Each year when February arrives, my mind travels back to 1965, the year my brother was ordained a Catholic priest. In an Irish Catholic family, especially back then, having a priest in the family was (and still is) a great honor. My mom and dad were thrilled and proud as their many siblings, families and friends attended the ceremony and his first Mass the next day.
Little did we know as our rather large extended family gathered from all over the country that just two weeks later, I would be sitting with my parents and sister at an ICU waiting for a surgeon to tell us whether my brother Jim would survive surgery and melanoma, a cancer discovered just days before his ordination. He was 28 years old. As I sat in that waiting room, I remember thinking how all of us were so happy and excited just a few days before and now we did not know if Jim would live through the surgery let alone survive cancer. Treatment for cancer in 1965 was pretty limited compared to what it is now.

 
 
Just about the time many who are grieving put the holidays behind us, another one, a tough one for many, comes along. It is, of course, Valentine's Day. While those around us make plans to celebrate the day, we who have lost a lover, partner, or spouse feels bombarded with ads for romantic dinners, films, trips, greeting cards and more. The world starts to feel dominated by couples deeply in love (true or not) when we are without that one person whose death changed our lives forever.

 
 
Many of us spend a good deal of time crying in the first few months of our lives. It all starts with the birth cry which occurs as the newborn's lungs expand with air. And then come the tears mothers read so well knowing when her infant is hungry, wet, uncomfortable, overtired, scared, angry and more. As adults, crying varies between the sexes, with women crying more often than men probably because it is considered more socially acceptable. As adults we cry when we hear lovely music or see something beautiful. Tears flow when we are sad and happy; frustrated, overwhelmed or trying to get attention among other things.

And most of us cry when we grieve.

Actually with grief we weep, sob, and sometimes wail because the pain is so deep. Sadly, in our society, we tend to be uncomfortable with tears be they our own or someone else's. As a result many hold them in far too often; apologize for them; and save them for when they are alone even though crying with someone is a sacred experience. My husband used to call my tears "holy water".

 

Waiting

07/06/2014

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So many of us who have lost those we love know all about waiting. Waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for a test result, waiting for medical appointments and more . Time seems to drag at these times.

As a child I could hardly wait for Christmas and then I waited to be 16 years old so I could drive. And I waited for the love of my life, Bill, to come along and share his life with me. But waiting took on more difficult challenges as the years passed.
When I started this blog post a few days ago I was waiting for the results of some blood tests for my companion dog/friend/fur baby Bentley. The University of Wisconsin Veterinary Hospital suggested I send his blood to the Colorado State University national lab where they study Golden Retrievers and cancer. I was aware that these results could results in a diagnosis of lymphoma in my beloved Bentley but hoped the problem was an easily treated inflammation.

 
 
This piece was written for my newspaper column, Reflections, less than three weeks after Bill died in 2010.

It is now three weeks since Bill crossed death's threshold. Spring has arrived here in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The cardinal has taken over our Maple tree perching himself at the very top each day and announcing his territorial claim with birdsong. In the back yard, the rabbit races across the yard when our dog, Bentley, chases him. The rabbit knows exactly where the hole is that gets him beneath the fence. S/he created that escape route. Birds of all kinds empty the feeders on an almost daily basis. A dear friend gave me a new birdbath in Bill’s honor and it now graces our yard along with the one left to me by my Dad and next to these feeders. The yard is alive with birdsong. The trees are budding and the sun is higher in the sky.
All of these make my heart smile for a brief moment. I think of how we both love/d spring. We could hardly wait to get out to the hills and soak up its beauty. The cycle of life goes on. Spring arrives in all its glory and soon summer will present herself with the fullness of life. When the leaves fall from the trees next autumn in preparation for winter, the cycle will once more have completed itself. Over and over again…dawn to dawn, spring to winter, and birth to death to birth. The wheel keeps turning. People come into our lives and people leave our lives.


 
 
June 22 is a very special day for me. It always will be. It was on this day in 1986 that Bill and I exchanged wedding vows and from that day forward on the 22nd of every month that followed we celebrated our marriage  with cards, poems, dinner out and special moments. I still do honor that day each month.

 
 
I was talking to a talented artist friend who has painted, sculpted and taught art all her life. Now at 86 she is working on a huge triptych and said as she showed it to me. "It might take me three years or the rest of my life to do. I don't think about that. Working on it is just delicious."

I was truly happy for her but I also felt a surge of pain knowing I have not yet found something that feels delicious since Bill died. I said to her after looking at her work, "Bill was my delicious. Now I wrestle with the hole left in my heart and life. Bill and I enjoyed hiking, biking, road trips, cooking....and so much more together...even cleaning the garage had its delicious moments. But none of those feel delicious without him. I have experienced good moments, even hints of delicious but so far that incredible feeling of total and joyous absorption into something; art, music or another person, is not yet mine. "

 

Personal Growth &
Grief Support Center