a portrait of love

A Portrait of Love

The arrival of spring reminds me of how much my life has changed. My joyful response to the soft green sheen of budding leaves is now partnered with sorrow.

For most of our thirty-one years together, Judy and I were energized by the scent of damp earth, colorful crocuses and white snowdrops in the backyard, promising warmer times ahead. We were complementary gardeners. I selected, designed, and planted the sequentially blooming sweet-perfumed roses— yellow and bushy, the tall blue and white variegated irises, lavender phlox, and flaming orange lilies for our flowerbeds. She easily engaged her strong, muscular body to mow the weed-spattered grass, dig deep trenches for transplants and trim the shrubs. Our abilities and interests merged over time, switching roles and sharing our garden interests.

She was a casual person. Her loose fitting, crumpled clothes were my hand-me-downs or thrift store specials. Her long frizzy red hair was unkempt, often posing a problem at work. I looked put-together. My hair was stylishly cut and fixed just right, even though she loved it ruffled. And I wore light make-up, despite her preference for my natural appearance. We loved the contrast and delighted in the distinct ways we were different in our photos together.

We both loved nature. When Judy walked in Fairmount Park, she brought her binoculars and strolled slowly, observing the birds, listening to their calls and the sounds of nature. I preferred fast walks. I was usually rushed and wanted to combine the fresh air of the outdoors with my regular exercise. I walked fast, often ahead of her, and would meet her back at the house. Except for vacations, I didn’t

have time for birding. Taking care of her when she fell ill, I learned to slow down and to treasure open time.

We were supposed to grow old together. But, life decides its own course. Judy’s bout with metastatic cancer gave us three years to prepare for the end of her 57-year life, the end of our life together. We said all that needed to be said. I read to her from the poets she loved and fed her comfort food and morphine. After moving her to hospice, on a Saturday, February 26, 2011, I was awakened by two hospice nurses softly calling to me at the foot of my bed. Judy had passed away while I was sleeping. It was the beginning of a new episode of life.

The sweet smell of honeysuckle and lilacs now reminds me of loss. With spring’s awakening, regular as the season’s arrival, I start to dig in the garden. I conjure my lover’s blue-green eyes watching me from the back window. And she falls in love again, a truth she once confided. I still sleep on “my side” of our queen-sized bed, careful as I roll over not to disturb the woman with long curly red hair sleeping by my side. In the morning I open my eyes and feel shocked that her side of the bed is empty. Memories of her firm hug, as she pressed her soft flesh against my smaller toned body have become sensations that radiate a restless, unfulfilled desire.

Daily, I sit in meditation, the emptiness inside me palpable, my mind creating fantastic stories to escape the pain. As I breathe, my body relaxes, the thoughts dissipate, a pleasant calmness shows up. And within minutes the restlessness returns.

At 11 PM, with no one to turn to, I begin to write for release, venting my unhappiness in letters addressed to Judy.

I feel pissed. I have to take care of the kitty litter forever, the cat vomit on the good rug. I feel overwhelmed again. And there is nothing I can do about it because this isn’t going to change. No one is going to come here and help with the chores. I’m busier at work and for some reason, it doesn’t particularly feel good. I’m lonely when I get home. How can it now be just MY life, not ours? Is there such a thing as waiting for me?

I’m starting to spiral into a frightening dark pit. With a deep breath and closed eyes, I practice the meditation technique of letting go of thoughts and making space for whatever will happen. And slowly Judy’s voice appears. Eyes still closed, I begin to type words as they come to me. She answers my letters.

My Love, I’m sorry you’re so sad and stressed. I see you are doing your best. The answers will come to you. Please let up on yourself. Compassion, love…and most of all patience. You are still raw, Baby. Spot’s with you tonight- loving you- he’s by your side. I love you. Eventually, you will stop wondering whether I am waiting for you. You will see that life is so dynamic that you won’t need to ponder the mysteries of your future.

Be care-full. I’m with you.

Love forever,

Judy

The letters create a bridge between me and another realm. They fortify my belief in something larger, outside my known self. I have yet to discover that our two worlds will merge. Which part is mine and which part hers will no longer matter.

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