I have had lots of very positive comments about my Love Letters to Death # 1.
Love Letters to Death # 2: Life is uncertain
But we humans, live as if we will live forever.
My Love Letter to Death # 2 is to Ivan, my late husband of 25 years who died in 2009.
It might seem strange to some that I am writing to a man who has been dead for 11+ years, especially now that I am in relationship with another lovely man.
It isn't strange to me .... and here is why:
You have been in my thoughts these last days... every March I remember. This was the month when we discovered you had Stage 4 Bowel Cancer and were told that there was nothing more that could be done, as the cancer had spread throughout your peritoneal cavity.
I remember saying to you "Don't die on me."
That was my fear talking ... fear, grief and loss that had been constant companions pretty much all my life since my dad died when I was seven.
Inside I was screaming!
"No! F**k No! This isn't supposed to happen! This isn't the plan. No! This is the one thing I didn't want to happen!"
And then, in a flash: "S**t! You are going to die."
A seismic shock.
I had been walking along a path towards a lovely fantasy destination of pottering in the garden with our grandchildren ....
That fantasy disappeared in a heartbeat, like an earthquake happened, and I found myself on a completely different path, going in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go ...
This path was scary and dangerous...
I was going to fall and I couldn't do anything about it .... the edge was coming and coming fast.
I was falling into a rushing, roaring torrent
I was terrified, fearful and panicky.
I was back in my childhood, aged just 7, hearing my mum say "Daddy died last night', crumbling to the floor, broken open.
I walked out of the hospital and across the road into the park and held onto a tree.
My heart was racing.
I made myself breathe deeply and feel the ground under me. I held on to that tree like a life line.
The earthquake had happened. The path was gone.
That little girl, who collapsed inside and out in 1962, was well and truly present ...
Pictures flashed through my mind. I saw myself alone with our son, Josh.
"F**k! This is the one thing I didn't want Josh to experience! The one thing I had tried to protect him from since he was a small boy"
I breathed through the panic and fear. In ... and out, in... and out.
I held that little Jacquie with gentleness, just as I knew I needed to hold Josh, now a young man, with gentleness and the belief that he would manage this rude awakening to death and adulthood.
I told myself, "Breathe ... breathe some more."
As my panic subsided a little, other more resourceful parts came to the fore.
"OK, this sucks! I can do this. We can do this.
I can support my son in a way that I wasn't supported. Together we can get through this."
In that moment, Ivan, I knew you were going to die and leave us. Faced with that realisation, I made a commitment to do it differently from how my father's death had been for me, to support you, Josh and myself to the best of my ability.
Looking back from now, I can put my hand on my heart and know that I did a good job.
I supported you to die well. And you did. You died as you lived, with grace.
At one point you said "I have been testing out some of my theories about choosing love in every moment - and I haven't found them wanting."
I was so tuned into you, Ivan and especially your energy levels so I was able to made sure that Josh got to hear how special he was to you. You blew us away with the profound things you said.
I know I provided a beautiful 'chalice' - a space for you to die in. Those hours / days / months were my finest. I felt guided and so sure of what needed to be done.
You died with a smile on your face four months later, on July 11th, 2009. In that moment my fear of death evaporated. Wherever you were going, whatever you were seeing, sensing, feeling .... it sure looked good.
I supported our beautiful son, Josh in a way I hadn't been supported as a girl. I am proud of how well I did that. Together, Josh and I navigated uncharted waters, riding the waves of sadness, fear, anger and more, with a tons of help from a lot of wonderful people - friends and family.
You would be so proud of your son, Ivan. He is living his life. and I see your quiet strong leadership in him.
There have been so many learnings and silver linings, Ivan:
Here are some of the most potent:
- Life really is uncertain. One of your favourite writers / philosophers was Alan Watts:
"the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.”
I had spent a lot of my life hoping and praying that I wouldn't re-experience the pain of a parent dying. It took you dying for me to really get it. S**t happens. What is importantand is how I respond to the pain (or whatever). That's where the growing is.
- You gave me the opportunity to face into my darkest fears and insecurities - and survive. No, not just survive, thrive.
- I have learnt that Love is stronger than death.
- Everybody experiences grief differently. It's bulls**t that there is one way, a certain length of time to grieve and so on. Interestingly, the seventh anniversary of your death was the most potent for me. I cried for weeks around that time and felt such a sense of loss. Go figure!
- Your dying enabled me to step out of the 'death is tragic' story of my family and find my own path. I was amazed at my own strength and determination not to be a victim. I wouldn't have chosen this experience but I knew there would be gifts. I learnt the power of opening myself to be surprised and delighted from you, Ivan.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Life is uncertain. So lets live!
I would love to hear from you with your thoughts and experience. Contact me here