"When I recall, what we had, I feel lost, I feel sad
With nothing but the memory of Yesterlove…"
from the song 'Yesterme, Yesteryou, Yesterday' - Stevie Wonder, 1969
During this time in October three years ago, our family was celebrating Thanksgiving…we were having the traditional dinner get together early that year, the disease which had been claiming DJ's life cell by cell was overtaking us and we all knew that she would probably not last until the official date on which we normally would have gathered for food, fun and talk. We were coming to the end of an almost four year odyssey which had ran the gamut of human emotions and brought us to know challenges which terminal illness brings and which we could not have envisioned. In the previous two years this time has found me deep in the throes of grief, reliving those moments of that day which are forever etched in my memory; DJ, now in a wheelchair, sitting at our dining room table eating the meal which she had not been able to participate in preparing; me, wondering just what was going through her mind as she watched our kids, her mother, the close cousins and nieces, her sisters and a few very dear friends eat and talk and poke fun and laugh and I imagine, each, quietly dying a bit inside themselves also as they came to understand better that it really was happening.
This year, the memory of all this is coming a bit easier, softer and more familiar…but only a bit. These days it does not take the changing temperatures from Summer to Fall to let me know the seasons are shifting. Now, as August fades and September makes it's appearance, I am brought to this time after which, the lives of our family and my own, would be changed forever. Earlier that year, in June the doctor had informed us that the Chemo regimens had been exhausted and any further treatments would be useless. That day, as we walked the distance of the short hallway, past the room filled with comfortable recliners where the medicine was administered and where we had spent so many hours, DJ faltered and leaned against the wall along which the elevator was positioned, and silently began to sob. Putting my arm around her, I held her as we stood there silently, our erratic breathing picking up the rhythm of some unknown beat, our breaths and motions almost in unison, our touch exchanging the messages which could never be expressed in words and whose meaning can only be understood by those with a deep, intimate knowledge of one another. Two of the nurses whom we had come to know stopped to offer words of understanding and solace , expressing their concern and wishing us peace during this time. It's a powerful memory indeed and for a good while one which brought me to uncontrollable tears. It is safe to say that despite the many, what might be traumatic events, I have never experienced anything approaching what this can bring to mind.
Soon after this, as July came and went and as the days of August became fewer, DJ's condition slowly got worse. Over the previous, almost four years she had been able to pretty much do as she wished; her vibrancy had remained intact, her ability to get around had only been affected to a minor degree and the discomfort of the side effects caused by the medicine had been minimal. Now, it was difficult for her walk and her energy level had plummeted, an increase in pain had required an adjustment to the medication and she was sleeping more. They were all signs that we were fast approaching the end which we had all known was coming but somehow thought we might avoid, but which was now actually happening and which we had dreaded. These were some of my thoughts on that day as we shared that special meal, that special time. DJ's younger sister and two favorite cousins had flown in from out of town bearing gifts as DJ's birthday had been on the first of the month, other close family members were there, and of course our kids were present. I remember it well and always will, but a lot of the pain which was present in earlier years for me is not there now. Over the course of the Journey, through an appreciation gained by reflection, tears and support from others, the mental exercise of thinking about all of this is taking on a different tenor now and the once excruciating pain brought by it has eased somewhat; it is becoming a Yesterday I can more easily endure when it comes to mind. Early on I had come to understand that those certain dates, times and events could be triggers for great anxiety and sadness; I had decided to try and not let them dictate the measure of my emotional state, but in this I have only been marginally successful; but is a fact of my life that these days do not produce much more pain than I endure every day as I think of DJ and our life together. As we have agreed that the Journey is different for each of, with no one of us having all the answers for someone else, I am finding this works for and is true in my life.
Thinking of the Yesteryou DJ represents in my life is not totally without issue, it can't be, but the stinging pain once associated with that missing you has decreased tremendously. Today I can recall how she was, the foibles of her personality and the things she brought to my life with a much greater understanding and respect. Now, as I begin to truly come to know the impact she made on me, the diluting of the pain is occurring and in it's place, in most instances, a calmness and affirmation is replacing that which was once stormy and doubtful. I imagine this is a result of reflection and that the easing of distress is a function largely due to the passage of time. Altho it is said that time heals, I have become convinced that it is what we do for ourselves during that time which can really make the difference in our emotional well being. This is not to say that I have mastered any of this, only that a better perspective has been afforded me and I can really see and feel the difference; translating that difference into a better design for living forward appears to be my challenge now.
When Yesterme comes to mind, images of a very different person presents itself and as I examine the life I lived and the one we shared, new safe places are being made for things which at one time I found painful and I have come to better understand the frailties and limits of our human natures. I think I have come to deal with myself as a true human being with all that being human implies. This has helped me to eliminate much of the regrets, judgments and drawing of false conclusions about things which we lived through, fought about, became resentful over and about which might have caused me issues in the past. It is a good thing too, as the power of grief sometimes tends to having us crucifying ourselves over past thoughts and behavior actually rendering us incapable of performing even the most basic of human endeavors. Perhaps it is a component of that human nature that we are hardest on ourselves and at times appear to demand much more of us than we would ever consider demanding of others, I don't know, but for me, recognizing that this may exist, can maybe allow us to integrate our shortcomings into the sometimes rough fabric of our lives. Many parts of the yesterme of our lives are necessarily discarded as we move forward, they have to be in order for us to realize any progress along the Journey, at least I think so. Just as at one time as I thought about that Thanksgiving day and would be overcome with enormous amounts of sadness and self pity, this year, much of that is no longer; being able find joy and gratitude that we had the day at all, that DJ was able to be with those she cared for the most, that despite the terrible effects of the disease she was largely able to enjoy that time and most of all, being able to know that all this occurred with her having attained a great measure of personal peace about, is something I now really understand and makes me and our family very fortunate indeed.
In the song from which the lines at the top of this comes, Stevie proclaims " When I recall what we had, I feel lost I feel sad with nothing but The memory of yesterlove and now it seems those yesterdreams Were just a cruel And foolish game we had to play…", and to an extent, sometimes I do feel lost and sad, and the notion that it was all just a cruel and foolish game creeps in, I'm sure we all do, I don't think it can be avoided. But, the energy we put into believing or making that a fact of our lives is something which I believe is under our control and today I'm choosing to embrace the idea that sometimes being lost and sad is a built in part of our human nature but that we have the ability to negotiate the unfamiliar landscapes and weather those times when overwhelming sadness rears it's head. And yes, I think we have to play, in all honesty, it was the only game we knew and the rules were sorted out as we went along. I believe our human condition make this necessary. And DJ and I did play; starting early in the morning of our lives and like those other, maybe less important but just as enjoyable games we played as children, we played it for all it was worth well into what can be considered late in the evening of our days, with it having that special meaning, much like those nights of summer when our folks allowed us to stay out longer than usual when the full richness of life could not be denied.
We all know our YesterLove was real, tangible and that today we sorely miss the benefits it provided, for those of us who grieve in the afterloss, it can be a daunting task to examine the realities which we lived, the pain we endure, but that too I believe is part of this game we call life. Coming to terms with what we find to be the rules presents each of us with our own set of issues, I don't think it can be avoided. But I think we can have Hope that it can be done, that we can manage the vagaries which are presented and create a design for living forward which includes a greater understanding of ourselves and the potential we have as human beings. As we move there will be diversions and disappointments; we will come to know other events which will cause us sadness, uneasiness and resentments, it's called living, and despite all which has occurred, we are alive, our challenge may be to see just how much we can live, how much we can explore and affirm; perhaps being able to gain some measure of lasting emotional peace about our loved ones may well depend on just how much we can say Yessss to all of it.