Written by Bob Kleinfelder, Birches Assisted Living resident and senior editor emeritus of The Lions Club’s LION Magazine
It was beautiful sunny morning in May, with a warm temperature and a gentle breeze, much as it was 41 years ago, the most perfect day of my life—the day Angie and I were married. Now she lay in that bed, the monster pancreatic cancer robbing her of the last moments of her life. And then, in the early afternoon, she breathed her last; it was all over, her life and a good part of mine.
Forty-one years she was the most important part of our family. Forty-one years of family gatherings, raising our sons into fine young men, proudly participating in military homecomings, sadly attending wakes of local heroes who had fallen, cheering on our sons at baseball and soccer games, and even arguing who was the better shortstop, her southside Luis Aparicio or my northside Ernie Banks.
But all that was over now. My lovely Angie was gone, gone forever. But the sun still shined that afternoon in May, and the soft breeze still wafted through the trees. Where to proceed from here? What now? It was a seemingly empty tomorrow for me, and I am sure every other individual who has lost a wife or husband. Indeed, what now? But once our time of grief had passed, my sons and I were forced to come to the conclusion that, while life may never be the same, it will continue.
Let me be clear on one thing. None of us in all good conscience can diminish or even expel the memory of he or she who has passed. The memory of their kindness, their support and, indeed, their love can never, never fade away. Our loved ones are an enduring part of our very being. Anyone who tells you, “Well, it’s been xxxx years now, get over it.” Tell that person to blow off! You should never “get over it”—get over the beautiful companionship you and your loved one shared?
But we must move on, difficult and gut-wrenching as that may seem. And as we move on, we know that our lives and those of our children and grandchildren must also continue. No, the sun will never set on the life we had with our loved one, but over the horizon still another life awaits us. We simply must carry on to accept the new challenges and opportunities, under that new sun, knowing full well that the spirit and love of our partner who has passed will help guide us to fulfill our dreams and those of our families.
No, it won’t be easy. But given the will and determination to comprehend that we must continue, we shall, indeed, open a new world of opportunities and achieve success in answering the heartbreaking adversity we have faced. I suppose the word that is appropriate to this condition is “resilience”.
We must never forget what our loved ones meant to us and carry on in the manner that would bring a smile to their faces and a whisper to their lips in a soft thank you for remembering.
So how may your life continue? After your period of grieving has subsided, you must realize that your life and those of your families have not ended; you need to renew your commitment to an enriching life of self-fulfillment and, okay I’ll say it, enjoyment. Think for a moment. If fate had reversed your roles, and it was you who had passed, and your spouse remained to deal with your loss. Would you have wanted your loved one to turn away from life’s opportunities and pleasures? I am certain you wouldn’t.
You have, I daresay, an obligation to your family and to yourself to make the most of what life still has to offer. Indeed, maintain your interest in doing the things you and your loved one shared—going to concerts and plays, perhaps, or challenging others in board games, or traveling to places you both enjoyed. This could be a bit difficult because the memories would pour in, and you would wish above all else that he or she would be at your side. I believe that I could not return to a city that was somewhat of a second home to us and walk alone down those streets, without being overwhelmed. I know those wonderful memories will only remain in my heart. But there are so many other ways to become active and to enjoy. Challenge yourself to attempt things you never did before, and I don’t mean skydiving or marathon running.
Have you, perhaps, ever had the desire to play the piano, violin, harp…drums… ok, whatever? My point is that becoming involved in something new could well be an antidote for your depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation. You might consider joining a service club—Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, or another such group. Their community activities and the companionship they offer will open new vistas to help you accept the role you must now play in life.
Take a long walk and enjoy the beauties of nature. If you like sports, attend football, baseball, basketball or soccer games, preferably with a friend or family member. Read, read, read— books, newspapers, magazines, so your mind can keep focused and alert. Stay tuned to the news of the day, especially politics (politicians?). You think you have problems, heh, heh? The ten o’clock news should really pep you up. How about visiting some of our magnificent national parks and battlefields or taking a cruise, preferably with family or friends to Alaska, the Caribbean, the Far East or up the beautiful blue Danube?
Opportunities to participate in new adventures are so very many. But whatever you do, don’t sit around at home and mope. That could be disastrous to your health and, moreover, be a disservice to your departed loved one. Indeed, you must strike out on your own, but always have big place in your heart for the memory of your loved one. Yes, my lovely Angie is gone but in my heart she shall forever be “The girl I left behind me.” Let us all, then, who have suffered such a devastating loss, continue now along a new path toward happiness and self-fulfillment.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
“An Insightful Lob by Bob” is a monthly column written by Birches resident Bob Kleinfelder. Each month, Bob offers an inside perspective on life at The Birches and answer your most pressing questions about assisted living.