Monday, April 27, 2015

Count on This

I have outlasted all desire,
My dreams and I have grown apart;
My grief alone is left entire,
The gleamings of an empty heart.

From Grief Alone Is Left Entire, by Alexander Pushkin

The poem from which the excerpt, above, was taken, could be considered rather bleak. The writer speaks of his grief being the only thing he can count on in this world. It is the one thing he can cling to, he says, and he waits, in desolation, for the end to come.

I can't say that my inner life echoes the sad words of this writer, these days. There are bright periods with slivers of hope. But always, underpinning them, is the experience of this loss, and the grief that surrounds it.

Last week, I attended a pension planning seminar at work. I don’t know what I thought I was doing there. The presenter spoke of setting money aside, from our monthly paycheques, so that we could receive a lump sum, tax free, at our legal retirement age, which, for me, now, is 66. Men and women in their 30s and 40s raised their hands and eagerly participated in the session, calculating their future riches, counting up their pounds and pence.

I looked at them, so certain of their years on this planet. So trusting. So naïve.

I don’t count on anything, anymore. I assume nothing. I know that I could be cut right down, like my husband was. I could be out in the world, on a sunny, summer, day, enjoying the birdsong and the flowers blooming, and my heart could say, ‘enough’. I could be surrounded by family, (like he was), in the midst of grief, and I could walk outside, into the sunlight, and I could crumble to the ground.

I put some pounds and pence aside, when I can. But I am not going to squirrel part of my paycheque away, each month, in the hope that I will be here in eight years to enjoy it. I am not going to work and work, and wile away my precious time on this earth, dreaming of some future pleasure, my arms filled with tax-free cash. I have seen too many people put their lives on hold until retirement, and never make it there.

My sister-in-law died one month after she received her first Social Security payment. One month.

I do make some plans for the future. I hope to someday hike the Appalachian Trail. I am working on some short stories. I have plans for this weekend, and next month and next year. Retreats. Hikes. Visits with family. Phone calls.

But I know that those plans are not real. They may never happen. If nothing else, my loss has taught me this: everything changes, in this world, everything. Everyday. 

Even my grief. 

My grief is no longer frozen. It is a landscape of hills and valleys, rivers and streams, still lakes and turbulent waters. On days like today, when the sun shines, and the air is warm and breezy, I awaken with a sense of calm and hope. I stand at the top of the hill, looking out. I go about my routine, and try to remain aware, and mindful, and I may even feel happy, for awhile, until something hits. A remembered image of him, on the ground. A walk past the shop where we bought our wedding cake. A lingering look through the window of our coffee shop, on the High Street. Remembering our last time there, together. Such minute moments in time can send me tumbling, face first, into the valley of my grief.

The grief is always there. It might shift and change in shape and breadth and width, but the depth of it remains. It is dark, and sits in the pit of my stomach. Some days I can move around it, or mould it, like clay. Other days it is hard, and unrelenting. Like coal. Like rock.

I can count on this grief. I know it will never leave me, entirely. My love was deep. My grief is real. 

It is the one true thing I have left.


  1. Tricia, this post hit home...

  2. My parents were planning such an adventure when they retired. The places they were going to visit the things they were going to do. Shortly after retiring my dad had a stroke, followed by a diagnosis of lung cancer. He died aged 70. The last 10 years when he should have been having his reward for a life of hard work was spent fighting for life. My husband died 3 months after my dad, even though he had health problems it was unexpected. I live for the now. To put off living until some future point which may never happen seems such a waste of the life I have now.

  3. Once again you've hit on thoughts I've had myself...the fragility of life, how long will I last, what to do with the time...and the metaphor of grief, like clay, and eloquent and so sadly true. Thank you Tricia for putting this into words for us all.

  4. I have really never been able to express what my feelings are, but this surely identified all the thoughts I too have and the different levels of grief that we succumb to. Our lives are never the same when we lose our partner after so many years. My time spent with my husband was 47 years.

  5. Tricia, your post really resonates with me. I use to think I would work until I couldn't anymore, but not now. I'm retiring in a month and decided not to put my life on hold until some time in the future when I would be X years old and have X amount of money. I have gotten comments that maybe I don't have enough money to retire yet, or I should think about what inflation will be and what income will I have when I'm 77.....that's a long time in the future, and as you said, everything changes in this world, everything. My husband's death was very sudden and unexpected, and it is still shocking to me that he is gone. Your comment, "I am not going to work and work, and wile away my precious time on this earth" says it all. I feel very confident in my decision, and so appreciate the timing of your post. Everything you said is so very true. Sandi

  6. I feel the same. I can no longer plan for the distant future. I spend money on family vacations left and right. On today and tomorrow, next month maybe but never next year. My family thinks I'm being reckless. But I think I am living in the present, in the now- cause that's all I can count on.