I was looking through some of my old poems to see if I could find inspiration for a peace blog for November 4th, the day thousands people all over the world blog for peace, when I came across a poem I had written shortly after I met Jeff.
you turned around
and waved to me
after we said good-bye
a small gesture
that told me more
than all the words
we had spoken
And suddenly, I remembered that wave as if it were just the other day.
One day in August, forty-four years ago, I stopped by a neighborhood health food store, and there he was. My first reaction wasn’t particularly overwhelming, but my second reaction, which followed less than a minute later, was an internal ping, then a tiny voice inside of me wailed, “But I don’t even like men with blond hair and brown eyes.” Not exactly love at first sight. More like recognition. But recognition of what? I never did know.
I soon became an aficionado not just of natural foods but also of vitamin supplements, because obviously, the more supplements I took, the more excuses I would have to visit him.
I almost stopped going to his store when I encountered a woman talking to him I knew through the fabric store I managed. All of us young women were enthralled with her — she seemed so dramatic, with erect posture, white hair, dark sunglasses, and silence. She almost never talked. Once she realized we shopped at the same health food store, however, she would come into the fabric store and yammer on and on about Jeff and how wonderful he was. I felt foolish, thinking I was just another groupie (he did seem to have an inordinate number of women who shopped at that store) and I decided not to return.
But I had enjoyed talking with him. He was the only person I’d ever met who was interested in the same wide range of subjects I was, and so I ventured back to the store. One day shortly afterward, I stopped by in the morning, and we got to talking as we always did. A little later, when it was time for me to leave, he walked me outside. The two of us were stunned at how dark it was. We’d talked the entire day and far into the night. I started walking away, and then turned back for one last look. He also had turned back. And he waved.
How is it possible that so many years — and tears — have passed since that day? Back then, we were so new, we didn’t even know we would have a relationship. let alone one that would span decades.
But now I know what will happen to those two people. The end to our story has been written. The romance is finished. And I am left alone with only fading memories to tell me that I once loved, that I once was loved.
I don’t know what will happen to me. If I learned anything that far away August, it’s that life can change in an eyeblink. It’s the same lesson that his death taught me — you’re alive, and then, before you can blink, you’re not.
Still, the way things look now, I’ll be living out my life alone. Becoming that pathetic old woman I fear to be — the cat lady sans cats. (Though who’s to say if that cat lady really is pathetic. Maybe she’s living life on her terms the best she knows how.) Even if I — or my life —doesn’t end up being pathetic, I will be an old woman in an ever alien world. The world is already so different from the one Jeff and I lived in that I doubt he’d recognize it. (And if he is at all cognizant of what is going on in this country, I’m sure he’s glad to be done with it since all the things he feared would happen are happening.)
I was lucky for all those years that we were together. That day at this store set the tone for our relationship, and we always talked — about our lives, books, music, history, and oh, too many subjects to list. When the conversations died, I should have realized it was a sign that he, too, would die. (As people near death, they tend to pull away from their loved ones. I don’t know if this is a conscious decision, an unconscious reaction, or simply part of the flow of life and death.)
His voice seemed to have been the soundtrack of my life, and now his voice is silenced forever.
It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone more than ten years. I remember being at his store just the other day. And he waved at me after we said good-bye.
But it wasn’t just the other day. It was decades ago. And that doesn’t seem possible either.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator
October 25, 2020 at 10:06 am
Very, very selfishly, I wish you well, Pat. If you can find a way through to peace and happiness, that means there is hope for the rest of us, including me.
October 25, 2020 at 11:26 am
For the most part, I have reached a state of peace (well, except for the current political situation), and I am generally happy, though I would be a whole lot happier if I could sell a ton of Bob, The Right Hand of God books. Episodes like this most recent time anomaly are more of prod to be glad for the peace I have found.
October 25, 2020 at 10:49 am
(As people near death, they tend to pull away from their loved ones. I don’t know if this is a conscious decision, an unconscious reaction, or simply part of the flow of life and death.)
I wish someone had taken the time to tell me this, back when. So much would be different, would have been different. It was a massive failure on the part of those who should have have the professional experience to take me aside and tell me what was really going on.
October 25, 2020 at 11:23 am
So much of the pre-death and post-death experience for those of us who are left behind is confusion. We have no idea why they act the way they do, why we act the way we do, why we feel the way we do, why things happen to us afterward the way they do. All that confusion exacerbates the pain. I’m not sure I knew back then what was going on. I just muddled through as we all do, and then deal with the guilt afterward.
October 25, 2020 at 1:46 pm
“…they tend to pull away from their loved ones”.
Much of the process of death is unknown and unknowable, but we do know it generally is a process (as opposed to an event). It might be more accurate to say they’re pulled away from their loved ones by the process.
My wife lost the ability to communicate in the first few minutes following her aneurysm. It was sudden, so she would have had no time to consider whether or not to communicate. She didn’t know she was dying, so there was no question of staying silent to spare my feelings. Had she been able to communicate in some way, she absolutely would have. My guess is the senses – our connections to the outside world – go fairly early in the process. In watching the various brain function tests later, it was certainly clear to me that all her senses, even those involving involuntary reactions, were absent by then. Her body carried on for a couple of days, but “she” was likely gone in those first minutes. The process may have been compressed by her cause of death, but the deaths I’ve witnessed seem to follow a similar process.
As yours did, my life changed irrevocably that day in January. Hers however, was frozen in time forever during those few minutes. I do wonder if time stopped for her in those seconds as her external senses ceased, and from her perspective she’s in a sort of endless dream state.
October 25, 2020 at 3:31 pm
I read once that we easily move through life and death, that when we sleep, we are actually in the death part of life, and that dreams are what we remember of that life, so dying is really just sleeping. That scared me because my dreams are always horrible, and if that’s what death is, I don’t want any part of it. But dreamless would seem more logical. Either way, it’s hard to deal with the death of a loved one.
During that last year, I thought Jeff had it hardest, since he was the one who was dying. He thought I had it the hardest since I was the one who was going to continue living. Either way, until we learn more of the truth, it seems we all lose.
October 26, 2020 at 9:31 am
An interesting thought, which seems to lead inevitably to the question of whether life itself is just another sort of dream.
October 26, 2020 at 9:34 am
That was one of the themes of the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time books: “Life is a dream from which we all must wake before we can dream again.”
October 25, 2020 at 4:44 pm
I was very touched with Pat and Estragon words. Even after two years and eight months the feeling stays conscious or in conscious in my heart the last days of her life after she lost her voice then during the stay in the reanimation ward then hospital palliative. Still I have no words to express what she is trying to tell me. From the day she left in my arms I lost the real feelings of birth, marriage, and dead. I have some type of calm and peace but at the moment I lost the reality and I feel I will be never happy again.
October 26, 2020 at 4:50 am
It seems to me much of our culture views aging people as pathetic. I define pathetic as having little meaning ,purpose or relevance. I see it as somewhat similar to grief…we beleve the myths and then become them. I am not going to try to talk you out of your current feelings and thoughts;although, when reading your comment section it does not seem your subject today dominates… your thoughts/feelings/reflections come and go.. I do see a new topic slant for your writing to do with “growing old” which could be interesting and informative…a bit of what Jeff brought out in you once upon a time..
October 26, 2020 at 9:32 am
To me, this post wasn’t about grief so much since it really was just a blip. It was more about the anomaly of time and memory. For just that moment, the memory — and Jeff — was so close that it truly felt as if that day had just passed. I relish some times because my memory of our days together is fading.
As for writing about growing old — I do touch on that occasionally. It’s hard not to since I am growing old, but for the most part I haven’t been sure how helpful such posts are, to me or anyone. But you make a good point. After this next birthday, I won’t be able to pretend I’m in an in between stage — I will have officially entered oldness. So yes, I’ll do more posts on the topic. Thanks!