The Symphony of a Life Gone By

It is impossible to freeze a single moment of music — what you get is a chord that means little by itself. It only gains meaning by what went before it and what comes after, by existing as part of a whole.

Ever since the death of my life mate, I’ve been haunted by images of him at various stages of his life — when I first met him, when we were in the fullness of our relationship, and then at the end, when there was nothing left but a body depleted of life. Which of these moments was him? Were any of them him? Or, like music, were each a single meaningless chord in the symphony of his life?

This might seem a foolish reflection, but it is one that echoes now that his life has been silenced. When a person is alive, the person you know is the culmination of a life, with everything — every note and chord of his existence — leading up to that very moment and foreshadowing the song of his future. When the person is gone from this earth, there is no more culmination. The man I knew at the end — the man who had spent his last breath — is gone, burned into a pile of ashes and crushed bone. The man I knew at the beginning, the radiant man with half of his life still ahead of him is also gone, burned by the fires of living and dying. So which is the real person? How do you remember a life — a man — when all you have are bits of the whole?

We were not picture takers, and I have but a single photo of him. Although it looked exactly like him when it was taken fifteen years ago, it doesn’t look at all like him at the end of his life. For months after his death, I refused to look at the photo, afraid that the image of him in my mind would be supplanted by the image of the photo. Recently I decided it doesn’t matter if the image in my head is not of him. No image is “him.” He is gone, his moments forever broken into meaningless chords. I know I cannot hold the whole of him in my mind — it took 63 years of living to play his entire repertoire, parts of which I never heard.

And so, I look at the photo, this single chord of his life, and remember the symphony of a life gone by.

6 Responses to “The Symphony of a Life Gone By”

  1. joylene Says:

    Call me strange, but everything you’re experiencing makes perfect sense to me. I’m shell-shocked these days. Many wonderful things are happening, yet I find myself waiting for the rug to pull out. I have photos like the one you mention. I think I’ll go pull them out and remember.

    You’re a very brave soul, Pat. Thanks for opening up all your wounds and sharing an extraordinary … what? I’m not sure.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m not sure what I’m sharing, either, Joylene. Just trying to put my chaotic and half-formed thoughts into words, I guess.

      I’m glad wonderful things are happening to you! You deserve it. Maybe one day you will even find joy in them.

      During all the pain of those first months, I had the feeling that something wonderful would happen to me, and it never did. Maybe I didn’t wait long enough? Or maybe the feeling was simply a survival mechanism — the logical me trying to find something to balance the horror? But I hate that feeling of waiting as much as I do the rest of the changes thrust on me, so I’m trying to be satisfied with having gone through the worst of the grief. On the other hand, maybe I wouldn’t be able to appreciate wonders since I too am shell-shocked. Like something exploded within earshot, and now nothing seems real.

  2. Jan Says:

    It’s the half-life or phantom life – nothing is real since the world I lived in is gone. It feels like the twilight moments when you’re coming out of anesthesia and can’t tell what if you’re awake or asleep. I thought keeping busy would help, but it doesn’t. Life as I knew it is over and when wondrous things happen around me, I only see them through a murky glass. I live in the moment, though, because the past, the pictures and the memories are too painful and the future is too heartbreaking.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ah, Jan. I wish I could make things more real for you, but I can’t even make them real for me. Murky glass is a good description. We will get through this, you know, but I don’t know if that’s a curse or a promise.

  3. anchorrock4 Says:

    By making yourself transparent and vulnerable, you have made those who were teetering on the precipice of grief stronger and given them a reason to go on. Thank you, Pat.


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