A time to dance

“To everything is a season…a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes, Chapter three.

One year ago this morning, I awoke at 3:30 to find my beloved wife, Alicia, dead on the bathroom floor. She was so young, so vibrant, and so full of life that her death was an incredible shock. Over-the-counter cough medicine she was taking interacted with pain medication she also took, and it just shut down her breathing. Readers who’ve been with me for awhile remember that morning well.

This event profoundly changed my life in many ways, and I’ve been sharing a lot of that with you from the beginning. I’ve learned so much about tragedy and grieving and life and death over the past year, and I want to offer some of that on this, the first anniversary of her passing.

The most important lesson is that what happens to us in life isn’t nearly as important as how we react to what happens to us in life. That is the only thing about events over which we actually have control, and it is the secret to re-entering life’s continual flow in the wake of tragedy. Alicia died that morning. She crossed over to that place about which we know so little. She misses nothing. She is gone. She is at peace.

The death of a loved one, therefore, isn’t so much about them and their loss as it is about us and our loss. We may weep for lost potential and the like, but the reality is we really weep for ourselves. And that’s okay. There’s a time for mourning.

Let me begin by saying I miss her, and I think I always will. The truth is I don’t want NOT to miss her, for that — like so many other acts of self-protection — would leave me in bad shape forever. I need to stay soft-hearted, and that’s a challenge. I think this is one of the keys to grieving. We want so badly to stop hurting that we’ll do anything to end the pain, including fooling ourselves. We build shells. We blame. We make decisions that leave us in a constant state of mourning, and that is a bar to healing.

“…a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

My counselor, Ken Druck (the guy who led grief counseling for the government after 9/11), told me, “Terry, you have to go THROUGH this. You can’t avoid it. You can’t keep it at a distance. You can’t go around it, over it, or underneath it. You must go THROUGH it.” I can tell you I didn’t want to go through it, but I let myself go and did, and the result is a person much healthier than if I’d still be denying by avoiding.

Time does heal the wounds, the shock, and the unrelenting emptiness. But here’s the thing: it requires cooperation in wanting to be healed. Unfortunately, a lot of people would rather be sick than face the truth of their loss.

Some people think that non-stop mourning is a romantic way of honoring our dead loved ones, but it’s really not. It’s just an exercise in self protection, because the pain of reality is too much. The truth is a lot of people just aren’t able to let go enough to live their lives AS THEIR LOVED ONES WOULD WANT THEM TO LIVE. As Ken taught me, the way we honor our loved ones is by living on. “She’s dead, Terry. You’re not, and she really wouldn’t want you to live your life in a form of death.”

“…a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

Six months after her death, I went to visit her grave. I wrote a poem, which I read to her there. It’s far too personal to share its entirety, but here are a couple of lines:

Goodbye, sweetLove. Farewell and be at peace.
You know my heart, how I had rather this day never come.
And while I know we shall meet again, it cannot be the same.
For beyond the veil we are changed, different,
No need to cling the way we did here.
For death is the end of that and the beginning of that which is new.
You are there already, but I am still here.

So…I let you go now, into the mist of yesterday.
Yet the door to your room in my heart will never lock,
And if perchance your solace I need, you’ll find me there.
For your love will forever strengthen me.

Some ask how I can share this kind of deeply personal stuff, but the truth is I have no choice. While many people blessed me a year ago — both professional and otherwise — it was the words of my neighbor that helped the most. He’d gone through a similar fate a few years earlier, and I was able to glean valuable insight from him.

His first words were, “I’m sorry you have to go through this, Terry.” Those are the words of one who’d been there before, and I found that remarkably comforting. He never said, “There, there. It’ll be all right.” He told me how long it would take, that it would get better, but that life had put me in a situation that I had no choice but to accept.

“…a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

Those of you who’ve followed my writings over the years will know that I believe in the concept of shared experiences. It’s very postmodern, and I think it’s one of the great hopes for the culture of tomorrow. Technology will enable it, and one day we’ll have access to all kinds of shared experiences. That will be a blessing to humankind.

Like it or not, the loss of a very close loved one will happen to each of us — you included — and I hope these words will be a help those who read them.

So today I remember, not Allie’s death but her life. That’s what she would want, and I know that wherever she is right now, she’s smiling, because her husband, her man, her best friend, the love of her life has found a new sense of wholeness and is dancing once again.

(A NOTE ON CLOSURE. Feel free to drop me a line, if you’d like to share your thoughts, but I’ve decided to close this post to comments. I just want leave it as is and not solicit public feedback. As she always used to say, “It is what it is.”)

Trackbacks

  1. […] One year ago I discovered Terry Heaton, a person I have come to treasure more than I can put into words. I discovered Terry one year ago because he had just found his adored wife, Allie, dead on their bathroom floor in the middle of the night. His friends in the blogosphere were expressing their condolences and support on their blogs, which is how I ended up with this gift of a person in my life. Read what he has to say today, one year on from his wife’s passing. […]