Memorial Day 2020
Fearing Old Age plus The Alex and Ronni Show

A TGB READER STORY: Not Here

By Carol Nadell

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.
And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
        - Encounter by Czeslaw Milosz

“Wonder” indeed. That is the feeling I experience more and more often now that I have reached the three-quarter century mark and find myself grappling with the inevitability of my own mortality.

It’s not a morbid thought – not, as this poet says, “sorrow.” It’s more like a childlike curiosity. What does it really mean to die, to end this life, to - in Shakespeare’s words - “shuffle off this mortal coil?”

I cannot seem to get my mind around this eventuality which will, of course, come to us all. After my husband died following years of ill health, I remember saying to my friends, “I was prepared for him to die. I wasn’t prepared for him to be dead.”

It was what I called the “non-hereness” that was the hardest reality to understand and accept. How was he not just in the next room, watching TV? How was it that we wouldn’t be sitting down to dinner together? How was it possible that after almost 40 years of sharing a bed, his side was now empty? Forever.

That was almost five years ago and still today something in me balks at the permanency of the loss. I’ll never see him again? How is that possible

These days, I am often brought up short by the recognition that someday I, too, will be gone. In those moments, I frequently envision my grandchildren – all young adults now – around a table regaling each other with stories about me.

“Remember the time Savta took us to the theater for the first time? Remember how she always made us linguini because we didn’t like the angel hair pasta we got at home? Remember how she always corrected our grammar?”

Because I have been blessed to share many sublime memories with my grandchildren, these imaginary conversations go on and on. They include the fun times together in New York City, the special 10th birthday trips out of town, the advice sought (and often heeded), the special secrets shared between grandchild and grandmother, the tears and the laughter.

I eavesdrop on these conversations and they make me smile. But what is most striking about these imagined family scenes is that I am not in them. Just as they have recounted memories of their grandfather, my husband, so lovingly and longingly since his death, so it will be with their thoughts of me.

There will be a time when I’ll be only a memory to those people in whose lives I am today a powerful and dependable source of love and strength. Perhaps my grandchildren will someday share their memories of me with their children, to whom I may well be no more than a name.

Will they roll their eyes as their parents try to tell them of their beloved Savta? Or will they yearn for more information about the woman they’ve heard so much about and have, perhaps, seen in photos their parents have managed to save on whatever futuristic digital devices their heads are buried in? Will they feel my presence and wonder at my “non-hereness?”

I read an essay recently by a newly-widowed woman who, in listing all the “facts” of her new existence, cited buying a car, donating to non-profit radio, and paying property taxes. “These are now the facts of my life, a few among many,” she continued, concluding with a simple, declarative statement: “Alan is not among those facts anymore.”

What will it look like when I am no longer “among the facts?” I wonder.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

Being a young widow and then again in my second marriage, your writings are very poignant and relatable. Thank you for sharing😊

Making me sadder than most of the stories, as I'm almost there, and can feel the way that she's talking, I remember my Grandmas, both of them, I am really so lucky, have friends who are children of Survivors of the Holocaust and don't have Grandmas, so How Will I be Remembered, there is a beautiful Craig Taubman song, Who will remember me??? Wish I could post it, makes me cry, but this is the way of the world, and I now have six grandkids, and kids (3 sons) so I think I will mostly be remembered as the maker of Chocolate Chip pancakes, and for putting up with Grandpa...
Off to a book review, read An Orthodox Match, where the Grandma at the end comes through. Stay well, who expected a Pandemic, to stop our visits, write and share, and care for all of your friends and family, m

This is a stunning piece of writing, applicable to any significant loss.

Thank you, it's been sent to close friends already.

And yes, it applies to more than spouses and family. It's for anyone we feel closely to, or those who permeated our beings and will always be remembered. Like Ronni.

Oh my, Carol. So well voiced. I will save this one to re-read and remind. “I was prepared for him to die. I wasn’t prepared for him to be dead.” How true. We seem to be somewhat prepared for the expected, but then there is the aftermath, the repercussions, the unexpected. What do we do with that? No worry though, I know you will be in the thoughts of others long after you are physically gone. Thank you.

What a wonderful, thoughtful read. Carol, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us and my gosh, so eloquently too. I actually read this earlier, then put on my mask & shoes, and went to the market... it gave me much to think about.

Thank you Carol, your essay is truly unique and a showplace for your skill in bringing thought to word to page!   Writers with the talent to stimulate the reader's own thinking and memory  are a treasure, and you certainly qualify.
 
Your words,"I was prepared for him to die. I wasn’t prepared for him to be dead" put my thoughts into words...Thank you.  

The loss of my own husband after 53 good years married was so similar to yours, dear lady. He had been ill 8 years, with Hospice helping me for the last few months. He was "so tired of it all" is how he voiced it near the end. 

As you said;  I thought I was prepared.  Yet I learned, no matter how one 'thinks' ; when the event actually happens it comes on hard, cold and unrehearsed.  After many losses of near and dear people in my life, I have never gotten good at it.

Each of us handles it as we can, always looking for a peaceful "new normal."  Am I there yet after 9 years? Once in a while...now and then. Do I miss his presence still? YES.
Still, Mrs. D. in mind and heart.
  

What an excellent essay, so poignant so real. My husband died 6 years ago after 18 months with ALS attributed to his agent orange exposure during the Vietnam war. We both knew he was going to die and we talked about it and even sometimes made dark jokes about it. I was prepared for the death. And then it happened and exactly as you expressed, I was not prepared for him not to be here. Now 6and1/2 years later I still think of how he would react to current events and what he might say. But then the sadness comes as I realize that is just not a time or occurrence that is relevant to him. I am starting to think about when I too will be gone and the flow of life will go on without me and my brief time on this planet will merge with the river of all who have been here.

Thank you for this fine, poignant writing. How we live on, in sweet memory, good works, family, friends, strangers, and in the heart of the Universe.

This essay encapsulates that most terrifying aspect of envisioning our own deaths. We must come to accept the fact that we—that I—will no longer be here. That I will no longer be a part of what I thought of as my life.

In my life nothing has ever touched me like this article. Thank you so much and I appreciate reading all the comments. When my husband of 53 years was dying we moved in with our daughter and her family. His last wish was home hospice and I couldn't manage turning him, feeding him, changing diapers, etc. by myself. When he passed I was inconsolable for months. Friends said, "You were prepared. You knew it was coming." I wasn't prepared for the loss of conversation or the shared joy of trips to Disneyland, the empty chair across from the TV, the empty seat in the car, at the dinner table, in restaurants, or coming home from shopping and hearing him say, "Did my girl have fun?" I can finally put my grief into words four years later.

Brilliant writing. Carol tells a beautiful story.

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