How do you mark time? We have clocks and calendars, birthdays and graduations, weddings and anniversaries, Holy Days and holidays, March Madness and funerals to name a few. Marking time for me includes taking a timeout for reflection: Where am I in my life? How do I feel about my life, my relationships? For me, to love is the purpose of my life. How am I doing loving others and my community?
Years ago, I discovered an odd way for me to mark time once per week. Monday is trash day in my neighborhood so sorting the recycling, the compost, and the landfill became a ritual for me every Sunday evening. Believe me or not, I performed this ritual with a sense of awe and -wonder. Another week had passed. Time was passing. Once I prepared all three cans and place them at the curb, I turned to face our house and stood in silence. How was my week? For how many more weeks in my life would I be able to observe this ritual? How much longer would Bonnie and I enjoy our love and life together? Bonnie was always inside reading or doing chores. I reflected on my gratitude for her, for our love, for our long, rich life together.
Bonnie is gone now, more than a year gone. I look back at the house now, and I feel her spirit and her love and my pain. I talk with her outside the house and inside the house, and I am grateful but also sad. My ritual has changed. My ritual is different. Looking back at the empty house without her is not the same. I miss the incarnate Bonnie. I miss her flesh and blood, her spirit incarnate. We are incarnate for a reason; we are more than spirit. We start out as flesh and blood, and for widows and widowers, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, we will always miss the bodies of those we were blessed to love. It is important to not gloss over this, the missing body. I miss her aqua blue eyes. Bonnie would send me beautiful messages with her eyes, especially when she was dying and could not speak. In my home office, I hung the kimono that Bonnie bought in Kyoto so I can reach out and touch a sleeve whenever I want. It is just not the same looking back at the empty house.
When Bonnie and I were able to buy our home in 2002, we told each other that we wanted to die in this house. Bonnie got her wish with a house full of loving friends and family, live music with musicians and choirs. It required a generous village to make this happen. In her final 40 days, Bonnie’s cancer and stroke made her very restless and she would not stay in bed for long. She was unstable on her feet, so she needed attentive care 24/7. With my family, we interviewed several home healthcare providers and chose the one that gave us the most confidence. It was also the most expensive – $1,000 per day! I am next to die and, based on Bonnie’s experience, I want to have my own good death. I am cautious and want to be sure that I have enough for my own 24/7 home healthcare should I need it. This reminds me that it is prudent for everyone to check on their financial status for long-term care possibilities through their financial plan. Before anyone becomes ill, do some research in your community. What is available for long-term care services, assisted living, nursing homes and home healthcare, and what does it cost, and how fast are these costs increasing? If you know anyone using these services, talk with them about their experience and what they would recommend.
Soon after Bonnie was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, she suffered a stroke which further added to her weakness and made treatment impossible. Ironically, one needs to be strong to benefit from chemotherapy. After Bonnie and I discussed the terminal status of her cancer, I noticed that the cancer demanded more and more of her consciousness. She had to deal with her death and what was coming after. It was unlike Bonnie to be silent. She was a great communicator and storyteller. More and more she would be looking somewhere in silence. A good friend asked her, “Bonnie, are you in-between?” Bonnie answered, “Yes, I am in-between.” My advice is that, when someone you love is terminal, do not hesitate to say the things you want to say and ask the questions you want to ask. As they become more and more in-between, it becomes more difficult for them to respond.
The best thing I did for myself in preparing to lose Bonnie was to reach out to family and friends who love me for long talks and long walks. I connected with people I loved, people who would be with me after her body had left our house. I continue to connect with these loved ones, even now.
To all those who look back at an empty house, I wish you Godspeed and inner peace.