided a totem image for the first workshop I’ve given since having a cochlear implant. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off because I’m still in the healing process, but I didn’t want to cancel. I relaxed after having the dream. On the second day of the workshop. one of the participants brought me a beautiful enlargement of a photo he’d taken of a Blue Morpho in a butterfly house. That image is on my altar now.

  16. I can’t bear to share the details of the bitter regret and anger I felt as my partner was dying in one city and my mother was dying in another. Incredibly torn. I was doing my best, but I could not teleport, so I had to refuse a request. I didn’t get another chance. It hurts to remember. But it helps to read your post. Thanks, Elaine.

    • I’m so sorry, Liz. It sounds like you were split in half for love. No, you couldn’t teleport, but I’m sure you did the best you could to spread love everywhere. Death often brings regret and a sense we could have done better, but you had an impossible situation. I hope you can forgive yourself and honor your efforts to take care of everyone’s need, including your own. I hope you have all the support you need to work through the psychological pain. Wishing you comfort and self-forgiveness, Elaine

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