I’ve been continuing to reflect on the last year, re-reading my blog postings from a year ago as Nancy and I navigated her hospitalization. Early last December, we realized that she would not survive, and a year ago this afternoon, she decided to stop medical treatment. She passed away early the following morning, so tomorrow will be one year. I’ve also gone back and read my private journal entries, where I wrote about my feelings through this period, the events of her final day, the long vigil that Tina Benson, her brother Jim, her sister-in-law Kathy and I shared through the night. Someday perhaps I will get this into a book, but for now, there is no need to share details. It’s enough for me to simply remember her, and feel the still-healing place in my heart.
So the next 24 hours of my life are ritual space, and I invite you to join me in whatever way you wish. As we celebrate the winter solstice, and the death and rebirth it symbolizes, remember who she was to you, what she brought to you, cherish her. And perhaps ask yourself what was born in you at the time she passed away?
For me, everything inside seems to be different. The boot-camp of nearly two months in the ICU developed some essential durability inside; I know that I can sit with anyone through just about anything now. I also know just how fiercely loyal I am…I never even thought about leaving her side through all of this (although we were working hard on our marriage before her final illness came in).
The daily contact I had with her, for weeks after she passed away, was loving and communicative and startlingly real for me. It was like having her sitting next to me, invisible and a little hard to hear clearly. It got to be pretty amusing, I would be driving to work, and she would land in the passenger seat and surprise me, stick around a chat for a while, then take off. I had additional contact with her last April, for several weeks. I now know that some part of us continues after we pass away, and that unshakeable knowing has stripped away most of my fear of my own death. With that, many of my other habitual fears have fallen away. If I have a feeling, I don’t hesitate to express it. If I have an observation to share with someone dear to me, I don’t hesitate to express that either…as long as what I say is in service to them and to our relationship. I had so many little stopping points, ways of filtering myself, before Nancy died, too afraid to speak the plain truth, afraid of my impact or of the judgement or criticism that might come back. Now I hardly ever filter myself. Life is too short for superficialities.
I also have a sharp and deep appreciation for all that I sense and experience. I’m loving food, wine, weather, hugs, everything sensory in huge ways, and I’m greedy for it all. Life is precious and fleeting, and we won’t get to have these experiences when we’re gone, it will be different.
Which begs the question, what do we get to take with us when we die? I can testify that Nancy had all her memories and feelings, in fact, her ability to express love and feel loved was liberated when she left her body. So we get to take our love with us. Perhaps that is the durable remains of incarnation, the part we get to keep always. The ngöndrö practice text says
The passage of the four seasons is but a momentary flicker.
Everything is impermanent, bound to four inevitable ends.
There is no one who, having been born, has not died.
Our lifespan and life force are like a flash of lightening or a drop of dew.
I would have never taken on the preliminary practices before losing Nancy, and now there is a spiritual anchor in my life through them. They are changing my body, strengthening me physically and changing me in subtle ways I can feel, but not yet comprehend. Some of my meditations are bringing intense insight, delightful awareness, deeper feelings, more receptivity. This is all wonderful.
And lastly, I adore the woman I’m dating, I revel in the direct and affectionate and uncommitted relationship we have, and we are about to go on vacation in Hawaii through the holidays, my real first vacation since the summer of 2009. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.
I sincerely hope that you, my friends, are finding love and connection, meaning and warmth this holiday season. I love you.