My story isn’t so unusual, although during its unfolding, I felt like the universe had walked away and left me adrift to my own devices without much hope of survival and totally alone. Her name, by the way, was Sallie.
I had been divorced for 12 years when I met Sallie in the fall of 2006. My divorce had taught me a very important lesson: Don’t get married and more importantly, don’t trust women, especially not with your heart. So, meeting, Sallie after so many ears of “safe solitude” was an eye opener. It was nothing like my first experience with marriage. Don’t get me wrong, she was not perfect and we were not always the ideal couple together, but many said that we were an example of the ideal. To me, I could sum her up in one word, ‘amazing.’
We married in September, 2007, one year to the day after we met. She wasn’t feeling up to full energy, but blamed it on the stress of a new marriage, and preparations for it. She had had a “clean bill of health” from the doctor that preceding spring. But she didn’t ever truly recover from the fatigue, and the doctor thought that she had MS. The MRI proved otherwise. An almond sized tumor was discovered in the center of her brain.
We did pretty well through the surgery and radiation, and all of the other things that go along with cancer. The surgery damaged the nerves in her brain that move the right arm and leg, but with therapy, she was able to walk with a limp, and her arm worked pretty well, although playing the piano was more difficult.
We loved and traveled and had as much fun as we could, not letting doctor visits and health worries get in our way. Over time she would improve, then decline, then bounce back, then decline, until after 4 years of that, it became obvious to her, and me, that she was not going to survive long term. It was devastating for her, but with her usual pluck, she powered ahead, made preparations, talked to and prepared family and friends, and was “ready” as anyone can be for when she finally could not speak anymore, and could barely move around. After that juncture, the end came quickly. There is nothing like the horrible feeling of helplessness than to watch someone die in your own home and there is nothing that can be done. Mr. Fix-it couldn’t fix this, and it seemed, the Lord had other plans against my sincere, faithful, heartfelt, agonizing pleas.
I tried to act normal, but inside was shock and alternating numbness and excruciating pain. I felt like someone had opened my chest, cut my heart out, removed the fun part, smashed and trashed the rest, and then stuffed the remaining bleeding, crushed, malfunctioning part back in my chest, and taunted me to live with that.Totally expected, nevertheless, the shock of her passing was devastating. The week of the funeral and other preparations kept a busy and social form to life, but after the funeral, even though I returned to work the next week, the phone calls faded to a stop, the visits almost instantly stopped. People in the neighborhood and at church seemed to act as if I now had a rare but contagious skin disease (did I suddenly have a case of leprosy?). Family tried to be supportive. Her mother, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephew, were all so very kind,. My family was also great. Looking back, there really was nothing more that they could do. Nothing anyone could do to “fix-it”. It was what it was. The trauma and incredible grief had to be lived… not shut out, but lived. It seemed that the rest of the world had missed noticing a cataclysmic event that totally shattered my universe. I tried to act normal, but inside was shock and alternating numbness and excruciating pain. I felt like someone had opened my chest, cut my heart out, removed the fun part, smashed and trashed the rest, and then stuffed the remaining bleeding, crushed, malfunctioning part back in my chest, and taunted me to live with that.
Those feelings were not just occasional, but daily, and nightly. Escaping worked not too well. I couldn’t really get away from it. But, slowly, over time, something began to change. I forced myself to set up Christmas the way that we always had. I sat by the fire in the dim light of the Christmas tree, and watched the flames, wondering if they were hotter than the burn in my heart. At least they seemed clean and free. My flames were never ending and trapped.
January came, Christmas, reluctantly but gratefully, was stored away again, with the knowledge that it would never be the same again.
Then something happened. My volunteer church work started to take on new perspectives, insights, and (oh my, really?) feelings…. What’s that funny one? Joy? Don’t remember that one too well. It was shy and didn’t like to come out well or often. I had returned to the church service sooner that I had wanted as I still had plenty of grieving and planned escapes to get through, but, it turned out to be a good thing. I also become more involved in getting a group together for the widows, widowers, and singles in the neighborhood. That did something, too. I took more interest and effort in an additional teaching position on Sundays, and I was given another responsibility at church requiring a lot of phoning and interacting with people and with some physical activity to go along with it. I had long been a student of the motivational gurus, and what they had always taught me, and what I taught, was taking on more and more truth in reality. Could it be that all of my serving was helping me to go on?
I also lost my mother about 20 days after Sallie left, but I went through that process in a daze. I was responsible for the financial and legal issues of her estate. That kept me also numbly busy, But…… there seemed to be something growing in my heart. I read and memorized a favorite scripture, and wondered how one could, “press forward.. with a perfect brightness of hope”. I read and memorized a favorite scripture, and wondered how one could, “press forward.. with a perfect brightness of hope”. The act of pressing forward out of necessity began to build that hope. The hope came from thinking and controlling thoughts, which then controlled feelings, which then controlled actions, which are now shaping my destinyThe act of pressing forward out of necessity began to build that hope. The hope came from thinking and controlling thoughts, which then controlled feelings, which then controlled actions, which are now shaping my destiny. I read that somewhere, but now it was materializing in my own life. Amazing… the gospel of Jesus Christ is true… but one must have the “faith” to act and endure before the miracle can actually take place. Forgetting my own grief for the sake of getting involved in causes bigger than mine seemed to be the “balm of Gilead” I so desperately needed. I found that by courageously continuing to acting on truth I was able to go on.
I worried about ever wanting to love, or thinking that I could be, again in a personal relationship. I didn’t want to let go of Sallie. I realized that as long as I love her, which will be forever, she will be with me, and she is happy about that, and so am I. I have realized that loving only makes room for more loving, and that she wants me to find more love, life, family, success, adventure, experience, growth… she must be an angel now, as that is what I am feeling that my Heavenly Father also wants for me. In the moments of despair when I think that I might as well just give up and give in and live a quiet life of pain and percolating despair, I think that I do not want to disappoint either one of them. I want them to be proud of me, so I metaphorically stand up straight, stick out my chest, “man up”, and move forward with the causes of my life, family, and who knows, maybe a real future. After all, life is short, why not love and build as much as possible while I am here. That’s what my ‘Universe’ would want. I’ve decided that is what I also want.