I am grateful for the loving comments in response to my Facebook post honoring dear Maggie. I still cannot fully take in the permanence of her demise. After she died, some friends tried to be helpful by offering unsolicited advice. Despite what was surely a heartfelt response, I found the platitude, “In time, you will find closure and you can move on”, the most troubling. It reminded me of a dopey chapter heading from a self-help book. Just as Maggie did not go through the 5 Kübler-Ross stages of death (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), I didn’t exhibit textbook responses to her cancer, to the hard business of caregiving nor to her death and its aftermath. I view the idea of “closure” is a simplistic idea. I regard any rigid framework applied to the “stages” of grief as more annoying than helpful. I read somewhere that Kübler-Ross once clarified her position on that concept, saying she never intended those five responses to be etched in stone. She allowed that there is no typical response to loss.
Maggie died a mere 5 weeks after her diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Watching her die a heroic death as I tended to her was dreadful. Perhaps I have too little time left for the kind of healing necessary to allow the memories to fade. More likely, I need remnants of the grief as a counterpoint to the joys in my life. A memory sparked from our thousands of days together can trigger a profound sadness. But I haven’t succumbed to the sadness. I haven’t withered away. I’ve embraced life. I don’t have a clue as to why Maggie died and here I am, laughing heartily with friends over a beer. I’m still around, so I’ve found new ways of expressing my creativity and I’m learning new things on my guitar. I’m sure a sadness is infused into my new drawings, but I don’t think it overwhelms them. I believe my drawings contain whimsy and joy. As I see it, all my inner world characters are lovable. No matter that they are baffled by the world they inhabit.
That sense of love (with added joy) is also the most important part of my outer world. Several months after Maggie died, I decided to start over in a new neighborhood. I’m not sure why, because Rhinebeck, NY, was my home for 30 years and Maggie and I had developed dear friendships with dozens of people. Maggie’s book group, especially, came forth to help me deal with Maggie’s illness and they were there in full force to help me navigate the rough seas after she died. I owe our friends immense gratitude, but I had to leave the area that Maggie and I inhabited for so many years.
My oldest, and closest friends, Will and Mary Osborne, own a home in Great Barrington, a town that Maggie and I visited regularly. When I told them I wanted to move to GB, Will and Mary were delighted and they began a search for the right house. I wanted to live in the town, not on the outskirts. And I wanted to to be smaller. we looked at several places, but the one that spoke to me immediately was the small bungalow on Castle Street, just a block or two up the hill from their house. They, too, loved the place and I called the seller the next day to negotiate. I had no idea the seller, Janice Kittner and I would fall in love, shortly after she returned from an extended road trip. Janice never really left her old house. She stayed with me in Rhinebeck, helping me jettison the huge accumulation of stuff Maggie and I had acquired over the years. As the Castle Street renovations were being completed, she helped me pack up the remaining stuff for the big move. Janice was supportive on every level. Her life before she met me was filled with multiple losses. But she bucked up and carried on every time. After her second husband died in a helicopter accident, she raised a beautiful daughter (her third) at the little house on Castle Street. She was ready to move on, but life takes on a life of its own.
Back to my thoughts on loss. A river is a fine metaphor for my life with Maggie. My Maggie River existed and it exists—for as long as I am. And my life with Janice—here in Great Barrington, with my dear friends as neighbors—is a separate river, one that runs parallel to my Maggie/Rhinebeck River. Both exist simultaneously.
I don’t need and I don’t want “closure”. I don’t want to “move on”. I need to drift over to the adjoining stream now and then to honor and renew the sweet memories harbored there. My new river has become wider and my earlier river has narrowed, but it’s my hope that both rivers will continue to flow until I can no longer pull the oars.