A few weeks ago someone posted a graphic on Facebook that read a bit like this: "there is something to be said about driving and singing to very loud music." I have always agreed with that and found myself doing just that as I returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the long awaited celebration of my brother's 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Given his health from age 28 (2 weeks after ordination he was in cancer surgery not expected to live) until today, he should not have made it this far.
In our clinical practice, my husband Bill and I did a great deal of marriage counseling as a team. This allowed each person in the couple to have their own therapist and allowed Bill and me to model the much needed communication skills most couples lacked.
She was showing me around the tenth nursing home I had visited in as many days. Bill was in the hospital at the time and each day after visiting him, I would evaluate a nursing home or two in case one was needed eventually. In all, I visited 15 nursing homes.
On this day, the administrator took me to the activity room where I saw a basket of small towels sitting on a long table. “Some of the residents help fold these because it is something they can still do,” she told me.
I was out in my back yard this week trimming Arborvitae back off the fence. I returned at 5:30 the next morning before the heat of the day to pick up the trimmings and load them into my Subaru to take them to the dump....it would probably take four trips. I imagine it took me a total of about 3 hours or more to do this.. My Golden Retriever Bentley came out with me and after smelling every corner of the yard checking for the presence of squirrels and rabbits, he stood by the door waiting to go inside. Each time I looked over to check on him, there he stood...patiently waiting to be let into the house. He did not bark or squeal. He just stood silently.
There are transitions and then...there are transitions. The transition from elementary school to high school is, in hindsight, not as big as it seemed back then. Nor is the transition from age 69 to 70. However, life is full of many kinds of transitions. Becoming a quadriplegic after being an athlete (or not) demands adjustments that are beyond the imaginations of most of us. Moving from being a single person to being a married person, though exciting and joy-filled, is also a large change in our lives...one that demands a daily commitment. Moving into retirement years is big, but for many/most of us it is eventually, if not immediately, a positive experience. Then there is the transition of living without someone you love deeply. These transitions from being a joyfully married person to being a widow/er or from being the parent of a happy toddler to losing that toddler to an accident or disease are about as difficult as transitions can get. Finally there is the transition we call aging which, if you think about it, starts the minute we are born, but which we don't think much about until we get into our 70s or even 80s.
Little did I know when Bill sat at the edge of Cutler Creek writing this poem that just five years later, (in 2005), I would be drawing on my own persistence in order to forge ahead as we struggled with his diagnosis of Alzheimer's and as I ultimately struggled following his death in 2010. I can't say I am undaunted as is Cutler Creek but I can say that I will never give up.
Bill loved that creek. It was behind our mountain home in Colorado. At night we would listen to it as we drifted off to sleep. I frequently found him sitting there listening to the sounds it created especially when the mountain snow was melting in the spring. Or he might be writing a poem, watching eagles soar or just soaking up mountain beauty.
Following a loss, we attempt to describe what follows using words and phrases that include grief recovery, moving on, moving forward, healing our grief, healing our lives and more. People ask us how we are doing? Some really want to know. Others...not so much. Many tell us how we are doing or how we look or act. Many wish us well and it comes from deep in their hearts.
As for me, I have not found a word or phrase that accurately describes the journey and pain that follows a significant loss.