"Let go, trust, and just take that first step. The path will unfold before you... Sometimes the hardest part is just opening the door." These are words from Derek's book, words he believed, words he lived. I've been trying to live them myself, and though the principle is simple, the doing is not easy.
It has been almost a year. A year! Long by some measures. Short when one is grieving. Things in the beginning of "widowhood" felt so solid, as Derek's love continued to surround me; it was palpable. But over time, Derek became less tangible to me, and I began to fall apart in ways I could never have forseen. Other widows tell me my experiences are not uncommon. The physical ailments "out of nowhere", social anxiety, memory loss, and feeling as if it's all getting worse. And it does get worse for many, as reality continues to set in. For me, instead of having a sense of hope about the new year, I dreaded going into 2012, as I realized I couldn't explain my sometimes-strange behaviour by saying, "My husband died earlier this year."
Losing a mate turns one's life upside-down. For me the material reality was the easiest to comprehend. A return to doing things solo - OK - I get it. And I knew how to do all the practical paperwork-y stuff, having had lots of practice as an executor. I held no regrets about the relationship, and I knew Derek felt content, and complete with life. However, I had no foresight about the degree to which the loss of our togetherness would affect me. The absence of our nearly 24/7 exchange of care, affection and affirmation would begin to erode my own self-confidence. And I am still running a deficit of laughter and touch.
But I am strong. Derek often told me he couldn't be with a woman who wasn't strong, who didn't stand up for her own needs and beliefs and feelings. He also said that vulnerability is one of our greatest strengths, so I continue to share my true feelings, and try not to gloss them over for the benefit of others. I try to find balance between allowing the sorrow to flow, and using my inner resources to create more happiness and hope in my life. The pain does soften. I can hear Derek say, "It's all really OK, you know." When I remember to let go and trust, let go, let go, let go and trust, then I have moments of sheer delight, moments that transcend the struggle. I've had more than a few.
Today is March 11, a year since "'3/11" - the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima disaster. I had never seen Derek as shocked as he was by this tragedy. We were deeply concerned about our good friends in Japan, and there was a sense that something terrible had been set in motion, not just on a country-wide scale, but globally. We wanted to do something - but what?
We stayed at home that week, cancelling a trip. This was not something we did lightly, as our dear friend Lani on the Sunshine Coast had lost her husband two weeks earlier, and we needed to be with her. But we simply didn't have the energy to leave home, and trusted that as soon as we did, we would depart.
In that week, until his sudden passing, Derek and I shared some extraordinary moments. It seemed we had an unspoken pact to make no plans, living from the heart. Derek completed unfinished projects around the house, and we made an unusually large shopping trip, returning with a car full of our favourite comfort foods. I am rarely that indulgent! On the way home, we turned on the radio and heard Spirit in the Sky. "THAT is the song I'd want at my wake!" he exclaimed as we grooved along. I grabbed a pen and notepaper out of the glove compartment and "interviewed " him about what other music he'd like at his wake, and also where he'd want his ashes scattered. Death was not a subject we shied away from, and it was a fun conversation.
"The top of Mount Galiano," he said first.
"How about Japan?" I asked.
"Oh, definitely, " he answered.
"And the Camino?" I added.
"Ahh - of course," he replied. "Just take me everywhere. You'll know..."
One afternoon, while sitting in our hot tub, we both looked up in amazement at an infinity symbol in the sky, white on blue, as clear if it had been drawn in chalk. The next night in bed, gazing into each other's eyes, we recited a long list of everything we adored about each other, going on and on until we fell asleep in each other's arms. Two days later he was gone.
And now, it has almost been a year. I have opened that door. I have taken steps, sometimes tripped up by the fear of not knowing how or where or why... I have felt humbled by my shortened stride and the tightness in my chest. But I am walking, and Derek's ashes have traveled with me. He is now atop Mount Galiano, along the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima, and at our wedding spot on the Camino. He is also at the statue of Gandhi in Amsterdam, the statue of Terry Fox in Victoria, at the bench in Pender Harbour, and at Doune Castle in Scotland (where Derek's favourite film, Monty Python and the Holy Grain was filmed!) This June, on Derek's birthday, I will make a pilgrimage to Yorkshire, taking some ashes to his birthplace there. I understand now that this is about me and my needs, not about what Derek needed or wanted. That's what he meant by, "You'll know..."
He is still with me in so many ways. The other night he made a cameo in one of my dreams. As I opened the door to a cafe, there he was sitting inside, and he looked up at me. (He always used to sense my approach - "I can feel you," he'd say.) And as he looked up at me, beaming, I could see he had whipped cream on his moustache. I chuckled. I love that man! It would be just like him to do that on purpose, in a public place, without a care - just to make me laugh! Thank you, Derek...