This day

Three years ago today. I pause to remember. A life. A love.

A Patch On My Soul (2006)

I face each morrow with a sense of great sorrow
That cannot be spoken away.
For no hope can I find any place in my mind
That will make this great loss seem okay.

From whence can I hide, or find words to describe
The emptiness that greets me each day.
When only I find a pillow next to mine,
The place where her head used to lay.

She’s gone and it’s perished, this thing that we cherished,
This love that we both knew would last.
For those lips I once kissed are now but a mist
In a place far outside of my grasp.

At the front of my mind, she’s there every time
Whether thinking of that thing or this.
With no wish to escape, I embrace this sad fate
’Cause at least in my mind she exists.

Like a moth on a screen, there’s something between
What I want and what I may possess.
The light beckons me, but I cannot break free,
No matter how hard that I press.

So when death sings its tune, be it later or soon,
To her arms I will run once again,
That thought I can seize, but explain to me, please,
How I live in this world until then.

They say time will heal this pain that I feel
That one day I’ll find myself whole.
And that may be true, but between me and you
It’ll be with a patch on my soul.

Looking back on a special day

Happy anniversary, Allie.

inside of the card Allie gave me after our weddingFour years ago today, we made it official, and it was one of the most glorious days of my life. I sang to you, as you came down the aisle, and you were absolutely radiant. I think you actually hurt your face that day from the constant smiling. The pictures show you slim and tanned. You wanted everything to be so perfect. It was, and so were you.

You gave me a card later with this drawing inside. Do you remember? You always called me “Guru,” and to this day, that card is my most treasured possession from our short life together. You leaned on me. You needed me. And you weren’t afraid to show it. I am the luckiest man on the planet for having experienced that kind of love.

And so I’m thinking of you today. We’re going through uncertain times down here. You always loved politics, and I’m sure you’d be having fits with this current election. The economy is in the sewer, too, but that wouldn’t bother you. You taught me not to fear poverty, and you showed me all about how to get by with only a little.

I miss you so much, Allie, but it lifts my soul to know that you are at perfect peace.

Your husband,

Terry

LifeSlices: Pausing to remember

It was two years ago this morning.

She will always be my inspiration. Today, I published another essay. She would be proud.

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 coöperation 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.”)

Farewell, Allie

I drove to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee during my trip to Nashville, so that I could visit Alicia’s grave and say my goodbyes. My grief counselor told me that most people “move on” after the death of a spouse, but not nearly as many “let go.” He encouraged me to do so, because people who don’t are never really able to enjoy life again. “She’s dead, Terry,” he said to me, “but you’re not. You honor her by living life to its fullest.”

So I wrote her a nice poem and read it to her. Here are the last few lines:

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 always strengthen me.
Her headstone is beautiful. I made the design, but it was carved by the local stonecutters. The dragonfly was the symbol of my/our company and the subject of my last manuscript, Princess of the Pond. She loved the symbol, because dragonflies are changelings; they live half their lives underwater and the rest in the sky. I’ve always thought it’s symbolic of the human experience as well, and it represents where she currently resides. The Bible verse is a portion of Psalms 127:2. We said it to each other every night, and it was the last thing she ever said to me.

Aloha oe, myAllie. Aloha oe.

Closure from the Medical Examiner’s Office

It is with great sadness — yet in the hope that her tragic end might save another — that I report the cause of my beloved Allie’s death. She may have taken too much over-the-counter cold medication (generic Nyquil) that night before she got ready for bed. The cough suppressant dextramethorphan interacted with prescription pain medication that she took for endometriosis and, as the pathologist at the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office told me, it shut down the mechanism in her brain that controls the “will to breathe.”

So she essentially just drifted off to sleep, then coma, then death. She felt no pain.

I say she “may have taken too much,” because Dr. Adele Lewis, the pathologist, told me that 10–20% of people are what’s called “slow metabolizers” of dextramethorphan, and that could account for the extremely high level of the drug that they found in her blood. In other words, a pretty fair chunk of society doesn’t process the drug like it’s supposed to be processed, so multiple doses even as directed can accumulate and stay active in the body. I want to point out that this is a very common over-the-counter medication for cough suppression, and it’s been around for 50 years. There are documented cases of accidental overdose death with this drug, so it’s not something to play around with, especially when mixed with prescription medication.

Some idiotic people actually abuse the drug, but that certainly wasn’t my Allie. She just didn’t feel good, so she took something she had taken many times before. We’ll just never know for certain how much she took or when.

As I researched the possible causes of the sudden death of a young, healthy woman, something like this was high on the list. It is profoundly sad, because her death was an accident, and accidents — at least one like this — can be prevented. I don’t dwell on that, however, because it will keep me forever bound to the past, and the best way I can honor her and her life is to live on and be well.

It took a long time for the Medical Examiner to piece this all together, and I am extremely grateful for their assistance. It has been agonizing for me and Alicia’s entire family, but now we know. And this will help us with our grieving. There aren’t words in any language to adequately express the loss of someone like her, so I won’t try.

I’m moving to Dallas next week to begin another chapter in my life, one that she had a major role in developing (and is likely orchestrating from the world beyond). I need this move, this change, this turning-of-the-page. The headstone on her grave will be up soon, and it contains the last words I ever said to her: “He gives to His beloved, sleep.”

She is gone, but her memory will always be with me.