I was sitting alone in my car near a lake in the park when I heard some powerful words about grief and healing. Every afternoon when I get off work, I leave my home office and drive to this semi-secluded spot where I await the sundown while watching the geese and ducks swimming in the frigid temps.
This is my getaway in the midst of a quarantine. Besides visiting my youngest grandchildren most weekends, it’s the only place I’ve gone in months. (My son and his family are isolated, too, so we’re in a shared quarantine “pod.”) But this is the habit I’ve cultivated during the week. It gives me a reason to shower and dress, and a place to go, while I await the vaccine and the freedom to leave my home and rejoin society, again.
To be honest, sometimes, I feel sorry for myself. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming to realize I’ve been alone all these months. I know I’m very, very lucky and that I have it pretty good. I’m able to keep my income and work from home, have groceries delivered, Zoom with friends. So many have it so much worse than I do. They’ve lost jobs, homes, loved ones. I know I’m very fortunate to have retained my safety, lifestyle, and health.
But sometimes, it just hits me how alone I am. Sometimes, I wish Rick was still here with me.
Every now and then, I imagine what it would have been like if he was still alive. I’d have my most beloved companion by my side. We’d be stuck in this house together. Would it be an extended honeymoon? Or would we get on each other’s last nerve? I imagine it would be a little of both. When I watch the news and the craziness that has been unfolding around me, I often wish he was sitting beside me, holding my hand, making me feel safe, making me feel loved, again.
But, he’s not here, and he hasn’t been for a long time. So I do what I can through virtual visits with friends, occupying myself with hobbies – and visits to the park each afternoon after work.
On this particular park trip, I had the Hulu app open on my phone because I didn’t want to miss the memorial service being held in honor of the 400,000 victims of this horrible virus. I was already weeping because Nicolle Wallace ends her daily MSNBC broadcast with a tribute to some of those who have died. She calls it “Remembering Lives Well Lived” and the large death toll from Covid-19 becomes so much more personal when she tells each of their stories. The segment is so painful to hear, that I often wonder why I do it, but I listen anyway. Perhaps I feel I owe each of these people a few seconds of my time to remember them, to acknowledge their loss.
Today’s stories included a custodian who was attending courses at the university where he worked, a couple who had been married 67 years, and a young mother who had been excited about the birth of her second child, but who never got to hold the baby. She died of covid after the C-section was performed.
Needless to say, after hearing those personal stories, I was already crying when I arrived at my perfect oasis. I was imagining the grief of all those families, and all the millions of others throughout the world who have suffered a loss. As someone on the show said, each of those people were in the center of a circle of loved ones, loved ones who are still trying to cope with their deaths and stunned at how quickly their lives changed.
Feeling their grief means that I can’t help but picture the huge hole that was left in the center of my universe three plus years ago. I can’t imagine Rick dying without me there, holding onto him, talking to him, saying a thousand goodbyes. Those dying from the virus are alone and lonely, and so are the people they’re leaving behind. All these hundreds of thousands of deaths…deaths of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, and best friends are isolated and their loved ones are not allowed a normal grieving process. Every day, I hear more about them – these lives that were well lived but that are now over – and each day I’m reminded of the awfulness of their grief because it rekindles the memory of my own.
So as I watched the beautiful memorial for the 400,000 victims, I wept, but in the midst of it all, there was some healing. The beautiful ceremony and the shared grief made me feel much less alone, and grateful that all those people who died alone were being memorialized and honored.
And then the words in President-Elect Biden’s short tribute captivated me…
“To heal we must remember,” he said just prior to the lighting of the 400 lights that represented the 400,000 deaths…
“It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal…”
And he was right. It is often hard to remember, so very hard. At first, in the months and year after Rick’s death, remembering him and our life together left me devastated by grief. But now, those same memories make me smile – and often laugh out loud. I’ve gone from constant sadness at his loss to joy and gratefulness that I had the chance to know him, love him, and share a life with him.
But to heal, I had to remember. The little moments, his smile, his laugh, the times we shared – as painful as that was, I needed to remember him and face all I had lost. And, in time, I did heal. The gaping hole he left in my heart began to fill up with all those memories – memories I will have forever. And no matter how much time has passed, I will never forget him, ever. I will always be thankful that there was a Rick, that he loved me, and that we enjoyed a life well lived.
And now, my hope for those of you who are grieving the loss of your husband is that someday you will feel this sense of peace about that man who has gone from your life. As you sit alone now in your own homes, weathering the storm of this awful virus and watching the death toll rise, I know you can’t help but relive your own grief – whether it’s recent or from long ago. My hope for you is that someday you’ll realize those memories make you smile. But never forget, no matter how painful it is now, that to heal, you must remember.