Friday, May 18, 2012

Bookends and New Friends

“Oh, hey! Did I tell you that our interior decorator finally died of lung cancer?”

The off-hand declarative struck my heart ice cold.

“Was she married?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so” came the reply - innocent because he was oblivious.

The enormity of the moment was sweetly coated with blessed ignorance. “Of course she died – she had cancer. It couldn’t have been a surprise. And sure she had a husband.” (None of these things were actually said, but these are the things that the innocent say. Heck, these are the things I said before I was less… innocent.)

“Can you connect me with her husband?”

Right now, somewhere in Austin, there’s a man sitting by himself who has no idea how he’s going to live another day without the sweet touch of his wife.  All-too-fresh and tender last-moments coat the inside of his eyelids. Somewhere in Austin, he’s wandering around a suddenly quiet house, picking up the shoes she last wore, smelling them and then putting them down; picking up the glass she last drank from; looking at her toothbrush, hat and socks she was wearing just days ago and wondering what the hell just happened. Somewhere in Austin, there’s a man drowning and Austin is oblivious.


Saturday I’m attending (yet another) wedding but this one is very special. One of Maggie’s closest girlfriends (and for the last three years, one of mine) is getting married. He’s a nice guy and they are going to have a wonderful, long life together. Maggie never met him but I’m positive she would approve. Walking down that isle, she’ll wear not only a fancy white dress and big grin but also the ring that Maggie wore every day after our wedding day as her “something borrowed.” It’s the closest thing she’ll have to Maggie’s blessing. I’m truly happy for her. That night, the whole world will celebrate the joining of these two lives.

So there it is – Saturday night, one couple is committing to walk forever together while one man can’t grasp why his wife is never, ever coming home.

We, the ones who read with this blog, are truly gifted because of our shared experience and loss. We know all too well what the bookends of a relationship look like. In contrast, most people only know what it looks like when the books fall chaotically off the shelf. Our experience is our gift and our curse. Experience has made us rich but at an unbelievable price.

Riches are worth nothing if they are stuck in a mattress (or in my case, on top of a mattress - unshaved, unshowered and crying.) We’ve all had this gift shoved down our throat. But it takes another kindred soul to point us the way and explain that it’s going to be ok; that this is a gift; and that we will survive. Camp Widow 2011 did that for me. Now I feel like it’s my job to make sure that other people see the gift they’ve been given underneath all the rubble, starting with a big ol’ dose of you-aren’t-alone.

Mr. Sleepless In Austin, I’m coming for you. I never wanted to meet you and I wish you and I had nothing in common, but that’s not where we are right now. Regardless, we have a lot to talk about, you and me. See you soon.


  1. Wow!m Chris, what a powerful message.
    I do believe that. I just gave a talk to a group of palliative care hospital staff. We do have something unique to say. We do know about living and dying - we can share our depth and pain and joy and walk with another suffering person.
    There will be light.
    Sometimes we have to knock on the door and open our hearts and share it.

  2. "Our experience is our gift and our curse. Experience has made us rich but at an unbelievable price."

    Wow. Thank you.

  3. God Bless you for reaching out to Mr. Austin. I too reached out to the spouse of someone I knew very long ago. Unfortunately she lives in Utah and we will likely never meet, but she knows I am out there if she needs me. Maybe I should reach out again soon. good idea.

  4. Thanks for the message today. Found out today that a friend has been given a yr. because of a cancerous brain tumor. Rips my heart to shrewed having had my own love die of cancer. I don't want to miss the now or the later. So greatful for this reminder in your blog today.

  5. The tears have come again, while reading this. Thank you

  6. Chris, powerful, insightful, inspiring... your gift, as a result of Maggie's death, is your unbelievable ability to communicate strongly in writing! Or maybe it is our blessing and your curse...

    Many tears and thank you for the release!

  7. Chris,
    Wow! Awesome writing. I identified with all you wrote...since you have been widowed for a little bit of might of experienced this already.....reaching out to someone to offer a lifeline can be like trying to save a drowning person ....even if your already a great swimmer you can be brought under water by them. If they reject your offer to talk do not take it personally. Several of us have offered other widowed people info about widowed village and have been judged harshly for myriad of oh...I have it all handled...then when you see them months later....where do you know other widows from? Just planting the seed that they are not huge....and enough...if you check back...fine....if you don't.....still fine....Widow Card.

  8. Thank you for reaching out Chris to him and to us!

  9. Beautiful post.
    Our experience sucks, but it makes us uniquely valuable to others. And in helping others we can help ourselves come to terms with what happened to us.

    I have been volunteering as a group leader at OUR HOUSE for a little over a year. I think I have healed more and learned more about my own grief in this time than in the 5 years of living with the death of my husband before that. It's powerful, this helping. I am as equally sorry as happy that you can be there for this man.

  10. Chris,

    This is beyond brilliant. So well written. Love "We know all too well what the bookends of a relationship look like. In contrast, most people only know what it looks like when the books fall chaotically off the shelf." YES.

    I think it'd be really kind of vulgar to have walked life's hardest road and then do nothing help those just starting on it, even if all one can manage is passing on SSLF's contact info or making a simple phone call. Bravo, man.