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Yesterday, Over My Shoulder

While writing about her experience grieving for her husband, Joyce Karney notes the lasting impact of memories, quoting the poet Robert Frost: “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”
August 2022 Vol 8 No 4
Joyce M. Karney
Punta Gorda, Florida

I’ve lived a whole year alone. It’s been an extremely difficult year, but in reality, the past 4 years have been living nightmares. I guess I survived it all, barely, somehow. Thinking it would be a good idea, therapeutic, empowering perhaps, I decided to review the last year, to reread my journal and examine my journey without Glenn by my side.

It was sad and painful, pages filled with grief and deep sorrow. A theme that continues today. Every day is an ordeal, a torture of sorts, but you realize you must face it alone. These are your own emotions, no one shares them—so just deal with it.

A Sleepwalker

As I read the pages, as the weeks and months passed in the written words, my words; I could sense a tone of resignation, life had lost its shine, its purpose. Any type of future happiness no longer exists. I was like a sleepwalker, passing through the days, absent of all feelings except loss. There was no fulfillment, only routine tasks and necessary actions to fill the long, empty hours.

Thoughts of planning a future for me alone seemed impossible; too many obstacles from the past prevent it. My depression grew deeper; believing that my life amounts to a complete failure, without any hope of improvement.

Then came the COVID-19 outbreak. Isolated in our homes, the economy in a spiral, it is unclear how or who will survive. I am fortunate to have a comfortable home that provides a safe haven during this crisis. Somehow, I’m still here.

I sat at Glenn’s computer and wrote an article about his 3-year battle with cancer, which I submitted to CONQUER magazine, a publication that is focused on issues that patients diagnosed with cancer, their family members, and caregivers face every day. It was published in the August 2020 issue of the magazine (https://bit.ly/3bTU5uS). I was so pleased: I considered it a loving tribute to Glenn.

Found Strength and Comfort

I managed to travel to my sister’s for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, participated in the festive season, cleaned out the garage, had a successful yard sale, and without Glenn’s wonderful cooking, I even lost some weight. I cleaned cabinets, closets, sorted and donated cartons of items to nonprofit groups. I distributed small keepsakes to friends and family, wanting Glenn to never be forgotten.

So I came to the conclusion that I’m stronger than I thought; although there has been an abundance of misery in my life, I remain open to the possibility of better days to come. I did return to the bedroom, and am sleeping in our bed. I was certain that this would be most upsetting, and I would be unable to cope with the empty, unwarmed space next to me. But that was not the case.

I found that lying there did not create anguish but rather brought me comfort: I felt closer to Glenn. I fall asleep with my arms circling his pillow, which presents a sense of his presence.

Some friends continue to be constant. The telephone wires run hot with the long phone conversations with friends every few days; and of course, my sister and I share all of life’s adventures by talking on the phone and texting photos of the family, as well as the silliness of some of life’s activities that we find amusing.

Home Alone

As I write this article, I’m sitting on the back patio. Nice breeze this morning. The huge trees in our backyard have spread their branches, stretching wide, to form a canopy providing shade, as well as a haven for the squirrels that scurry and chase each other in flurries of playful movement. They sprint, leap; every landing is a sure-footed feat of agility.

I smile as I wonder if they miss the man with the peanuts.

Nature abounds around us. Birds gather at the bird feeders, pecking at their food, chirping, and singing, while attempting to chase those pesky squirrels away from their seed. There are dozens of butterflies, bursting with a full spectrum of colors and endless flights of winsome fantasy. I could identify only a few, as I search daily for the vibrant red cardinal that I believe serves as a connection and a sign from a deceased loved one.

So I spend a good part of my time at the computer and continue to write. I enjoy doing this; I don’t know if it will lead to anything, but it helps me to feel productive and although very emotional, it helps in my grieving process. I’ve found that memories are the sweetest part of grieving. They never die.

I’ve written many short stories, small tidbits of my life; the composing part has been good; it stirs up feelings, but it’s also like reliving some good experiences and memories. It’s wonderful to see the times of my life on paper. This gives it meaning, substance; all that living, so many stories—maybe I did accomplish something worthwhile along the way. Anyway, it looks good on paper. I’m glad that I finally got around to actually writing after only thinking about it for so many years.

I’ve hired a handyman to do some painting, small repairs, and give the house a light facelift; it needs some TLC after the neglect it suffered the past few years while we were dealing with illness and ignoring its tired appearance. It is satisfying to see some life and freshness brought back to the dwelling.

Like a River

To quote Robert Frost, “In 3 words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”

So, where do I go from here? That’s a mighty big question, and one that I’m still unable to answer. I’m in limbo, unsure, and a huge amount of fear resides in my brain. I think about the hardships of the last 4 years, the course that my life took—so much of it out of my control; all I could do was react to situations and circumstances.

I was convinced that I was tragedy-prone. Now I believe that I was life-prone. I guess I’m feeling my way through the here and now, direction unknown. I think of life like a river—it takes you into your future, whether you are ready or not.

For more than a year, I was paralyzed with grief and sadness. Slowly, I have managed to elevate myself from the depth of despair to recognize my own strength, understand that my tears are not an indication of weakness, but a release of feelings; my personal manner of expression to a severe loss. A gut-wrenching sob can be as cleansing as a deep sigh that stems from the bottom of your heart and racks through your body, causing a shutter of relief as it escapes.

Glenn’s Love

Am I coping? Sometimes better than other times. I will never stop loving Glenn: the melancholy and the pain will continue. I have him in my heart, and will love him for eternity. I have been given more blessings than I am worthy of: I still feel Glenn’s love. I have felt immense pain and hurt, but I still experience joy, for he had loved me.

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Last modified: August 26, 2022

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