One of my new favorite shows, 1883, has the characters saying some memorable lines. But a discussion about grief in the last episode left me sobbing in a way I haven’t in a while. It was that pleasure/pain kind of crying that comes from acknowledging a bittersweet truth about life, love, and loss.
The main star is Sam Elliott, and his character, Shea, began the series grieving the death of both his wife and daughter from smallpox. With nothing to live for, he decides to lead a wagon train of German immigrants traveling across the country. In a later episode (spoiler alert!) Elsa, the teenaged main protagonist, is grieving the unexpected death of Ennis, the young man she had fallen in love with and was planning to marry. She sat at his grave, pistol in hand, when Shea came upon her and said…
“I know how you feel. A lot of people are gonna tell you that. Whether it’s truthful or not, I don’t know. But I know it’s true when I say it. I’ve sat right where you’re sittin’, thinkin’ the same thing. Thinking I don’t want to live without them. Don’t see the point. Still don’t most days. But here I am… Livin’ without ’em.”
“Why?” Elsa asks.
“Well, my reasons would be different than yours. I don’t have anyone else left that loves me. You do.”
But then he says the most wonderful and heartbreaking truth about what made him decide to live on…
“I’ll tell you a secret. I’ll tell you why I’m still sucking air today. I’m headed to the ocean. An Apache scout told me once, that when you love someone you trade souls with them. They get a piece of yours, and you get a piece of theirs. But when your love dies, a little piece of them dies with you. That’s why it hurts so bad. But that little piece of him is still inside you. And he can use your eyes to see the world,” he tells Elsa of Ennis.
“So I’m gonna take my wife to the ocean. And I’m gonna sit on the beach and let her see it. That was her dream. Then I’m gonna see her. That’s my dream.”
This is difficult to confess, but after Rick died, at my lowest point, I debated whether I wanted to live without him. I distinctly remember returning home one evening a couple of weeks after his death and sitting in the closed garage, dreading going into the empty house. I remember wondering why I should go on. Wondering if I should leave the car running and just go to sleep, because the pain was too much to bear.
And what kept me going was that, like Elsa, I, too, had others who loved me, and I knew that I couldn’t put my son and my family through the grief that I would cause by selfishly taking my own life. And I thought of Rick. Of how hard he fought to live, and how pissed off he would be at me for giving up.
That was the turning point for me. I shut off the car and went into the quiet house, and later that week, I sought out a grief counselor. She helped me to process the grief. Then she slowly guided me to the fulfilling life I have today – my after life – a life where I have so much joy and so much to live for that I am thankful everyday for having survived those dark days and hours.
So these words spoken by Shea affected me deeply, because the one thing that has continued to help me cope with the grief is the belief that I carry a piece of Rick in my heart. He was cheated of decades of his life. He didn’t get to enjoy his retirement. He’ll never travel again. He’ll never get back to those beaches and sunsets he loved or finish his goal to see all 50 states (he missed it by 2). He won’t check off his bucket list and see Italy, explore his ancestors’ Eastern Europe origins, or revisit Amsterdam. He’ll never get to read any of the new books by his beloved authors, or download the new songs by his favorite artists. He’s missing watching the kids grow into adulthood, and riding down all those unexplored paths on his bicycle. He’s not here for parties and celebrations and holidays. He’s missing life. He’s missing everything.
But I’m not. I’m here and I’m taking him along for the ride. So often, when I experience something new, I find myself telling him, Rick, you would have loved this. And, deep inside, I hope he’s experiencing it all with me… that, as Shea describes in 1883, I’m taking Rick to that ocean. I hope that in fulfilling my own dreams, I’m also fulfilling his, and that he’s using my eyes to see the world.