"Any day now I will hear you say 'Goodbye, my love'
And you'll be on your way
Then my wild beautiful bird, you will have flown, oh,
Any day now I'll be all alone,
'cause you won't be around
Don't fly away, my beautiful bird
Don't, don't fly away..."
'Any Day Now' sung by Chuck Jackson - 1962
Three years ago on the Sunday before the Tuesday on which she died which was November 8, 2011, DJ had what I believe was the worse day of the illness she had been diagnosed with four years earlier. She was in the last days of her life and hospice had been called in; during that time the nurse made her daily visits but really, we were just holding the final watch. Over the previous two weeks her condition had deteriorated to the point where now she was rarely conscious; she did not appear to be in any physical distress, just sleeping, occasionally opening her glazed eyes and appear to stare off at some point about which only she knows; very few words were spoken by her. Starting early in the day on that Sunday, her breathing had become erratic and labored and altho she didn't appear to be in any physical pain, her breathing sounded as if she was in great discomfort. Oxygen didn't seem to help much and for most of that day all that me and our children could do was to stay near and hold her, apply the moistening swabs to her mouth and wait. It was a hellish day and I pray I never have to experience anything like it again. It was not my first experience at being so close to someone whose time was near; before in combat I had witnessed and been part of similar moments, but none of them had the effect this time would have, they couldn't, because here, I was watching someone whom I had known for over 45 years and been a husband to for some 40, slowly slip away. The day passed in an agonizingly slow manner with the children and I taking turns looking in and sitting with her. Once or twice during this period, one of the girls would come to the living room where I sat between watches and tell me DJ had asked for me and I would go back in and sit and look and wait and think and cry. Now, looking back, I have to believe I started going into shock from that day; the reality of her death was staring back at me as I looked at her…me, trying to detect any signs of pain she might be having so I could minister her medicine in a feeble attempt to feel as if I was somehow making things easier. At this point all notions of doses and time intervals had long been discarded and replaced with my own perception of what I thought might be any pain she may have been experiencing. Long before, in the early days after the diagnosis, I had promised her that she would not be in pain; I tried to keep that promise. After DJ died, there would be times when the memory of this particular day would come to me and the horror of it would be relived, my mind would stray to the land of doubt and I would question myself as to whether I had done every thing in my power to make her flight easier, often ending in tears and appellations to the greater Power that " Please Lord, let me have done everything I could…". In the Afterloss that day haunted me for some time and I'm convinced it was a major factor in my decision to throw myself away, an act I only narrowly averted completing successfully.
Being well aware that I am not alone in this type of situation, I recount it here only to use as a marker of some type on my own Path of the continuing Journey we all are making…not a guidepost, a marker of how, slowly, over time, I have come to be able think of this and things like it without so much of the doubt, uncertainty, fear and most of all, the pain this all once held. For me, I think the mere passage of time is not what has made the difference, but the lessons I've learned and the hope gained through the examples shown by the people I've met who have given support which has made a huge difference; today I can reflect about it with some measure of ease and be assured that I have found a safe place in my own mind for what has occurred and for the emotions which can be generated when they come to the forefront. I'm told that letting go is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do, and for the most part I can believe that. Wanting to hold on appears to be one of those traits of our humanity which requires a great deal of effort on our part to deal with. In the best of situations, where we can even have a coherent understanding of what is happening, it is hard; in situations where coherency is absent and absolutely everything appears to make no sense at all, it can seem impossible. Intellectually, as a rational idea, I thought I understood what was happening, but in the realm of emotional realities I had no clue of the impact DJ's dying would have on me or the lasting emotional and physical toll it could take. The flight of DJ's presence from my life is the one event which has brought me to the realization of just how tenuous my grasp of the notion of life and living actually was and in many cases, still is. Making the Journey has required me to examine myself in a way which has forced me to alter many ideas I had about not only if I wanted to continue living forward, but just how I would conduct myself in that attempt at living. With this conduct not being some attempt at honoring or somehow enhancing DJ's memory, or somehow place myself above others, no, that memory can stand on it's own merit, it has to...this is about how I want and maybe even need to see myself today. Now, this is not to say that everyone who endures such loss is brought to this same point, no, these are my own observations about myself and my Journey, as is often said, in this, we are all different . Today I find it easier to ignore annoyances which at one time might have driven me to speak or act in a negative way; lack of patience was never really an issue with me, and now it is even more enhanced; learning to accept what I might have once called shortcoming in others has forced me to look inward long before I attempt to analyze and opine as to the actions of those around me; being concerned about the plight of others was never anywhere near the top of my list, but I find today I can at least attempt to empathize and try to better understand what others might be going through in a given situation. I'm sure a lot of this change in behavior has to do with the company I fell in with soon after DJ's death; mostly other widowed folks whose experiences and life lessons I have been exposed to and fortunately, in a lot of instances, have been able to incorporate into my own life, and this has helped me to understand how to approach a better design for living. All of this has not necessarily made me the best person I can be, but I think it has made me a better human being; the flight of DJ making the necessary room in my make up, and the pain resulting from that flight making the changes unavoidable if I am to survive in the different life with any semblance of peace of mind. Of course these are all very personal things and I think we each will come to our ways, means, and explanations for ourselves, it almost has to be that way given the nature of our individuality and the very nature of personal loss.
In my own experience, I cannot say the time since that particular Sunday has passed any more slowly or quickly than anything else. I can say that one of the things I have noticed is the sometimes unsettling way of how quickly my mind can take me to moments in the past making them appear to have happened only yesterday or even within the last few seconds and at other times as if it all occurred in some way distant past; I imagine it's a quirk of the human mind, but I don't really know. As with many of my memories today, time has skewed and sometimes seemingly twisted the way they comes back to me; the more consistent elements in all of this are the feelings that the memories evoke and waves of emotions upon which they ride as they wash over me again and again at times. At one time, early on, these internal tidal waves carried enormous amounts of pain and despair, with it threatening to take me in it's undertow completely, as time has moved, altho the tidal waves still appear at times, only rarely now am left spent, emotionally drained from an episode of deep sobbing. This cannot be said for that first year, that time when my mind was constantly flooded with all manner of changing emotions and when tears and pain were the order of the day. In the time of that first year as the initial shock wore off and ideas about normal, what I thought should be, right and wrong, good, bad, and down even to the basic principles I had lived my life with to that point, were all brought into question; I found I had to completely restructure the way I viewed my area of operation in this world if I were to move forward in the different life with any measure understanding and peace. Examining memories as I attempted to glean some meaning about all of it, at least for myself, I found how my personal character defects which I had become so accustomed to and felt comfortable about, exposed as glaring examples of how I did not want to behave going forward. I came to understand that my penchant for selfishness was not necessary; the brush of skepticism with which I painted almost all others was found to be without merit and definitely without reason as nothing in my upbringing had predestined that I carry such an attitude; the air of cynicism I attributed to most things had to be discarded. These things and much more were brought to task in the aftermath of DJ's death, things which at first glance can seem unrelated, but which I have found for me to be genuinely connected with the life I shared with DJ. It may be that we all have to discover those special revelations about ourselves, those things the death of a partner brings forth, so I don't think this is anything exclusive to me. Leading into the second year a lot of the confusion and uncertainty eased as a certain familiarity with DJ's absence set in, bringing it's own issue of how could I ever get comfortable with the idea that she was not now and would never be here again; a different pattern of living evolved, not so much so from any conscious effort on my part but more as the result of the practicalities associated with the day to day living we are all involved with. But for me, that second year also held the onset of what I now call the hard realizations associated with DJ having died; the fact of death came back to me in powerful moments of panic, sadness, and even shock, displaying the ability to at times, bring me not only to tears, but literally, to my knees. There were moments when I was stunned by the force of the emotions…the impact seeming to be just as hard and deep as those very first moments when I realized that the bird I had cherished and loved had flown away and would not be returning. Times when I was brought back to that state of mind which would force me to say out loud, "Did that shit really happen…??" But also in that second year, the ability to actually look to the future with hope was gained; a different confidence made it's presence known as I was able to actually try new things, meet new people and engage socially, something that before I had only done mostly through DJ. It was an mind expanding exercise for me as I tried to deal with the effects of incorporating the fact of DJ's death and the dawning light of hope I was starting to experience. It was a strange time as well as reality and possibility traveled parallel lanes through my mind, each requiring a conscious effort on my part; on the one hand to try and understand just how to find a safe place for those memories of DJ and our shared life, and on the other, how to actually live forward with any belief in hope for that the different life, a life alone now, might provide. I was told and I came to believe that it is all part of the Journey, passing the various mental forks and intersections of the mind along the way. With support from new found friends, mostly widowed folks, through their suggestions and examples, I was able to begin to find safe places for these and many more things that year provided.
Much like DJ, the third year has flown away and in much the same way as she didn't have a choice, neither does time, it inexorably moves on. And also like her leaving, the year leaves behind memories, experiences and lessons which I hope I will find useful moving forward in the different life. Once, in the midst of a high temperature discussion we were having, DJ said to me, "…keep it up, you just keep being this way and you'll end up being alone and sad…". She had been not so gently chiding me for a comment I had made regarding needing her or anyone else to make it in this life…as I say, it was a Hi-Temp discussion but I understand the context in which she meant it; she probably could not know just how true her words would come to be, altho not for the reasons she may have thought. Over the past three years, despite having good family and others around, at times I have felt so damn sad and lonely; fortunately, much of those feelings have also taken flight and the ability to look forward with a good measure of hope has landed around me. The Journey of Grief is so personal that I think we each have to arrive at our own space of understanding and peace in our own time and our own way. For me, the trek has included a wide range of human emotions and has enlightened me to the delicate grasp we may have on these fleeting moments we call life. My appreciation for those moments has deepened and for those situations which require it, I find myself more willing to really hear rather than just listen and to try and actually see versus merely observing. Now, the rewards of this may not manifest itself in the guise of those tangible assets normally associated with success, but for me, the increase in internal satisfaction and mental serenity cannot be measured. This is something I am truly grateful for today as there was a time when just the idea of such a state could not realistically be comprehended; having a certain familiarity about the different life no longer causes me concern and being able to accept, to some degree, all that has occurred in the past three years is a welcomed relief from those earlier times of despair and disconcerted spirits. In our circles the phrase "things don't get easier, they get better", can often be heard and I'm finding it to be true. For the most part there are less tears, and fewer moments of the sudden panic which was once so a part of the Journey, are evident. The flight of my beautiful bird has left a vacuum I still struggle to fill; it is an arduous task but one which I think has to be taken on if we are to live forward.
It is often said by us that we would not wish this Journey on our worse enemy, I think it's really just a way for us to try and make clear the power of the pain and misery involved. We understand more than many others that in the final analysis, in this, none of us have any true control. Personally I have come to think that in a twist on this, and in an almost absurd way, I hope folks do make the Journey; it may well indicate that they too have experienced the deep love, caring and devotion a truly rewarding relationship can offer. At this point I am thoroughly convinced that even knowing the outcome I would not do anything different in regards to the life that DJ and I shared; If I had been fully informed on what the Afterloss offered, still, I would have chosen the life with DJ and gladly accepted all that has taken place over the past three years; my time with DJ has value beyond any of my feeble attempts to describe it. For those of us whose birds have flown, coming to grips with the different life may be the greatest challenge we face. Major adjustments are necessary for us to try and move ahead and make some sense of what has happened and how to live with the results. We take a step at a time, day by day, anchoring our belief in the spirit of Hope as we look forward, many times upward, searching for and even sometimes almost seeing the traces in the clouds of the faint tailwinds left by our beautiful birds; our silent cries of "…don't fly away…" , heard only by our own inner ears as we watch and feel such a powerful sense of emotion that we cannot contain it all and it spills from our eyes...for me, no matter how many times the scene replays, the results remain the same…