CHRONICLES OF THE UNEXPECTED
April 21 2005 marked a day when our lives changed forever. Before and After were words we had used in the past. We had talked about “before our children were born” or “after they graduated from high school.”
April 21st was a starkly different kind of turning point. That was the day my husband Bruce died from a brain tumor. All that was BEFORE forever changed.
Three weeks after Bruce died in my arms I drove across the U.S. on a solo journey, trying to find the new me, but mostly experiencing the ruggedness of the land.
I wanted to feel alive and being out in the mountains or by frozen streams or in desert heat was a link back to life.
During that trip I wrote Journey to the Land of the After. The book chronicled the unexpected lessons and people I encountered as I traveled the western United States adjusting to life after loss and trauma.
Each day as drove I tape recorded thoughts and impressions, the cassette recorder propped on the passanger seat. At night in a motel I would transcribe what I recorded.
Listening to the tapes I heard and sometimes sobbed again at the raw emotions.
Yet I also smiled at the moments of wonder in my voice that more and more emerged on the 4000 mile journey.
I tucked the manuscript away on a shelf at the end of that first journey. Too many journeys were ahead of me. Too many days of learning to be alone without being lonely awaited me.
I pulled out the manuscript this week and began to read of those long ago days of desolute sorrow and the beginnings of my healing.
I sighed, especially reading the first entry in the book. (I have shared it below.)
Yet I also felt respect for myself for living through and beyond the loss of Bruce, my partner for 37 years. It reminded me I can face and will move through other challenges life inevitably will offer me.
A BEGINNING I NEVER WANTED
Azalea to Portland Oregon May 2005: This trip today is a practice run. I almost didn’t make it to the car this afternoon. Last night I had wanted to die.
The thought of driving anywhere, of packing clothes and of even seeing my children, seemed more effort than my body and my soul could ever imagine.
Yet I knew staying home was not the answer either. My soul would be weary just turning on the kitchen tap. I would go. I needed to go.
I have been on the road for two hours now. It is odd to be here in the car, driving down a freeway that I have driven many times in the last 20 years.
I used to look across the car at Bruce as we drove this road. Now I am a driver and he is a memory.
I see places and trees that Bruce and I watched change and grow. Yet this time is the first time for me. Everything about it, every tree, and every step of the way is a first.
Bruce died three weeks ago and at that moment everything around me and who I was changed. The world became strange and alien. My eyes see what should be familiar, but my brain and my emotions do not understand.
This is a journey I did not expect or want. I am angry. I’m sad. I’m confused and I’m numb.
Before Bruce died, he told me that he would be there with me. He said he would be the warmth on my back. He would always be with me.
I do feel his presence, but I want to hold his hand. I do feel his warmth, but I want to be held by his arms.
I know I am me and I like who I am, but so much of what I have done over the last 37 years and who I have become has been interwoven with who Bruce was and what we have done together.
Now he has died. Now I am living a life of “after” and I don’t know how to do this.
I did learn during that journey and the years that followed about how to be the new me in the new normal of life after loss.
In the book I wrote of how I met Bruce in 1967 while cruising Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. That made me laugh with a few groans.
Should I write a sequel I would need to write about dating again after 40 years and Match.com meetups.
I would write about falling in love again and traveling across country with Ray, a dear later-in-life love. All of that is part of the “after” I could not fathom those first weeks after Bruce died.
I am not sure what I will do with the 700 page manuscript. Just holding it, thumbing through the pages is a gift from me at age 55 to me at age 70. We are resilient. We can create a joyous Land of After.