By Elaine Mansfield
As soon as you begin to ask the question, Who loves me?
You are completely screwed, Because the next question is How Much?…
~Tony Hoagland, “The Loneliest Job in the World”
And after that, Does he love me still? and Does he love me even though he’s dead? And then, When do I stop feeling married to a person who is no longer here? and Why do I feel lonely in a room full of people because he’s not smiling from across the room?
Best to drop the questions. Best to go outside and pull onions before tonight’s rain. Best to take a walk with Willow and photograph butterflies and bugs. Best to watch the stream flow in August when it is usually dry. Better to notice the goldenrod yellowing and the earth ripening toward harvest.
Outdoors, I am distracted from the lonely questions that pervade my indoor life. I pull weeds, photograph flowers, pick cucumbers, swat mosquitoes, and admire the glowing sunset sky.
Where did he go? That’s another good question. So many people feel sure about heaven or reincarnation or the lingering of souls somewhere in the neighborhood. I learned about reincarnation in the 1960s. I believed, because that’s what my teacher Anthony Damiani taught, and he had answers to the big questions. Then there were Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton, and the Dalai Lama, all teachers of reincarnation. Pema Chodron is in this camp, too. But if you force me to answer, I simply don’t know. I only know Vic’s body and his loving eyes are gone. Yet he is here. Within me. In no hurry to leave.
Naomi Shihab Nye wrote these lines:
People do not
My heart leaps in response. The words cycle through my head like a mantra. That’s it. That’s what I know. He has not passed away. He’s gone and yet he stays. I recoil when people say Vic “passed away.” I know they are trying to soothe me and avoid the D word. It doesn’t work. Death is the correct word. Absolute. No turning back. Passed away is gentle, like someone stepped out for a while, in another room, out for a drive, coming home soon.
Is there still an entity with the particular characteristics of Vic? Is there an individual consciousness that remains? Is there anything other than the memory carried by the living? I do not know for sure.
After five years, Vic still frequents my dreams, although less often now. It comforts me when I feel his dream arms around me, walk beside him down a busy street, or sense him in the passenger seat of my Subaru. I know he’s in the passenger seat of my psyche, constant companion in memory and feeling. But that particular lover and friend with soft skin and gentle hands who thought I was beautiful despite wrinkles and didn’t mind my tears? Gone.
Did I love him enough, and did he love me enough? Was our love worth the sorrow that follows attachment no matter how or when the story ends? The clear answers override all my other questions. Our love was enough. Worth every tear.
Elaine Mansfield’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief was published by Larson Publications in 2014 and won the 2015 Gold Medal IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards) for Aging, Death, and Dying. Her TEDx talk is Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss. Elaine writes about marriage and bereavement issues and leads bereavement support groups at Hospicare in Ithaca, NY. You can read more articles by Elaine and find out more about her work at her website.