The Way We Were
“Long ago, it must be.
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories.
They’re all that’s left you.”
Simon and Garfunkel-Bookends
As I write in the opening chapter of Love Loss Light---Lessons Learned, “When it comes to grieving, some things must wait until our hearts can bear it.” My beloved husband, Charlie, took his own life almost five years ago and since that time, I had blatantly ignored the numerous memory boxes stacked in our basement containing hundreds upon hundreds of photographs denoting the passage of our twenty-three years together. Like wallflowers at a dance---lined up against the wall hoping for a little attention, I could barely find the emotional fortitude to look at them let alone give them their due. I just wasn’t ready, willing, able, or anxious to open the floodgate of grief, remembrance, and longing that I knew I would need to endure if I cracked even one lid.
So for years, there they sat---along with our precious Christmas decorations---feeling underappreciated and neglected.
In my blog post of September 27, 2019, I wrote:
Another grueling but necessary “climb” awaits, but with the help of my lovely daughter-in-law, who will be by my side to offer up her love and enough strength for the both of us, I am determined, even at the risk of resurrecting and confronting the ghosts of Christmas past, to open each and every box, and make this Christmas, what will be the fifth without Charlie, the one in which I reach yet one more summit.
As emotionally challenging as it was to confront all of those ghosts---with the loving help of my daughter-in-law Christine, I am pleased to report that I was able to summit Mt. Christmas! In the end, I was happy to give and she and my stepson, Aaron, were grateful and honored to receive a carload of cherished decorations that in another lifetime had meant so much to me and Charlie and will now mean just as much to them as their years together unfold. This “giving” to my loved ones not only assuaged some of my grief, but elevated my holiday spirits much higher than they’d been since losing Charlie.
Summiting Mt. Christmas had laid the necessary groundwork I needed to begin preparations for the hardest and longest climb of all. My personal Mt. Everest took the shape of one dozen decorative boxes that held the most valuable and precious treasures of all---my life with Charlie. These boxes were stored right next to my remaining Christmas decorations. One day, while I was in the basement pulling out a box of decorations to bring upstairs, something made me pop the lid off of one of the memory boxes, grab a handful of photos, and carry them upstairs instead. And so my arduous climb began.
My eyes gaze into theirs and theirs into mine as though we’re all trying hard to recognize each other through a glass darkly. But here we are---much younger versions of ourselves smiling up from glossy 4X6’s---Big, wide-toothed smiles all around. Laughter even. Lots of laughter. Arms draped casually over each other’s shoulders. Hugs. Kisses. Wine or champagne glasses raised high in the air. Singing and dancing. Food being served. Always lots of food and drink shared back in the day. Everyone happy to be together creating lifetime memories. Each photograph speaking volumes and crystallizing a moment---flash-frozen in time. A time when we were safe. Where nothing could touch us. Nothing could hurt us. When our fates, although perhaps already sealed, were unknown. The future had no place there. It didn’t exist. The only thing that existed in the instant each picture was taken---was one precious moment---moments that Father Time himself can never steal. Snapshots of lives well-loved and lived. Lives lived large and out loud.
Oh my! Look! It’s Chris. My sister’s beloved husband whom she would lose in a tragic motorcycle accident a year after Charlie and I married. There’s Vicki---beautiful Vicki and her husband Rick. She too would die tragically a year after Charlie. She’s standing next to Geoff, an old friend of Charlie’s. He would die a year before Charlie. Wow! Look at our handsome friend, Dave.” He’d spent the most time with us when we were living in our log cabin at altitude, high in the Colorado Rockies always helping Charlie with some project or another. Just found out he’s been battling prostate cancer since Charlie died. I’m worried. Oh, how sweet. So many pictures of our beloved cats---Misty, Cosmo, Niwot, Cooper, and Yuki. All crossed over the Rainbow Bridge long ago. Now I come to a picture of Potter, “our” wild horse that we’d fed for years, and shepherded through a 6 foot snowfall one winter. I’d affectionately named him in honor of the Col. Potter character from the TV show, M*A*S*H, who adored horses. I was never able to touch Potter, but I had loved and admired that horse passionately. A few years after we’d sold the cabin, an old neighbor of ours informed us that someone had found his body on top of Burnt Mountain, very near where we’d lived. I’d cried for days, and in fact, still cry over him. Then there are photos of friends and even a family member who simply faded away, some before Charlie died, but most, afterwards. I look through our wedding photos and am surprised to see people I don’t remember! Faces I can recall, but not the names. All too bittersweet. Especially the images of me and Charlie….and there are a LOT of those. My heart swells. With remembrance. With joy. With heartbreak. With a longing for what was. Each image transports me back in time---a time when we were oh so happy to be gathered together to celebrate---not just the traditional events, like birthdays and holidays---but for no reason other than to celebrate life itself! I’m reminded of lyrics from an old Beatles song---“All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living…In my life I’ve loved them all.”
And I have loved them all, deeply. Those people, animals, places, and things that the past has conjured up…and I have cried a river of tears since the day I lifted the lid off that one box over all that once was but no longer is. Tears of great sadness and longing to be sure---but more, I have come to know that they are tears of joy. Instead of focusing on what I had lost, I began instead to focus on what I’d HAD---that while I have experienced profound loss, these photographs were proof-positive that I have been blessed with a life filled with profound love! And for that, I feel so blessed.
One of the many affirmations that graced my refrigerator for years after Charlie passed, was by Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” And, that is what I choose to do. To be grateful and to smile for all the love that had been present in my life before I lost Charlie--- for all that has come into it since, and for all that is yet to come---more love, more life, more blessings, more precious memories. Our life after all is nothing but loving and then letting go. This is the way of things.
I would like to leave you with a passage from Love Loss Light-Chapter 5, The Blessing of Love: “As we age, the weight of our sorrow only increases, for the longer we are privileged with the gift of life, the more loss, grief, and sorrow we will be asked to bear. There is no denying or escaping this hard, cold fact of life. But the contrary is also true. The longer we are gifted with the privilege of life, the more love we will have the opportunity to be blessed with.”
So do preserve your memories. In the end, they may be all that’s left us, but what else truly matters?
May your life continue to be filled with an abundance of love.That’s what each memory you have is wrapped with! SMILE!