It’s hard to believe that I’m observing the two month anniversary of Oliver’s death. The feedback from my previous blog as my husband’s end-of-life caretaker was profound—and helpful. I didn’t feel alone. However, after all the loving words, floral offerings and special gifts sent “in memory of…,” I have yet to complete this transition and embrace the reality that my husband is truly gone.
Every one of the many kind, giving people who contacted me softens the blow and refers to Ollie’s “passing.” Indeed, that is their reality because no matter how long a friendship or how tied together as colleagues, my husband only “passed” through their lives. Even my children remind me that I had lived almost a third of my life before we even met, that it should be easier for me. “We knew “daddy” all our lives,” they say, “he was here as long as we can remember.” For them, an entire limb of the family is missing, a parent vanished; suddenly they feel like semi-orphans—their first major loss. For adult children, it’s also a first glimpse of their personal mortality. Nor am I quite ready to admit my own.
For us all, old habits are broken and a strong voice stilled. So we linger in the past. We hear Ollie’s tuneless whistle coming down the hall, the crackle of the newspaper he read daily; we can’t decide to keep or give away his chair. If we are blessed with the solace of independent lives which should enable us to more easily “move on,” we’re all somewhat stranded by the deep loss and obvious change.
As I continue my own slow steps toward a final acceptance, I’m learning an amazing lesson and a corollary to most transitions. Even when we think we know everything about a spouse or sibling, mom or dad, it often turns out there can be dozens of sincere and eloquent extras.What I’m finding in Ollie’s after-life are so many uncovered memories through personal vignettes that are often a total surprise to me.
One cousin we haven’t seen in years called my husband a role model. “When I was just a kid,” this young man wrote, “I was absolutely wide-eyed at Ollie’s low slung, classic, Triumph sports car, proof that you can grow older without getting old. That message stuck fast,” he ended, “and has meant a great deal as I move into middle age.”
My daughter’s former roommate especially remembers my husband’s wit and wisdom that shored up her confidence during her college years. I never had a clue, which make these recollections all the more meaningful to me now. Learning how one person’s presence and contact can affect another person’s life flavors those connections like a rare spice.
Other friends refresh the decades telescoped by time. The poolside get-togethers, the New Year’s Eves and July 4th parties did create ties that bind. And quotes! My new journey is peppered with Oliver’s jokes and “bon mots” that always light the way. Oliver said it took man 5,000 years to come indoors to eat and he wasn’t about to go back out, so he always refused to bar-be-que! We still laugh that Ollie hit the pool only twice in 40 years, once to rescue our toddler within seconds and again when a teenage visitor playfully pushed him in—sharp and welcome snapshots not found in any album. Maybe we dredge up the old and familiar to further cushion the letting go.
My husband and I were very different from background to personality. Our shared values, more than anything else, kept us together all these years. For him, life was all good, and his legacy boils down to: “If you can’t find a bright side, make one”—a worthy epitaph. ‘Though I promised my husband I wouldn’t make a big deal when he died, I promised myself that I couldn’t say goodbye without affirming that he was the most moral, ethical person I have ever met. He said we’d be rich if I charged a dime for every cup of coffee I gave away to our constant visitors. I think he would have agreed that along the way we subtly changed each other.
So much can be lost as the times of our lives roll by, an unedited movie peopled with a vast variety of characters. That’s why we blow out candles, take vows, celebrate, commemorate. We decide to remember and mark the milestones—transitions tabulated!
I can do no less. I will honor my husband’s Spartan take on dying and plan only a low-key get-together of well-wishers, a “thank you” kind of closure that I need. “No speeches or accolades,” I tell friends, “just stop by, reminisce a bit.” We’ll raise a glass and offer a “Give it a bloody go, Mate” Australian style toast to honor Ollie’s roots. That would be his idea of a transition accomplished—if not completely mine.