My wife began her journey to the other side this morning one year ago today. In sheer disbelief, I watched as she took her last breath. At 11:30 a.m. her earthly being left. As I stared out the window over her head, it quickly cast a dark, gray shadow in the room as the rain clouds seemed to appear in consummate timing. The feeling of that moment has never left me. Most days I feel like the clock stopped and I’m frozen in that moment still. Within an hour of walking away from the house to the lake, in the now drenching rain, the sun pierced a tiny part of a cloud and shined directly on me. Was this somehow a goodbye from her on her way up? Looking back, I was looking for anything I could call her communicating with me. Since as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with what exactly happens in the few moments after you die. Where do you go exactly during this transition? Lindy and I shared a book just 7 months prior to her death, on our second anniversary, in Punta Mita, Mexico. She spent most of the time stuck in this book, Unsaid, by Neil Abramson, while working on her tan. She loved her days-n-hours-on-end by the pool on vacations! She was always content with the sun and a lay-out chair, and a book of course. It shocked me to look over one afternoon and see her crying. She never cried. “What’s wrong”, I said. “You have to read this book”, she struggled to tell me. We never share books, so I knew she meant it. Next day I read it, and “I” cried. It was a story of a young married couple. The wife dies before her time. She leaves her husband to manage her collection of animals on the farm, while he tries to juggle and maintain his job as a lawyer in Manhattan, but more importantly struggling to find his way through his grief. While trying to find his way back to any form of normalcy, his life takes an unexpectd detour and he learns more about his wife in death than he would have ever imagined. Good things… eventually. The odd thing about this book was it’s written from the wife’s perspective, in her afterlife, before she transitioned to the other side. The wife was dealing with her own regrets. She was sad that she had to suddenly leave everything she held dear behind. She was sorting regrets while watching her husband so desperately manage his new reality. She tried to help him, but she couldn’t communicate with him. She could only observe. The booked moved us both profoundly, but we never talked about it. Looking back, I wonder if somewhere deep inside we knew this would be our outcome. I wonder if she has been watching me and what remains of any sort of life I am trying so hard to reformulate. I wish I knew.
I spend most of my days in a paralytic state. Barely making it to the coffee shop, home, coffee shop, bar, church and occasional movie. Who am I kidding? I live at the movies most days! It feels like I have entered a parallel universe and I have yet to find my way back to any semblance of my former self. Truth is? I don’t want to go back to my former self. She isn’t there. She was so much a part of who I morphed into that I want to pretend that this life will end soon and I will be with her again. The good part of that statement is I am now looking at life on an eternal plane, and no longer on the earthly plane. Before her death, it was on a “what’s-in-front-of-me” basis; anxiously checking off the boxes of life. I never stopped and enjoyed the moment. This loss has forever connected me to another life, and maybe, with any luck, I won’t ever go back to who I was before I met Lindy, completely. Long entrenched priorities are shifting daily.
Most days I feel like I have walked a million miles in my grief only to wake up at the same place. I feel like I pass my starting point again every day; wanting so bad to re-launch my life. Movement seems beyond range. I was told by a gentleman [eleven months ago] who had been grieving his wife about 18 months “this is going to be the slowest fastest year of your life”. This imparted truth now makes complete sense to me at this very moment. It seems like yesterday she passed. At the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago. Just when I think joy is coming back, Niagara Falls ensues. Makes me feel crazy! Thanks to C.S. Lewis’s Grief Observed, I started to realize these feelings, and reactions are semi-normal. His personal thoughts when he was grieving the death of his wife made me realize, I am just experiencing thoughts and emotions that are brand new to me, and premature for my age. After reading his journal, I am fixated on my own journal entries. After reviewing my entries, I see how normal and crazy I was/am. It is the only real way to remember where my mind was at certain points over the last year.
February 15, 2013 -3 days after her funeral- Port of Barcelona, Spain Within the first 30 minutes after landing in Barcelona, I crawled into my hotel room bed and immediately zonked out….after popping another Xanax of course. In minutes I was dead to the world. My exhaustion was a combination of the jet lag coupled with my heavy heartedness surrounding the reality of losing the only woman I have truly loved; the one I looked for since I was old enough to want to fall in love. Apparently 700 miles an hour couldn’t out run that fact that she was gone. Did I really think that was even possible? Maybe I did. This trip was such a flash decision that I didn’t have time to think it through. Woke up five hours later in a fit of terror. I searched frantically through the drool on my pillow for my phone. Somehow I thought I hadn’t finished her funeral arrangements. After searching for some three minutes, to call God knows who, it hit me that we already had her service. It wasn’t a bad dream. It was a sinking reality that didn’t seemed real yet. What a pit of depression I sank into. I’m in a country I have never visited. I don’t speak Spanish. My life as I know it -over. Not even sure where I’m going next. What have I done? I felt like I was in another universe. Then the memories of her service came flooding back. It all hit me like a shovel across the gut! The funeral made a mad rush through my mind like it was happening right that second. First the music from her service seemed to play loudly in stereo. I heard “Forever Young.” Then, “It is Well with My Soul” blurted even louder. Then right into the ending of her eulogy video: Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” started its surreal beginning. The black and white angelic image in my head of her in her wedding dress turning to color dropped me to my knees. Through a waterfall of tears I finally found my phone and turned off my iTunes. I had the music of her service on a playlist and it had begun playing. It wasn’t a supernatural happening. I downloaded those songs on a playlist and it just happened to come on. I fell on the bed and wondered how I would ever make it on this hike I was about to undertake. How was I ever going to go on without her when I got home?
February 18th, 2013 Pamplona, Spain After walking the streets of Barcelona for two days, I drug myself to Pamplona. After 2 days walking the streets here, I am try to gather strength. I will forced myself to strap on my backpack and begin to hike.
I started recently reading things I wrote throughout my walk in Spain. Surprised! This is what journals are for I see. (Thanks Doc). On the third day of my walk on the Camino, I wrote about cursing God out loud – all day. I wanted to know why he would allow this to happen. [Loudly cursing mind you]. No one was around, so what did I care? If the Spanish grape-pickers heard me they would just call me that crazy American man with a too-big-for-his-body backpack in tow- pissed off at the world for distant reasons. So I let it fly. After exhaustion from screaming at God all day, I called my cousin who is a pastor (at $2.99 a minute). I asked him the same question. “Why did God allow Lindy to die”? He led me to Deuteronomy 29:29, it’s not for us to know the secrets of the Lord”. Well, in true Michael-inquisitive fashion, I needed context. So I read chapter 27-29. It basically talks about the curse of disobedience. Bam! That’s why he took her. Because I have lived in my agnostic ways for 22 years! He let her die to get my attention! I was quickly told that this was a very narcissistic view of why…. “God didn’t have to take Lindy to get your attention”.
I find myself sitting and trying to reminisce about the last year of my existence, often times, reliving every conversation, and view I took in, letting my red wine get warm:) I have had a good travel year. That’s the only positive I can put up on the board right now. I have grieved in places I could have only dreamed of going. I have left my own trail of tears. (I can say that. I’m 1/100th Cherokee). I went to Spain twice; I have been to Paris twice; I have been to [insider’s] DC twice; and I spent several incredible days in Newport Beach visiting some of Lindy’s best friends (mine too). Dodger’s game was a bonus! Hands down the most travelling I have done alone in one year. I have made friends all over the world that I still talk to frequently. It has been a real blessing to have the ability to spend a year off. (Thanks to my financially savvy wife: Thank you for looking out for us, Lindy).
Paris: I have seen the Monet’s & Manet’s in the Musee D’orsay. Surreal. I have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Enchanting. I walked the streets of Paris all night till the beginning of morning twilight. Magical. I took in all the Parisian food, dirty martinis and lifestyle I could tolerate. Exhausting. Lindy always wanted to visit Paris and I want to believe she did, with me. Even did Paris in more style the second visit when I was fortunate enough to be there at the same time as my friends, Carter and his wife Jill. (Carter was also the one who sold me the extraordinary ring that made my wife so proud to parade).
Spain: The first trip to Spain started in Barcelona. I saw the astonishing Sagrada Família. Walked almost every street in Ciutat Vella (Old City), Barcelona. I took a panoramic three hour train ride across the Spanish country side to Pamplona. It was in Pamplona I had one of the most surreal experiences. I am a Hemingway fan to the nth degree (thanks to David Mitchell) and I actually walked the entire city while listening to the Sun Also Rises, my favorite Hemingway book. Most of the book is set in Pamplona around the Running of the Bulls. You talk about feeling right smack in the middle of the book!
My story is still unfolding and I am trying to find the excitement in that. It should be a new beginning. I turned my life over to God after many brutal arguments, on the hike across Spain, somewhere between Punta la Reina and Los Arcos in the La Rioja wine region. (Talk about marking a seminal moment in ones life!) I realized after two days of questioning the “why’s” of God taking her from me that I was actually talking to God for the first time in 22 years. When I made a conscious decision to quit running from him, I felt a peace beyond comprehension. The journey since then has not been one void of hardship, or unbearable heart-break, and choice words with God, but it is a path that I know I was always meant to walk again. Every minute of the day brings new revelations to me; new understandings. It is nice to have a shot at a new beginning. Never thought I would turn 40 a widower and have to start over. I didn’t, I don’t want to be alone. I’m not. I will forever feel Lindy right here. At this point in time, I don’t know that I want to be with anybody again. I’m sure that will change. In a way, her death is what lit the path back to God. Her wisdom and practical way of life has weaved itself into my personality. It’s two positives that should make for a good foundation for a new launch.
I miss her every second of every day. I have realized in the last month that I CAN go on. I will go on. I may still shed tears daily over her, but I will no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for something to happen for me or to me. I read a quote recently from an unknown author that has really been a new mantra:
“Grief never ends…but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…It’s the price of Love.
Lindy, I love you and thank you for everything you did for us, and continue to do for me. I would pay the price again of our love a million times. You were so special that the English language doesn’t even contain the words to describe it. I promise to always cherish and honor your life and memory; our life together and the beautiful memories we shared.
Forever in my heart,