I met them yesterday when I was finishing up a spring walk, a handsome couple in their early 80’s. Tanned from a life in Florida. She was admiring the neon lilac azalea in my yard, and when I saw her lean on my fence and take him by the sleeve and point to it with wonder, I was moved to ask if she would like a bouquet to take home. She eagerly nodded yes, her face glowing like a child being offered an ice cream cone. There’s a luminescence that comes to our faces when we draw near to the veil and they were both wearing it.
I’ve seen the glow many times before. I imagine you’ve seen it on the faces around you. I watched it light up my Mother and Daddy, and then my husband Perrin. It’s a sign for those who are privileged to see it.
I put my dogs in the house and cut a bouquet for her, heavy with bloom and scent. My lilac azalea is the only one I’ve ever known to have a scent and when she caught wind of it, she breathed deeply with delight. “Oh, it’s lovely! Thank you!” she said, her pale, beautiful blue eyes crinkling; a smile poured wide across her still-lovely face. And then she took his frail hand in hers and they walked slowly down the street to the condos at the end, handsome dwellings built by Presbyterian missionaries as a place to retire after foreign appointments.
Seeing them walk hand-in-hand made my heart ache. My husband and I held hands on walks and it’s one of those little things I really miss. There’s such a sweetness to long-term devotion.
I returned to my office and tried to get back to work, getting ready to publish my book about surviving widowhood only to be held hostage by nagging doubts. You know the kind. The ones that crawl up in bed with you at night and whisper worries in your ear. “Everybody’s afraid of getting COVID now, people aren’t worried about the ones it will leave behind or those ones abandoned by cancer and strokes. I don’t even know why you’re writing it.”
Those doubts all but paralyzed me by morning, and I woke up feeling pretty bleak, because I’ve put a lot into this new book. But, then I remembered something that Michael Craig Miller, the former editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, told me as I was writing this book “Something as simple as a daily walk has been shown to improve mood,” so, emboldened his words, I leashed my dogs and set out down the street.
We took our constitutional, which did improve my mood, and then as we walked back up our street an ambulance pulled up to the condos. When the paramedics took out the stretcher I stopped right then and said a prayer, because I sensed another widow had just been born. And I was so glad that I had been moved to give her a bouquet of sweetly scented azalea.
Seeing that ambulance was like a slap in the face, because that was how my husband left home, too. It helped me remember why I am writing this. I’m writing it for her. I’m writing it for the Fifteen million people who are widowed in the United States, men and women.
I’m writing NAVIGATING LOSS: A Survival Guide for the Newly Widowed because when death turns your life upside down, sweet as it is, you need more than a scented bouquet. You need a flashlight to see the way ahead because they’re not there anymore to hold your hand.