Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Long Goodbye ....

    (NOTE:  It took me well over two weeks to begin to write this post.  I knew that I had to write about the experience, but I dreaded doing it because I knew the tears would flow, and I wanted to put that off as long as possible.  The tears came but I worried more about the response that many would have over the word "goodbye".  Would my children think I was now forgetting their dad by saying "goodbye"?  Would my non-widowed friends think it was high time that I said it?  Would newly widowed people be repulsed by the idea of saying "goodbye" and then seeming to blythely move forward with the rest of my life?  I hope that no one experiences anything remotely like the above responses.  In saying "goodbye", I'm not closing a door on the first half of my life ... and definitely not on Jim.  But I am choosing to look forward to what may, or may not, lie ahead.  I could no more forget Jim than I can kill myself by holding my breath.  It's physically impossible.  But I can choose to look towards the future without wishing that I had the past.  We all wish we had who we had.  But I think that if we hold on too tightly to that wish, it blurs our ability to see the future.  The timing of this, like every single other aspect of grief, is unique to every individual.  I could not have done this 3 years ago.  I could not have done it 3 months ago.  My time was that weekend.  That night.  I will never forget Jim, but will carry him with me wherever I go and with whomever I'm  with.  He's a part of my heart, you see.  And as long as my heart beats, he's here .... moving forward with me, not causing me to stop and stare only at what I can't have ..... my past with him.)

.... wasn't what I had planned.
In fact, I hadn't planned to participate in the event that led to this post .... at all.

It was at Camp Widow.
Saturday night.
Around midnight.

I'd been at the hotel for almost an entire week and, being on the board, I knew the timeline of all of the events.  But the event that was planned for Saturday night was one in which I had no interest.
Or so I thought.

I knew that we'd be having our dressy banquet.  I had a great dress.
I knew we'd be dancing like crazy .... and I did dance.
I knew that each widowed person would receive a glass (recycled) heart, with some paper on which to write a note to our loved one, and some ribbon with which to tie said note on the heart.
Then the hearts would be thrown into the ocean around midnight.

I wasn't interested.
I didn't even take a heart.
I didn't give this event more than a nano second's thought.
Actually, I thought I'd be in bed sound asleep when this jaunt out to the ocean happened.
But .... since I am a board member .... I was needed to help corral everyone out to the beach.
Yes, all of us in our finery, minus our high heels .... with a gentle mist coming down and glow necklaces on to light the way.

Again, not something in which I wanted to participate.
I ate.
I danced.
I danced with various widows and I danced with Vern.
He danced with various widows.
We had fun in the picture booth.
And I worked the table where we took matching donations that night .... and raised quite a bit of money.

It was at that table that I saw a pile of glass hearts.
For those who had not received theirs.
Those hearts kept attracting my attention .... for some reason.
I tried to ignore them.
I was not interested.

But .... at the last minute, I grabbed a heart.  I took it back into the banquet room with me and sat it down at my spot at the table.  And then I went off to dance some more.
Then, before we all knew it, a five minute warning was given before the march to the beach would begin.
So I went back to the table.
And I stared at that heart.
The heart I had no intention of using.
I had nothing to say, after all.
It's been almost 4 1/2 years .... I've said all I can think of.
Besides, I don't really think that Jim can hear me.

So I sat down and stared at the heart.
And then I slowly unwrapped it, wondering why I was even giving it that much attention.
Before I knew it, I had reached into my bag and brought out a pen.
Still wondering what the heck I was doing, I began to write.
I didn't write a lot .... I didn't have to.
All I wrote was this:
I will love you forever.

See?  Nothing poetic.  Nothing worthy of the prose that 27 years should bring.
Just a simple note.
And still, I had no intention of doing anything with it.
But I wrapped the note onto the heart anyway.
And then I got up and started helping glow necklace-wearing women out the door.
Vern I and were bringing up the rear.
And then suddenly, Vern had to rush upstairs to get the check for the DJ.
So I hustled the back of our group out of the doors and across the patios and onto the bridge that led to the beach.
I still had no intention of doing anything with the wrapped up heart that I held in my hand.

We were a sight to see ..... over 100 women and men, dressed to the nines, barefoot and formal, picking our way through the sand to head up to the pounding surf.
I looked behind me to see if Vern had returned yet.
He had not.
I hung back for a few more minutes, watching many of the women march right into the surf and hurl their hearts out into the Atlantic.

And then, before I realized what I was doing, I was walking into the surf.  I'm not sure how I got there ... I don't remember making the decision to go .... I just found myself there.

The water was cold as it surged up over my ankles and up my calves.  But I only seemed to notice it for a moment.
And then I stopped .... and I talked.
To Jim.
It didn't occur to me at that moment that I didn't believe he could hear me.
I just pictured him, standing there, facing me in the surf.

I didn't plan on seeing him.  I didn't plan on talking to him.  None of this was planned.

But then I told him what I'd been learning to say for four plus years.
I told him that I love him, and that I will always love him, but that it was time to say "Goodbye".
I thanked him for everything he was to me, and to our children.  I told him that I still look forward to seeing him in Heaven, when it's my time to get there.
But for now, he's part of the "before Janine".  And I needed to say "Goodbye" so that I could turn around and face the future.
Without him.
Not the future I had planned .... ever.
And not the goodbye I had thought about .... ever.
But I've had over four years to get used to the idea that he is not coming back.
No matter how much I love him.
And with that "goodbye" I tossed my heart into the Atlantic.
My glass heart.
My real heart stayed in my chest ... against all odds.  I half expected to bury it in that ocean along with the glass heart.

But my heart, my very real, very alive, beating heart , stayed inside of my body.
Where it should be.
And I turned around and started walking out of the surf.
I had tears in my eyes, and my head was bowed, but I was not sobbing.
I felt more surprised than anything.  Surprised that I was able to actually say "goodbye" to what was past. without having a huge meltdown.
Surprised that I felt so at peace.

After I walked out of the water and up on the beach for a bit,  I finally looked up.  And I saw Vern coming out to meet me.
And I thought of the irony .... and of the meaning of this night .... to me, anyway.

I had just said "Goodbye" to the most important person in my life .... to my very first and very, very true love, and turned away from where I left that heart, only to see the man in front of me. The man who is in my present .... and who hopes to be in my future.

I couldn't help but smile at that thought.  And I knew, without a doubt, that that was what Jim would want for me.
That that was/is how it should be.
His death is my reality, no matter how much I hate it, or how much I want to wake up and find it didn't happen.
It did happen .... and that is my reality.

And there's a man who stands before me.
He loves me.  He's crazy about me.
As I am for him.
He is my now, and hopefully my future.
And he doesn't deserve me constantly looking over my shoulder for what was.
For what can never be again.

Yes, that hurts.
In a way.
But it also feels like I've been given my freedom to live .... to move forward.
And Jim is the one who gave that to me.
As I tossed my heart into that ocean.
Something I never thought I'd do.  Something I didn't plan to do.
Something I had no interest in doing.
And yet .... I did.

Jim will always be a part of my heart.
That's a fact of my life.
But I needed to say "Goodbye".
It took me almost four and a half years.
Which seems like a very long goodbye.


  1. Love this post Janine, and love you. You deserve so much happiness.

  2. WOW.. I am more than impressed and understanding of this, as I am sure many are. I do not know you or your process or circumstances, nor do you know mine. I am almost 8yrs out. Your bravery and sincerity are amazing. Thankyou for sharing. You are now able to move on to your new journey, as you should be able to!

  3. Janine, you always know how to say the most important things. I think we kind of know when those moments happen and we have to take them. It is only by going with that deep feeling that we can later understand what it meant.

    I hope love fills every space Jims absence has left.
    This morning I send you a song "a thousand years" by Christine Peri. It says what I think too - I will always love my husband - for a thousand years but . . .we live still.

    1. This song made me sob the first time I heard it. I now have it on my iPhone and listen to it when I think I need to get a good cry out of my system.

      Another honest post Janine.
      I think it's all part of moving forward. Saying goodbye, and letting go. And this part of your preface also says it all, "I could no more forget Jim than I can kill myself by holding my breath. It's physically impossible."

  4. Janine, you give some of the best hugs that I got at camp widow. Vern is a lucky guy. Jim will always be a part of your heart. Who ever would put the words envy and widow together but I do envy you and hope to be also some day be closer to Goodbye and Hello to the future,
    (or at least face a more hopeful future with more joy and peace in it than I have had for what will be four years this month).
    Throwing a heart rock in to the sea (too pretty of a rock at that to be thrown out) I also had no interest at first, for what turned out to be one of the highlights at camp for me. I left lighter and more full of hope after the weekend and I am looking forward to some kind of living again instead of just holding space with no purpose or joyful possiblities for any future that could possibly exist without the father of my children and the love of my life. For starters I have camp west coming up in August. Thank you for making that happen.

  5. Good for you, Janine! I get it and hope that I get there someday.

  6. Wow, that was powerful! All the best to you. You help me know how to act and what to say to my best friend who was widowed at 50. Thanks!

  7. Awesome. I am so, so happy for you!

  8. Precious Janine,
    You are an Inspiration. My Heart is filled with Gratitude, Hope and Love.
    Here's to Eternal Love and New Beginnings!

  9. Janine, I was at Camp Widow East. Like you, I had no intention of throwing that little glass heart into the ocean. And I didn't. I walked down to the beach and joined the "party" there, but I just couldn't throw my heart into the surf. I'm only 17 months out. I guess that's the difference.
    While at the beach, I collected some sand and seashells. I'm going to put my collection, along with the heart, into a fish bowl or vase, as soon as I find the right one. I hope to someday throw that heart into the ocean. I'm just not ready yet. But, like you, I will get there.