Tag Archives: love and loss

As the crocus petals fall

A close friend has been at the hospital the last few days tending to his mother. She injured herself severely in a household fall by tripping on a braided rug that her husband has long refused to throw out in their bedroom.

Such are the vagaries of old age, and sentiment. Her broken ribs and swollen brain are being treated at the hospital, but she’s not sure it’s a good idea to go on. There is fear, and there is pain.

Her son is also in pain, of the emotional kind. There has been no more faithful a son than he. For two decades he has tended their garden. Mowed their lawn. Taken them to church when necessary. His own life is intertwined with that of his parents. Because he cares.

And because he cares, he is suffering now at the thought of his mother’s passing. She is alive, but barely. Sooner or later most of us go through this experience with a parent. A spouse. Or a friend.

I know people that have even lost children. Such abrupt dissolutions.

Crocus

As I entered the house today, I glanced down to notice that the crocus in the front garden are already starting to drop their petals. We wait all winter for the first signs of spring. Then spring comes and sheds these bright signs of life as if they did not matter at all.

I have watched my mother die. I was there when she passed away 10 years ago. Recently I watched my father die as well. We emptied their house this past week. Filled a three-yard dumpster with all their former belongings. Kept a few keepsakes and practical items for our own.

My brother said, “I’m going home to get rid of 25% of what I own. If this is what happens to us when we die, I don’t want that.”

Time passes

Three years ago this March 26 my wife passed away after an eight year go-round with cancer. She lived fully right to the moment she passed away. I have always said that I am proud of her for that. But life itself sheds its hold on us like petals on a crocus.

We are reminded of all this come Easter time. According to Christian tradition, even the Son of God shed those petals of life here on earth. The faith holds that our souls are borne into heaven if we have accepted the grace, and shed the brand of pride that prevents it.

Instead, we should hold pride in the mercies we can show others. I told that to my friend, the selfless man that has cared for his parents all these years. “You are in pain because your love is wrapped together with her life. That is pain your have earned through caring. God knows that we feel that pain, and it’s the knowledge that we are loved that sustains us through it.”

Walking right into the pain

Three years ago on Good Friday, I walked into the church I attend with tears barely concealed behind my eyes. My brother asked me why I attended the service so soon after the death of my wife, and I told him, “I’m walking right into the pain.”

That’s really the only thing we can do. You can’t escape it by walking around. It follows you like a shadow. And when I walked up to meet the pastor for a blessing that Friday evening, he was the one shedding tears in my family’s name. “You are in the right place,” he told me.

That does not cure it all. There is still the absence and the loss. The profound depression knowing that someone is gone, for good. That is grief. It must be reckoned with as well. But first we must acknowledge the pain. All else is folly. That can take time. It cannot be rushed. Yet neither can we dwell in the past, lest we forget there is life to be lived.

Preaching to the choir

I understand that church is not for everyone. I get that more deeply than you might think. My own father relinquished his churchgoing ways. He loved the camaraderie of the choir, but the words ultimately didn’t mean that much. It doesn’t mean he did not have a soul. And I do not worry for it. That is not the brand of faith to which I ascribe.

We are all flawed people, who need forgiveness for the things we do. And, we should do all the forgiving we can muster. Because the real purpose of those falling petals should be to let go the lies, and the hurts, the harsh words and the lost opportunities to say that we love someone.

That is the faith to which I ascribe. It is ultimately transcendent, even in all its fallen glory. It is not keeping the crocus past its time, but knowing that its coming and going is the real sign of hope, and of caring, and of things planted for the right purposes.

Advertisements

Grieving in dream time

We all know plenty of people dealing with loss in their lives. A friend loses a child in the latter stages of pregnancy. Another grieves over the death of their parent or a sibling. We lose people to cancer, or car accidents, suicide or heart attacks. All these losses are carried with us in many ways.

Most recently my father passed away. The day he died I entered his room and cried heavily over the man who raised me. I also cried for the relative valor with which he suffered 13 years of stroke disability. The loss of his ability to communicate robbed our family of valuable time with him. We also lost a share of family history since he was unable to tell stories of his youth or his experience.

And a few years ago, my wife died of cancer after eight years of survivorship. We had been married for 28 years. That’s a lot of shared history as well.

Just a year before my wife passed away, my father-in-law died from complications related to heart problems.

And ten years ago in 2005 my own mother passed away.

All these losses have been processed in different ways. Yet all of them have converged in some way in my dreams.

Shred of guilt

Whether we like to admit it or not, there is often a shred of guilt that goes with losing someone we love. Working through that brand of guilt alone can take years. We might wish we could have done something more for the person we loved, or been there more. We might have wanted to tell them with more urgency how much we loved them.

None of these feelings are foolish or unwarranted. They are the very real consequences of having loved, and having lived. It is simply impossible to have lived perfectly, of having never forgotten to say “I love you” when it counts. So it takes time to grieve through these feelings as well as the raw loss of someone in our lives.

Asking forgiveness

FamilyBefore my late wife passed away, I sat down by her bed and told her that I loved her and asked forgiveness for any wrongs or ways that I might have disappointed her over the years. All relationships have some degree of failure in their mix. I thought it important to let her know how much I appreciated our time together, and to apologize for my own shortcomings. Her doctor had advised me to be absolutely positive in her last few weeks. Yet we’d been through quite a few things together, and I positively wanted to tell her how I really felt. That included a bit of confession. We all try our best, but love requires that we admit some of our shortcomings along the way.

Recurring dream

Perhaps that is a brand of emotional w0rk we must always do on our own. The one recurring dream (every few months) that I have in relationship to my late wife is that she has returned somehow from the dead and I am in no way prepared to deal with that.

The dream typically finds her rising from apparent death at the funeral home to re-enter her life. I encounter her at parties or other events and don’t know how to engage. Awkwardly, I’m challenged in those moments to know what to do because I’m in a new relationship.

This is a painful dilemma in a dream world, much like those moments when you are trying to run away from some threat and are unable to move your feet. Dream interpreters say that not being able to run away in a dream… is a sign of general anxiety in your life.

That’s exactly how anxiety works, of course. It can focus on any topic, but it also invents its own realities. And so, in relation to grief, it brings that person back on the stage of your life as if they were alive again. “What do you think of this…” it wants to know?

Bad dreams and divorce

The anxiety of dealing with loss in a dream world is similar in some respects to a person living through a real life divorce. Rather than grieving through bad dreams, however, one is forced to grieve that relationship every time you encounter a former spouse in real time. That can seem like a bad dream in more than one way.

It takes just as much time to grieve through that kind of loss as it does to come to grips with the death of a sibling or a loved one. None of us can completely separate ourselves from the reality of a divorce any more than we can divorce ourselves from feelings of grief or loss with someone that has died. It’s part of your subconscious thoughts whether you like it or not.

Dealing with loss

In relation to our experience in loss, overall I feel our family has tried to deal with these experiences in healthy ways. Obviously, the pain of children grieving a lost parent is a different thing from a husband dealing with the loss of a wife. I think some of the guilt I am processing relative to my late wife is a shared empathy for my children in having lost their mother. The dream in which she returns to life reminds me that my work in helping them is not over. Nor should it be. She returns to me in dreams so that I remain sensitive to the fact that I am responsible as their living parent to keep her memory alive for all of us.

Rather than a nightmare, such dreams are instructive and healthy to the grieving process. In many ways, our family has found positives in our life celebrations together. We are not afraid to recall both joyful and amusing aspects of my late wife’s personality. She loved to tease but could also be petulant about certain subjects or beliefs. These dichotomous aspects of her personality do keep her memory alive. They can also be shared with others because they are honest. We can be unapologetically real about her memory.

Sharing burdens and friends

1509152_10204571857793222_4147884275556153224_nAlso, my companion Sue is respectful and loving toward our needs. Being a companion to a “widow,” as she has done,  is not always easy. For both the spouse and the new companion, it can be difficult living in the shadow of someone so loved. Sue has treated my children with respect for their mother’s memory. She has grown to understand them better as people as a result, because learning about their mother has helped her understand their own characteristics and values.  And in our relationship, I have been very honest with Sue about my feelings in the 2.5 years since my wife passed away.

We did not leap into categories of emotions too quickly. It has been a prolonged “honeymoon” if you want to call it that, since we met and starting dating. That’s a necessary fact of our respective situations.

Sue was working through pain from a previous relationship when I met her. I was in active grief from having lost a spouse. I believe we’ve helped each other through, and grown as people as a result. We treasure relationships with both our sets of friends, and some of these groups have merged successfully, to the point where we no longer define friends as “Mine” or “Hers.”

Protection and risk

11169852_10205615038072077_292278208289650118_nThat is the protection. The risk is the investment in time and love we have made in each other. We have discussed the weight of that investment on several occasions. Dating in your 50s is not like dating in your 20s or 30s, when there are families to build and children on the horizon. Yet there is still an investment in the future. Even during the few years we’ve been together, we’ve felt changes in our bodies, hearts and minds.

We’ve also ached in real time over the challenges our children face and have shared the ache across family ties as well.

Through all this shared experience, it’s never been my process to compare Sue to my late wife Linda. The relationship we now share is clearly built on its own foundations. As stated, however, these foundations do draw from our respective pasts.

And interestingly, Sue’s actual first name Linda. She’s simply gone by Suzanne, her middle name, for her entire life. I first learned this fact in the first few months of dating her when her bike slipped and we visited the Urgent Care facility to get her checked out. The registration desk asked for her name and she stated, “Linda Astra.” Then she spun around to say, “I forgot to tell you. Linda’s my real first name.”

That was an odd little moment. But it was not lost on me.

Caution signs

We likely all know situations where in which the deceased spouse can become something of a legend or a saint in the lives of those who carry on their memory. Sometimes that sainthood can produce dysfunction among stepchildren or in other relationships where the new person in the family formula is constantly measured against the parent or loved one who went before.

That can create a “bad dream” in which people refuse to accept or show love to others. It’s much better to acknowledge that we all need each other. Those relationships may be in new or different ways those in the past, but that can be a good thing.

We have this one life to live. It is best to make life better for one another every way you can. That’s almost better than the Golden Rule.

 

On the subject of past loves, lost loves, exes and others

IMG_0191It is possible to fall in love at first sight. I can speak from experience.

It happened to me once on a moonlit August night. Everything seemed prime for such an occurrence. Headed into the senior year of college, I was training for a cross country season that would turn out to be a dream come true. We placed second in the national meet in a triumphal conclusion of four years of hard training. We’d done it.

But first I had to fall in love. We met at a resident’s assistant retreat held at Bethel Horizons camp near Dodgeville, Wisconsin. For two days we’d hung together getting to know each other through meetings and meals. Then the group gathered for a fireside singalong. She put her head on my knee while looking up at me under a rising full moon. I looked into her bright green eyes and nearly fell all the way in. I was instantly in love.

Dating

We dated through my senior year and beyond. Ultimately circumstance with work and opportunities droves us apart. She fell for another man and has four wonderful daughters, as I understand, to show for it.

One her daughters spent several summers together with the daughter of some of my close friends here in Illinois. The two met at a Norwegian language camp in Minnesota. They had no idea they both knew me until one of them mentioned my name by coincidence and the girls put two-and-two together. “Wait…your mom dated Chris Cudworth?” Actually I’d gone out with both of their mothers during college. One turned into a lover. The other turned into a lifelong friend.

But when my friend’s daughter came home from Norwegian camp that summer she coyly asked me about her friend’s mother. “I hear you two dated?” she asked.

I honestly explained that it was no small romance in my life. We had shared that senior year in college and all our pursuits. She was a lead in the musical production Godspell while I was running my guts out in cross country. It was one of those relationships where both of us were discovering who we would actually turn out to be.

vfiles24241That summer after college we drove cross country to visit my brother in Pennsylvania. Eager to entertain her with music I purchased and installed a cassette deck player in my 1978 Plymouth Arrow. It hung below the dash in precarious fashion and had to be tweaked now and then to keep the wiring intact.  Secretly I was in love with some music by Jackson Browne and the album Hold Out. One of those songs, “That Girl Could Sing,” turned out to be a foreshadowing of what our relationship could be, and what could not.

She was a friend to me when I needed one
Wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d done
She gave me back something that was missing in me

She could of turned out to be almost anyone
Almost anyone with the possible exception
Of who I wanted her to be

And so we ultimately parted. I drove to Minnesota one July and we sat together on the banks of a lake waiting for fireworks to begin. To the east was a giant thunderhead. It rippled and flashed with lightning as the skies around us grew dark. The upper portions of that massive cloud turned gold, then pink, then purple. Finally all was dark and we were left momentarily to watch lightning coursing up and down the 60,000 foot pillar so easily cast by nature.

We both knew we had gotten together to break up. So we made the most of that last time together.

Love and loss

It took a year or more to get over her. Ultimately however I met the woman with whom I would spend 28 years in marriage before she passed away from ovarian cancer last year.

In a strange circumstance it happens that my freshman year college roommate from cross country also lost his wife two years ago to ovarian cancer. Those two dated and were married for 35 years all told. The odds seem long that two young men who lived and ran together in college should lose their wives to the same disease 35 years later. But it happens.

If the bloom rubs off

IMG_0251Some relationships blossom into fulfillment and others run out or run their course by necessity. There are relationships of which I was not proud before I met that young woman and fell in love. Most of us have personal histories that are far from perfect. So many of my friends have either gone through divorce or had friends suffer that marital consequence. Despite what the church has long said and what the Bible intimates, I do not believe it to be a sin to end a bad marriage. In so many cases people I know have made good of their lives by starting anew. There’s no sin in that so long as you care for those for whom you are responsible as well.

The harder part to achieve in all that distress is forgiveness. So many hard and harsh feelings come from a failed or failing marriage that it is impossible to imagine ever wanting to forgive that other person for the things they say and do. Yet you must sooner or later forgive in order to move on in life.

The right or wrong time

So much has to do with circumstance. Falling in love happens at unpredictable time. We can’t always control or predict who that person might be. Too many of us are attracted to people that aren’t really ideal life partners. We also can choose for the wrong reasons, or out of need. We’ll leave that subject open to interpretation. There needs to be some wiggle room here.

Yet our past loves, lost loves, exes and others do play a role in our lives whether we like it or not. We must be careful not to be too proud about how we define the good and bad in those relationships. There are always reasons why two people (or more) don’t get along. It takes two people to have a fight. We’re not always in the right. None of us is perfect, nor wholesome, or even true. We’re human. And that’s that.

Lessons learned anew

I’d always thought I knew all the lyrics to the Jackson Browne song That Girl Could Sing. Only I didn’t. There is a twist at the end of the lyrics that I’d never noticed before. See if you notice it here…

The longer I thought I could find her
The shorter my vision became
Running in circles behind her
And thinking in terms of the blame

But she couldn’t have been any kinder
If she’d come back and tried to explain

She wasn’t much good a saying goodbye
But that girl was sane

That’s right. That girl was sane.

Love can make us crazy sometimes. Losing love can make us even crazier. That can lead to bitterness, shame and acting in ways that we regret.

It can also be damaging to hold onto love too long. Lord knows there are a million songs about that. Instead we need to take pride in putting our past loves, lost loves, exes and others in perspective. Only then can we continue to grow, and to love again.