The following passage is from a Grief Writing group’s assignment earlier this week. The prompt was a May Sarton poem about solitude and ‘clothing yourself in love.’ It took me a couple of days to write this one….but I was compelled to get it out. I’ve written it as if the reader is a newcomer to the story, so bear with me, those who have followed all along.
I am still comforted by his love. I don’t really feel like he is gone. Maybe that’s where I’m stuck in my grief…or maybe that’s how I am coming out of it. The truth is, I’d rather feel his love, feel that he is still with me, just locked behind some veil in the world—than feel the empty finality of death.
He took the long path…two and a half years. He should have died the night his head smashed against that truck, against concrete. A broken jaw, broken pelvis, broken arm, broken leg, broken brain. Everything healed but the brain. Then his kidneys ran out. Five days a week, he was transferred to dialysis, which kept him alive. But what kind of life was it? Away from his home, very little memory or understanding to help him, totally dependent in every way, unable to walk, unable to swallow. After awhile, I could only visit four or five times a week. Maybe he lived for those brief weekends, when I could bring the children to see him, when there might be a party of friends, musicians. Not that he understood weekends. He didn’t understand time.
It was as if we were in a long distance relationship. That’s how we started out, after all. I remember once in a phone call across the world, he said it was like we were meeting in spirit in another space, above the clouds, above the earth. Like we were together somewhere else, not just talking by phone. A long distance relationship: it’s also how we ended. All that time in these last years, the long drive north to visit him, never knowing who I’d find him to be that day, fishing for connections, finding a nugget of his personality intact, no matter how small. Perhaps he’d remember my name!
I thought he would die last January. It seemed as if spirit was trying to leave his body. I was convinced of it, so much so that I even prepared his teenaged son. I remember grieving him that weekend, convincing myself it was time to let go. I painted a picture of a spaceship and an empty wheelchair. “I don’t know where you are, Vernon. But it’s okay for you to die,” I spoke to him from my own bedroom. “We are ready to let you go.” A few minutes later, the person sitting next to him at dialysis called me, saying Vernon wanted to say hello and that he loved me. And then he was better again…his spirit was back in his body. I guess he heard me in that space between us, and decided he wasn’t yet ready to go.
But after that, I thought about things differently. I realized that the time I had left with him was a gift. It was still hard, but I began to feel more invigorated on my drives up to see him. “I’m lucky to have him on this planet…for as long as I he’s here, I might as well make the most of it.” And then of course, I finally found the love letters he’d sent me early in our transatlantic romance—before the marriage, the moves, the children, the accident. Those letters spoke to his sense of identity more than anything else had. I could see how moved he was by the bold proclamations of love of his 38-year old self. A man who’d been affectionate, hopeful, brave, witty, wise…and in love. Don’t we feel like our best selves when we are in love? I was so grateful to these once-lost letters, for coming to the surface when we most needed them. After that, it seemed he ‘woke up’ a little more as if a connection had strengthened his brain. He spoke about love often. He was more likely to remember my name.
There were days in this period, where I could feel the glow of love stay with me when I’d be home in the afternoon, puttering in the kitchen. “Someone really wonderful loves me, and that love is still alive.” I imagined him more whole than he seemed to anyone else. He was a soul in the world. And he loved me deeply, even though it was all he could do.
I am still in love with him. Both versions, and even now…a third version, his ghost. He may not still be in this world, but he doesn’t feel far away. It still feels like he loves me. He often feels near, behind an invisible veil, maybe in that space where we could speak to each other’s hearts from a distance in the past. Maybe its not him at all, but all the extra love I pulled out of him when he should have died. I squeezed it out of him, drop by drop. Maybe he stayed alive long enough for me to get it all. I’m enjoying the surplus, but I expect it to fade in time. For now, I’m wrapped up in a blanket of love, part of the fog, perhaps.
Yet…to name this love is to begin to touch the pain. The proper pain. The tears that need to flow.