Monday, May 7, 2012

Wide Open

Balch Creek, Forest Park
It has been 11 months today (I'm typing this on the 4th of May) since he left this earth. This morning was taken up by volunteering for the Audubon Society and I couldn't spend a lot of brain power on the significance of the date while I was looking for and identifying birds. And besides, every day is another day without him. Whether the calendar says "3" or "4" or "24", he's still dead, and my heart is still broken.

But later, as I walked in the woods, a place so sacred for us and so important in our relationship, the significance became more apparent. I experienced many so many stereotypical grief emotions in that one hour walk.

Denial: As I started out, it felt like any other hike and I could almost pretend that all I was doing was taking a walk in the woods, as normal as can be. Muddy shoes slapping on slippery trail. Rain dripping from leaves onto coat, onto dirt. Breath in, out, feet finding a rhythm. This is a normal day. Everyone carries on with their lives. I carry on. I hike in the woods. I walk upright. It couldn't possibly be that he is dead. Dead. Dead and Dave. No way those two words go together. No way in hell. No way that I'm still standing if he didn't live.

Anger: The woods were post-rains and the creek was swollen and raging through the valley below me. The new spring growth was chartreuse and actually glowed in the dim light that made it through the canopy. The green was something you could absorb through your pores. It was so vivid it almost buzzed. You should be here to see another spring like this!, I screamed silently. Can you see this? Can you see what you're missing? How could you be taken from me? How could life be that cruel? You will never get to see another spring like this with me and I hate that. I hate this.

Depression: As I hiked back from the halfway point, past some people I tried to hide my grief-ravaged face from, the rain began to pick up and I pulled my hood over my head. The drops battered the fabric, raising a roar inside the hood, filling my ears, and rice-sized hail began to ping off my head and bounce on the ground. My mind turned to a familiar groove. The "I don't want to be alone forever" groove. I thought for the millionth time that I want love again, but I'm so scared to risk feeling this way again. Maybe it's just not worth it, I thought. Maybe it's better to just be alone. Thankfully, this thought was quickly discarded. The thought of a life without my time with Dave because I'd decided love wasn't worth the risk is something I don't want to ponder. Miss out on love to save myself pain? I can't do that. I just can't. But the time I will spend without that kind of love feels eternal to me right now. To be loved so completely by someone for 15 years and then...nothing? To say that it's a shock to my system is a laughable understatement.

Acceptance: As I hiked along the banks of the creek, I imagined what he would be doing if he'd been by my side. He'd have been carefully inspecting the waters with a fisherman's eye. He'd comment on how muddy the water was and point out a pool or two where fish might find refuge from the current. But he's not here, I thought. We'll never have those talks again. We'll never be walking down the path together oohing over a chipmunk or hummingbird or marmot. He is gone and never coming back. This concept is one that I don't wear with ease. It's a new pair of shoes that I can put on and tolerate for a very short time, but all I can think of is kicking them off to end the discomfort.
My mind still bounces right off of this one, but it comes back to it more often these days, gradually getting more and more familiar over time.

As I left the trail for the pot-hole ridden parking lot, and climbed into my waiting car, I felt heavy with grief, but free of hopelessness. Sad but not bottomless-pit-sad. I realized that my heart is broken, but it's also been cracked wide open. While this makes me endlessly more vulnerable to pain, it also makes me more open to new things, too. New possibilities for ways to carve out this second life of mine. New empathy for others, new appreciation for the small things in life. New depth of spirit and softness of heart.

Maybe a broken heart can mean more room. I hope so.


  1. Very well written, Cassie. This is a place for me to share and this is a tough week for me. I'm in my fourth year without my husband, and this week if full of anniversaries. Our 44th wedding anniversary and then the 4th anniversary of John first becoming ill. We were celebrating our 40th wedding anniv with my sister and her hubby for the weekend. John become very ill while golfing and ended up in ER and then hospitalized. It took a few more weeks to determine that his lungs were full of metastatic lung cancer and in 6 mo he was dead. This all happened right before we were to retire. We met when we were 16 and 17, so we were lifelong partners. It still hurts so much and I still miss him so much. Life goes on as it must, but of course will never be the same. We had 40 years, but I expected at least 50 and I never expected to lose this healthy 63 yr old too soon. It does get easier after about 3 years, but the pain and sadness is still fresh on holidays, anniversaries, etc. But loss is part of living, which is a very difficult lesson to learn.

    1. I'm so sorry for what you've lost and that you have such a difficult week ahead. I'm glad you're coming here.

  2. Cassie _ this is so beautiful "I realized that my heart is broken, but it's also been cracked wide open. While this makes me endlessly more vulnerable to pain, it also makes me more open to new things, too. New possibilities for ways to carve out this second life of mine. New empathy for others, new appreciation for the small things in life. New depth of spirit and softness of heart." and so very true.
    Thank you for showing how being present can move our grief and give us space to breath.

    1. I was going to write the same thing. That touched me so much. It's very similar to something I saw this morning on the Today show. Cameron Diaz was talking about a deep heartbreak she suffered a few years back and a friend told her not to look at her heartbreak as a loss, but as an indication that she can love deeply and openly.

      We can use this heartbreak of losing our loves forever as a way to love again, just as deeply and devoted as we were to these amazing men and women we had the privilege of having in our lives.

      Lately I've been going through these crazy emotions. Missing Felix so much yet getting to know someone new and scared and guilty to feel anything remotely similar to what I felt for Felix. Thank you for writing this blog. It made me realize that it's okay to feel love and acceptance of what has happened and what will happen.

    2. "...not to look at her heartbreak as a loss but as an indication that she can love deeply and openly".
      Love that.

  3. Cassie,

    Thank you for this post. So eloquently written, and so very true of my timeline as well (just over 1 year). How an event can inspire such polar opposite feelings all at the same time is still beyond me. But those conflicting feelings are ever present, and are slowly getting easier to process.

    Big hug to you as you move through the next few weeks before the first anniversary.

  4. My husband passed away suddenly almost two years ago after a 26 year marriage during which we were each others' soul-mates and best friends. We had one son who is wonderful. My husband and I shared everything -- music, being cheerleaders for each other, and making plans for our future. We were talking about moving; we were talking about buying furniture and taking a vacation. Those events did not happen. I am depressed frequently and have not been able to work for awhile. I am only in my 50s and want to get back to the land of the living, however, I have let my apartment get messy, have paperwork that is sky high (he used to work on the bills) and thought that by now I would feel better. Often it is difficult to even go outside. Since we did just about everything together, I feel kind of off balance -- as if there should be someone beside me whose arm I can grab. Does it get better? I tried temple, but felt uncomfortable and even more lonely there. I've lost the confidence that I used to have when my husband was alive. I would cook meals; he would wash dishes and make apartment repairs. We had a weekend routine where he would bring in dry cleaning and I would bring in laundry. I would make coffee; he would make breakfast. I am embarrassed at how I've let the apartment and myself get disheveled. I've lost weight -- went from a size 16 to a size 6, but do not experience joy. Any suggestions? Can other widows/widowers relate to any of this?

    Thanks for taking the time to read this post.