Today is the one-year anniversary of my beloved Raymond’s death. For the past couple of months, I have been remembering how sick he was at this time last year. His spirit wanted to live, but his body was just too tired of fighting. It is hard to believe that a year has gone by. People told me ‘time heals,’ and although I never could have believed it, I do understand that as time goes by, memories start to change. My memories of Raymond are not so much of his illness and my care taking, but of the love and laughter we shared.
The grief process has catapulted me into many unexpected and astonishing “spiritual growth spurts.” For months after Raymond passed, I had one of Lynn V. Andrews cards from “The Power Deck” on my coffee table. The card was called Grief. It states:
Grief deepens you. It allows you to explore the perimeters of your soul. Grief is the only gateway to certain levels of consciousness, and it is a hard task-master. Through grief you can explore every aspect of your dark side– anger, pain, abandonment, terror, loneliness; and these are aspects of the sacred wound that in our daily life we usually try to ignore. Grief forces you to look at those parts of yourself that are not yet healed. If you can look at grief as a teaching, you will grow. The pain of grief is not the only teacher in this life, but if looked at properly, with awareness and an open heart, it is one of the greatest teachers of all. The seeds of wisdom and enlightenment are planted within the wounds of grief. What is lost can only come back to you us again in higher ways.
It has been a year of challenges. Last May, after the funeral was over, I literally couldn’t get off the couch. People would try to encourage me to do things, but I just wasn’t interested. I didn’t care about anything. What I have come to realize is that my spirit was telling me ‘to take my time. I needed to be on the couch, that is what I needed!’ I learned that there is nowhere to run from the deep sadness and everyone’s grief process is different. Mine was what it was, and through that grief, I’ve learned to listen and trust my body to guide me.
At the end of September, my sweet niece, Lauren was getting married in Snow Mass, Colorado. We had just found out my dad had cancer of the esophagus and he was in the middle of radiation. He couldn’t attend the wedding. I didn’t think I could either but my mom really wanted to go and wouldn’t go without me. I relented and went to the wedding.
This was a significant spiritual growth spurt for me. It was such a beautiful and happy occasion. As I looked around at Michael’s family, his siblings were just starting their families and there were little ones around, living in the ‘moment of youth.’ I looked at Lauren and Michael on their wedding day and I thought to myself, “They are so young, starting out their life and they have unlimited possibilities ahead of them.” With this thought, my mind seemed to expand and finally see the big picture. The cycle of life: the weddings, the births, all the generations in a family, and yes, even the deaths. I was able to open my eyes to the “non-reality of death, the eternal nature of life, and the endless bonds of love.” How perfect life is! I really understood the miracle and gift of life, in all its stages.
Just when I thought I was doing better, getting out more, seeing friends and family, my therapist Peter, had a sudden heart attack and died. Oh my God! I lost Raymond and Peter; the two men who knew me better than anyone. I went into yet another bout of depression and couldn’t get off the couch. I was feeling lonely and desperate. I questioned why I should even be here and I was a bit suicidal. I didn’t want to live I just wanted to die and be with Raymond. After the holidays, in a desperate attempt to save my life, I searched the Algonac area for a new therapist and found Betty. What a blessing Betty has been in my life! Since January, through a lot of tears and hard work, I have gone from being suicidal to being excited about my future.
This may sound crazy but during the last year, I have been having one sided conversations with Raymond. I talk out-loud to him on a daily basis. I tell him what I am doing especially when I am doing housework. He was rather obsessive compulsive and really liked a tidy house. It wasn’t just about cleaning with Raymond. It was about the “detail work.” Well after months on the couch, you can imagine, that I wasn’t doing the detail work. Yet, every time I did clean, I’d tell him out-loud “I’m doing detail work, baby!”
Bath time was always special with Raymond. We would often sit in the bathroom talking to the other while we were bathing. We used to love to bathe each other. Raymond equated bath time with a “car wash.” You know how you pick what type of car wash you are getting? A number one is just your typical outside car wash. A number two is outside plus wheels, rims and under carriage. A number 3 is the wax job added to the above and a number four, is the whole shebang! Inside, outside, everything! He’d take a scrubby and lather it up as I sat in the tub, he’d grab my arm and start scrubbing. He’d say, “I’m giving you a number 4 today!” There have been so many times, in the past year, when I am in the bath, I say out loud, “I’m giving myself a number 4 baby!”
He used to love it when I would sing for him and he’d often say adoringly, “Sing to me baby.” So some of my communication to Raymond is in the form of singing to him. I sing him “our songs.” The songs we sang together when he played the guitar. I also sing a song we both loved by the Cowboy Junkies called Where are you Tonight? This one fits exactly with how I feel now that Raymond’s physical presence isn’t with me. It’s a song about a gal, whom I believe, lost her true love to death. She finds herself in the bars, questioning her life, which has “turned so peculiar.” The words I have been singing to him are from the chorus (I love them because they literary speak of what I feel in my life without him.) They go like this:
“Where are you tonight?
When I left you in my dreams last night
You promised me, that we would be breaking free.
Where are you tonight?
Where are you tonight?
I don’t think I can face tomorrow’s light,
Not knowing if you’ll be there to guide me.
Where are you tonight?
I think I can make it through all right,
But I’d love to have you just one more time beside me”
I talk to Raymond. I ask him for guidance, I tell him when I am doing the “detail work,” I sing to him and, I thank him for setting me up in my little “goddess” home.
Now my father is dying. I’m going to loose him. My daddy. The man that has influenced every part of my life. The only other man in my life who loves me unconditionally. We were once talking about the fact that I never remarried after my 1977 divorce. I told him that he had spoiled if for me. That ‘there is no one of his character, his goodness and his integrity that I could find.’ He said, “Don’t blame it on me!” HA! But it is true. My dad is a good man; one of a kind.
His cancer is not the problem. We believe that the radiation took care of the cancer. He has cirrhosis of the liver. Since December 7th, when my dad had his surgery and they found the cirrhosis, he has been pretty much bed/lazy-boy ridden. About a month ago, when his medical benefits didn’t cover physical therapy or nurse visits anymore, we called in hospice. The amazing thing is, now that I truly understand the ‘cycle of life,’ I am at peace with the fact that he is dying. I feel a stronger calling to be there to support my mother with her tender, loving caregiving of my father. I feel that I am the only one in our family that truly understands what she is going through. I only had two years with Raymond. She and my father have been married for 61 years. I cannot possibly understand the depth of her sorrow and fear. But I can be present for her. I can be strong for them. I can help both of them through this transition.
I ask God and Raymond to watch over them both. Raymond loved my parents so much. He always said he would be here with me when there time came. I have to trust that he is right here with me.
So, in a year, I have come full circle. I am beginning to get off the couch and care about doing things like housework, visiting friends, and now that spring is here I am hopeful for new possibilities. I am thinking about my future and what I want to do with it. We had a plan to winter in Florida and summer in Michigan. I have been searching on line, for a home down there. I refuse to spend another winter, being a hermit, freezing in Michigan, when I could be on the beach, fishing or, in a senior mobile home park, making friends, playing bingo and shuffle-board! HA! I’m even open to the possibility of another love in my life. Since I now know what unconditional love truly is, I am open to having that kind of relationship again.
And so it is. Life is what it is. The seeds of wisdom and enlightenment are planted within the wounds of grief. I am wiser and more enlightened. Raymond has been gone one year. That is half the total time we were together. He blessed my life in so many ways, and still continues to. Rest in peace baby and keep an angel or two by my side. I think I’ll be around for many more years to come. My “golden years!”