“Presence” In Memory

Posted: November 29, 2017 in Uncategorized
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fullsizeoutput_575There are times when I still think Barbara, my wife of forty-five years, is in the room. I almost say something to her, but when I look around she’s not there. Then the loss and the pain of it washes over me anew. After many years of her presence, five years of her absence has not erased the emptiness that arrived expectantly but undesired on September 27, 2012 when she died after being ill for over two years. Michael Piazza, pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City wrote in a recent post in reference to the loss of his husband, “My experience has been that the adage ‘time heals all wounds’ is probably a lie.”

Barbara and I began dating in the last year of graduate school, were engaged by graduation, and married a year later. Over the years, we lived in three U.S. states and four countries on two continents. Our career paths intertwined and we often found ourselves not only in support of, but also participating in each other’s projects and ministries.

Our life together was comfortable. It was not the take-for-granted kind of comfort, but the secure warm comfort. You and I don’t consciously think, I need to lift my foot and place it back down a foot or two in front of me when we walk. It’s all automatic, involuntarily automatic. That was our life. Barbara and I lived life in a rhythm like walking. We decided on the route our walk would take. We talked about deviations from that plan as need arose. We celebrated at certain mileposts along the route. But we never questioned each other’s presence, which brought comfort and assurance.

Diagnosis came when the cause of a fever was obscure. After a week in the hospital, the villian was discovered in an inoperable and incurable cancer.  In that moment of diagnosis, I saw a strength in Barbara that, even after living with her for more than forty years, amazed me. She took a deep breath, asked what the options were, elected a path, and we started off on a new path in our walk together. She met this with stalwart resolution to move forward. She faced the diagnosis with courage and gave life the best she had to give as she did with every obstacle she met.

When she left me, not of her own choosing, she took with her a strength I relied on. At first there was anger. When she died, not only did I lose her, I also lost what she took from me. The condo we purchased in 2008 felt empty. I wondered why I needed all the space. Tears of loss and grief and pain and anger and hurt would come, sometimes unexpectedly, in the days after she died. Then gradually I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. Perhaps it had lain dormant all those years; perhaps I had relied on her strength and not exercised my own.

Though strength began to emerge like the slow opening of a flower and the pain began to subside, I discovered a hardness emerging; over time, her leaving seeped into my consciousness. What seemed strange to me was that this hardness wasn’t negative, it wasn’t an attempt to cover up hurt and loss. Rather, this hardness was calcifying the memory of our love so I wouldn’t loose it. The loss was a deep wound, but deep wounds leave lasting visages of their impact in the form of scars.

A scar is a badge of achievement. When a scar reminds one of battle, it is a mark of valor, a sign of courage. When a scar reminds one of a miss-step in life, it is a reminder of a weaker past and a stronger present. When a scar reminds one of a foolish action, it is a token to wisdom since achieved. Time does not heal all wounds but provides a fabric for their interpretation. The wound is present in the scar. The scar becomes a beautiful badge, in this case, marking the love Barbara and I shared. It is a badge I wear proudly. The depth of the scar created as a result of Barbara’s death is not depleted by the fact that I am now living into the truth of my life as a gay man.

When I awake from a moment of subconscious dozing and feel her presence, my memory of Barbara is as fresh as the morning. Her “presence” is comforting, imbued with assurance. I look across the room expecting the see her or hear her speak and she’s not there. A moment of loss is felt not so much as pain but as a healing scar of the love we shared, a scar that has not faded over time.

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