Posted by: Mickey Goodman | August 23, 2013

Love Story

 This is a far departure from my usual Travelgram posts that feature fun times and special trips. But I’m feeling more than a little nostalgic today, the 10th anniversary of my husband Phil’s death. I still see him everywhere – in the giggles of our now teenage granddaughters and the mischievous eyes of the nine-year old grandson he never met, in his old denim shirt that I still wear, in his big leather chair, and most of all in the faces of my three children.

 Below is a shortened version of an article I wrote for Atlanta Magazine the February after he lost battle with that demon, cancer.

***

 “A life well-lived doesn’t end any more than music ends…

It echoes through time with whispers of beauty and grace.

If we listen, we can hear the encore with our hearts,

For the song plays on,

Just as love lives on.” – Unknown

 Phil 2001

My husband kept his Sony cassette player within arms reach during the unending hospital stays. Classical music wafting over WABE-FM sustained him through surgeries, radiation and chemotherapies. When he lost the final battle to cancer, National Public Radio broadcast the news of his death and a CNN banner streaked scrolled across the bottom of television sets across the country. The Atlanta Journal Constitution listed him among the “Notable Deaths of 2003.” There was even an article disseminated by the Associate Press. The man who never thought he accomplished much would have been stunned.

 He also would have been confounded by the scores of people who came to say farewell. There were former colleagues from GPTV and Peach State Public radio where he was the founder and director, Ham radio buddies, friends from every phase of our lives, the now adult friends of our kids who used to hang out on our den, neighbors new and old.

Some just hugged me, others wiped away tears of their own. Words were unnecessary. Their presence said it all. When a friend from my teaching days who had also lost her husband approached, I expected a life preserver. Instead, she threw me an anchor. “You’ll have to join my group,” she said. “We call ourselves the Merry Widows.”

Once the family left, the friends returned to their normal lives, the flowers wilted and the thank you notes were mailed, I was left in silence. Without my love and best friend, the house groaned, shadows jumped through the windows, the sudden glare from the deck’s motion lights spelled terror. A house once filled with love and laughter – even during the difficult years when cancer ruled our lives – became a tomb of memories.

I often think it’s still the little things I miss most. I long to see Phil’s eyes light up when I walk into a room. I miss his quick wit and off-beat sense of humor, his ability to think clearly in the midst of chaos; the man who never met a household project he couldn’t fix.

People told me there would be black days. They didn’t tell me that navigating life without him would be like paddling a canoe in the midst of a tsunami. The waves keep sucking me out to a black sea. A sentimental piece of music on the radio sends me reeling. A glimpse of an aging couple holding hands, brings quick tears. No one warned me I would lose my brain and my decision-making abilities along with my lock box key and check book register.

There are things you never know until you’re picking up the pieces of a broken life. I never suspected couple-friends would suddenly stop calling or that the husband of an acquaintance would sidle up to me and say, “If you ever get lonesome all alone at night, just call me on my cell phone – any time.”

When I emerged from a semi-catatonic state, I began making the phone calls. Social Security was first. With the swiftness of an American eagle they sucked out the previous month’s check. (There is no pro-ration, even if the death occurred at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st of the month. Since the monthly stipend is paid in advance, they immediately withdraw the entire amount from your account.) In a weird quirk, they also coded my account “deceased” so there was no income forthcoming until they straightened it out three months later. I felt totally disenfranchised. Was I worth less now that I was no longer half of a twosome?

I miss everything about coupledom – quiet dinners together, evenings out with friends, a hand to hold, a warm body at my side during the difficult nights, a sturdy shoulder to cry on. I light a candle nightly to connect tenuously with him. I’ve had brushes with the five stages of grief but we’re not intimate yet. “Sorrow, anger and depression” — are all consuming. “Acceptance” is an oxymoron.

“You quickly learn who your friends are in good times and bad,” a friend said to me recently. No one ever told me that many would soar with the angles angels to ease my way. My children were (and are) my sustenance, my five grandchildren, dessert.

On the first anniversary of Phil’s death, we gathered to plant a memorial garden in front of the house. Near my mother’s Japanese maple stands another for my dad. Phil’s is at the apex near the sidewalk, much as he stood as the forefront of my life. Ten years later, whenever I pass by,  I can hear strains of music, and the song of his life echoes in my heart.

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Responses

  1. What a wonderful essay and what a handsome guy~
    Your post brought tears to my eyes. Clearly, he is still a part of you.
    Hugs, Irene

  2. Mickey, this is beautiful. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose Richard. You have carried on bravely. I admire you. I’m going to share this on my page.

  3. Poignant and deeply personal. Any of us who have traveled the road know how we can feel sometimes abandoned, sometimes irrelevant, and how the silence can so often feel like a tsunami washing over us.

    • Thanks, Bob. It’s a rough row to plough.


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