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The Vigil Starts

“There is a land of the living and land of the dead and the bridge is love: the only survival, the only meaning.” -Thornton Wilder

I write this on August 31, 2020. You’ll read it in early September. Now is the time that my vigil starts. My heightened awareness and sensitivity are an ongoing reminder of what “was” ….and what “is” now. I’ve been reviewing my life lately; regrets, recriminations- looking back isn’t helpful. Looking forward can be healthy but daunting as I realize I have more years behind me than ahead of me. As I age, I think of Mom and what she missed but I also think of Mom and what she missed. No, I haven’t run-off-the-rails into babbling absurdity. She died young and by her own hand. Her resilience was gone. She’d overcome so much in her 61 years that she could no longer mount yet another battle. The hurdles were too high and her energy too low.

She missed out on watching her grandkids grow. She missed out on great- grandchildren. She missed out on what could have been the next few years (for her) of more changes but possibly more positive changes such as a new house, working less, enjoying life more. She didn’t have an easy life. She also missed out on possible grim medical diagnoses, deaths of friends and family, and the aging process itself.

Last month I wrote about her coming to me in the form of a brown & black butterfly. She sat on my leg for what seemed like many minutes. She opened and closed her wings over and over. Her antennae were moving back and forth. The symbol was clear why she’d come now – almost 41 years after her death. Right now, my husband isn’t well. Unlike my dad who died at 61, Bill is quite a bit older than that. Aging and illnesses are taking their toll on his body.

My mom cared for and watched my dad for 7 years from his diagnosis of emphysema to his death. She worried about managing a big house, working, and, after his death, also managing the finances and all of those “not-so-little” things our spouses often do for us. Her normalcy was gone. My goal is to do the last decades of my life better than she was able to do hers. What have I learned and what do I know so many years later? What do survivors of loss have today that I didn’t have in 1979? A support community, for starters. The awareness that we talk now more about death by suicide. The awareness of the signs and symptoms and of risk factors. Top 3 risk factors: a prior suicide attempt or attempts, a family history of suicide, alcohol/drug involvement. We know or can easily access the signs of depression.

Ellen Weber had a family history of suicide. It is believed that her own father, an alcoholic, died by suicide (family folk lore says he was pushed off of a 3-story balcony to his death.) After losing his money in the stock market crash of 1929, alcohol and beating his wife became the norm of his days. Ellen Weber had a prior suicide attempt. She did not abuse alcohol or drugs. The losses stacked up for her the last several years. Talking to a therapist was a shameful act. She had sleepless nights, little energy, and multiple losses. Medical advances these past 41 years are incredible. Bill has several doctors who all work together to help him. We have MyChart on the internet that keeps us connected with our doctors. I have friends and family I can talk to. They support us. If despair begins to creep into my soul, I have people to help. Mom “didn’t talk about her problems with anyone” so who could she turn to?

That butterfly that sat on my leg was the ongoing bridge of love and support from the next world to this one. I believe her message was: “Now you are where I was; YOU are going to do it better, and I’m here to help you.” I have more than she had: an upbringing in a stable home, parents who lived to see me into adulthood and have a family, and parents who believed in me and who taught me to believe in myself. I have an education and a job that I love. I can’t be transferred anywhere in my job. It’s stable and within my range of control.

I have family near by who love me and support me. I have friends and colleagues who provide the same love and support. My husband is my #1 priority, and I am his. These days she is around me more than ever. I looked out the window of my workout class and there she was. I sat on the same deck where she had come to me a few weeks ago. This time she landed on my upper arm. The love we all carry in our hearts for our deceased loved ones not only remains but grows stronger. I know that we all can feel the love across that bridge from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Embrace it. Hold your family and friends close. You are loved….always and forever…

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