longaker discusses the loss of a partner
By Gilles Bédard
Q: You started your spiritual path through a dramatic event, the
death of your husband. Could you tell me about it?
A: In a sense, that was a perfect example -- when you get really stuck
and there is no way out -- then sooner or later, you have to open yourself
to realize that there is another reality, another way to see the
meaning of your life and go through it. When my husband was first
diagnosed with acute leukemia, we were
both very young, I hadn't had any direct encounters with death before
and I realized that we were facing the very real possibility of his
I remember thinking to myself that all I ever heard about death is
that it is something very tragic and unfair, it's the worst thing that
can happen to you. I said to my husband, "If that's all that death is,
then no matter how long you have to live, we're just going to be in
this tragic story and we're going to
feel helpless and victims of our circumstances."
Neither of us, at that time, had a spiritual path, but I remember saying
to my husband, "I don't know exactly what death is or if there is anything
after death but maybe we can try to view the fact that we're facing
death as a gift in our life."
So, even though it seems like a huge package of unwanted suffering,
if we view death as a gift maybe we can find out what the gift is. We
didn't have an answer at the beginning. But we knew that we had been
taking our lives for granted, not communicating well in our relationship
and not really appreciating that our life had any meaning or direction.
By deciding to view death as a gift, even though during that year we
still had a lot of suffering, we made mistakes and often still hurt
each other unconsciously in the things that we did, we had to work through
those mistakes very quickly. We had committed to our intention to change
and live in a more meaningful and loving way. So, just changing our
view point about death was an incredible gift for us; even the mistakes
that we made became gifts because they forced us to connect with our
love and communicate more genuinely.
At the time my husband died, I felt that part of the relationship
was complete, that we had done the best we could.
Even before he died, we were able to apologize to each other for the
hard times we'd given each other and also express our gratitude for
the year that we'd had, the love that we'd shared and how much we had
grown. So when he died, I felt very peaceful and I could really
let him go with all my love because I knew we had lived his last year
of life really well, even with its mistakes.
At the same time, I sensed that there was another, deeper dimension
to death, and that something important was happening in that transition.
And I didn't have a clue what to do for him, how to support him spiritually,
both before and after he died. My desire to understand the deeper dimension
of death launched me into doing hospice work as well as finding an
authentic spiritual path.
Q: You mention an aspect which I found very significant: "Gazing
continually into the mirror of death during the year of his illness
encouraged us to find and commit to a meaningful direction in our lives.
Rather than feeling we were helpless victims, we committed to creating
the kind of life we truly wanted in our final year together. This change
came about in the way we decided to view death on that very first day
in the hospital."
A: It is making that commitment to life. That's what I found beautiful
in this quote by Brother David Steindl-Rast:
not just given life, you have to actually choose life, you have to make
a commitment to live and to find a meaning and a direction.
And until you do, you're just half alive, you just feel like you're
wandering around. I felt that way as a young person. I thought life
was just to enjoy and to have fun. It didn't really matter what you
did, what you valued. You could just fool around, nothing really counted.
But suddenly, when you are face to face with death, you realize that
this is a really precious time, this chance that we have in our life
is not going to last.
What we do in this life is very significant.
We can bring a lot of benefit into this world, we can heal a relationship
with somebody we've had a hard time with or change things and give ourselves
meaningful direction. I still make mistakes and am sometimes very unaware,
but I know that its possible to contribute and make a difference in
other people's lives.
©1998 Gilles Bédard
the wisdom of a child
By Kevin D. Catton
Never had life been so difficult. As a veteran police officer, exposed
to the constant stress and pressures inherent in the profession, the
death of my life partner struck a hammer blow that pitched me into the
depths of depression.
At twenty-eight years of age, my beloved Liz had suffered
a perforated colon as a complication of Crohn's disease and died tragically,
after several operations and six agonizing weeks in the intensive care
unit. Our first born son, Seth, celebrated his fourth birthday the day
following his mother's death and Morgan, our youngest boy, would reach
his third, exactly three weeks later.
Liz, who had been a stay-at-home mother, excelled at cooking, housecleaning
and all the other domestic chores that contribute to the embellishment
of our lives. In true macho-cop, chauvinist fashion, I had taken her
generosity for granted, never having time to take on any of these responsibilities
As a result I found myself suddenly, in the midst of
my grief, thrust ranting and screaming into the role of maid, shopper,
driver, launderer, childcare professional, cook and dishwasher. We had
moved into a heavily mortgaged new home only weeks before Liz's death,
and our financial situation was already precarious. I soon realized
that police work, with its rotating shifts, would necessitate the services
of a live-in nanny, further taxing my already overburdened salary. To
my great dismay, the constant demands for attention from two preschoolers
left me exhausted and irritated, until I began to resent their very
In the days following, loneliness and pain gave way to guilt, anger
and eventually, self pity. I spiraled
deeper and deeper into despair and it wasn't long before my body began
to display its inner turmoil. Despite my efforts to veil my grief
from the children, my eyes became dark and baggy, my weight plummeted
and on one occasion, the boys watched me spill their milk all over the
table as a quivering hand thwarted my efforts to fill a glass.
Although I dreaded the moment, I knew at some point I would have to
delve into the task of sorting through Liz's personal effects, cleaning
out the closets and boxing up her clothes and other belongings. One
evening, the boys tucked away for the night, I began. Each dress, that
scarf, this pair of shoes, one by one, evoked its treasured, if not
painful memory and feelings of overwhelming guilt. It was in a small
fold, deep within her purse, that I found almost by accident, a neatly
folded, tiny slip of yellowed paper, its creases, tight and crisp with
age, protecting a carefully printed message.
"Dear Kevin," it began, "these are all the reasons
that I love you . . ." and as I read on, her words obscured by tears,
my heart ached, and my body shook with convulsive, painful sobs of loneliness.
I had hit bottom.
Slowly, in that hopeless fog of despair, I became aware of two small
arms wrapped around my legs as I sat at the edge of the bed. A small
voice asked in all the innocence of his three years, "What's the matter,
Daddy?" "I feel sad Morgan, that Mommy's gone to heaven and we won't
see her for a very long time," I said, struggling vainly for composure.
"Don't worry Daddy, we'll help you. When
Seth and I get up in the morning, we'll put the cereal on the table
and all you'll have to do is make the toast."
With those few, simple, loving words, my three-year-old child taught
me a greater lesson than any other. His thoughts were sunlight, filtering
into the dreary, winter landscape of my soul and I knew at that instant,
that life would be okay.
Copyright 2002 Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul
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