Yesterday was a tough day. For most people it was the AFL Grand Final, but for the family and I Sept 30th is Rosie’s birthday… she would have turned 61 this year.
We lost Rosie to cancer on Oct 29th 2014. Almost 3 years have passed… so much has happened and yet our feelings still run very deep on these days.
They say time heals, and yes, it does to a point. Some aspects of grief will always remain. You never stop loving someone you loved deeply for 35 years… and that’s exactly how it should be.
So what’s it like, 3 years on?
Wrapping up Rosie’s life…
For the last two years Facebook popped up reminders for Rosie’s Birthday. For many this unexpected reminder was confronting and painful. To lessen the sting of friends being caught off guard, last year I put up a post in advance. All this year I intended to memorialize Rosie’s facebook account before her birthday. (Memorialization means we can still see her timeline, but no longer add posts or comments, and will no longer receive birthday notifications.)
But it’s not easy doing these things… after losing Rosie I’ve had to notify so many organizations… including banks, utilities and an endless number of charity groups Rosie supported at some time. I feel grief every time… not only does it remind me that I’ve lost Rosie… closing each one is bringing to an end yet another part of her life… it almost feels like I’m betraying her… there is a painful finality in doing these things.
Recently while holidaying in WA I remembered I still had not memorialized Rosie’s Facebook account, and now her birthday was rapidly approaching. When I returned home I discovered to my dismay that Facebook can take months to memorialize accounts.
One morning a few days before Rosie’s birthday I submitted the relevant Facebook form, hoping at best that I might receive a computer-generated request confirmation in a week or so.
That night I received a response from Facebook Support. The message literally sent me into shock… what I received was a personal, compassionate message from Facebook expressing sorrow at my loss and saying Rosie’s account had been memorialized (it had taken less than 12 hours!) While I was deeply grateful Facebook had responded so rapidly and with such compassion, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly and the pain of having ‘shut down’ a significant aspect of Rosie’s life hit me hard.
Understanding Rosie’s love for me…
Rosie spent the last 9 days of her life at Caritas Christi hospice.
My last two hours with Rosie as she died are among the most profoundly beautiful and painful moments of my life. Caritas Christi has been sacred ground for me ever since. I still return there on key anniversaries to quietly remember and reflect on those final hours.
Rosie loved and deeply impacted the lives of MANY people. Her love did not discriminate… it didn’t matter where people were at in their lives, she loved and accepted them for who there were. People from all walks of life received and deeply valued her love and care. Six hundred people came to her funeral… a profound testament to her huge heart for others!
As I make myself vulnerable in the following paragraphs I ask that you treat what I say with respect.
As with all relationships, despite outward appearances, Rosie’s and my marriage was far from perfect. I am not at all saying we didn’t love one another… we loved each other deeply and were totally committed to our marriage.
Nonetheless both of us suffered deep emotional damage in early childhood. This had serious consequences for our ability to fully connect in our relationship.
For decades Rosie had to suppress severe hurt as a child in order to survive emotionally as an adult. (The childhood events had absolutely nothing to do with her family).
My childhood in turn left me wrestling with deep depression and anxiety for most of our married life. Rosie spent so many hours listening to me pour out my pain but she never gave up on me. However Rosie’s own hurts limited her ability to fully grasp and empathize with my struggles… something I desperately longed for in our relationship.
Being separated from my parents for the first two years of my life left me with a deep fear of rejection. As a result I had great difficulty recognizing and accepting the profound depth of Rosie’s unconditional love for me.
Intellectually I knew Rosie adored me… she never stopped telling me her heart still leaped for joy every time I came home! But I couldn’t grasp or accept this at an emotional level.
Three years after losing her I’m still learning how much she loved me… and it grieves me deeply that I was unable to return the utterly faithful, almost childlike love and acceptance she so freely gave me.
Rosie almost never cried (another outworking of childhood hurts). On rare occasions she shed a tear or two, but in 33 years of marriage she (briefly) cried only once with me.
Many people wanted to see Rosie in the last few days of her life. One of the tough roles I had to play was “gatekeeper”. Family had unrestricted access, but I was able to only allow a few close friends into that space.
One of these friends recently shared something which ‘blew me out of the water’. The conversation went something like this…
Friend: “Did you know, Ian, that in my final conversation with Rosie, she cried?”
Me (my interest now in overdrive): “No… tell me more!”
F: “Rosie said, ‘I don’t want to leave you behind.’ “
Me: “Wow… that was a real statement of how much she loved you.”
F (looking a bit puzzled): “Rosie was referring to YOU, not me.”
It sent an arrow straight into my heart… Rosie had cried because she didn’t want to leave ME behind! But Rosie never cried! This was an incredibly deep and precious expression of her love for me.
I so wish I could have grasped the depth of Rosie’s love for me before she died.
I used to feel terribly guilty about this… I’m slowly learning I don’t have to. Rosie and I did the best we could in our relationship. It just grieves me that she was unable to grasp the depths of pain I carried, and I was unable to grasp the depth of her love for me.
What happens to friendships…
I’m aware that some who read the following paragraphs may find them tough, or possibly even feel guilty. This is NOT remotely my intent.
Rosie assured me many times that after she died I would have an endless stream of meal invitations from our many friends. In contrast, others I spoke to said many friends simply disappeared after they lost their partners.
The others were right. To my surprise (and sadness) most people who were friends of both of us just vanished… I had very few visits, phone calls or invitations. If it hadn’t been for my family and the top-quality blokes around me, life could have been very lonely. Thankfully these friends and my family more than adequately filled the gap and I was far from being lonely or unsupported.
Nonetheless, it raised some deep questions. How could this happen? And why did it happen to others as well?
It’s taken 3 years, but I finally understand…
It’s just too painful…
Over the years before Rosie died some of her friends became close friends of mine too, most being women and couples, with Rosie being the primary connection. These ‘secondary’ relationships were no less valuable than my other friendships.
While the primary relationship is in place these relationships have an environment in which to grow. However, when you lose your partner, this environment no longer exists and the relationships can change surprisingly rapidly.
We all shy away from things in life that cause us pain. Deep grief and the need to self-protect from pain cause people to act in ways they never intended. Catching up with me was simply too painful for many people who were very close to Rosie.
Seeing me was a confronting reminder of the one who they were missing deeply. Of the few who visited me at home, simply stepping into our house caused some to dissolve in tears. I had no option but to adjust to being in the house without Rosie… for others my house was a home full of reminders of her, but painfully empty of Rosie herself.
What I expected of these friends was unrealistic and unfair… it took quite a while for me to grasp this.
Some relationships are slowly returning. I will gladly accept those that do, but I will not rush them… grief can last a long time.
And it is okay if others never return. Things change and life moves on for all of us. I no longer feel hurt, I’m just glad I now understand.
I could add so much more…
So many things have happened since losing Rosie. Life events large and small, ups and downs, and many new insights. A few of the significant ones…
Losing Rosie, and much that followed, was deeply painful, but I can honestly say my life has never been better than it is today. I know Rosie would be overjoyed to hear this!
The deep depression that I feared for so many years could be back with force after Rosie died shows no signs of returning. Yes, I’ve been through some very difficult patches, but my mental state is better than ever.
I no longer have the endless emotional rollercoaster stress of Rosie’s 16 years with cancer, and thankfully neither does she.
I have much more time and energy to invest in people… especially my children, grandchildren and close friends.
Relationships have become an even more precious part of life… they have been integral to my survival, and allow me to receive and give so much of value.
Being single has huge benefits. For the first time in life I can do what I want when I want (within reason). This season of freedom is an incredibly precious gift.
Yes, I feel a vacuum, but it’s a very healthy one. For the moment I am discovering “the new Ian James” and (mostly) enjoying the adventure.
Rosie was adamant that I should marry again. I greatly appreciated the freedom she gave me here. In typical Rosie fashion, she even wanted to give me a list of ‘recommended’ women! I politely but firmly declined her offer… I’ll be making my own choices here!
I expect I’ll partner again, but there’s no hurry.
Part of discovering who I am is discovering what I want both myself and the other person to bring to a marriage.
It’s not simply a matter of finding ‘a woman who can satisfy my needs’.
Genuinely loving your partner means fulfilling their needs as well. And fulfilling one another is just the beginning. Actively facilitating growth in each other is an even better place to be.
A final word…
As profoundly difficult as losing a loved one is, life goes on.
When Rosie woke each morning she was always so excited to have another day. Her motto and legacy was ‘Live well and die well’.
Like Rosie, I want to live this new chapter of my life to the full.
Ian James 1st Oct 2017
© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com