I had gone to our bedroom. Tears, I locked away for six years, broke through and flowed down my face, yet I made no sound. My husband’s body lay on the hospital bed in the middle of the living room. Jonathan had taken his last breath. His sisters and my trusted driver, confidant, brother in spirit, stayed with him.
In that moment I took for myself: after the war with life and death, not one full night of rest in years, no counting the midnight races to the emergency room, nights sleeping on the sofa, my hand reaching for his across the gap, I stood at a tipping point that would determine the rest of my life. There were two choices; to allow grief to take me down its dark spiral, or to grab onto the voices of light and life.
How do I describe what happened five days before death rang its final toll? Listen. For the last nineteen months of my husband’s life, my brother in law came over to allow me two hours a day to leave our home. On one particular Fall day, I walked in the park, Central Park. An hour in, the air changed. It began to vibrate and undulate. I could not feel my feet or my legs; the sensation was I no longer walked, but floated along the path. A sound caught my attention and I looked up in its direction. Trumpets, voices, bells, mingled softly. As I strained to listen, I perceived chanting. The chanting swelled to thousands of voices singing out, louder and clearer; singing for me, for the love of my life, for healing, for knowledge that I could be okay. So pure were the multitude of songs and hymns, intertwining, flying, swooping from the expanse of the sky, the cells of body altered. The voices prepared me. I knew it was time for Jonathan to leave.
In my moments of tears, I made the choice. I thanked God for the years I had with Jonathan, difficult though they were, not just in physical disease, but also in his battle with severe depression and thoughts of suicide. In spite of his struggles, we loved and lived; we planned and built our life, and now that life ended.
Two weeks later I was in Florence, Italy with my brother and one of my sisters. We called it the Lachaim Tour, toasting each dinner “to life” and to what I had with my beautiful husband. It was most healing to be with family and continue living. One night, while showering before dinner, I was overwhelmed with a sense of loving another man, yet I knew not who it could be. The next day, a man I had only just met, took my arm and whispered to me; “you will love again”. He knew nothing of my life.
Choices are difficult. Those roads that hurt the most are the easiest to step onto. All of our lives we see what grieving must mean. In those days of traveling to our favorite places in Italy, observing elderly couples strolling, still enjoying life together, I saw even more clearly being the grieving widow is a mantle we can choose not to take on. It does not mean we stop loving or that we stop crying. It means we step forward. And that too is hard, except that it hurts less. We learn that embracing grief means we have not forgotten or forsaken those who have left; it could also mean we were blessed for a time, with who they were in our lives; it could mean they helped us become who we are without them, and it means that we go on, experiencing joy, and to love again.
Jonathan’s last words to me were, “Babe, go back to the gym…” and he fell back into silence, but I knew what was left unsaid because we could finish each other’s sentences and thoughts.
Four months later, a man named James came to meet me in person. That was ten years ago. He and Annemarie, Jonathan and I had never met in person. Friends thought we should all talk over the phone for emotional and spiritual support. Annemarie was battling stage four breast cancer, Jonathan metastatic melanoma. They had died eleven days apart.
James and I continued talking, and over the many nights of conversations, we grieved together. I found I was grieving and falling in love with a man I never met. One night he told me he had fallen in love with me.
We still speak of Annemarie and Jonathan, sharing stories and memories, and still loving them, perhaps even more in their absence.
Here is what I learned. We never stop loving those who have gone before us; our hearts grow larger to allow new love to flourish.