84: A Book of Memories

84: A Book of Memories

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

A Book of Memories

Grief is itself a medicine.

~William Cowper

Joe died on December 22, 2008, at home as he had wished, not in a hospital among strangers. I held his hand and whispered a prayer, “Dear God, take my husband to you peacefully and without fear.” I washed his body and dressed him modestly, giving him the dignity in death he had not enjoyed during the last weeks of his life.

I felt his skin cool as I gently removed his fouled garments and bathed him. No longer could I hear the rasping sound of his labored breathing or sense the spark of humanity, the essence of his being. I found satisfaction in this final act of love.

Joe’s body was prepared when the mortuary attendants arrived. They urged me to leave the room while they placed him in the body bag. “No need,” I said, “That’s not my husband, only his earthly remains.”

During the first weeks after his death I was numb. I spent my days in a fog and my nights in tears. I talked to Joe when I went to bed. We had always ended the day with “I love you, good night!” to each other as the lights were turned out. I continued my part of that exchange. Perhaps he couldn’t respond, but that didn’t change my need to repeat our nightly ritual. I trusted his spirit could hear me. I looked at his photo for hours. I opened a bottle of his aftershave to experience his scent. I slept on his side of the bed. I listened to his favorite song, “What a Wonderful World.” And in my mind, I repeated his words to me after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“I am going to live until I die.”

Later I expanded my monologues. When I arrived home from work, I told him about my day, especially the kindnesses I experienced from associates. Or I discussed challenges I was facing. Joe was always the one who slowed me down when I was tempted to rush headlong into trouble. Even after death I trusted him to show me the way.

Still I had regrets. Our grandson, Ethan, celebrated his first birthday just three days before Joe died. Ethan would never know his grandfather. He would never remember how much Joe loved him, nor would Ethan know how much Joe was loved.

I began to jot down ideas, things I wanted Ethan to know. I crafted a letter with the thoughts that Joe had put into words before he slipped into his final coma. I needed to make a record while the memories were fresh in my mind.

I asked our son John for a copy of the eulogy he had delivered at his father’s service. I kept the copy with the letter of Joe’s last thoughts. Then I began compiling my memories of our good times together. I packaged each memory in a letter to Ethan.

As I wrote, I realized that I could give my grandson a look at Joe’s life, his goodness and his philosophy. Thus began my manuscript, Letters to Ethan.

As I wrote each letter, I experienced a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the years Joe and I spent together. Writing my memories was cathartic. My sorrow was replaced by joy. Happiness seeped back into my life. No longer was I empty and alone. I was filled with the same love that had been mine for 34 years of marriage.

I didn’t just engage in therapy for my loss; I created something special for Ethan and future grandchildren.

There are times while I am recording these memories that I experience a sense of sorrow. But more often I am filled with Joe’s love. I talk to him less frequently, but I feel him with me when I open myself to his presence.

Remembering our love affair, writing about good times, I have moved from the pain of loss to gratitude for what we shared.

~Sharon F. Svitak

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