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Half Life

Three years ago, Rebecca took her last breaths.

She’s been gone for half her life.  Half the time she had with us, elapsed in absence.

It’s still hard to comprehend.  The old adage that you don’t get over it, but you get used to it, holds true.  I’m used to her absence.  I still think of her daily, usually multiple times a day, reminded one way or another.  The reminders can spring from moments of joy that I suddenly realize she isn’t there to share, or from moments of profound sorrow over the state of everything, or just from spotting an unexpected flash of purple.

In the initial grieving, each moment of remembrance was like an enormous jagged spike driven violently through my chest, impaling me in an anguish I could not actually feel, even as I experienced it.  My breath would hitch to a stop as I remembered the hitch in hers, as her body finally relaxed and the space between each breath got longer and longer, even as each breath was a fractional bit fainter than the one before.

My grief has similarly faded, these last three years.  That terrible, transfixing pain has its own slope of decay, if you let it decay, dropping into a long tail of quiescence.  If you’ve ever suffered a major injury, then you know what I mean.  The initial pain is overwhelming, filling your entire awareness and leaving room for nothing else.  That fades into a massive suffering as the injury is addressed.  After the initial recovery, you come to live with a constant pain that is manageable, if utterly draining to endure.  After a longer while, that becomes an ongoing ache, easily aggravated but also somewhat possible to ignore for short periods.  And so on and so on, until months or years later, it’s a twinge you get every now and then, maybe a dull ache when the weather changes or you shift your weight the wrong way.  Something you can live with, but also something you can never fully forget.

I can still sometimes feel the spikes that were driven into me, but distantly, around the edges where the scar tissue grew to fill the latticework of grief.  As you might feel the shadows of the pins that put your leg back together, or the echo of the holes drilled into your skull to seat the halo brace.

We went to visit her grave this afternoon.  It was our first time back since last year’s memorial visit.  I’d thought of going from time to time in the intervening year, and resisted.  I’m not entirely certain why, but it felt like the right decision.  Not the decision I wanted to make, but the right one.

We were astonished to find that the artificial flowers and rainbow spinner placed there last year were still in place, faded and worn.  The groundskeepers had carefully mowed around them.  Perhaps that’s why the small Rainbow Dash toy was still there, still nestled against the top edge of the marker.  It, too, was faded from the year of sun and rain and ice, but still had the same jaunty pose and smiling face.

It reminded me of Rebecca, and I smiled a little.

I noticed dirt had settled into some of the letters, and resolved to return another day to clean them out.  Maybe polish the granite face a bit, to see if I could restore some of its initial luster.  Nothing I could do would preserve that forever; the slow decay of time and weather never pauses, not even in deference to the memory of a little girl who lived too short a life, no matter how fully she lived it.

In the long run, the marker will be worn smooth, settling through a long period of becoming harder and harder to read until eventually, it fades completely from understanding.  That can’t be avoided, but it can be postponed a little bit.  As long as I’m here and able, I can put in a little periodic effort to undo some of the damage done.  Put things partly right.  It might seem futile, but sometimes small acts in the face of futility is the best you can do.

You don’t get over it.  But you get used to it.

12 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Wed 7 Jun 2017
    • 1943
    Doug wrote in to say...

    Sweet and still so sad. My Emma is now the age Rebecca (or Becca) was during her illness and it does make me smile that Rainbow Dash watches over Rebecca.

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Wed 7 Jun 2017
    • 2013
    Al wrote in to say...

    Can’t imagine your pain. So sorry that life took your family down this path. But for what it’s worth, the thoughts that you share help me regain perspective on my own life. Thank you.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 0045
    Kimi Wei wrote in to say...

    God bless, Eric and thanks for sharing your thoughts and perceptions.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 0812
    Aaron Gustafson wrote in to say...

    💌

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 0945
    JFargo wrote in to say...

    Sending love.

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 0948
    Walt Mahovlich wrote in to say...

    Eloquently put, Eric. May you and your family find comfort. Memory Eternal!
    Walt Mahovlich

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 1911
    Matt Russell wrote in to say...

    Hi Eric,

    I have read your eloquent words on your blog for years. Your words describing grief ring so true. I went through a loss of a spouse over twenty years ago, and much of what you talk about I remember feeling, and in truth, can still bring back if I choose to think about it. (I have learned it is better not to…) But I do remember the beautiful times we had together.

    And it is so true…”You don’t get over it. But you get used to it.”

    I have since remarried and have a beautiful 11 year old son. But I sometimes think how strange life is that for my new family to exist, a beautiful person had to get sick and pass away. Perhaps it is better not to think so much…

    My best to you and your family, and warm memories of Rebecca.

    Matt Russell

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 2005
    Yaz wrote in to say...

    I cannot even imagine how painful this must be for you and for your partner. I read your post with tears ready in my eyes.

    I’m the father of a 6 year-old. He’s been away on vacation for 3 weeks, and I already miss him so much. Phone and video just don’t cut it. I cannot imagine what life would be like if all I had left with were pictures, videos and memories.

    I’m not a religious person, so I wish you all the patience in the world. I sincerely wish you could find some comfort in the memories.

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Thu 8 Jun 2017
    • 2246
    Todd wrote in to say...

    I cannot express how sad this makes me feel. The pain never ends, I understand. I just sit and try to think of something relevant to add and cannot come up with anything at all except, I hope you and your family someday find comfort and serenity through the pain.

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2017
    • 1020
    St. Baldrick's Families Department wrote in to say...

    This is an astonishingly beautiful piece of writing. Eric, thank you so much for sharing your heart and mostly for sharing Rebecca with all of us. Her memory and legacy is everlasting. May you always be reminded of her in the happiest of ways and by the brightest of purples. Your SBF family sends your family lots of love!

    • #11
    • Comment
    • Mon 12 Jun 2017
    • 1301
    Dennis Runkle wrote in to say...

    Pain from love, unavoidable.. Pain subsides, but love remains.
    Blessings to you and your loved ones…

    • #12
    • Comment
    • Fri 16 Jun 2017
    • 1021
    JohnB wrote in to say...

    Eric,

    Once again, you’ve captured my feelings at least as well I could have done myself. Maybe even better. Odd how we both mark time in the same way. My daughter Megan has been gone 8.5 years now: also half her lifetime. I was just realizing that the other day.

    Something I’m not quite getting used to yet is the realization that as time goes on, I will have an increasing number of friends and associates who never knew Megan. They have no conception of the poverty of being in a world without her.

    Our experiences are so similar and so different, yours and mine. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Megan, but you had to watch Rebecca go. Megan was taken during her senior year in high school; she was about to launch to college. The world lost Rebecca at the beginning of her school journey.

    Do you find yourself measuring milestones that should have been there, but weren’t? I do.

    This spring, if Megan had pursued her goal of being a doctor and a neuroscientist, she would probably have just completed Med school. Those milestones are getting harder and harder to estimate, which is probably a good thing. I’ll probably gradually stop doing them. But I think I’ll always wonder if there’s someone out there suffering that wouldn’t be, had she been there to help. Having had a brilliant and talented daughter has turned out to be a double-edged sword in a way that couldn’t have been expected.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent like this. You’re one of the few people in the world who can truly understand. Even though there’s a selfish tiny part of me wishes there were others, the rest of me realizes what that would mean. So when people say, “I cannot comprehend what it must be like,” I’ve purposed within myself to always say, “That’s okay; I wouldn’t want you to.”

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