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How do I love thee...

This is a photograph of my grandparent’s wedding, may they both rest in peace. My grandfather died at the age of 52 from heart disease and cancer while sitting in his favorite recliner. My grandmother had gone outside to warm up the car to take him to a doctor’s appointment and when she came back in, he had passed. She carried on with her life, in her grief, for nineteen lonely years until she passed from lung cancer. Blessedly, it was a quick passing. A spot seen on an x-ray which showed a large tumor pushing on her trachea and six days later she was gone.

Her three oldest grandchildren (myself and my two brothers) were in her hospital room, while her five children were convening in the hallway as they had rushed there with only two hours notice. I was at her bedside holding her hand, her eyes closed from the morphine and her breaths labored, willing her to go be with my grandfather. I could vividly see him in heaven, putting on his best suit and tie as he prepared for her to come be by his side. They had been apart for so long. I promised her that we would be fine and that it was time for her to go be with the man that she had loved all the days of her life. I gave her the permission she needed to let us go. No sooner had those words passed my lips, she took one last deep breath and left us.

It was the most peaceful and beautiful passing I have ever attended in my life. After a career of working in medicine, I have had the unfortunate responsibility of being at the bedside while many people have made this journey. Sometimes it is harried, loud and filled with chaos as we struggle to fight against the inevitable while other times it is tranquil, peaceful and filled with the tears of acceptance that there is no way to stop it. Either way, the end result is always the same. A person has to leave this world and hearts will be broken as they are left behind to grieve the loved one who has moved on.

Either way, there is usually that one person who meant more than anything else to the departed. A wife, a husband, a lover, a fiancé, a partner or simply that significant other who never had an “official title” but everyone knew was the deceased’s love of their life. They were accepted by the entire family as such, they were at every family function, every holiday dinner, in every family photo, always on the arm of the departed because they were in love and it was as simple as that. Whether the passing was swift or a long convalescence, the special person left behind is immediately surrounded by everyone as if they can help ease the suffering he/she is going through. Ironically, it is at this time when the person typically wants to be alone the most.

They want their memories. They want their loved one’s belongings around them. They want to cry without having to suppress it or explain themselves. They want to touch the things that give them comfort and they want to stare off into space for hours without being asked, “How are you doing?” They are tired of hearing, “I am so sorry for your loss.” It doesn’t help them. Nothing will help them right now.

They know that people mean well so they try to be courteous but the suffering is immense. It is even more difficult to play the host for the days of the wake and the funeral as they shake hands, accept hugs and kisses on the cheek as people attempt to console them while they convey their sympathies. The only peace they have is when everyone leaves the funeral home and they are left alone with the body of their loved one. Even then, the funeral home directors linger politely in the background and they feel pressured to leave so the staff can close up for the night. Time is moving too quickly and soon their loved one will truly be taken away from them and placed in that cold ground where they cannot touch them. Reluctantly, they walk out the door for the night knowing that the next day the funeral home will be filled with people once again and their private time will be over.

Somehow, they survive the events of the funeral and as they watch the casket lowered into the cold ground the world around them ceases to exist. Everything is silent. They don’t know how they are allowing these men to turn the cranks that loosen the straps which lower the casket into the ground. Inside they are screaming, “NO! STOP! Do not put him down in that hole in the ground. It is cold, it is wet, it is dark…he will be alone. Please put me in there with him….” but no words pass their lips. The tears stream down as the dirt is shoveled into the hole. Each clump is deafening.

How do I love thee? How could I not? You were my entire world. My sun, my moon, my air to breathe, my joy, my sorrow. The hole in my heart will never heal, this I know. I have no intention of letting it heal even if it tries. I will make sure that it remains an open, festering wound for the rest of my life because I had my one opportunity at happiness and it was with you. Now, you are gone and with that, you took my happiness as well. I am ok with that. I will continue on breathing in and out every day until the Lord sees fit to take me to you once again. I will fill my days with trivial, menial tasks to pass the time while I wait but nothing will bring me joy ever again. I don’t expect it to. My fate has been sealed. That is how I love thee.

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