Five years on…
Love, death, grief, depression and hope.
Today is the day before Valentine’s Day. The day for lovers. Sometimes it feels like angels have a better view of our loved ones than we do. Even when they are still right here in our hearts. Plus we have so many images and memories right in the front of our mind.
It is five years today since my sweet wife Faye passed on. She is still missing. Hearing her laugh, making me bust out in laughter, listening to her sing with her sweet voice and seeing her quick smile, feeling her soft loving touch—all missing.
Faye and I met in 1979 when she worked across the street from a small store where I worked. At the age of twenty-four all hopes of having a loving, meaningful relationship seemed to have vanished from my life. I had given up, and that’s when she walked into the store, into my life. Some times she laughed, or sang a song, always upbeat, and her smile. I had to know why she smiled so. Fortunately, she wanted to get to know me too. We fell in love.
We were married under a tree at a friend’s cabin in Camp Nelson, California on September 11, 1982. No relationship is perfect, but ours was pretty damn good through thirty-one and a half years. We laughed, we loved and sometimes we cried. We always had each others best interests at heart. Life was interesting at times. Prejudice reared its ugly head occasionally. Being in a bi-racial marriage in the early ’80’s in our region of California was truly heartbreaking at times. We even had some bigots sabotage our car so a wheel came off at 65mph and somehow managed to live through that.
Faye’s sweet spirit and sense of humor helped a lot. Sometimes she would tell me that it was like we were complete opposites—she was black and I was white. I pointed out she was a woman and I’m a man, so I guess we were opposites. Ha ha! We loved to cook and eat, listen to music and drive the backroads of California. We had a beautiful daughter after being together ten years. When we tried to have children earlier, it never happened. When we weren’t trying to, it happened. Funny how that goes sometimes.
I have often thought that cancer burned through our lives like a slow burning wildfire. With no previous symptoms, one morning Faye had a seizure. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, a grade 3 (4 being the worst) astrocytoma. That was February 16, 2012. She had neurosurgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. There was no way to get it all as astrocytomas grow into the brain in starlike patterns, an exceptionally insidious type of tumor. The surgery left her with paralysis on the left side. She went through multiple regimens of chemo and radiation. She never lost her sweet spirit and attitude.
Having been laid off from my job and losing our wonderful health insurance plan as a result, she ended up on MediCal. I had to fight with them constantly to maintain her coverage for the remainder of her life. I became her 24/7 caregiver. We lost nearly everything we had financially and were even evicted out of our home by former friends who knew what our situation was. The prospect of homelessness was not far away.
We were able to find a home and friends helped us move in. Working a regular job was out of the question as I was her full time caregiver. My freelance web design work was sporadic. Sometimes Faye would ask what I was going to cook for dinner and I told her it was going to be a surprise, because it was since the cupboards were often bare. But, then something good would happen. Time after time. A friend would call and say they were stopping by to bring some groceries, or funds to help us. This happened so many times it would be foolish to not have faith in a higher power, in the spiritual greater good. There is a piece of God in all of us wanting to share our love and good will towards our fellow beings in need.
Family, friends and people I don’t even know helped us in any way they could. Having been the provider for my family for so many years and then being unable to provide was a humbling experience. It was not in my nature to ask for for or accept help. But, being stubborn and letting your ego get in the way does not feed your family. I had to learn.
Chemo and radiation kept the brain cancer in check for over a year. However, it was never in remission and eventually took her life. Faye went into the hospital a number of times and again on December 30, 2013. She was in hospital, a skilled nursing facility, then back in the hospital again. She then went into hospice care. Her periods of lucidity diminished completely over her last few weeks. Just before 3 in the afternoon of February 13, 2014 she took her lasts breaths in this world while I was holding her hand.
An excerpt from my poem ‘Early Dark Late’:
“Recalling endlessly your slowly diminishing definitive final
breaths. Holding your hand, fervently praying, as your soul filled the room.
Streaming tears of sorrow mixed with joy that is a gift of faith. Oh, how I
wish you could be here, to share this solemn, silent song.”
I did feel her spirit fill the room, and I felt her reassuring me, telling me that everything is alright. There is comfort in knowing she is no longer suffering.
Gratefully, family and friends paid their respects to Faye and helped my daughter and I through these uncharted waters. We went to grief support. It helped. I recommend it to anyone in need. Give it a try. Our culture does not prepare us well for dealing with grief even though everyone is certainly likely to experience it eventually.
But, what do you do in the middle of the night when no one is there? The prayers and tears are constant, yet relief is not arriving. The emptiness is overwhelming. I have never experienced depression in my life until after Faye died. Grief, stress, plus physical and emotional exhaustion does not add up to a happy or healthy place to be. Some mornings the only thing that forced me out of bed was knowing I needed to provide for and help my daughter. I felt broken. I was broken.
One middle of the night when sleep abandoned me, I turned on the TV and before the picture came on the sound came out in the words; “Our loved ones are in heaven, bathed in love. Let me repeat, our loved ones who have passed on, are in heaven, bathed in love.” As the picture came on I recognized Dr. Wayne Dyer. He was on PBS doing one of his programs. It still amazes me that happened just like that when I turned the TV on at that particular moment. What do you call that? Serendipity? A coincidence? I call it a gift. A connection. Words that I needed to hear at just the right time. Comforting words. What does bathed in love mean? The absence of anything that is not love. I fumbled for a pen and paper and wrote those words down.
I started writing words down. A lot of words. Any time of day or night. Thoughts, phrases, ideas, stories, songs, poems. I have written letters to Faye. I have written down how grief feels as much as it can be put into words. Or how depression feels and of its awful, creeping dread. When writing these words, sometimes I cry, tears of sorrow, tears of joy other times, or both at the same time.
One lesson learned is to write it down when the gift of inspiration arrives. Not the next morning. Too much chance of losing the thought, the crucial meaning. The writing became an outlet for my grief and depression. Not necessarily a cure, but a release. And, a body of work was emerging. Particularly, a collection of poems. About love, death, grief, hope, nature, current events, life experiences or anything else that needed to be written about. I shared this writing with some friends. they shared their creative endeavors with me. The dark clouds of depression were gradually lifting.
The best way to help yourself is by helping others. We volunteered for charities, my daughter and I. Still do. We have to give back. We want to give. We all need to help each other. There is peace and happiness in the simplest of kind acts. Friends and family I know have gone through their own tragedies and hardships. People we don’t know are too. Give hope. The rewards are mutual. One thing traumatic life experiences can teach us is what really matters in life. And it is not usually all that other stuff we worry about uselessly.
Rebuilding a life after loss can take time. I am still a work in progress. Following my love of writing and photography has led to some interesting, unexpected results. In sharing my poetry with friends I found out about poetry readings right here in Bakersfield, a place where culture is not always easy to find.
So, I went to the monthly poetry reading to check it out. I met a very nice, lovely lady there, a beautiful soul. Her name is Carla Joy. She writes poetry too. This happened one year and a couple of months ago. We are in love. We met because we write. I could not have imagined that possibility, but this is a true story. We talk about our lives, about everything. We talk about Faye. We say her name, she is not forgotten or replaced. Love does not die. I am blessed.
More unexpected results. Submitting poetry for publication can generate a large number of rejection letters. I’m not giving up and will be published someday. Some publications accept photography too and I have managed to get some of my photos published. Much to my surprise I am now the Visual Media Director for a fine online literary magazine. Did not see that coming. It is a labor of love volunteer position where I am working with a fine group of people who really believe in creativity and what we are doing.
I’m working on a book of my photos and poetry together. Photo-Poetry. Also several poetry manuscripts, including one on love, grief and hope. I was featured poet at our local poetry reading last month. Inspirations still arrive like gifts, sometimes in the middle of the night, and are written down.
So, why am I writing this? It is part of the ongoing healing process. Also, if anyone can gain anything from this, it will be worthwhile. I try to not be preachy, but maybe there are some lessons here. Let go of ego and useless worry, and don’t chase material things. Most of all, follow what you love and it will lead you where you need to be.
Love and thanks to you all,