The Other Side of Grief

My spouse died over three years ago and I was pitched headfirst into the grief mill. His death was sudden, he entered the hospital on a Monday and, filled with cancer, was dead the following Monday. I was in shock, and while I had the time to say goodbye, I don’t remember if I did or didn’t. I know he was so drugged up it was ludicrous to even suggest we plan his funeral. So I sat by his bedside and sang to him, talked to him, held his hand, touched his hair and face, asked if he was in pain (he wasn’t), and told him I loved him as many times as there are stars in the sky. And then it was over.

My first grieving thoughts were like most people, all of the great things about him. Obituaries make saints out of even the worst human being. So I thought about his fabulous smile, twinkling blue eyes, infectious laugh, his adoration of me, his caring for me almost to worshiping me. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for me. I had to be careful not to say I liked something because he would get it for me, even if I was only admiring it for its beauty, but not wanting to own it. In the last four years of our 40-year marriage, he spent as much waking time with me as possible. Even if it was just a quick trip to the ATM or a short walk to get the mail. He kept saying, “We have more time behind us than ahead of us, and I want to spend as much of it with you.” What a fabulous guy. My heart physically ached for months and Niagara Falls swept down my face on a regular basis.

In order to tamp my grief, I decided to recall the time he hurt me by having a year-long affair. I didn’t divorce him. See the second paragraph above. We worked through it and over it. Thinking that would help. It didn’t. It just brought back the pain of hurt on top of the pain of grief.

Then I decided to recall all the things he did to annoy me. Things I can no longer remember in any detail. Stupid little things like he didn’t clean the electric toothbrush as well as I did. Or, he was a paper “stacker,” on his desk and not in any order. His desk was a mess, mine was neat and orderly. Or, he would hang his pants from the top dresser drawer of his tallboy if he was going to wear them the next day. Little, niggling, stuff. That didn’t work either because it only brought back those annoying feelings and who wants that.

Then I found the other side of grief. It wasn’t about all the good stuff, bad stuff or annoying stuff individually. Not in huge chunks at a time of any one quality. It was about all of it collectively. Just as a life lived. In any given day a trigger will bring to any one of those places. And what is gratifying about those places is that I never have to sit and dwell in them for hours or days on end. They are fleeting. They are rich in their depth and comedic in their silliness. Some linger if I want them to but fade away like a wisp of smoke from a cigarette if I don’t.

The other side of grief is living with the soul of the departed. Pure essence. In puffs and breaths of time.  To cover one like a crazy quilt of his life in the wholeness of the natural life they shared. None to overwhelm, but each to enrich and savor the essence of the one lost to the spiritual realm. To give warmth and comfort when life becomes cold and one has trouble finding the other side of grief.

Best Friends

I have had several “Best Friends,” in my life, but two came to the forefront of my life recently. When I lived in Connecticut, I had one best friend, Carolyn. We were soul-sisters (SS). However, when I remarried, we grew apart because I believe she thought she didn’t fit in with our lifestyle, which was rather “Preppy.” Some forty years later when her sister was visiting us last June, she suggested I call her. I did, and when I told her it was I, her first words were, “My best friend.” Yes, even after all these years of separation she felt that way. I hoped we could reconnect. But we didn’t have a chance to reconnect. She died last December.

Soul-Sisters (n.) connected eternally, praying and cheering for each other, laughing till stomach hurt, and somehow makes everything all right.

I also had a best friend in high school. Her name was Veronica and we too were sister-soul mates. She was supposed to be my maid of honor when I married and me, hers. It didn’t turn out that way because when I married she was out of state at college. And, when she married we were estranged due to a complicated situation that involved her family and I wasn’t asked to be her maid of honor. We tried to reconnect after she married, but there was still too much hurt bubbling beneath the skin, and it didn’t work. Then I moved to Connecticut and our connection was broken.


Last month, I was visiting my ex-husband (yes we are now friends) and his wife in Florida and he mentioned that he had connected with Veronica who now also lived in Florida. They had a lively conversation he reported. Just before I left, he handed me a small piece of paper that had her name, telephone number, and email address on it. He simply said, “Please call her, she’d love to hear from you.”

This is not her real information

Yesterday, I called her and we chatted for over an hour. Later, I texted her a picture from my yearbook where it said, “This page reserved for Ronnie (her nickname).” It was blank. This morning we were texting back and forth over that since she thought it was 48 years ago and I reminded her it was 65 years ago. She texted back that her math was never good. And so it went that here it is that I have now reconnected with my high school best friend and SS while losing another.

Life is beautiful, amazing, magical, and mystical in an unexpected way.

It’s Never Too Late – Or Maybe It Is

It is never too late my writing buddies say. Well, that is good news because I have three writing projects that are on eternal hold since my spouse Ralph died.  Actually, only two because the third idea came after his death. The first is to finish my novel on domestic abuse with some detail on the divorce process and pain, the second is an article about the advantages and disadvantages of being ordained at the age of 60 or older, and the third a book of the love-letters Ralph and I wrote to each other over the period of a year. 

I’ve always thought it was strange that we had stopped writing to each other once we moved in together, but we did.  One year for our anniversary we decided to write each other a love letter. It wasn’t the same. It didn’t have the same yearning, the same ardor, the same sense of romance and excitement. You see, while together we were living our love letters in action, while apart we lived in an unfulfilled void that was only filled with letters. Not filled with our actions together, hugs, snuggles in bed, lovemaking, kisses, “I love you’s,” joy as we laughed together, sorrow as we wept in each other’s arms.  The ability to share our stories, our days, our feelings, our hopes, and dreams. To touch, to hold hands as we walked down the street together, or the fun of tossing a meal together, or the happiness of sharing a meal at a fancy restaurant. The kind of togetherness that only best friends and soulmates enjoy together until death comes to one or the other.  When only memories of their glory days as one soul fill the hole ripped out of one’s heart as the other’s heart ceases to beat and the beat of grief takes over the one left behind. The one left behind to ache and weep and mourn until that precious and cleansing tincture of time heals and closes the wound while the memories become pearls of comfort, carried along until that last breath of a beautiful relationship crosses over into the spiritual realm where all souls dwell.

Death and Grief

Thursday afternoon, September 3rd, was the worst day of my life. My spouse of 40-plus years, Ralph, went into the hospital last Monday and this Thursday had surgery to remove a bowel obstruction. What they found shocked everyone including his surgeon. His entire abdomen was filled with metastatic melanoma cancer. There is no cure. There is no treatment. His digestive system has shut down. He cannot eat and can only ingest small amounts of clear liquid. They are only giving him weeks to journey with me in this place. He is coming home to me today and into hospice care to die in peace with dignity.

Monday morning, September 7th, my beloved soulmate, Ralph, ended his earthly journey at the stroke of midnight announcing Monday had begun as his cherished grandfather clock tolled twelve for him. He will be deeply missed but his memories live on in my heart and will forever. Rest in peace, sweet, kind man. Your footprints are left on this earth and in my soul. The memory of your smile will continue to light up my life.

Ralph W Peters, Jr. 1932 – 2020

Thursday, September 24th, a friend asked if grief would be different when death occurred at different ages. I think if a spousal death occurs when someone is younger than 50 it could have a greater impact on the grieving process.  I think that when the spousal death occurs when people are in their 80’s there is less impact since there is less time to live ahead of them and often couples speak of death and some even make plans such as funeral arrangements, wills, advance directives, etc. Death is much closer at hand and I think some subconscious grieving occurs even before a spouse dies.  I know in my case, if I was up early and doing chores that Ralph usually did, I would say I was preparing for widowhood.  Sometimes I would even shed some tears at the thought of losing Ralph whenever that might be.  Also, older people have experienced more deaths of their contemporaries which brings them face-to-face with death more often than younger people.  

So, I guess the short answer to her question is yes, age does make a difference. I am sure her daughter Liz will grieve much more deeply and perhaps longer because her spouse Brian died so young at age 42 of alcoholism.  She can’t say things like, we had a long and happy life together, or I have forty years of memories that will sustain me.  And, of course, the quality of the relationship will have a bearing as well. I think the grief from the loss of a spouse in a happy marriage is going to be different than grief from the loss of a spouse in a miserable or abusive marriage. In a miserable relationship, grief is often mingled with guilt. Guilt because part of you is free, released from the misery. Grief because you lost the once love of your life.  In a happy relationship it is much easier to dismiss and forgive those arguments you had, the niggling little annoyances in life you both tolerated in each other, and bathe in the overwhelming happiness of the relationship as a whole.  I am blessed with the latter. Thanks be to God, and thank you, Jesus.