August 2, 2014

Letter: In Memory of Neil

Hi Neil,

It has been six months since you made your journey back to your God. Everyone keeps telling me that the pain of missing you will ease with time. I don’t think so Neil. With each day it gets worse. I know that I was in deep denial for months. I just knew you would burst through the back door and call to me as you did so often, “Hey Boo, where are you?” I am beginning to understand that although denial is a very primitive defense, it served me well in the early months.

During those months, I ruminated over your medical care. Did we make the right choices? Did the Oncologists give us false hope? What happened? Why did you start to fail so fast? I can still hear the doctor telling us that there was no cure for your cancer, but because you were so strong, with radiation and chemo, they could give you “two, five and possibly eight more years.” For God’s sake, Neil, you only lived for five more months. I don’t understand what happened.

Several weeks after you died, I dropped my wallet on the floor at Foodworks and everything, including the little pouch that the gypsy gave us at our hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, fell to the floor. Do you remember that night? The gypsy gave each couple in the dining room a “lucky” penny and told us to write down a wish and put it and the penny into that tiny pouch. I don’t know why, because that gypsy gave me the creeps, but I always carried the pouch in my wallet; even when I had a new wallet, I transferred the pouch. When I got home from Old Saybrook, I reread our wishes and was stunned when I read that you asked for “twenty more years of health and happiness with Ali.” The date on your wish was exactly twenty years to the day that you were diagnosed.

Why did you ask for twenty more years? How did you come up with that Neil? Why not thirty? It has me wondering if you knew on an unconscious level why you were here and when you were going to die. Do you remember our conversations about Origen? We talked about him and the other Church Fathers a lot. Origen is the one who believed in the pre-existence of the soul. He taught that this life is like a classroom and the soul chooses to come here to learn certain lessons. In essence, we learn our lesson and then, in a breath, return to God. It always made perfect sense to me. The gem of his thinking was that it takes many lives to become what God wants us to be. I know you were on the fence about that issue as Origen was later condemned as a heretic by the Church. The condemning theologians believed that reincarnation denies our salvation by the death of Jesus. Quite honestly this is all beyond my ken-really.

Wherever the truth is Neil, what I do know is that I want you back here with me. I know, I know, its selfish o f me. You had a long wonderful life while so many are taken so young. Who am I to complain? We had so much together. I want you to know that on those occasions when I think I just can’t stand it anymore and start to climb into my high-chair with “Binky” in hand, I snap out of it by remembering how you were while you were so sick-courageous sums it up pretty well.

Despite that intense pain, you never did the “why me” thing. You never complained and you even managed to joke around a bit. You couldn’t fool us Neil. Despite the meds, we could see the pain etched in your wonderful face. Near the end, when the Hospice nurse gave you a stronger injection for the pain, I knew from my days volunteering at Hospice, that your death was near. At that moment, I didn’t care. I wanted your suffering to stop. It was time to let you die and go home to your God. My regret is that we didn’t call Hospice sooner.

Shortly after you died, several friends told me to look for “signs” such as dragonflies and butterflies. I saw the most notable Dragonfly in Old Saybrook. I was stopped at the light on the Boston Post Road across from Homeworks. It was a hot August day and the dragonfly was trying to land on the hood of my car. I was afraid that if it landed, it would burn its little body. It finally flew away unharmed.

The Monarch butterfly that was performing figure eights outside the kitchen window brought-up memories of your flight training at Williams Air Force Base. Do you remember the day the base commander decided it would be a good idea for the wives of the pilots in training t to visit the observation booth? The point was to see what you guys did in your little T-Thirty Eight fighter jets? Oh my gosh Neil, I wanted to throw-up. You flew by too fast, too low and definitely too loud. That was the first time I worried about your safety, but not the last. You seemed to be hardwired for thrills. By the way, thank-you for agreeing to wear a ski helmet when you raced and “attacked” the Moguls. Why did it take so much arm-twisting?

It was the Mourning Dove that really got to me. For days, it sat on top of one of our bird feeders with its eyes facing towards the water. After several days, it turned toward the house, stayed for awhile and then flew away. How many times did you say to me, “Ali, you know, Mourning Doves mate for life?” I wept for that Dove. Had it lost its mate? I think so.

I have no clue what the signs were all about. They were comforting on some level and did, I think, prevent me from feeling the impact of your death so acutely. I remember the day when I finally got the two by four in the stomach. I was at the Doctor’s office filling out some paperwork that had its origin in Health and Human Services for God’s sake. The second or third question asked if I were married or single. The question provoked so many feelings. I didn’t know how to answer that question and left it blank. It is hard to believe that something like that was the engine for my descent into the reality of your death.

Finally understanding that I am no longer your wife and will never again feel your touch, or hear your gentle words or see your beautiful smile is so painful that I think I might break into a hundred pieces. You are my best friend Neil, my lover, my confidant, my teacher and my pupil-my soul mate. We fell in love when we were so young. In many ways, we helped author each other’s lives. Nothing, not the loss of grandparents, parents, siblings or friends prepared me for the loss of you. I am so frightened that you will forget us. And, will I forget what it was like to be loved by you? Please, no!

Recently, I had lunch with a woman whom you know who lost her husband a year ago last November. She was telling me that someone suggested that she think of three things for which she would thank her husband. If I could only choose three things, the first would be your loving me so completely and so honestly. Even when we were in the middle of a lollapalooza of an argument, I never doubted your love-not for an instant. And we never stayed angry for long. For me, the ice-breaker was a simple glance into your eyes where I saw the intensity of your unconditional love. Your eyes really were a window to your soul Neil.

Secondly, I want to thank-you for our three wonderful sons. I see something of you in each of them. The boys and their families are O.K. They all miss you terribly and are grieving for you-each in their own way. They are in Connecticut frequently and I am beginning to stop protesting. A friend suggested that they probably feel closer to you right here. When they are here, we have some good belly laughs. I feel guilty when I laugh so hard Neil. I ask myself how I can laugh when I am feeling so sad and you’re not here to join us? I do know that you would not judge us and probably are happy that we can laugh.

The puppies also make me laugh. They miss you and, at first, were acting-out all over the place- if you get my drift. We love visiting your grave. I guess that would be a surprise to you as I have never been a “cemetery person.” I feel comforted while I am there; you feel close-by. Jaynie sniffs around a lot and Murphy always pees on your grave. At first, I thought that it was his way of letting you know how angry he is that you left. I know now that it is just his way of saying, “I love you.”

The third thing I want to thank-you for is arranging for the auctioneer to come here, at the appropriate time, to pick-up your amazing antique collection. You knew that I couldn’t deal with all that “stuff.” He took it all-antique hat pins to your beautiful wooden planes. When I go to the basement, it’s a little sad to see it all gone because I know how hard that was for you.

It was hard, but you were thinking of me. And that brings me to your decency. I often think about what it was that I loved and admired the most about you. Yes, you are intelligent and I always loved picking your brain. You could converse in depth on any subject and it constantly amazed me. And your optimism was legend-a glass half-full kind of guy. But, it was your decency, your generosity of spirit, time and treasure that made me love you so much. It animated your life.

I can’t think of one time that you were too busy to help someone in need. Is it any wonder that my sister called you Lance? How many times did I say to you, “You had better put your white horse back in the barn and give it a rest Neil?” Whether family, extended family, friends, acquaintances or strangers, you were always there to help. And it came from your heart-not your ego.

Speaking of ego, I am having a hard time focusing and am experiencing a lot of anxiety. Your sister reminds me to stay focused while driving. She has a friend who lost her husband and became so distracted that she drove into a tree. I guess it was probably a good decision for me to stop listening to Elvis’ Gospel music while driving the car. The news is definitely more grounding.

I suppose lack of focus and anxiety is pretty normal during the grief “process.” But really, is there a normal, or abnormal, or right or wrong way to grieve? I don’t think so. I am finding it bit easier to cope with your death when you make your presence know. I love it when you come to me in my dreams. When you told me you were healed, although I already knew that you were, it warmed my heart to hear it from you. And, I heard you loud and clear to take my friggen keys out of the car. I know these aren’t just grief fantasies or the result of psychic trauma; they are real and beautiful-a bridge from your soul to my heart. Please don’t stop coming Neil. I love you, Ali.

 

Alison Nichols
Essex