Widower is a lonely word. It’s singular and solitary. It implies self-sufficiency, but that’s far from true. It’s a mountain that everyone can see from wherever they stand in their own life; it cannot be hidden, except from those living on the summit.
It’s also a very difficult place to climb down from. There are no paths. You become a reluctant trailblazer whatever direction you choose, and that makes it very tempting to stand still. If you do, the people below point out routes to the bottom they can see from where they stand, but from here, it’s all straight down and scary.
There is always the strong pull to go back, to live alone at this altitude. Sometimes you try to convince yourself you can touch heaven from here, but you can’t. Heaven and all its residents are out of reach; you’re alone.
Time crawls. An unspoken hope exists that someone or something will rescue you, but it just fuels impatience, and you wait.
I read and write to fill the time, but I eventually bookmark my page or put my pencil down and dwell on what I am most comfortable with – the past. I ask myself the same two questions.
Nowhere have I found a tolerable purpose for her suffering or death. I’ve read books; consulted scriptures; prayed; listened to educated men and women espouse their beliefs; but nothing stills this soul. Answers evade me, but my quest to find them continues, and probably always will.
I read a considerable amount about grief, too, since for me it’s as difficult as being a caregiver, maybe more so.
Caregiving consumed every single hour of my life. I responded at a moment’s notice to whatever awaited me. The adrenalin of this existence burned off in the first year and was replaced by an exhaustion that still defies description. Life became a series of out-of-body experiences that lasted four years. As much as I loved her, I desperately wanted it to end. She told me many times she wanted to die faster to spare me.
Grieving is being frozen alive. It is numbing, silent, crushing. Life slows, then stops. Breathing is intentional. You have to decide if you want your next breath and continue to exist like this, or just go to sleep and not wake up. These are not simple times or easy decisions.
But there is an epic irony to this: What thaws my grief is caregiving.
It’s impossible to describe how pain reluctantly absorbed becomes the catalyst to comfort others, or how our own grief briefly dissipates when we do this. I have had someone hold my hand and hear my grief. It was powerful. I have also listened to the pain of others, all while wondering if I hung on as tightly to my caregiver as the person I’m listening to is holding on to me.
Together, we formed a human chain.
Our losses became our strength. Ever so intentionally, we guided each other over the edge of what we feared and into a quieter place until we are ready to take the next step.
And when we are ready, and after having borne the weight of our grief alone, we will each take our place in line and help others. I am grateful to those ahead of me for their comfort and for leading me this far down the mountain, and I will do the same for those behind me.
This has been a profound experience; tragic loss followed by hesitant and bewildering rebirth, and it’s far from over.
I can see the mountain from now …
Bob Marcotte of Fresno is an author, musician, photographer, and was a caregiver to his remarkable wife, Carole, for four years during her cancer journey. His blog is www.besidesthecancer.org.