It’s been an incredible journey, from wife to wife-caretaker to widow, all in such a short number of days. Many duties that arise at the end of life and after the death of a dearly loved one are difficult. Fire-hosed with information and responsibilities during home hospice; fearing I’d make a mistake that would harm Bruce instead of helping him; afterwards, the work-in-progress of identifying and settling all the little pieces of closing his estate.
Those are the big things, things that demand time, focus, and all the energy I can muster at any given moment. But it’s the little things that pack the hardest emotional punches. Listening to a YouTube clip of our recording of “Silent Night” that a friend kindly posted a couple of days after Bruce’s death; Bruce’s narration, embedded in the song, made me cry like a baby. Yesterday, I picked up his death certificates at the funeral home. That was weird, but the worst moment of my day came when, for the first time in weeks, I was doing our regular weekly grocery shopping at our regular stores. We often did this together. It was painfully obvious that now I am doing this alone.
Navigating the details of a loved one’s death can be heart-breaking. I seem to be coping pretty well, possibly because I’m still in a state of shock. But, when I look back, some groundwork was laid to, if not make sense of death, help me better understand my feelings about it.
In the spring of 2017, Bruce and I both read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande © 2014. From my reading log:
Essentially, an informative book about end of life in our culture. When the incurable comes along it’s time to ask what do you understand your circumstances to be? What do you fear? What things in your life as it is now are important to you? What tradeoffs are you willing to make or not willing to make to be able to do those things? Many examples of more home-like assisted living/nursing facilities, how to talk to people when crisis hits so you understand what THEY want to do about it. Useful book for aging loved ones and myself, whenever it comes.
“Whenever it comes” in Bruce’s has come and gone. But well before the afternoon of December 14, when we learned that our only real option was home hospice, Bruce and I had discussed the ideas from the book in our own context. We both acknowledged that there comes a time where comfort and focusing on the life that is available is more important than gaining more time at whatever cost (cost in terms of available energy and quality of life, rather than money). I credit this understanding with helping us renew our resolve to make the best of what we’d been given, every time we got gut-punched with an increasingly short prognosis.
Also helpful was the revelation I experienced when reading Anne Lamott’s 2018 release Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. A concept she covers is her belief that, instead of being physical beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a physical journey. From this, I extrapolated that we exist not only after death, but before it, too. We exist continuously. In this, I find solace.
Underpinning the recent help from Gawande and Lamott is my core belief, courtesy of the Big Bang (the scientific theory, not the television show), that we are all made of the same star stuff. “We” includes every physical item in the Universe. We are continually surrounded by our kindred molecules, whether animal, mineral or vegetable. The world is anything but a lonely place. It’s no surprise that I talk to Bruce all the time. He’s here, just different.
Likely a big emotional crash will come in a few weeks or a few months. This was true when my father died, almost 25 years ago. I keep dark glasses nearby, knowing that tears will arrive when least expected. Support groups I’ve heard from suggest that I join in a while. Until then, I have watchful friends and family, books, and my belief in star stuff. Flowers, hot baths and music. An outpouring of love and respect for Bruce from thousands who knew him. My own memories of our life together. Even now, I can say it’s not all sad.
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Oh my dear friend, my heart sings and cries with yours. I hope your writing is as comforting for you as it is for me. Love and light to you.
Thank you, Dana, for all of the above. It means so much to me that this comforts you, too.
I dont think it was a coincidence that we met at the last WWW conference. The last one I attended was three years ago, with my husband Tod. He died one week later. I know what you feel when you go shopping now alone and all about the tears that well up….I had lunch yesterday with a woman whose husband died last month and as she was telling me about his death she started to cry then apologized for her tears. I said it is part of an unchartable process and just keep telling that story until it can be told without tears…it took me about three years…
Hi Yvonne, In retrospect, I think you’re absolutely right- -no coincidence. Widowhood is a strange state and I suspect the path of grieving is long, filled with unanticipated twists. Crying is definitely a part of it, though I’m not much of a crier in normal times. Mostly, the tears are cathartic. The unfairness of it all! And yet, that’s what I have so I’m determined to make the best life I can from here forward. Thanks so much for your perspective and your support. Susan
You are a wonderful lady. Bruce was a lucky man to have you in his life. I should say you both were very lucky to have each other. I have been thinking a lot about Bruce since your message of his passing. I was there when you two decided to embark on this journey. I remember Bruce’s beloved Moses and his worries that he might not be the right one for you. I encourage him to go for it, just jump. You’ll never learn to swim if you don’t jump. He claimed he was not good with relationships and worried that he might hurt you and he never wanted to that. In the end, he made the best decision of his life. I wish Bruce and I had remained close friends but time and distance diminishes such things. It brings me to tears writing this and all I can say is I will miss him and will never forget his fun loving ways. Susan you have a friend in me. Please know that you are loved by all of us.
Sincerely Russell Miller
Okay, Pipes, now you’ve gone and made me cry. Feels good, too. Thanks for your extremely interesting insights to Bruce’s concerns during our early days. I’ll admit we had many a rough moment then, but am so glad we stayed the course. He was, too. And guess what? Turns out Bruce was good at relationships. . .
Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, love and friendship.
Susan, I love your star stuff belief. I’m right on board with you on that! Bruce is here, just different. And, I realize that doesn’t take away the sting of not being able to hold him and look into his eyes. I’m glad you both had your time together as beings on the planet. More to come! I love you. Deb
Thank you, Deb. Love you right back.
Your writing is beautiful, calm and thoughtful.
I think it has and will keep you whole.
Thank you for sharing,
Shary, writing is definitely a solace. I’ve thought many times back to Kathy’s writing this past few weeks, how it was something that kept her interested and engaged in life, especially after Bernie’s passing. Miss you both.
Yes. We are spiritual beings on an earthly journey. We always have existed., even before our coming to this earth to gain a physical body. Now Bruce is a spiritual being also on a spiritual journey as well as on an earthly journey. The spirit world is all around us. Our loved ones are here close to us and helping us. We need to do our part to be worthy to listen and to receive the help from them. It sounds to me as though you are doing an incredible job of being in tune! I receive so much comfort in knowing how he progressed through this life to the point of being ready to meet his maker in good standing. Thank you for your help and contribution In this endeavor. We all eventually will receive our bodies again. Please gain comfort in knowing that you two can be together forever.
Thank you, Judy. Forever is exactly what I have in mind.
I also completely agree with the “star stuff” theory of our beings.
Honestly, Linnea, it’s the only concept about the continuity of life that makes sense to me. And the stars, themselves, are so beautiful!
Susan, we are the star stuff, and as this becomes what it is and forms beyond belief and human reality… keep writing, creating and most of all sharing. Stay blessed and surrounded by love and light.
Thank you, Kathy, and congratulations on your new CD. Your poetry and prose infuse much beauty in the world!
Wow! Your writing about your loss of Bruce is truly so incredibly thoughtful, heartfelt and inspiring.
Thank you for sharing your courage – love 💗 and Loss with such grace.
My condolences and my full heart to you.
Claire from Waitsburg 🧡
Thank you so much, Claire. It’s a strange time and writing about it helps me, too. I’m glad my words are helping others. Love to you, Susan
Susan, I continue to think of you and Bruce, to send love and hugs. As you know, my daughter went through the death of her husband, almost two years ago now. You do write beautifully about your love and time with Bruce. When I think of my son-in-law and daughter, I cry. I know my daughter has tears more often than she can talk about. She, too, felt the same way going shopping alone. She just sold her house and that was a step forward, but also a sad loss. May your and all of our “star stuff” hold us together.
Three cheers for “star stuff,” Julie! I don’t know why the little things are the hardest in this circumstance- -maybe because they reflect the small intimacies of the life Bruce and I shared with startling clarity. I plan to stay in our Walla Walla house, both because I love the house and community and because it’s a good environment for the 4-legged kids. With 4 cats and a dog, it would take one ton of motivation for me to move them again, and so soon. Also, there’s so much to adapt to right now. Best wishes to your daughter, and to you, too.