Sunday, May 1, 2011


photo by Jean Couleurs
My friend J, who is my co-inspiration for this blog, has suffered a staggering loss. Her husband of 45 years died suddenly today after surgery. Friday night he was doing well and on Saturday all his major organs began shutting down. Though when we began this blog we titled it Laughing On The Way Out (for all the foolish things we were encountering as we traveled toward old age), J is unable to muster even a smile right now. Sometimes the things life deals us are not funny at all. This post, written several years ago for much the same reason, is for her...

Life on earth is at best a chancy thing. You cannot know the exact moment when you will leave the land of the living or if your dreams will die before they've been fully lived. One thing is certain—if a loved one leaves before you, whether by accident or design, you will travel to the strange land of grief and you will go alone. The winds of change will swirl about you, pick you up, transform you forever, and set you down in another place.

It is not only the departing who are changed by leaving. The living, the survivors, the ones left behind must become someone else in order to cope, to grow and finally emerge into a different life—the life without. It is a lonely walk through an unfamiliar land, this land without. Things that two did together one does now. There is nothing so empty as the other person's chair pushed up to the table, unless it's the stairwell that no longer echoes end of day greetings and eager footsteps, or the bed that suddenly seems vast and cold and too lonely on either side of the middle. There is nothing so quiet as a room with one person in it, the silence absolute after the death of conversation and shared confidences. There is nothing so solitary as a single plate on an empty table, a single towel hanging folded and desolate on its too wide bar, or a lone toothbrush standing solitary guard in its cup. There is nothing harder than being one when you have loved being two.

J was so happy, so loved, so alive while her loved one was with her. Now she looks and feels as though she's been struck down and in a sense, she has. Grief has her by the heart and for a time she must wrestle with it, pushing her way through the pain to unlock the reservoirs of strength and faith she accrued in happier days. I watch her struggle to come to terms with her loss, to find a place where she can lay her sorrow down long enough to eat, to sleep, to think of something other than what has befallen her.

She tells her story over and over, trying to make sense of it, to fit it in with her own picture of what her life is all about. Perhaps her peace will lie in the creation of a new picture, a new story, a tale that embraces this grief as a gift that, when opened, reveals all the words and colors she will need.