Life after death

Dear One,
Last time we met, 40 years ago, you were five, maybe seven? Would I recognize you today if we passed on a trail?

I hear yesterday from my father – still close with your father who passes along your news – your husband is dead.

I dream you last night. I see you far off, vulnerably alone, head hunched against a great grey howling landscape.


I didn’t know your husband, don’t know your children, can only impose any understanding of your grief based upon imagination and experience losing others who are not my husband.

So, why write now? I have no balm to erase pain.

I do have one small wonder to offer. Have you ever, as mother, as teacher, observed how very much we are already our one true self in childhood? As we age we grow longer legs, big teeth replace baby teeth, our noses broaden a little. We learn about history, mathematics, physics, and literature.  What I’m talking about though, is that flickering now, flaring then, essence of our true being that burns through the years of a life.

I vividly remember an essence of you: your all out glee when playing Hide and Seek, as if the thrill of returning to base, of throwing yourself absolutely into the game was the secret to staying alive; the way you measured both sides of an argument and implored us squabbling playmates to just get over it; your unruly hair and dirty knees when there were hills to charge or mud to tame; the way you begged us to play wedding and house. You loved those games more than the others and cared for dolls and the mop-stick man with fierce fervor. I love you forever you’d say to the wooden handle. You’d swoon and we’d giggle until breathless.

When we lose someone, I know it is the person we miss. We miss their laugh and their warm hand, their scent, and voice, and the way they break into a smooth slide and spin us around the kitchen on a Tuesday night for no reason. I love you forever.

But more than that, there is a singular way we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of a person who absolutely knows us and loves us in spite of all we are. We simply are with some people in a way we aren’t with the rest of the world.

Your husband isn’t here to look at you that way now. Unfathomable.

But I see you, that fiercely strong and passionate girl. There are many others who still see you with love and caring. We reflect your deep goodness back upon you. We are here, not in your kitchen yet here, a steady presence for you and your children, holding you up in our hearts while you tumble upon grit and boulders. We will wait with you through the grey.


With gentleness,

p.s. There is no one way that grief happens, though many doctors and psychologists refer to its five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Whenever I hear this, I imagine a five ring circus. The audience is an assemblage of family and friends peripherally affected by the grief waiting and watching for signs that the new widow, the newly one-child-less parent, the orphan, will make it through a little tap dance, a little hissy fit, a little barter or a wailing upon a stage set up in each ring before being allowed to exit stage left and reenter The Land Of Normalcy.

I don’t know what to do.

I hate being audience. I hate doing nothing. I write.

I offer Mary Oliver‘s book Thirst, a collection of the most achingly beautiful poems written by a poet in a state of grief.


That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.

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