Leper

Leperous Job

Four years, four months, and eight days. 

This is how long it has been since my husband ended his life.

This is how long it has been since my husband ended my life.

The mercy of the first year of grief was the numbness. I sleep-walked through twelve calendar months. When I began to stir from the opiate of grief, memories came up like photographs in a screen saver: Disorganized, disembodied, disconnected.

I preserved a sense of household normalcy through strength of will and habit. Friends and family were supportive, but I could not be comforted. Deeply ashamed, I would not tell strangers how my husband died. I told partial truths, “He had Parkinson’s Disease.”

He committed suicide. He died by suicide. He killed himself. He took his own life.

We were Christians and Catholics, among whom one would expect to receive mercy, but where, more often than not, judgment is harsh and more liberally dispensed than in any gathering of sinners. I learned to shut my mouth and my heart.

Year one passed by.

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Year two was worse than the first. Old schisms and fissures expanded. Brittle relationships buckled and failed. Someone whispered he was the good one. Another said you’ve changed too much and unfriended me on social media.

She’s a bitch. She’s a sorceress.

She’s too liberal now.

He was the good one.

I stopped trying to explain myself.  I drank more wine.  I wanted to die.

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During the third year, a leprosy of my soul set in: Nerve damage, a loss of vision, the bloody stump. A corruption made visible, emblems of decay and pollution, weakness and sin.

“Unclean! Unclean!” I rang the leper’s bell.

Stay downwind; stay away from us. We’re not like you.

Don’t associate with them, their dad killed himself.

Something is wrong with that family.

I learned why Jesus associated with whores, thieves, tax-gatherers and sinners. I drank vodka tonics at the bar. I learned to make the perfect Bloody Mary. I stopped going to mass.

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At the end of the fourth year, my friend died. She who was at the births of my twin daughters. She who was like a second mother to them, a daughter to me. She who communicated the love of Christ better than anyone else I’ve known, other than my husband. She who carried me through the years of grief over my daughter’s death, over my husband’s death.

Daddy, Mommy’s asleep and won’t wake up.

Daddy, I can’t wake Mommy. 

She who had three young children ages two, six, and eight was dead on her daughter’s sixth birthday, a Happy Birthday banner strung across the fireplace.

Life and Death

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The process of suffering gone to decay and degradation has a name in alchemy: fermentation. Fermentation is a two-step process that begins with the putrefaction of a child, the hermaphroditic child who resulted from the conjunction process.

Pay attention here:

A union occurs, a marriage, a conjunction.

A child is born, a whole and glorious child, the fruit of this union.

But then, the child becomes diseased and dies.

The child putrefies and rots.

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Once, I was blessed, O so blessed.

I married the love of my life and received every good thing.

Every wish I ever wished came true.

But then, my husband became diseased and died.

And now, I putrefy and rot.

happy_birthday

Suggested Reading

Alchemy: The Great Work

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto, Canada. Inner City Books, 1980. Print.

25 responses

  1. Isn’t it so totally dreadful how when you’re intensely afflicted with the deepest pain possible your friends can judge you and people can – almost seem to do it for pleasure – be so cruel.
    I am in the middle of my third year of widowhood. God..it’s a long relentless crawl through life, yet I look fine. Strange. It’s so surreal. I think why me? Why?
    Thank you for writing this. Sorry for your pain.

    • Hello, LauraMillie. I’m so sorry you’ve been inducted into the widow hall of infamy. It has been difficult to do a great many things, among them writing. I’m back to make a stab at it, though. Thank you for your comment.

  2. On Pain
    And a woman spoke, saying, “Tell us of Pain.”
    And he said:
    Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
    Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
    And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
    And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
    And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
    Much of your pain is self-chosen.
    It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
    Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
    For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
    And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

    Khalil Gibran, “The Prophet”

    Am reminded of your post, “Resolved to Heal?”… my view has changed…but another time perhaps.

  3. I love this blog and your writing. I’m so sorry for your pain, but so deeply grateful for your heart and bravery. Thank you.

  4. It’s so wonderful to have you back. I’ve missed you. And for the record, I love crazy, liberal bitches, being one myself:)

    Most of all I’m glad you’re writing again, although I suspect you always write anyway.

    It always amazes me what people live through. We are all the walking wounded, really, but to show others your wounds is brave.

    Take care Anne. We’ve never met but I count you as one of my friends.

    • Deb, I feel likewise. Some day I’ll make it up north and we’ll see each other. In the meantime, let’s both write in blood. 😉 I like what you wrote, for it’s true: “We are all the walking wounded really, but to show others your wounds is brave.” It does feel that way.

  5. Perhaps you are not putrefying-perhaps you are becoming real-in that agonizing real like that of the skin horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. In the same real the Jesus became real as He suffered on this earth. Having our fur rubbed off and being abandoned by those who cannot ‘Handle’ it was nothing new to HIm either. This is a world of pain interspersed with really great people and bits of joy. And beautiful soft cuddly friends-love you-ever stinking piece of you.

    • I think it’s both, or either, with the same result: becoming more real, more the selves we are born to be. Thank you for being one of my beautiful, soft cuddly friends. 🙂

  6. I can’t even begin to comment on the depths of your pain. I am so sorry for all that you went through and continue to go through. I am sorry for your husbands pain as well, which had to have been undescribable for him to need leave you, who he loved.

    • How kind you are, and how right: he loved me. The day after he died, I discovered that one of our sons had seen him throwing away his journals the night before he took his life. However, he overlooked one which was under some papers in a drawer he didn’t use much. I read that journal from front to back in the middle of the night, still trying to understand how he could have killed himself, how I didn’t see it coming. It was so out of character for him to be anything but reliable and good. In this journal, he wrote about our children who had hurt and betrayed him, a mother who never loved him, and me. He called everyone else by name, but he referred to me only as “my sweet wife.”

      One of the greatest aspects of our marriage for me was that he, more than any other, knew my sweetness and reflected it to me.

  7. I am quite certain I will never have the courage required to love deeply enough to hurt this much—and so I am in awe of the breadth and depth of your suffering. Fermentation makes wine, yes, but this reminds me instead of Semele burned to ashes after seeing Jove, and Bacchus rising from her funeral pyre, not knowing that he was half a god. The words rising from your immolation have a divine spark. Ariadne will receive them on her barren rock, and they will save her. Keep writing. Please.

  8. Beautiful, sad, and inspiring. I love it, Anne. I know your journey will help many. Love to you on National Best Friend’s Day! Rita

  9. My heart breaks open for you. My heart knows of suicide’s whispers from a child’s perspective, a Catholic child’s view when her father was a casualty of WWII. My heart knows the loss of my own precious and ill child. My heart knows the betrayal of a friend. My heart knows the agony of defeat but my soul, yes; my soul knows the thrill of victory.

    It’s been so long since you’ve written, Anne, and I’ve missed reading your thoughts, but when you write like this the wind stops moving, the stars gather, and the animals in the forest stand alert to hear the wolf howl.

    Keep writing and keep your entries in a binder (for now).

    Peace Sister Eve,
    MJ

    • MJ, you make me smile. You made my heart trill today. Both are so much more precious because of their rarity over the past years. Thank you, soul sister.

  10. I’ve never gone to a support group, or had a friend that understands all that I have gone through. My first husband was sick for 6 years before he died. It was a long slow death and it wasn’t pleasant or easy. We had 4 small children when he got sick and had another (the doctors assured us the massive amounts of steroids they gave my husband would make him sterile – SURPRISE, that was not the case) while he was sick. After he died, Tim and I married (way too soon by most people’s standards, but we had no doubt it was God’s leading and doing) and lost 2 children. I plunged into a deep, deep depression after the first baby died and have never completely recovered. After several years of said depression I finally began to emerge, slowly. I am better now, but never the same. I often wonder if I will ever be anything at all like the woman I was before. I am grateful for the trials. They have made me “real”. At the same time, I sometimes hate who I am now. Maybe you know that feeling. Maybe not. Tim’s mom committed suicide almost 3 years ago. The guilt and grief are overwhelming. Not just for him, but for me and all of her grandchildren. We always think that if we had done more, spent more time with her, she would not have done such a thing. Our daughter, who was 12 when it happened and who spent time with her grandmother each week, was devastated. She could not understand why her grandmother would do such a thing. Tim’s dad had died a year before. Still, the depression and guilt our daughter had to deal with at such a young age was debilitating to her. It broke my heart to watch her deal with it and try to get through it. Life is hard. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Thanks for letting me share/vent. Would love to talk to you in person sometime.

    • Tobi, I had no idea about all you’ve gone through. I’m so sorry for your suffering. I remember when your first baby was born and died. You’ve been through so much. After losing my daughter, I was able to gain some perspective. Dirk and I thought we were coming out on the ‘other side.’ But then he was diagnosed and died, and since then I can identify with what you wrote about feeling never the same, wondering if you “will ever be anything at all like the woman” you were before. Yes, exactly that. I too am grateful to have become more ‘real,’ but have paid a price for doing so, as I’m sure you have as well. I do know the feeling of sometimes hating who you are now.

      I wonder if your mother-in-law wasn’t able to deal with the grief of losing her husband? Many who lose a spouse after a long marriage just want to go and be with the dead.

      I know many widows who feel, after a long marriage, that life isn’t worth living. It’s difficult, realizing you’re no longer a priority to anyone and your “Person”–the one who’s always there for you–is gone. When you’re unlikely to get another Person, life seems meaningless. No child or grandchild is enough to keep you going. I think there’s nothing you could have done for your mother-in-law. The only way to meet that despair is to dive into it, and I would think that most people think that the way to do that is to die.

      • Anne, I think one of the most difficult things about becoming “real” was the total loss of all my friends. When my first husband was sick for so long I learned this lesson the hard way. In the beginning all of our friends and family rallied around us and were so supportive. But as the years went by and he got worse, they fell away, unable to “deal” with it. Ha! And they think that we can deal with it by ourselves? I got so sick of hearing “It’s just too much for me to deal with.” from people, even family. At the end, about a month before my husband died he told me that the most difficult part of being sick and dying had been the loss of his siblings. They had been a close family but they had abandoned him during his years of illness because they couldn’t “handle” it. He hurt him deeply. I tried to teach my kids that no matter how much it hurt or how awkward it felt, they needed to be there for people they cared about. It means a lot. I always had close friends. Always at least one or two really good friends I could count on. I haven’t had a close friend like that in 18 years now. The loneliness of that has been one of my most difficult things to overcome. I still have not overcome that I am sorry to say. I long for someone to be that kind of friend again. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound maudlin, just expressing my true feelings and thoughts. It feels good to say it to someone who has gone through similar things. However, it sounds like you have retained at least some of your good friends. Be grateful for that!

        • I know that pain (of family and friends abandoning the situation because it’s “too much”) all too well. I’ve actually begun to enjoy the solace, but now and then it would be nice to have a friend to share with. I’m too exhausted to even explore the possibilities these days. At least my cat’s a good listener! And I always have my mom. Without her, I’d lose my mind.

      • I left you a personal message on Facebook. I also left my phone number there. I would love to hear from you if you are so inclined.

  11. I can so relate and empathize in ways you probably can never understand. You have described my experience since Jeff’s stroke — I describe it as the day I died — but he didn’t die because of the decisions I made and now his disability and perpetual state of incompleteness is the “gift” that keeps on giving. And not in a good way. My heart breaks for you, but I pray you will find the strength that such trials are meant to produce, and I think in many ways you already have as evidenced by the beautiful family you still enjoy and who still love and embrace you. If anyone can do this, it is you, Anne. Dirk’s legacy was unfortunately tarnished by the decision he made to “relieve” you of his illness and the burden it would be for you. Your legacy is the way you’ve pulled yourself together and continued to live your life for the family you and Dirk created. I admire you in so many ways. You’re probably the strongest person I know. You’re definitely the most articulate!

    • Diane, your response and support move me, most especially because you’re one of my oldest friends. We never know in high school what the future holds, do we? What you’re living with is impossibly hard: you’re a widow, but you’re not. I find the void and the in-between places and the ongoing rotting dreams to be the most difficult. Anyway, the good news is that out of that rot and fermentation, something heady and wonderful can happen. That’s how we get wine.

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