by Laura Crum
It’s hard for me to talk about gratitude right now. There are many days when I feel very, very sad. I miss my husband so much. When a friend said to me the other day that I was lucky, I almost choked.
“Lucky?” I demanded. “How can you say that?”
Now this is a good friend who knows me well. He knows the details of my life. He knows my home, he knows I don’t need to work, he knows my son, and he sees what our day to day life is like. He knew my husband very well. He said, “Most people would give a lot to have what you have.”
I stopped and thought about this. “Most people would not want this at the price of the grief I must bear,” I said.
“Most people would not see it that way,” he said. “They would say that you’ll get over the loss of your husband and move on with your life, and you still have a beautiful life. A lovely home that you own free and clear, a good son, some nice animals including three fine horses, a wonderful garden, financial freedom. Most people would assume that you could find another husband if you wanted.”
“But I don’t want,” I said. “I cannot imagine wanting that. Andy was and is the only man I ever truly wanted. And I was happy with him. Even now, I feel his presence and that is more important to me than any other man’s company.”
My friend shrugged. “I still say you’re lucky. Most people never feel that way about a husband or wife. They never have that experience of being with someone who truly makes them happy. Even though Andy died sooner than you might have hoped for, you had seventeen years together and you loved each other and enjoyed your life together. Andy was a happy man. And he left you the means to go on with your life without financial stress—because he cared about his family. You say you still feel him with you in dreams and signs. I don’t know anything about that, but if it’s true, it’s surely a sign of his continuing love—a love that has lasted past death. How many people have any experience of that? I still say you’re lucky.”
I thought about that a long time. Long after my friend finished his whiskey and soda and left. The roses are blooming and I picked a bunch of them to put on Andy’s grave the next morning. I wandered around, looking at the horses and the pond and the many flowers. I knew my cozy little house waited to receive me, and my son was inside. Dinner, made by a friend, was warm in the oven. Last night I dreamed of Andy, wearing his kilt and getting ready to play his bagpipes for a group of people. He came to me and kissed me and he was happy. In that moment I was happy, too. He comes to me in dreams many nights—he sends me messages that seem very clear.
We all die. It’s just a matter of when. If there is anything that counts, it’s whatever transcends death. This is true, was always true, whether Andy died when he did or he lived to be ninety. When I walk around the graveyard and look at all the gravestones I understand how brief our mortal life is—even if we do live to be 90. My grandmother lived to be 97 and she is just as dead as my mother, who lived to be 65. At this point it doesn’t seem to make much difference how long each of them spent in their body. What is present past death is the only reality. And so it is for both Andy and me. What counts is our love for each other, and whatever part of us can/may transcend our deaths.
We all have grief to bear in our lives. There is not one person that I know who doesn’t struggle in some way. A lovely single woman that I know holds down a decent job—forty hours a week plus-- and takes all the part-time work she can find. She can barely afford rent on a studio apartment in someone’s backyard here in pricey Santa Cruz County, California. That and her car payment (for a nice reliable little Toyota) leave her without any extra money at all. She cannot imagine that a life such as I have could ever come to her. To own her own place, not to have to work, not to worry about money…this is unimaginable. She once admitted that she would take my grief and have my life. And she pointed out, as my other friend did, that at least I have had a true partner. She never has had this experience and now, at forty years old, she worries that she never will. It makes me think.
Everyone must struggle eventually. I know another beautiful woman who must bear being estranged from her young adult daughter—not by her choice, not for anything she did wrong, but simply because her daughter needs to do this right now. It is a constant grief. I know a man whose wife stepped off a curb on her way out of a restaurant the other day, and fell and hit her head and died of this injury. I knew a woman of thirty who died of a rare form of cancer—she had a two year old child. I know another woman whose only son died on his 11th birthday in a freak accident. Yet another woman that I knew (ten years younger than me and in apparent good health) had a completely unexpected heart attack; over a year later and she cannot walk, speak clearly, eat, or sit up unassisted, and her family, including two young daughters, must both care for her and deal with the enormous financial burden her tragedy has placed on their family. Just a few weeks ago four teenagers died in a car wreck not a city block away from my driveway—I pass their roadside shrine every day. I have a friend who struggles with constant poor health and has no money to seek the treatments she feels might help her. I know so many people whose lives are so hectic in the endless need to make money to pay their bills that they never have a calm moment. In short, we all struggle. My life, taken all in all, has been a very good one.
It is so easy to feel sorry for myself right now. But maybe I should feel grateful. I am working on this.