Twelve Years after His Death

I walk to my husband Vic’s cairn in the forest to honor his life and death. Along the way, I peek in the nesting boxes to see if the bluebird eggs have hatched. I pick lupines near the trail and remember how the fields bloomed with purple joy the day he died. I lay flowers on the gravestone, read a love poem, and sit in silence. Then I tell the Vic who dwells in my heart how grateful I am for his love.

I weep.

Although I think of him year round and the sharpest grief pain has softened, he still shows up as a helper in dreams or an empathetic listener in inner dialogue.

“I don’t know what will happen to me, but I know I’ll always love you,” he said a few weeks before he died. “I don’t know what happens after death, but if I can help you across when it’s your turn to die, I’ll be there.”

I can’t ask for more than that.

When people ask if I feel him close to me, the actual man Vic, I say, “I feel his presence in my memory and heart. I feel his presence on the land as I watch trees he planted grow and watch the descendants of the bluebirds we lured here with carefully placed nesting boxes. A mysterious sense of him walks beside me every day.”

I don’t need to know more.

Vic’s cairn

During this covid-19 time, I wish I were quarantined with Vic. I wish I could tell him my grownup and girlish fears. I want him to dry my tears with his shirt sleeve.

Years after his last breath, I cherish the memory of him, even when remembering hurts. Tears flow in gratitude and sorrow.

Aren’t we all grieving now?  Don’t we all wish we could lean into someone, be held and heard? Don’t we all need this poem?

Playing dress-up for a party invitation, 2005

***

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be ~
to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing,
To love what death has touched.

‘Tis A Fearful Thing” by Yehuda HaLevi
Physician & Philosopher (1075-1141)

Lupine fields

***

I wrote this piece before Vic’s death date on June 3. He’s on my mind as I consider how I will honor him. Grief is strong this year without hugs and deep conversations with friends. Life feels on hold, and the grief of the world is on my mind. Are you finding past or present grief and other life struggles more overwhelming during this time? How are you handling it?

I wrote about an early grief ritual to honor Vic in  Creating A Grief Ritual: Love, Loss, and Continuing Bonds.  It’s been a template for every ritual since. I wrote Disco Balls and Candles: A Community Grief Ritual about a unique community ritual I led in San Francisco.

27 Comments
  1. beautiful elaine
    thank you

  2. Hi Elaine,

    Such powerful words here. The acute tenderness of this time is even harder, I agree. Everything feels like an abrasive without the usual access to support. I am leaning heavily on my journal and more than I would like on other sources of support. Digital connection is all we have right now…and there are days upon days where that feels insufficient.

    Every emotion I have ever had seems to be coming to the surface. It’s hard to be witnessed, but it’s even harder to be alone with it.

    Thinking of you with love,

    Casey

    • I hear you, Casey. I need to do more journaling and less writing focused on sharing with others. There’s lots of grief and anxiety arising these days personally and collectively. I hope to build a stronger container for it, the way I did when Vic was sick when I journaled no matter what. Then, I’m witnessing myself, not waiting for eruptions of feeling before I check in with myself. My dreams make it clear I have to do more since I’m often lost in a concrete wasteland and my GPS or cell phone won’t work. Various landscapes, none hospitable, and usually lost. And then something wonderful that has a sense of guidance breaks through.

      I see the being loss or broken GPS as a broken inner navigation system. I think we’re all having a hard time navigating life or figuring out where we are or where we want to or can go. I’m doing online dreamwork each week for an hour which is a luxury, but it helps a lot in building that container. I send love back to you and hope we all find a way through and can create a better world.

      • ‘When I journalled no matter what’…that’s exactly it. I’ve said to myself and possibly also to my therapist ‘Journalling is life saving and non-negotiable for me’, and yet, when the feelings get overwhelming, it’s the first thing to go.

        Ever terrified of really facing it, I guess. Global pandemic has a way of bringing us face to face with the stuff we don’t want to deal with.

        • I get it, Casey. It’s easy to avoid because there’s so much grief to face. And yet, I always feel better if I create words or a painting to honor my feelings. My favorite journaling style is a Jungian Active Imagination so I can have a dialogue with the Divine in myself (or however anyone thinks of the Soul or Atman). There is a still part of me that can bring solace and peace, but I have to give Her a voice and listen. Do I always do that? No. I’m becoming more regular about that again because life is not getting easier and I have to tend to my feelings and fears or sink under their weight. It is overwhelming, but I want to contact the part of me that isn’t overwhelmed. I imagine you’re looking to do the same. Sending you love and peace in these hard times.

  3. Dear Elaine, I can imagine you there in amongst the tall, beautiful purple lupines, peeping into nests to see those blue eggs, then sitting in deep green, in silence and love, honouring your beloved Vic as the anniversary of his death approaches. That the sharp pains soften, lighten my heart for you.

    I truly believe that we all have the ability to live on in our loved ones hearts. For how can it be any other way?! Perhaps an agreement between souls is to be made for this to happen, and then in our hearts, they/we can return. This is why I try to keep my heart open because one day others will come back, and are with me now.

    That Vic’s love, wisdom and friendship lives on is wonderful! Whether in heart or dreams, his hand is in yours always as you walk and dance amid your green world. All through May and early summer, the Green Man rejoices! Oh, I couldn’t imagine more joy in the world that to be rambling through His world.

    With His mythic essence in the wind, buds pushing up and flower and leaf unfolding! Let alone His woods filled with joyous song, I feel that I’m living in the land of the beloved in ways that evoke the myth of Philomen and Baucus. And I think to myself, somehow, we’re all still together. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. I didn’t know Vic would become such a strong and persisting inner voice. It’s nice to have a helper within–an idealized version of the man Vic. Early on in our relationship, in the psychedelic 60s, we felt we’d been together many times before. I don’t know if these intuitions are actual or symbolic and don’t need to know. We knew each other deeply. It felt like we had an agreement, although it wasn’t immediately clear for him when we first met because he was afraid of that level of trust and vulnerability. It took time to sink into the depth of our relationship.

      The lupines are late this season (everything is weeks behind “usual” because of a cold April), but I saw the first blossom when I walked out on the trails with the dogs before breakfast. Many more will bloom in coming weeks and some areas in the fields will be painted purple. I saw swallowtail butterflies yesterday and again today, so spring is here. The Green Man is having his season. The maple leaves are almost full size and the oak buds opened during the last warm (hot!) days. The symphony of birds in the forest is astounding and I hear owls calling in the night now that the windows are all open. Mythological worlds are strong in my life and dreams, too–both the Green Man and the dusty Sumerian underworld.

      Much love to you and your beloved as she heals and you stay well. We live in a strange world here where some areas are careful to not spread the virus (my area, thankfully), but flaunting caution has become a political symbol. It’s hard to understand, but that eruption of darkness is happening all over the world. I write about it and wait. A virtual hug to you.

  4. This is lovely and deeply affecting, as all your pieces are. Twelve years, oh, my!

    I realize now I have a miniature version of the lupines you posted near the cairn. Also, I’ve not seen or read “Tis a fearful thing,” a poem I must bookmark. I take “fearful” to mean reverent or holy, not terrifying, here.

    Your Grant Wood impersonation is chuckle-worthy. Unlike his “American Gothic,”I notice YOU are holding the fork – ha!

    Like you, I feel grief is strong this year “without hugs and deep conversations with friends. Life feels on hold, and the grief of the world is on my mind” too, this morning especially with the shooting by police in Minneapolis.

    Thankfully, Vic is with you in your dreams at night and a listener to your inner dialogue by day. Huge HUGS to you, dear Elaine. ((( )))

    • Thank you, Marian. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 12 years, but lots of transformation and growth has taken place in those years. I think “fearful” in this poem means all those things–spiritual, transcendent, and awe-inspiring, but also impermanent and vulnerable. I saw that as a child as my mom was so in love with my dad, but they had only a few years together before he left for 4 years of war and then many years of illness and an early death. He died when they were both 44, but when mom was in her 80s all that grief and longing for him were still there. She had a whole new life, a new successful marriage, grandchildren, and much more, but that primary love remained.

      Vic loved posing for a photo, so this is one of those as is the photo on the cover of my book (not knowing then that there would be a book). He set up his tripod and took as many shots as needed to get what he was after. I loved his playfulness and recognize that in Cliff. Thanks for your good wishes and kind thoughts, Marian. I’m glad you have Cliff to hug and hold.

  5. Such exquisite presence. Thank you dear Elaine.

  6. 🙂

  7. With my husband working from home, my children and grandchildren nearby, and plenty of work on details surrounding my upcoming book to keep me busy, grief has not visited me very often during this quarantine, but it has surprised me a few times.

    I cried when I could not celebrate my birthday in person with my family, cried with happiness when we were able to arrange a social-distanced meal together outdoors on separate tables for Mother’s Day. Cried when I awoke from a dream in which my grandson hugged me spontaneously and warmly.

    Occasionally I wake up in the morning with a deep sadness in my heart. I am definitely more emotional than usual. Life feels heavier, weightier these days. I guess depressive is the word. And I can’t watch the news about the politicization of this pandemic without getting angry or feeling frustrated and worried about the future of our country. Most days I can see light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes I’m afraid to hope for a better future. It feels safer that way..as if I’ll be less apt to be devastated when things just keep getting worse.

    It’s good to get these emotions out, to examine them from all sides. And it’s good to know I”m not alone in my feelings. Thank you for this opportunity to express them, Elaine. Jeanie

    • Jeanie, it’s a wonderful time for a focusing, consuming project like your book. It inspires you and will inspire people who read it. The world is nuts, but people read more books and yours is needed. I look forward to it. I’m glad you have family close by. An occasional meal together, even at a distance, sounds like a treat. I see my son who lives a few miles away for quick visits, but he’s going through his own struggles. Isn’t everyone? I haven’t seen my son in North Carolina since December. I had planned a week in North Carolina in March, but the world was teetering and it was unclear what we were up against, so we cancelled the trip, not knowing it would become much harder later.

      I agree that life feels sadder, weightier, and more depressive. I’m hovering at the entrance of the unknown like so many others. I’m worried about those who don’t have food or are imprisoned on our borders, in jails, or in city housing projects. They have no support, so despite that heavy feeling in my heart, I’m grateful for my protected life. I’m lonely and have ongoing physical issues from Meniere’s Disease, but I have birds singing outside my office window and the luxury of gardens and help planting tending them.

      A sad heart has been my companion, but it keeps me close to my feelings and body. The life of just 3 months ago feels like a dream. One good thing about hearing problems is I don’t watch the news, but I read the news carefully and things become more improbable and surreal. The Underworld has erupted. I understand what you say about not daring to hope, but there’s something to be said for being where we are and not expecting anything. I’m practicing without much success but with lots of persistence. Sending love to you, Fred, and your family.

  8. ‘A painful joy’ – how paradoxical is that?

    I was thinking and feeling while reading that Vic is still there, in the woods he planted and in the descendants of the blue birds.

    I remember once asking my husband a long time ago if he believed in life after death – his answer was surprising. He said yes, our children. Which makes me think of your two sons. In Jewish tradition, when a person dies and others receive the news, the response firstly, is Long life to the family. Which roughly translated means while the memory of that person who’s died remains in others’ and in the family’s memories, that person is still alive, so the longer family and friends remain alive, the memory of the deceased will always be alive.

    Elaine, thank you, this is a lovely piece of writing in honour of Vic and his life and vitality. My thoughts and love are with you as his anniversary of death approaches. May you find joy in the blue –

    • Thanks for mentioning the children, Susan. Both my sons remind me of Vic in their own ways–looks and behavior. The memory of Vic is alive in those who knew him, but we are all just passing through this world. There are no grandchildren, but we’ll consider Vic’s books his grandchildren. The lupines are just beginning to flower and the bluebird babies are thriving. Nature is exuberant here this time of year as you move toward winter. I’m grateful for this burst of exuberance during a hard year. May you be safe and well.

  9. This is beautiful, and in a time of much ugliness as my city burns, it was a cooling touch of balm. I am unsure how your new ear will handle this song (easily found if searching YouTube), but your reply to Susan reminds me so much of Luka Bloom’s song in honor of his late father, “The Man Is Alive.” It’s simply acoustic guitar and vocals, which might be easier on new hearing. I will quote the chorus, for it speaks most to the theme of the post.

    “The man is alive
    Alive and breathing
    It’s taken me so long to see
    The man is alive
    Alive and breathing
    The man is alive in me.”

    • Thank you, Joe. The world is burning but my surroundings are calm and filled with new life and spring beauty. It’s quite a contrast, but I don’t forget what’s happening in cities and to black people and people of color. The problems of racism and white supremacy are on my mind, but so is love. Music is a challenge, but I found the full lyrics. Luka Bloom was only 18 months old when his daddy died, but all the grief is there. He nails the feeling for me, plus a personal connection. Vic’s dad deserted when Vic was a baby. Vic saw his dad a few times in his life, including going to his dad’s death bed. Vic was 30 and his dad was dying of liver failure from alcoholism. The grief never died for Vic and he was always aware of the longing and loss, even though he didn’t recognize the dying man in the hospital bed because he hadn’t seen him since he was a child. Seeing the suffering of the stranger father brought forgiveness and a softening of Vic’s heart. We were grateful we made the effort to go to Washington DC with a 3 week old baby at my breast. Vic needed to forgive so he could be the kind father and husband he was.

      Vic is alive and breathing in me. Always.

  10. This social distancing alone at home makes me feel closer to my Marika who has been living in my heart for over nine years now. If she were physically here during this time of isolating we’d be driving each other crazy. But the Marika who keeps me company now is mostly gentle, sympathetic, and encouraging. I warmly toast her when I open a bottle of wine, and consider her perspectives during sprees of online shopping. Today a lone female duck landed on the pond while I was There thinking of Marika, and it swam up close, demanding to be fed. It’s hard, in these lonely times, not to believe this wasn’t some kind of sign or gift from my daughter.

    • I smile and groan, Robin, imagining being quarantined with my sons. Yes, we’d drive each other mad. Vic and I would have been OK with staying home since that was our favorite thing to do. It’s harder without him, but I’m grateful for my canine kids and that one of my sons lives nearby. I see him a few times a week for short periods, always keeping a distance which is so strange. He took on the role of shopper and vegetable gardener so I don’t have to deal with crowded stores. Marika would need her friends and music, but now she is an inner companion and inner support. I don’t know if my “signs and dreams and intense feelings” have anything to do with the person Vic, but they’re certainly about the Vic within me. (And I know that’s an idealized version of the human being and that’s OK, too.) Thanks for checking in.

  11. Hi Elaine. Your post is relatable for many I should think. I say to my friends often how extra difficult it can be for so many in lockdown who are alone, and especially those who have hospitalized loved ones. It’s a sad time all over it seems. I truly believe Mother Goddess is pulling in the reins in this mega transitional time of the world. I think if it weren’t for writing, I don’t know how sane I feel, lol. Read good books, go for walks and write. November can’t come soon enough. Stay well and safe. 🙂

    • Thanks for your reflections, Deb. It is harder to be alone on lockdown–but there aren’t any arguments and no one to worry about, so that’s a benefit. I’m often grateful that Vic wasn’t in a hospital during a time when I couldn’t be there (unbearable situation) or his mom didn’t die with me being unable to visit. It feels like Higher Powers are putting the brakes on the way we function, forcing honesty about health care (or lack of it), racism, white supremacy, and hungry children in my country. The whole world should be grieving, but the White House occupant only grieves for himself. What a time to have no leadership. I’m glad you can go for walks where you are. I can hope for November, but fear what can happen before then, so I try to stay calm and just wait. I couldn’t have predicted any of this, and especially all of it coming together–and we have yet to deal effectively with climate change. I’m grateful for the bluebirds and swallows because my walks make me feel Nature knows what she’s doing. You stay well and safe, too.

      • Amen Sistah! The world is grieving and yes, the protests are necessary. The purge is on. Sadly, we must go through the cleansing period of the purge of all the garbage that floated to the top – greed, pollution, racism, it’s all coming out. If we all take a pause and take it all in, we have one chance to fix the world, and the people are speaking. George Floyd did not die in vain. His end opened eyes and will initiate the change. King Covid is melting. 🙂

        • May it be so, Debby. I only know that we stepped back from the brink of a much greater violence, perhaps civil war. What a relief. Everything is unpredictable now as the world gets a big shakedown. I don’t have a clue what covid-19 will do, but I’m not daring it. I love staying close to home. I’m grateful for all the change and awareness coming to the surface. May we learn how to change without violence.

  12. Beautiful words Elaine… the day and the year and the emotions never leave us. It seems like yesterday…. its safely tucked in a pocket of our hearts. Looking at my grandchildren and my grown sons my heart aches for what could of been but wasn’t and I shed my silent tears. But then there is the days when I am driving and Larry’s favorite song comes on the radio or I hear my sons reminisce about some funny little thing their dad said, or did, and I feel he is very close, and in our own quiet way it brings us peace. We realize they made a big difference in this world…Hugs and thank you for sharing this piece it meant a lot tonight ….

    • Thanks for your heart-opening comment, Jean. I weep easily and don’t hide it. I was teary eyed at a local protest gathering on the weekend because 200 people showed up in a mostly white town of around 2000. Vic would have loved being there with me, so I think of him in these challenging times and remember the political protests at the beginning of our relationship. My sons and I talk about him and share funny stories. We also share tears sometimes, but less than ten years ago–as it should be. We never forget. I made a forest altar in NY on the land where my sons were raised to offer gratitude for our life together and my son in NC made an altar under a huge oak he calls Vic’s tree because his dad admired and photographed it. I’m glad this piece touched you. The love goes on.

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