What I’ve Gained

28 07 2017

I’ve lost my husband. Each day that reality hits me equally hard. Sometimes there is a deep sadness that refuses to give way regardless of what I do. Sometimes the smothering heaviness of loneliness wraps itself around me, barely allowing me to breathe. But other times a larger picture pushes the sadness and loneliness aside and tells me this:

I have gained so much.

I’ve gained strength to face each day. I’ve gained the ability to see the tiniest of details all around me, those pinpoints of incredible beauty waiting for me to notice, like the hummingbird resting on the petal of an Asian lily, or the perfectly shaped leaf being shifted by the breeze. The huge waves coming in to shore not by their own will but by the will of the wind. The cloud formation that is a bird, then a kite, then a sailboat.

I’ve gained independence. Though I have no sense of direction, I’ve found my way around my state, amazed myself by navigating other places like Chicago and Milwaukee. Faced with the decision of either figuring it out or staying home, I’ve chosen to figure it out. I’ve learned to eat out alone, go to movies alone, or on a drive to enjoy nature, alone.

I’ve gained a lifetime of memories, those snapshots of family times, travels overseas, and simple Saturday mornings over coffee. Drawing on those, squeezing as much joy as possible from each precious moment, I’ve realized that I can still make memories in the future. They won’t look the same. They won’t be the memories I was hoping for five years ago. But they are there, waiting for me to recognize and take advantage of them.

I’ve gained a different kind of joy. It’s so much deeper and more permanent than the joy I had before, maybe because the heaviness of melancholy has filtered in, giving it a richness it lacked before. If nothing else, death is an unrelenting educator.  

I’ve gained the certainty that my friends are always going to surround me. What a gift! Their loyalty, camaraderie, love and thoughtfulness have daily blessed me. I am humbled by their devotion. They accept me as I am, regardless of circumstances.

I’ve gained the knowledge that petty differences are just that—petty. They are not important, and not worth wasting time and energy debating.  As individuals we have our own ideas and views of life, but at the base of it all is our love for each other. Every single person on this earth is going to say and do things that will hurt others, but those things do not define them or how they feel about the significant people in their lives.

I’ve gained a different kind of faith, one that encourages me to lean more heavily on God and accept more fully the future He has planned for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still rally against the way things are. As I sit alone in the evenings I desperately miss the companionship of my husband. I don’t relish my singleness. But acceptance is part of life. Misery is not an option. There are legions of us out there, each dealing with loss in our own unique way, taking the journey one step at a time with the faith that it will be okay. Because that’s the best decision we can make.


Always in Threes

14 07 2017

This week three people in my circles died. Over the years I’ve noticed that it often happens that way–if there is one death, two more follow. It’s a phenomenon I’ve come to dread, the reality that death arrives in groupings at the worst times. And isn’t it true that any time is the worst time?

Because my own loss is still raw even after four years, maybe I notice these things more than in younger days. And maybe, because I am aging, the reality of that final moment causes me to stop, remember the fragility of life, and appreciate the small, seemingly insignificant occurrences which once may have passed unnoticed; those little gems happening all around me, waiting to be seen.

Last night I went to an outdoor concert with a friend. We arrived early, laden with small coolers which held our sandwiches, drinks and snacks, and carrying our chairs and a light jacket for later at sunset. The music was that of ABBA, a popular Swedish group from way back, the songs were familiar enough that we sang along much of the time. The crowd was unusually large, with most being of my generation, the remember-when group still young enough to come to such an outing, but old enough to have been in our prime when ABBA burst on the scene.

At some point in time the beach balls appeared. They were batted around from person to person all through the concert, sometimes forward and sometimes back, but always with laughter and banter. There was a young man ahead of us with Down Syndrome, who had such fun batting the beach ball, and directly behind him sat a woman I’d guess was in her mid-eighties who was more than eager to have a turn. I enjoyed watching the two of them as much as I loved the concert. The woman was fully into the music, swaying in her chair, often with arms up and waving, and singing along to all the songs. At times she would stand and dance, a huge smile on her face, pure joy pouring out of her. And I thought, I want to be her when I grow up.

Not far from us a father was dancing with his daughter, alternately swaying and twirling her around as she laughed in delight. Beyond them a woman with absolutely no abandon was doing crazy dances, her moves exaggerated and hilarious to watch.

Kids ran around with drinks spilling all over themselves, as absent minded parents wiped their clothes with napkins and sent them off to spill once again. A church group beside us had unloaded a wagon full of trays, food, chairs and blankets, and they were dancing in the aisles on the grass. The boy with Down Syndrome was coaxed into standing and dancing with his mom, a huge smile on his face as he moved in rhythm to the music. As the sun began to set and the reds and pinks and blues spread over the horizon, I couldn’t help but think what precious moments these were.

We only get one shot at this life. Death is the one inevitable thing we can count on, but what we do with our time before that, how we cherish moments and celebrate those little things like batting a beach ball, dancing with abandon, and enjoying the company of family and friends, that is what is important. Living in that moment instead of allowing ourselves to project into tomorrow, that is the gift.