I went to the cemetery to talk to Mommy and Daddy. My dad was actually buried there, but my mom who had passed away 35 years before, was not. She had given her body to science, and then was cremated. My father’s desire was to always have a place for both of them and so the headstone reads: Leo F. Duggan and his beloved wife Colleen C. Duggan. And so I went to see both of them, as it comforts me to think they are both there.
As I was driving through the cemetery, a place that seems to perplex me each time I drive through its winding roads that easily confuses a person like me. I’m a directional failure. It’s just a fact. But as I drove through on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I passed by an elderly woman sitting on a cement bench, under a huge oak tree that was shading her and the gravesite she was visiting. I immediately assumed it was the grave of her beloved husband that had passed away after 55 years of marriage and she was distressed, sad and probably very lonely. This, of course, is what I assumed to be the reality of what I witnessed in a glimpse. As I drove past, I saw her sitting on the bench with her aged hands on her lap holding and saying the rosary. I was immediately struck by the visual and the visceral impact it made on me has been lasting. I choked up immediately as tears filled my eyes. As I drove past, the magnitude of her loss ebbed into my loss, for my husband, for my parents and for her husband, for whom I still assumed she was visiting.
Loss is a tough animal. It can be relentless in its pain and suffering. It can bring the stoic to their knees, the strong to be weak, and the marginal to imagine death for themselves. It is just not easy. And as I have thought about this slight, grey haired, elderly women in her skirt and blouse sitting in front of her beloved, I cry. I cry for her and I cry for myself and I cry for my friends that are struggling with their own losses of spouses, and neighbors that are on the brink of those losses and of friends that are struggling with illnesses and all that it brings to the forefront. I cry for all of us, all in the middle of the cemetery. I cry for my losses. I cry for their losses. I cry out of sadness and I cry out of fear. What will become of all of us that are dealing with losses where the magnitude of that loss is even bigger than we can process? I think of the woman on the bench. I worry about her and how she is dealing with her loss. I consider: is her loss easier because of the lateness in life as opposed to mine, where I seem to never be able to shirk the feeling that we were all cheated from Wes’ death. Especially Wes. Is it easier?
But in this past 2 months, we, as communities, as a nation and even globally, are being barraged with carnage and the unthinkable attacks on innocent people and our police forces as well. The terrorist attacks in Nice, the unrest in Turkey, the killing of our police officers in Dallas and then Baton Rouge and now in Florida is mind numbing. And the list of atrocities seems to get compounded daily. As we as a nation try to assimilate all that is happening in the world around us, we are in a constant mercurial pull to what is also going on in our own private lives and in our own little worlds. The juxtaposition of all of these emotional currents are converging and the emotional confluence is alarming as well as staggering. How do we cope? How do we, as individuals derail the impact on ourselves and how do we assimilate and how do we manage all that is happening around us. I’ve needed a good shrink’s couch for a while, and I could really use one right now.
I consider the magnitude of the visuals we are seeing on TV and hearing on the radio. There are literally cameras catching every bit of the carnage on film for all of us to watch over and over and over again. This, in and of itself is not normal and it certainly isn’t healthy. We are humans after all, we are not designed to witness these atrocities hundreds of times in the course of hours, days, weeks and months that lead into years as we absorb all that is happening around us in some sort of warped speed. I want an off button. I want to shut it down and shut it out. Life’s realities are very hard to absorb and getting harder by the day. It is difficult to put all of these emotions into their rightful places so that we can endure and move forward in our lives.
But even if we turn off all media and refuse to take the paper out of it’s plastic protective baggie each morning as we pick it up from the bottom of our driveways, we still have the ever present, ever occurring, ever emotional issues that we still have to deal with in our every day lives. Life is hard and life is emotional. I struggle to find the balance of where the sun shines on us still and where that same sun seems to shroud us in darkness. Sometimes that seems insurmountable and the goal of balance seems to be lofty and fleeting at best.
As we have been deluged with these images across our nation for the last 6 weeks, we are still trying to find ways to cope in our own personal worlds. Ideally, we’d like to put all of our fears in boxes that we can store for another time until we have more reserved emotional fortitude to deal with them. I’ve been trying to box mine up for years now and deal with them when I’m ready, but somehow, some way, they keep finding me. I might have to find a better box.
When I think about the sadness in our streets, here and abroad, I also cannot release the image of the wonderful wife that I captured sitting on the cool, cement bench on a hot summer day in July, under the immense canopy of branches of a large oak tree, saying the rosary for the man she loved, for the man she shared a life with, and for a loss she can’t comprehend. In all of my personal sadness, and all of the sadness I am forced to glean every day in our news media, I find comfort in the beauty of the wife on a bench in the cemetery. It reminds me of what is pure and genuine.
It isn’t easy to find the light in such darkness when it’s pressed into every aspect of our daily lives, but when I think of the elderly widow at the cemetery, with tears I also think of gratitude. And then I think of a quote that I read by Melody Beattie that says:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
I have learned through my intense pain over losing Wes, that I am at a place where I can readily behold gratitude for having a lifetime with him, for having uncompromised love, affection and acceptance. I have gratitude for the thousands of laughs we had together. For the opportunities to share a secret of intense love for, and with a man that brought clarity to my life, joy to my world, awesome children to hold, love and nurture and a calmness to my realm as it was the most magical time I’ve ever had in my life and quite possibly will ever have again.
I still struggle with the pain over losing the best person I’ve ever known, but now I am accepting Wes’ passing more than I am denying it. That is huge for me. My years of magical thinking have actually saved me through some of the toughest times, but yet it also became a necessity to move on from. I am perceptibly closer to fully accepting my life as it is now, as opposed to what I still want it to be, but cerebrally, know that it is not. I am accepting my new life. My little world. I am gaining a calm and order from the chaos of grief and pain. This too is huge. I still need and want Wes. I still miss him more than I have a vocabulary to describe, but I am turning the corner on so much of the pain that has held me in it’s grips.
But, as I continue to think about all that is going on around us, I get weak, sad and forlorn. It is all too much to process. And I exhaust myself in the worry of what is going on in my world and in the greater world we all inhabit. And then I think about my friend etched in my memory, under the shade tree, saying the rosary to help her through her pain of loss, and I find a simple beauty in that image. As I cried when I glimpsed it, I have seemingly held onto the memory as a testament to the enduring love we humans have for one another and the simple beauty that it embodies. The internal message roiling under the surface from the visceral impact of what I witnessed affects me in a way I wasn’t counting on. Where it made me cry initially, it has seeped into my head and into my heart over the last several weeks and has acted as a reminder of all that is right with the world, instead of all the heartbreak we are seeing on the daily news.
Being witness to this experience reminds me to live well and love hard. To have gratitude for immense love, even when it’s lost. To be grateful for all that we have and to be grateful for one another. And even as I still struggle intensely with missing Wes, I am so grateful for the life we had together.
Even through so much loss, gratitude eventually reveals itself and becomes fully realized. Even, if I’m the one sitting on the bench, under the oak tree, saying the rosary.