Twelve years ago shortly after 9:00 a.m. the best man I have ever known, a beautiful soul, left this world. He also happened to be my husband. It was a bright sunny morning, and I remember being struck by how his hair shimmered and his face was bathed in sunlight giving him an angelic look even amidst the suffering. It just seemed too beautiful, not the kind of day someone should die. Yet, if you knew him, you would say it was a perfect way for him to enter his new life. In the sunlight... in his favorite room in our home.... in my arms. He was surrounded by his beloved family and a favorite nurse who had become a dear friend. She reached out way beyond her duties, and brought him comfort and laughter in his final days. I swear I felt his soul leave his body, and then the room, as I hugged him and hung on tightly. Along with it, he took a huge piece of my heart. Only five minutes earlier I had whispered into his ear, “Give my mom a big hug from me when you see her.” In that moment, I thought everything that had brought any meaning to my life was gone forever.
I’ve spent a good number of the years since his death in survival mode, limping along. I began filling the empty hole, that spot where the other half of my heart used to live, with anything I could find to stop the bleeding. A little busyness, a lot of workaholism, some over-achievement, food, and a few relationships that hauled in a whole lot of drama. Drama is a great way to avoid the grief process and dull the pain. You don’t feel much when your life is in a constant state of turmoil and uncertainty. Just about the time the ache sets in, you manage to align yourself with some new crisis or addiction that diverts you from stopping, facing it head on, and walking through those stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.... step, by painful step. I stayed stuck in phase one, denial. I was convinced if I stopped for too long, the pain would overtake me and I would be trapped in a limbo land of chronic grief and spiritual death. So I stayed, hung out... put my blinders on and settled in.
I didn’t realize by staying there, I was not honoring the man who actually showed me what true love looks like. I wanted to forget, how it felt inside my spirit to be with another soul who calls forth the best in you. I think we all already possess our gifts, but being with the one you are supposed to be, takes them off the shelf, polishes them all up, and walks with you hand in hand as you share them with the rest of the world. After his death, I took the gifts we shared, and stashed them away. I became a hoarder; holding onto his legacy, keeping it locked up, along with so many of those good qualities he brought out in me, all to myself.
He believed in me. I made him smile, and laugh. He told me this every single week for 18 months via a card in the mail, while he was away, going to school. It became a contest to see who could pick out the most humorous, outrageous cards. I have the best collection of Far Side cards known to man. His favorite humor... oh, so sarcastic, and "sic". I loved it, it suited me too. We compared notes when he came home on the weekends, sharing the events of our respective week with each other. I helped him study and became a whiz at Anatomy, incorporating body parts in our conversations as a learning tool for him. He told me my Patella’s were the finest he'd ever seen. We treasured our moments; learned how to be mindful long before it was a buzz word, savoring the minutes of our time together. We planned adventures and trips. We had long talks in the hot tub, reciprocally sharing our bucket lists and dreams; encouraged our differences and celebrated our similarities. He taught me to step outside my comfort zone, lighten up in my frugality, have some fun. I taught him that the best things in life don’t always have a price tag. He taught me to work harder at not judging others because we haven’t walked in their shoes. I taught him it was safe to share secrets, and be who we truly are because sometimes we help others most when we are honest about the paths we’ve traveled. Through his long, painful illness, he taught me what it means to have limitless faith and be optimistic no matter what. I taught him that often the greatest gift we can give someone else is to be still and receive... their support, their offerings, their help and their love. We traded roles, from student to teacher and back to student again. We reminded each other, everything is in the hands of a Higher Power and our life together would be greatly enhanced if we let it remain there.
Maybe on that beautiful sunny morning, 12 years ago, when I felt the movement of Mark’s spirit, it wasn’t his soul departing. Perhaps it was a part of his soul entering and infusing mine with his animation, so I could pay it forward. I like to think so now. It’s been a long journey. Maybe using those things we taught one another, those blessings... perhaps it's time to venture out there, love another again, help others to polish their gifts too, serve, and live the remainder of my days, with the same energy and joy I did when he was alive. It’s an aspiration and it would be an honor.....
This realization has been a long time coming. I’ve talked for years about THE BOOK.... My story... our story. His life was so much about helping others, perhaps this is one way that his animation, wholly alive, inside of me, his legacy, can live on. This, is the year of sharing my experience. Two steps forward, ten back, ultimately getting there, walking out into the daylight, no need for something to fill the hole in my heart. It’s no longer damaged and broken. It’s healed, and whole, and ready to give back and be joyfully used again.