I can hear it. It’s a delicate crunching sound, silencing everything else around me. I close my eyes and open my ears to a sound like the flutter of distant birds’ wings, or the landing of wet, heavy crystals as the snow accumulates on my hair and jacket. It’s like diamond dust that sprinkles down from the sky. It’s an intimate, long whisper that fills the entire space around me, reminding me to be still, as the Psalmist said, and know God. As I watch it, I think about how happy I would normally get at the first snow fall; its signaling of the impending holidays and the joy and peace around us this time of year. However, that is not how I feel this time around. I feel sorrow, loss, and regret. Being still and knowing God is there brings little comfort right now, and the snow falling just reminds me of the life and joy I no longer have.
A week ago I picked up my husband’s remains; he past away, losing his battle with cancer. The urn heavier than I expected, weighing my arms down as I clung tightly to what’s left of him, determined not to drop him. Setting it on the mantle, I stared at it–crying uncontrollably. That urn is all that’s left; my 6’1′ larger than life husband has been reduced to an urn, it’s not right. Leading up to his wake and mass, there was a flurry of activity. People in and out, flowers arriving daily, food being sent in rotation, plans being made. It left little time to think, little time to feel. Since then, an eerie silence has fallen upon our house, leaving me to do nothing but think. It’s not like staying “busy” really helps, especially since no one can go anywhere due to the pandemic. The business of life doesn’t breathe energy and joy back into the house. And, revisiting our memories together hurts to much right now; it’s like a gigantic welt that if rubbed the wrong way or slightly brushed sends a thread of pain ripping up the spine. This is not a feeling that goes away in a matter of a few days or weeks. It’s a lingering ache that eventually turns to numbness. However, I try talking to him, then hold my breath and wait, hoping desperately that I’ll hear his voice, an echo somewhere in the distance, like catching a wisp of a cloud.
Deepak Chopra says the key to the conquest of death is to discover your true self. Your true self is not in form. Your true self is formless. Your true self is inconceivable. Death makes life possible. His words are fancy, but unrealistic. Anyone who has experienced this level of loss doesn’t want formless, doesn’t want to look at death as making life possible. We want our spouse or loved one back. We want form, a physical mass that we can touch, hug, kiss, wrap our arms around and never let go.
Day 3 after his funeral (the day after I picked up his remains) I woke to the realization that I no longer have my life partner, my teammate to help me with the every day. Those little tasks we all take for granted, like taking the dogs out to go to the bathroom in the early brisk morning air, splitting the grocery shopping, having coffee already brewing when you lazily come down stairs on a Sunday morning, eating meals together and talking about the day, asking your spouse to carry the heavy boxes, knowing that if something goes wrong (like plumbing) or a major snow storm hits, that you have your partner to help you figure it out and keep the house upright. I realized I am on my own, he’s no longer here to do the “every day” with me. That realization hits me every single morning when I wake up, and it takes half the day to get through it. By evening I am somewhat steady, I go to bed, and then the next morning it hits me all over again.
It’s continuously bumping into memories and realizations you don’t want to have. Last week, for example, that 3rd day, I walked into our study to grab some documents, and saw the dry erase calendar on the wall. Mike had insisted we get one after he was diagnosed because it would help him remember things. His handwriting still on it as it is set to last January 2020. One box had his therapy times, and another had a huge circle around it and said “SHAN BDAY!” He loved making a fuss over my birthday, I loved that he cared so much about it. As I sat there and stared at his writing, I cried until I could no longer see the board. I cried because seeing his handwriting reminded me that I will never see it again, yet I couldn’t/can’t erase what’s there.
Fast forward back to today, as I listen to the first wet snow flutter to the ground, another memory forces its way in, of this exact week last year when Mike and I walked into the oncologist’s office to hear that his tumor had dramatically shrunk like nothing they had ever seen before. We were so thrilled and excited; hope reinvigorating our efforts and fight. We headed into Thanksgiving with renewed hope and purpose and enjoyed all the holiday had to offer. He had clasped my hand in his and looked up, “Thank you God, thank you,” he said. We cried tears of joy that day.
I would give anything to go back to that day, to have that kind of news awaiting us. Each day, new realizations are going to hit me, they are not going to be pleasant nor kind. This is the path I now walk, still talking to him each day in the hopes that I will hear his voice carried on a snowflake, drift in on a breeze, or through the silence of our home. It’s a new normal inside a new normal that everyone is facing with the virus. As we face yet another small shut down in this area, I face a new normal that is yet to be understood and won’t be alleviated by a vaccine. Life forces us to do many things, mine is learning to live in the wake of it all.