Tuesday, October 26, 2010


[This is a fictionalized account of true events I read about some years ago, about two people who met at a grief group, and wound up falling in love and getting married. And the toast made at the end is true as well. That is the bare bones of it. I invented the story around that situation. But way cool to think this stuff really happens!]

At 3:17 on a snowy Thursday afternoon in November, Keith Govnell fell over his desk, dead of cardiac arrest at thirty-eight. Life as his loving wife and two small children knew it was appreciably over at that moment.

When they came to tell her, Karen reeled with shock and incomprehension. How could this be? Keith had hugged her goodbye that morning, smelling cleanly of toothpaste and his morning shower; they had shared a casual, distracted smile over the heads of seven year old Jared and six year old Samantha, who were noisily slurping their cornflakes and arguining over toast, and he was out the door. Not long after, his wife shepherded their children out to the car, dropped them off at school and proceeded with her normally busy day.

That night, after the police, the hospital corridors, the watchful nurses, the weeping friends and relatives, after all of that horribly unreal day was over, she stopped short at the door of their bedroom, staring at their marriage bed. It now was an alien and unthinkable country, and she retreated, closing the door quietly.

For months, she would sleep on the lumpy couch with a fuzzy blanket clutched around her. She wondered if she would ever be able to sleep in a bed again. She was certain she would never again know the joy of being loved, of being held, of sharing the comfortable darkness and the coming of a new day with a lover and companion, her soul-mate. It was cruel enough that Keith was dead at thirty-eight, that they had had only eight short years together. It was harder to be her, to be left, knowing her one shot at love, at happiness, had been and gone. It was for the children that she remained; for the children that she got up every morning, to make breakfast, to start them through their days, the days that yawned emptily before her to infinity, the days she would somehow have to live through, breathe through, move through until her useless stump of a body finally withered and she could be with Keith again.

A huge weariness moved in, once the initial raging grief subsided, and it took up residence in her sluggish limbs, her hopeless heart. It looked out through her tired, unseeking eyes and the absent smiles and abstracted murmurings with which she tended her children. Sometimes she'd give herself a shake; the childrens' grief and loss was terrible too. They needed her, desperately. Then she'd clutch them to her, almost too tightly. Sometimes their hot tears mingled together and after, as she dried their faces and wiped their noses, she'd promise them - and herself - that they would make it through. But how were they supposed to do it, without Keith?

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

At 9:54 on an icy Sunday morning in December, on a country road not twenty-five miles outside that same small city, not far from the farmhouse she shared with her husband Peter and three year old daughter Ariel, Amy Fraser felt the icy road under her tires suddenly fall away. In an instant, it had turned into a glassy skating rink. It felt like the wheels were toboggans that lifted, lifted her off the lip of a mountainside, then spilled and spilled her back to earth again, landing in a pillowy soft cloud of snow, brilliant with sunlight, where she could feel and hear nothing at all but peace.

Afterwards, as people repeated what had happened, how fast it had all occurred, they hoped the velocity of the crash had spun her safely beyond the physical realm on impact, sparing her any pain.

Pain was what was left behind for her loving, grieving husband and baby daughter. Peter lost, in that instant, his wife, his companion, his best friend and childhood sweetheart - his soul mate.

Bewilderedly clutching his uncomprehending little daughter, rocking her back and forth in the nursery chair Amy had used nightly to rock Ariel safely into the land of dreams, Peter's broken heart spilled out of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. The house, once so alive, was suddenly big and dead around him. It was so still, he could hear the whispery breath of his sleeping child, the eeriness of the wind outside, every creaking stair and dripping tap and ticking clock. So silent he could hear icicles cracking under the eaves. As he stared emptily and unseingly into the dark night, he wondered how on earth they were going to make it, Ariel and he, without Amy, who had been the laughter and sunshine of their days, the light of both their lives.

***** ***** ***** *****
Hovering close by, concerned, Amy's radiance was tinged with a hue of sorrow. She now understood life and death were simply other sides of the same reality. But her heart ached for her sorrowing husband, her innocent and unaware baby daughter, for the depth of her husband's grief and for all her child had lost.

Wistfully, she held back from her journey beyond. She could not quite let them go, could not move forward, until she knew that they would be all right. Through the days afterward, through the dark nights of the soul when Peter's tears soaked Amy's pillow, clutched tightly against him in the suddenly cold and too-large bed, beside him as he walked gravely up the aisle at the funeral, (the same aisle they had walked, so radiantly in love, at their wedding), and in the evenings after, when Peter had put his child to bed and sat staring into the lonely dark, Amy was never far. She longed to comfort him, to help him understand that her love, her presence, was still there, that this was all part of the plan, the divine mystery whose meaning is only revealed at the end of life.

Another had made the crossing with her; a young husband and father had suddenly found himself on the other side. He, too, was worried about his wife, his children. Because both had left so suddenly, so abruptly, in the time of their lives when they thought their married lives lay long before them, there was unfinished business keeping them attached to the earth plane. There was no way to say goodbye, with their loved ones in such pain. These two remained close behind the veil that separates the living from beyond, and in moments whispered hints of their loved ones' presence comforted Peter and Karen, in a way neither  could fully understand, yet neither  would deny.

***** ***** ***** *****

At first Karen wanted only to be home, hidden from others' eyes, from the rushing, bustling noisy world that was an affront to her, whose life had stopped that snowy afternoon. She drew the children close to her; the winter evenings found them all sharing the firelight, talking quietly, eating popcorn, watching television.

But by spring, she saw her children responding to the natural life cycle that was happening outdoors. And she knew she needed to get some help to pry her out of her armchair, out of her reverie. She would never get over Keith, never. But she had so many years ahead of her. She needed someone to help her, to tell her how she was supposed to manage to live out the rest of her life.

She was quiet and shy for the first while at the grief group. There was a vast tiredness on her face and living inside her body, the certain knowledge that her last chance at love had been and gone, too soon, and somehow she had to make something survivable out of the years ahead. One night she finally found her voice and spoke.

"Help me," she asked simply. "Help me to know how to keep going."

And somewhere, not very far away, her husband smiled.

***** ***** ***** *****

Peter resisted friends' suggestions that he turn to the local grief group. No use talking about it; that wouldnt make the pain go away. His tendency was to withdraw, to not talk. That certainly was easier than baring your grief in front of strangers.

But in the months that followed, there was no one he knew that he could relate to any more. His family, his friends were sympathetic and tender, concerned. But they didnt understand, how could they? How could they know that simply coming across Amy's scarf unexpectedly plunged a knife of agony into his innermost being. She had always been there; now she was gone. And how was he ever - ever! - going to get over that? How could life - that glorious taken-for-granted happy ease of daily life - ever get back to normal again?

Finally one night he opened the door of the church basement meeting room, and peered inside at the circle of people. They made him feel welcome, they gave him coffee, they didnt expect him to speak and so, of course, in time he did.

"One thing I know for certain: Amy would want me to go on. She was so alive, so vibrant. But the only trouble is, I'm having trouble figuring out how to do it."

Beyond the shadows, two spirits smiled at each other, and linked hands.

***** ***** *****

For six months, Peter and Karen related particularly to each other, as they shared their journeys of love and loss and tried to find their way back to life in the support of the circle. Their situations were so uncannily similar, their losses so recent. They were feeling so many of the same feelings. And they both feared they would never love again.

Then Karen found herself one day thinking, idly, "He's cute!" and, stunned, a moment later: "If I think he's cute, then I must be alive!"

Peter saw the great weariness in Karen's face and told himself, if it had to be, he preferred being the one to be left. He would not have wanted his wife to go through what Karen was going through. He began to feel protective and supportive, wanted to help ease her burden.

By the time the first year anniversaries of the deaths rolled around, they had begun to meet for coffee to talk more privately, to share their common experiences more deeply than they cared to in the group. They began to phone at odd hours, when the nighttime lasted too long and was too empty; each knew the other would understand as no one else possibly could.

After a while, they dropped in at each other's homes, made friends with each other's children, began going out on joint outings. Out of the broken pieces of their lives, they began to find a way to pick up some of the pieces and move forward.

It was in the second year that they knew that they would marry, would make a home for the most precious legacies their mates had left behind: their children.

It was a wedding of joy and tears. Each of them remembered other faces coming towards them down the aisle; each ofthem loved the new face in a way that somehow included the beloved former partner's face and encompassed all the pain they had passed through together. It was like the four of them somehow united on this day, all soul-mates.

When Peter rose to thank family and friends for their support through these hard years, he told how their coming together brought he and Karen the companionship and strength they both needed and wanted, and brought Jared and Samantha the father and Ariel the mother the children so badly needed.

As he raised his glass in a toast to his bride, the tears came and his voice caught in a sob, as he added, "I raise my glass also.....to Amy and to Keith.......for gifting us with three beautiful children and making us a family. To Life: L'Chaim!"

"L'Chaim!" everyone echoed, clinking lifted glasses, wiping away tears.

Somewhere, not too far, two spirits glided ever so softly away.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****


  1. Hauntingly Beautiful~ My Mom lost her husband similar to Keith, sudden! She never did find anyone... It is sad, when souls
    are lost~ Wonderfully written~xXx

  2. Thanks Ellie, for reading such a long post......so sorry about your mom's loss. I loved your post tonight so much!

  3. sherry, i don't know what to say. i am in tears here and i couldn't finish reading this (i tried to go back 3 times). the tears are blurring my sight. the pain is just too deep. so close to home... :'(

    i guess it's true. you don't get over grief... you get through it. pain lessens in time but we never forget.

  4. Wonderfully touching and truthful...it simply vibrates with love, hope and redemption. So glad of the chance to read some of your prose...it's been a while. Looking forward to more...:)


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