Life after the Death of Margaret
On the 13th May 2018 the world stopped turning as far as I was concerned. On that day my loving wife and partner for over sixty years died. It was sudden and without notice and it was devastating as far as I was concerned – far more than I had ever anticipated. Marg’s life , and to a very large extent my own life, was over. I placed a realistic photo on my wall calendar as a kind of shrine. It seemed, somehow, appropriate and I found myself saying again and again “I miss you so much, Maggie love”. It was nothing very profound but it somehow seemed to express the loss of a relationship we had enjoyed for such a long time.
All this was five months ago, and the situation today is very different. Marg is still very much a part of my life, as she has ever been. And I really mean that! I really do! Marg is as much a part of my life as she ever has been. And as I sit at my Martin Luther King’s kitchen table pondering this fact in the early hours of the morning, I am struck by a number of “insights” provided by three “guiding lights “
(1) One was from a woman who described me on her card as her “precious, kind and longest friend” and said “This is your time to let others love, support and comfort you as you have so generously supported others “. The odd thing is that I hardly know her. I probably wouldn’t even recognise her if I met her in the street. I did so little for her, and here she is attending to me in a profoundly significant way.
(2) The second profound event was a visiting preacher saying “I understand that you have had a number of deaths lately. I hope you are aware of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s great words: “To the extent that the emptiness remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person……. It is wrong to think that God fills the emptiness. It is left unfilled and helps preserve an authentic relationship. …….. Gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.“ I have no idea of what the rest of the service was about. I simply reveled in Bonhoeffer’s words “Nothing can replace her memory and one should not attempt to do so.”
(3) The third “ministering angel” was a friend in the Church of the Saviour in Washington DC. We stayed with her in the 1960s. She wasn’t one of the leading lights of the Church of the Saviour. She just loved and looked after them: Gordon and Mary Cosby, Elizabeth O’Connor and all the other movers and shakers in that great little congregation. The email she sent me was so typical of Sharon.
I am crying so much that it is hard to find the right keys. It seems impossible that she is gone. She was (must I use the past tense) such a force for love. No one I have ever met could match her gift for presence. She was unafraid to be completely with people. When I first experienced it, it was with a sense of wonder. She asked questions and then really listened. No one had ever related to me in that way. It was an introduction to another world. I have come to see that that is what love is.
She spoke gently and honesty in that gravely voice I loved so much. She found humor everywhere, quietly remarked on your purple prose, spoke proudly about her five girls, and always asked about our life here.
It makes no difference that I am far away. It never seemed far when I wrote to her. She always seemed as close as she was when she was sitting on the couch.
Every time you have left, I have missed you both so, so much. I am sad, sad that she is gone.
Thank you for coming here so recently, allowing us to see her one last time.
The email remains unfinished, and I can see in my mind’s eye dear Sharon convulsing in tears and pushing the send key.
And then there was the one responding to one in which I had mentioned that I had fallen when out walking.
One thought occurred to me by surprise. It sounds terrible, but it keeps coming back to me. In a way, you are fortunate to miss her so much. That pain is a function of what you had for so long. You had a rare and wonderful relationship with a rare and wonderful person. Few have that experience. Hardly anyone. You are different from her and exactly like her. Marg and Nev, Nev and Marg… Olympic pairs skating champions. And you are still skating, but your pair is gone. No wonder you are falling.
Oh, and this business of getting over it is not worth another thought. That is not the goal. Not now or ever. She will always be there. The heavy, black empty, scary pain will change to a different sort, but it will not go away. The idea will be to continue to be generous with your presence in the lives of others.
With all these things in mind, I let the congregation of the Wembley Downs Uniting Church love me – not to death but in the experience of death -and here I am today: one who is very thankful, and much wiser about life and death
Tomorrow I enter the ninetieth year of my time on planet earth and, as might be expected I received this morning an email from dear Sharon
“Am I a day behind or a day ahead? Whichever it is, I wish you a year with Marg’s warm love felt always and family and friends to spend lots of time with. And sermons to inspire the congregation and projects to make the world better. You are like Gordon in that regard. Always something going.”
I am not so sure about the “always something going” bit. It seems to me that there comes a time when the doing ceases. It is called “dying “. It is not something we do. It is something that is done to us – and herein lies a great and momentous truth – a truth that I intend contemplating until it becomes a reality for me too. In the mean time, in between time, I acknowledge a year that has been “momentous” and, contrary to all expectations, one of love, understanding and significance. In days gone by they used to say on the death of a monarch “The King is dead. Long live the King.” Little did I realise that the introduction for the 90th year of my life would be “Margaret has died. Long live Margaret”.