In the midst of the darkness of loss, I found light. Admittedly, in those first weeks, it might have been but a single small spark I sensed deep inside of me, but that spark guided me in the twisted, dark journey of grief. As I stumbled over the roots of hopelessness and despair, that light grew to illuminate my path, a path I sometimes felt very alone on. As some point in the journey I’d turned around and there was God.
That is grace.
Grief at Ten and a Half Weeks: Journal entry, June 8, 2012
“It’s dawning on me that I will never be loved like David loved me, no matter how much my children, my siblings, or my friends love me. I will never again feel that special love or hold his hand or hug him or kiss him. I still leave the kitchen light on every night and I’m not sure why, but he was the one who always turned it on, and I just can’t bear to turn it off. Yesterday I bolted out of the grocery store when I began crying in the peanut butter aisle because David loved peanut butter sandwiches. I’ve yet to make it through a Hy-Vee without crying because I spot the deli where he sat and drank coffee and read the newspaper while I shopped. We never experienced an empty nest, never traveled outside of Iowa together, or flew on an airplane, or went to a concert. I cry every Sunday during Mass because I used to hold his hand in church, and now I see older couples holding hands and realize we will never grow old together, and I miss him, I miss him, I miss him!
Everything makes me think of him. I hit the buttons on the ATM machine and remember how hard I laughed when he kept touching the screen instead of the buttons. He looked over at me and I was laughing so hard I couldn’t speak so he started laughing too. There we were, sitting in a car at the ATM, laughing so hard we cried. Then we went out for a shared banana split and laughed some more. And I don’t think I will ever want to eat a banana split again.
Everyone says “Thank God you have the children,” and I think yes, but it is because I have young children at home that I cannot scream, cannot even moan in the night with an eight-year-old next to me. This morning I watched Abby singing at Vacation Bible School and I looked for some joy, some laughter, or even a tidbit of happiness from her. Mostly, it is anger. She called me stupid after the program because I couldn’t find the shirt she’d made, so I sobbed in the car and then I really felt stupid. Stupid, stupid! Stupid with grief!
“I hate you!” she railed, and I saw the horrified looks on the faces of the other women, saying loud and clear that I am a horrible mother with an awful child. On the way home I took Abby to the gravesite and we both sobbed, hugging each other, and she said she was sorry and she doesn’t know why she says those things.
I can’t stop writing and talking about it, even to strangers. A support group e-mail I get in my inbox every day informs me that at some point people might get bored with grief and it would no longer be appropriate to share with them. Am I at that point? Because maybe it is now, at ten and a half weeks, that I’m supposed to be “better.” How will I know who I can continue to share my grief with? I want someone to tell me what to do. Tell me what to do, please tell me how to do this!”
Chapter 1: Scene of Domestic Bliss
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” –Robert Browning
The kitchen was quiet except for the soft sound of my pen moving across paper and the intermittent rustling of book pages being turned on the other side of the table. Intent on completing the rough draft of my weekly newspaper column, I barely noticed when David rose to refill my coffee cup. Soon, I’d transfer everything to the computer and print it out for him to look over. In the past year my husband had become more than just supportive of my writing; he was now my first reader, critiquing my choice of words and spotting errors.
I sensed David’s gaze. Glancing up, I smiled and thanked him for the coffee, then returned to my writing. When I looked up again a few minutes later, his eyes were still on me, with a look I’d begun seeing more frequently of late-that of complete and utter adoration.
“What? What are you thinking about?” Married for nearly thirty-three years, and the man could still make me blush with his transparency. The children were asleep, but I knew one of them could walk downstairs at any moment. If he was contemplating what I thought he might be, his timing was off.
“I’m thinking how beautiful you are, and how talented. You sit there and all these words just flow out of you.”
My face warmed. I hadn’t washed my hair, applied makeup, or changed from my ratty pajamas, and my husband still thought I was beautiful? I knew he must be seeing through the eyes of love- the nineteen-year-old girl he’d married.
We had an enviable marriage by early March of 2012, an easy companionship centered on love, commitment, and putting each other first. We’d finally figured out the agape sort of love described in the Bible-selfless and giving. Our relationship hadn’t always been that way, which was why it was all the more incredible in its richness. David’s bout with cancer in 2006, and my stint in caring for him had triggered the difference.
This is what God meant marriage to be, I reflected that morning, realizing not for the first time how lucky I was to share my life with my best friend.
“I wish everyone could have what we have,” David echoed my thoughts.
“I love you. You’re a beautiful man.” His baffled look and the slight shake of his head amused me. He’d never understood why I’d begun describing him as beautiful during his cancer treatment, but the description was apt. David was beautiful, inside and out.
And three weeks after that kitchen table exchange, he was dead.
Mary Potter Kenyon graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a B.A. in Psychology and is the Director of the Winthrop Iowa Public Library. She is widely published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Her essay, “A Mother’s Masterpiece” was published in the January/February 2013 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Mary conducts writing workshops for community colleges, River Lights bookstore in Dubuque, Iowa and at writer’s conferences. She does public speaking on the topics of couponing, writing, utilizing your talents in your everyday life, reviving the lost art of handwritten letters, and finding hope and healing in grief. She is the author of the books Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession (July 2013), Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage (April 2014), and Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace. Her newest book, Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, co-written with Mary Jedlicka Humston, will be released in September 2015. Mary lives in Manchester, Iowa, with three of her eight children.
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