In early April this year, a friend of mine was helping me believe in myself. We talked about my writing. And she wanted me to feel like the writer I want to be, so, she gave me an assignment. It seems appropriate to post it today, October 14. Happy Birthday, Bill.
April 22, 2014. I have been on the brink of tears ever since the first of April. It happens every year. It starts slowly, sneaking up on me with just a whisper – one that gets just the tiniest bit fainter each passing year. But it arrives, nonetheless. For 23 years, I have noticed a crazy and oddly unexplainable purple funk in late winter. Surprisingly, I’m never quite prepared for the wave of the ensuing emotion that takes out my knees. It’s not until I slow down and really reflect that I realize it is just the power and pattern of my body’s internal clock and the fact that I need no calendar to feel the coming spring.
I dread the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day, Tax Day, and Easter Sunday, each having its own, distinct memory. Memories that are crystal clear, yet somehow foggy. Memories that I both despise and cherish. That knock me down and fill me up. Memories that no one would choose, but that I would never let go.
Make no mistake. Though I cling tightly to the joys and sorrows of my past, I don’t live there. Not at all. This is the day – these are the days that the Lord has made. I do rejoice and I’m so very glad. The life God designed for me is no less full of joy than any one I could have planned for myself. Not then. Not now. Those times of bitter sadness and unbearable loneliness, although not forgotten, have healed into pale scars. The questions I asked over and over have been answered – just not the way I expected.
But even those days of hopelessness do not seem the hardest part about enduring the loss. The most difficult part is that I can’t seem to adequately explain to the world how everything… everything changed Easter Sunday, 1990. He slipped away quietly and peacefully into a coma from which he would never awake. And no one would ever again know us together.
When I met and married Bill, I was 22 years very young. He was 40 and solid as a rock. And those next 15 years we spent together changed me. I don’t mean change like I got married, had a baby, ran a business, worked, got older. I mean I grew up with him – and because of him. From the day I knew that we were really together, I started to learn what it meant to be a grown-up. I watched how he handled disappointment and success with grace, how he lead and managed without bossing, how he raised children with deep and abiding love. I understood what it meant to hold your tongue, to give sacrificially and not to expect the world to notice. With Bill, I became almost all of the person I am today. And that’s why it’s hard.
People I meet now, those with whom I form even the deepest friendships, will never know him. They won’t see, save from my occasional tears, what he meant to me and what we meant to each other and why. And I can’t explain it with earthly words. I must resist the urge to take my new friends by the shoulders, square up with them face to face, and use nothing but sheer will to somehow convince them that they really don’t know, they don’t understand – but, they need to. They need to know that so much of what they see in me is in large measure because a truly remarkable man picked me.
Out of all the women who chased after him, he picked me. Me.
Bill was only 56 when cancer stole his life. And because so many knew him as the salt of the earth, the prevailing question was “why?”
But not so much by me.
So, I questioned my every feeling, my “stages of grief,” my relationship with God. But the questions “why me?” “why him?” “why us?” truly, truly never rose to the surface. I didn’t understand why I was the only one who didn’t question God, despite my grief and loneliness. Despite the fact that Ana was only 12.
T-w-e-l-v-e! for God’s sake!
I continued to fear that something was wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t really love him. I was afraid that, because I insisted that I wasn’t mad at God, people would see me as pompous and unbelievably, unreasonably, insufferably faithful. But my feelings were true and genuine and raw. And I don’t remember challenging God about Bill’s death.
Yes, I was angry and scared when things got tough and money didn’t stretch far enough. I was impatient that, when I thought I was ready, He didn’t fill my heart with the love of the perfect husband. I was furious when the world started turning again with no regard to my pain, our loss. But, no. I didn’t shake my fist at the heavens because crooks and abusers and haters and liars still walked the earth.
I did search my soul for months. And one rather unmemorable day, I just had the answer. It came to me simply and clearly. It may be the most subtle epiphany I’ve ever experienced. Since that day, I have understood that all along, my question was not “Why, God? Why did you take him?” My question, asked with a grateful heart, was “Why, God? Why did I get him?”