As the title suggests, six months ago today my wife of thirty-four-plus years, Jill Rinehart, died. Last month I wrote about the day she died, but for this semi-anniversary my thoughts have been more … general.
Thinking back, at first after Jill died so suddenly and unexpectedly, I didn’t imagine that I would be able to last six days. That week was a whirlwind of making arrangements for her memorial service and such, and sometimes I thought the grief would destroy me. Sometimes, I wanted it to.
Every night that week, as I remember, I thought perhaps that I would not wake up the next morning. For more than a month, there were many nights that I didn’t want to wake up. Once while walking the dog I even rewrote the old nursery rhyme, which Jill would have hated (because she hated the original version):
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee, Lord, to hear me weep
And let me die before I wake,
And my unworthy soul to take.
What amazes me right now, though, after first being uncertain of making it six days and then of making it six weeks, is that at this six-month point I don’t wish for my own demise anymore. (At least, I haven’t in the past few days.)
It’s fair to say that I was unprepared to wish so fervently for my own death during this season of grief. I suppose many people who have experienced a soul-rending loss can relate to the deep desire to fall asleep and never wake up, since waking up means having to go through another day without the person who was most important in your life.
Thankfully, friend after friend who had gone through the same kind of loss reached out to me, and offered me comfort and guidance but also a quantity of hope. In those early days I listened without fully understanding, and I’m still not quite sure I do understand, but I definitely appreciate what they said. I’m incredibly grateful to them and to God that I have now a fair amount of hope.
There are times when that measure of hope is incredibly small: a mustard seed of hope, like the mustard seed of faith that Jesus talked about. The mustard seed of faith is supposed to be enough for us to command mountains to move (not, I should note, for us to move mountains ourselves). Likewise, the mustard seed of hope seems to be enough for us — or has been enough for me — to make it from one day (and sometimes one moment) to the next, and the next, and the next.
That’s how I made it to today: half a year gone by without seeing my beautiful bride’s smile except in pictures, without hearing her voice except in videos, without feeling her close except in my fading memory. Our lives were so intertwined that I believe she carried a bit of my spirit with her when she left. That wound has only begun to heal. But I think I carry a bit of her spirit with me, too, if I’ll just take the time to pay attention to it.
It’s fair to say that Jill, my beloved Jillian, is nearly ever present in my mind. I think of her most every time I see a flower or the sky, talk to our children or brush her puppy, drive her car or walk by the open door to the bedroom that was her art studio. I think of her so often that I sometimes hold my tongue when speaking with people, so as not to deluge them with my memories and thoughts of her. I avoid certain television shows because I watched them with her, and I watch others because she enjoyed them. Many’s the time I’ve sat alone on our couch, wishing that I could reach out and hold her hand, or have her recline while I rubbed lotion on her feet. When I stand at the top of the stairs, I hope to see her if I look over the railing. In the kitchen, I hope to find her getting a cup of coffee or fixing herself a snack, and I wish I could interrupt her routine just to give her a hug. I walk the dog — her dog, the puppy she insisted on getting only two months before she died — and along the way I ask Jill questions and point out things to her, or ask the puppy to help me remember to tell her when I get home. But she isn’t home anymore.
And yet it seems to be getting easier to maneuver my way through the hours and days.
I realized it was getting easier when the Moon was very full the other night. Full Moons were special to us, because we had so often enjoyed walking on the beach together under them. And every full Moon since Jill died I had cried thinking of her, because my memories battled my regret over not taking her to walk under the last full Moon we saw. I had counted on there being more time, on there being more nights of full Moons. But I counted wrong, because her time came to an end before we thought it would — and before it should have.
Yet this past full Moon was the first that did not dislodge an avalanche of regrets, and the feeling (or the lack of feeling) scared me a little. Under that Moon, I found I could begin to be thankful for all the ones we enjoyed together rather than regretful for the last one we missed. The notion hit me so suddenly, as I looked at the Moon without weeping, that it felt both good and wrong at the same time — but as I thought more about it, I began to accept that it was okay to feel good. That was a small breakthrough for me.
In a similar way, I’ve begun to be less regretful and more thankful. I’m still quite critical of myself and all too aware of my many, many failures, but I am not dwelling on them as much as I used to. I think I realize, or perhaps I admit (but have not wanted to accept) that each of those failures unfortunately represented the best I could do at the time. I suppose I will always believe that Jill deserved better.
That seems very much in keeping with the “unprepared for regret” theme of this series, as do these two observations:
- I was unprepared for how much it would hurt to change things (e.g., in the house). I shifted some things around in the living room, but the result was that I could better see some pictures of her, so that was fine. But I can’t bring myself to change many other things: to move her purse, or her shoes from in front of the door, and so forth. I didn’t imagine it would be so hard.
- I was also unprepared for how nonlinear the grief journey is. I had expected my grief to spike early on and then fall along a somewhat smooth curve, but it hasn’t done so. I’ve had a number of spikes, some nearly as high as the first, and been trapped on a couple of plateaus, but at the moment the grief is more of a persistent ache than an acute pain. It’s always there, but it doesn’t seem to be flaring up as often.
On my best days, the burden of grief is easy enough to bear. It feels lighter than it used to, and I feel happier. On my worst days, though, it’s a crushing load, and I’m nearly consumed with feeling lost, broken, and empty — but even on my worst days I hold on to one vital thing: love.
God, how I adored Jill. I was utterly in love with her, deeply happy with her nearly all the time — and even those infrequent, short-lived times I let myself get aggravated or exasperated with her had little effect on how much I loved her. I loved being associated with her, encouraging her, and pampering her. I could always count on her for several good, strong hugs every day we were together; we frequently held hands on afternoon or evening walks; and we usually snuggled together a little every night (even if it was just for a few moments before we went to sleep). I valued her more highly than anything. And what I regret most is not telling her or showing her more often — and more effectively — just how much love I had for her.
I think, in the end, what I would most like to be said about me is that I loved well. I’m not sure how best to characterize it — if I figure it out, maybe I’ll wrap the idea into a song — but I remember the story of Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus and how someone commented about how much he must have loved his friend. Likewise, if I accomplish nothing else in my life, I would wish people to say of me, Look how much he loved her.
So where do I go from here?
Forward. Onward. I don’t know quite how, and sometimes I don’t want to, but as difficult and devastating and heartbreaking as this is and has been, I have to find a path to follow, a direction to go. And while I hate stepping out — hate diverging from the path Jill and I were on together — for every step I take on this continuing journey, I’m very thankful for those who are willing to travel alongside me.
Previously in the series:
– Unprepared for Regret
– Unprepared for Regret, Part II: Valentine’s Day
– Unprepared for Regret, Part III: Jill’s Last Day
– Unprepared for Regret, Part IV: The Day Jill Died