I met a woman today whose husband is dying. She is not sure when, or how it will all go down, but he is dying. The conversation started with us discussing air conditioning, and I am sure there was a logical progression to discussing death and impending widowhood. But then again, maybe there wasn’t because how can she think about anything else? All topics feed into the great pool of fear, anticipatory grief, impending loss, sadness…you get the idea. I couldn’t talk about much else for a long time after….
I shared with her my own loss. I shared with her how I have tried to move with the loss in a way that it doesn’t hold me back. We talked briefly about the last few days we had together in the hospice. I think that might be one of the most important things I can share, the lessons I learned during those days. That a loving goodbye, a loving assist is the best thing we can give to our loved ones when they die. Excruciating but doable.
He was a swimmer, my late husband. He loved to swim in all water but was partial to the bay or the ocean at Cape Cod. He was a floater and would swim when no one else dared (cold water) and then float and drift. While he was dying I used this image to comfort him. I told him it was OK, swim on, keep going, the water is warm. The image helped me, and I like to think it helped him.
For the first time since his death I returned to Cape Cod. Out on the bay in a kayak I suddenly found my self rowing as fast as I could straight out from shore. After a minute I realized what I was doing – I was looking for him. I thought he was out there. I stopped rowing and marveled at the craziness of that moment, but also the beauty of it. Maybe he was out there? Maybe that is how I should remember him? And as I turned my kayak back toward shore and my rowing companion, my new precious husband, I marveled also at the duality of it. The split screen of my life. Widow? Wife? Sad? Happy? All the above. A rich life. Tragic and painful. Magical and mysterious.
Two years ago on a June night I started this blog. It was midnight and I couldn’t sleep. I had so much I wondered about. I had so much to say. Tonight, on this longest day of the year, a noisy cricket kept calling through the window – write, write. So here I am as the clock inches toward midnight – still wondering. So much Wonder in my life.
When I read books on grief or met widows with years of experience behind them, what I wanted to know was – how will it ever be OK? How will I carry on? I understood that year one and two would suck (totally) but tell me about down the road? Tell me the water is warm and I can swim on.
I hoped that this blog would offer some of that to others. I am only at year 3.5. I only know what I have learned so far. The lessons are huge. I am still learning about how this loss changed me or didn’t. So much has happened since then. Some really tough things, some really glorious things. And I have had to talk it all through. Like the woman I spoke to today who shared her story. Like all the widows who write books or blogs or whatever…that is our water – we need to swim, bob, float – in words.
Whatever it is you need to do, write, sing, hike, take photos, travel, work, cook…whatever it is that is the thing you love, that place where you can feel lighter – dive in, swim on!
I wrote this poem for our swimmer 3 years ago….
The longest swim you ever took
brought you farther then we dreamed you would ever go.
Summers spent practicing in peaceful bay water,
and miles of early morning laps,
perfected your rhythm.
Stroke and breath,
butterfly and breath,
free and breathing.
Oceans, lakes, pools or ponds,
wherever there was water, you were wet.
Your dark hair on the horizon and a flash of an arm,
you move to the edge of my vision.
I stood in the sand cheering you on,
willing you back to me.
Distance completed, you would roll and float.
Hands pillowing your head,
tips of your toes pointed to the sky.
Reclining and buoyant,
you rocked among the waves.
But the longest swim you ever took,
through the warm blue waters in my mind –
keep going, you are almost there –
brought you farther then we dreamed you would go,
and sooner too.
Caroline L. Fish 8/5/2014