"They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak." from The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
This quote is from a story by Tim O'Brien about men who were in the Vietnam war. It is a classic story that speaks to the universal themes of memory and loss. As I reflect upon the year of writing that I have shared with you, and this, my last blog post as Monday's Writer for Widow's Voice, I am moved by these words.
In this blog, and as members of a community for which no one wants to qualify, we carry each other. We lift each other up and bear witness to the things that others can't bear to see. We carry each other through the most difficult and terrifying moments of our lives.
We sit with each other in silence when there are no easy words or platitudes to fix our sorrows. We stand together, as different as we are, in age, ethnicity, status, and country of origin, and help each other navigate this bewildering landscape of grief.
We know that the people 'out there', who have not seen what we've seen, cannot begin to understand what sits so solidly in our minds and hearts: that there is so much pain, and so much beauty; that we grieve because we loved; that we don't know how we are going to get through each day, but that, somehow, for some reason, we are still here; that gradually, so slowly, we begin to enter into the world of the living again,but that we will never 'get over' this loss; that there is nothing to get over; that we carry them with us, and will continue to carry them, for the rest of our days.
Writing here has helped me step through this winding and rutted path of grief. Bringing words to the page each week has kept me present and aware, when it would have been so much easier to run, to hide, to curl up into a ball and seek comfort, to numb myself from the pain of it, to become dead inside.
This blog has helped me to carry the things I would rather have set aside. And because I have learned to carry them, I can carry other things, too, into this new life without him.
I'll carry memory. I will always remember him, and keep his things around me that trigger those memories. His dressing gown still hangs on the hook of my bedroom door. I don't know when I will take it down. It is such a tender reminder of him. He wore that dressing gown every morning, wherever we were. He brought it with him on all of our trips. When he went away to retreats, he took it with him, there, too. I once bought him a fuzzy, fluffy gown, thinking it would warm him on our cold winter mornings, but he never wore it, and finally we gave it away to a charity shop. Instead he wore that threadbare gown, belted at the waist. Sometimes I put my face to it, still, in search of a trace of his scent.
I'll carry his spirit. Often, this year, I have felt his exuberance and humour guiding me, as I venture into new and daunting arenas. He had a love of life that used to perplex me. He had a way of encountering the world, without fear or rancour, that I loved and admired. He gifted me with an understanding of how to engage with life, and with others.
I'll carry gratitude. I witnessed the sudden and tragic death of the man that I loved, and gratitude was not a word I could have used a few months ago. I remember, early in my grief, when someone told me to be grateful for the time I had with him. If I could have reached through the internet, I would have choked her. It felt like such an insult to my sorrow. We were supposed to grow old together. We had just begun our lives. We were an older couple who had finally found a deep and abiding love, and we were looking forward to deepening it, further. How could I be grateful?
But today, I am grateful. I am so grateful that I met this man. I am grateful that he brought me here, to these gentle, windswept hills. That he brought me into his world, and shared it with me, with open arms. That he gave me this house, this village, these neighbours, this family, these friends. That he set me in the middle of his sangha too, the people who lifted me through the deep sorrow of those first few months, who held me up when I could not stand on my own.
I'll carry love--a knowledge of a real, and true, and honest love. I had a great love. So many people go through their entire lives without being able to say that. So many people are in relationships that are not real and substantive, that do not speak to the best parts of themselves, that do not help them grow and flourish, but keep them safe, and secure, and sedate, instead. Stan and I loved each other. We took risks to be together. We put aside past hurts and helped each other through fears and insecurities. We helped each other to tap into the deepest places in our hearts. We did not get much time together. But I know love because I knew him.
I'll carry hope. I could not have used that word, until recently, either. But something has shifted in my grief, and, though I am still left with the hole that sometimes feels like a gaping wound, I carry a bit of hope, too. I have hope that I can live a life that has quality, and depth, and meaning. I have hope that I can carry his memory and his spirit into that life in a way that will honour him. I carry hope that I can use the memory of his open arms to reach out to others. I carry hope that my words will continue to speak to others in the way that they have done so, here.
These are the things I carry, and so much more. Love and sorrow. Gratitude and despair. Tenderness and strength.
And because of him, I carry these things, too: compassion and warmth; humour and joy; a recognition of beauty; a love of life.
I don't know how long I will remain in this world. None of us do. But I know this. Meeting and loving Stan made me a better woman. Knowing him taught me how to carry all the complexities of this life with dignity and grace. The world is a kinder, gentler, richer place, having had him in it.
I am so happy to have loved this man--Stanley Jan Kukalowicz: 2 July 1950-9 June 2014.
May he rest in peace.