I am fortunate that I am able to continue volunteering at hospice during the pandemic. Most of the administration and support staff are working from home. Many volunteers are also staying home.
The Hospice Niagara communications team is working hard to keep us all connected while we are apart. Each week they produce a newsletter and we are all asked to share a picture and a brief story on a given topic. We have shared recipes, music lists, and much more.
This week the topic is our go-to coffee mug. That is an easy choice for me. The difficult part was that we were asked to use just one word to describe what my cup means to us. I chose wife for my one word; but I wanted to share more. So I have taken to my blog to expand on that single word.
There are so many layers in my choice of the word wife as the lone descriptor for my cup. It feels like peeling an onion. The first and most obvious reason is the fact that this was Crystle’s favourite cup (mug). Crystle was a coffee fanatic. She never started a day without coffee, and I made sure she was always supplied with caffeine. Black coffee. As long as I can remember, Crystle has consumed her coffee naked—the coffee, of course. Her coffee was always naked. No cream. No sugar.
Now, take, look at the cup. Flowers. Crystle loved flowers. This time of year we would be off to the garden centres to purchase flowers for the outside of the house. She planted annuals and created her own planters for our deck. We had lilacs, hydrangeas, and hyacinths in our back yard. That was never enough, she always wanted a bouquet of fresh flowers in our home.
The colour. The handle and trim on this cup are red. Hands down Crystle’s favourite colour. Another reason to enjoy this cup.
I have saved the best memory for last. Like most women, Crystle loved to shop. She preferred to shop alone because she often had nothing on her list but was ever in search of an amazing bargain. She would spends hours wandering though shops. Much of her shopping was for her beloved family and friends. She would seldom purchase anything for herself at full price.
I happened to be with her the day she spotted this cup in one of the wineries here in Niagara. It was NOT on sale. And, it was the only one. She picked it up, looked at the price and put it back. She walked around the gift area and ended up back at the cup. Still not on sale. I am certain they suspected she was going to try to shoplift the cup. I finally convinced her to splurge on herself. She giggled. She smiled and the entire room lit up. We took the cup home with us.
There can be no doubt why this is my go-to cup. It’s not full of sadness, it is full of love.
Today is a day in which I find myself uncertain of how I want to feel. It was two years ago today that Crystle passed away. As I write those words, even now, it seems surreal. How can she be gone?
Yesterday, I went to her grave with Val, Kevin and Quinn. They brought red roses to remember their special mother and grandmother. We didn’t tarry—we all believe the grave is a simple memorial. Only Crystle’s ashes are there; she still lives within our hearts.
I have received texts from Crystle’s family and her friends. It warms my heart to know how much she is loved—and to think that she loved me. What a lucky man to have spent almost forty years of my life with Crystle!
I recently read the story of a monk who went to Heaven. He was met by an angel who welcomed him but told the monk that it was not yet his time and he would have to return to Earth. But before the he went back the angel showed him the splendor of Heaven. At one point they were crossing a long bridge the passed over a turbulent river. The angel told the monk that the river was swollen by the tears of lamentation shed by the living for those departed.
Before the monk returned to Earth, the angel said to the monk, “Tell the world upon your return that, when you are in the world, make no lamentation and weeping without cause, because it creates more difficulty and harm to the souls of your departed loved ones.”
I love this story. The angel doesn’t say that I cannot be sad; nor does he say I cannot shed a tear at those times when a memory of Crystle overwhelms me. I can assure you I will be shedding tears in the future—I just won’t allow myself to linger in those places.
I don’t think I will cry today, but the day is young. Whatever emotions may come my way, I will accept them with gratitude. For I know that whenever I am overcome by tears, it is because I lived a wonderful life with a beautiful woman.
I have been fortunate to work with a wonderful publisher, Tellwell Talent.
The book has been published now for almost six months. The marketing consultant
at Tellwell is providing me sage advice. My book has been entered in award
competitions for 2020. It has participated in a giveaway through Goodreads,
Amazon’s book focused social media arm. I have set up an author page on
It has been suggested that I join
grief groups in social media and set up an Instagram presence. I believe this
is good advice, I truly do. But something gnaws at me.
I realize that I don’t want to be
a pirate! If you are a Seinfeld fan, you may understand the reference. Let me
The sitcom series Seinfeld is, for me, the best series every produced for
television. Seinfeld is an institution in our home. Everything that happens in normal
life has a reference in one of the episodes. I own the DVD set for all eight
seasons and Crystle and I have watched every episode more times than I am able
In one episode, Jerry gets
himself into a situation where he has agreed to wear a puffy shirt because he
said yes to a ‘low talker’ when he could not hear what she was asking. Kramer
tells Jerry that the shirt is setting a new fashion trend that makes him look
like a pirate.
“Jerry, you’re going to be the
first pirate,” pleads Kramer.
To which Jerry replies forlornly, “but I don’t want to be a pirate!”
No, I don’t have a puffy shirt in my closet. But where I relate to Jerry is
that I don’t want to be an expert in grief. I feel bad when I respond to
Tellwell’s marketing team saying that I don’t want to do Instagram for
When I decided to write my book, it became a therapy for me. I felt it
could help others to read about my walk through grief in an open and honest manner.
But I never wanted to be the expert CNN calls when they have a story about
Let me clarify, I am happy to listen to others as they walk through grief.
Anyone who walks through grief becomes an unwilling expert. For those of us who
have trod this path, we learn that the best thing we can do is simply listen,
and perhaps share a hug.
I feel that this blog has run its course. I am not sure what new
information I can offer on grief, because at this point in my journey, I feel
my place is to listen rather than speak.
This website will continue to be my author page. I would like to write
another book at some point. I plan to start a new blog focusing on
spirituality. The link will appear on this web page and I will be more active,
I think, on social media.
I hope you understand this does not mean I am leaving Crystle in my past. I try to live every day in the present moment, so each day the first thing I do is greet Crystle. I wear her wedding ring on a chain around my neck so it rests near my heart. She is coming with me on my new journey. I could not imagine living a day without her.
I am sometimes asked if the holidays are a difficult time for me. I am able to make it through the holiday season without tears. I embrace the present moment and try to avoid getting lost in the past. That doesn’t mean I do not miss Crystle, for I surely do. But if I allowed my mind to focus on pasts memories, or pine away about what ‘could have been’ then I would miss creating new memories in the present moment with my family.
I see these ‘big’ days coming towards me months before they arrive. I do my reflecting privately and let any sadness come out. I feel content to let these emotions come out and cry when I am alone. I believe this is healthy, for even though grief does not hang over me, I will never stop mourning the loss of my beautiful wife. To say Crystle was my ‘wife’ seems somewhat sterile and pedestrian. She was so much more than I can ever put into words.
Today I went to lunch with my daughter and her hubby and of course, my grandson. She sent me a short video of Quinn, sitting in the backseat, legs crossed, swinging to the music. I love him dearly, but I could not help see him through Crystle’s eyes.
I wept. For Quinn.
He will always remember his grandmama, but he will not recall the intensity of her love. You could feel the love beaming from her eyes. He won’t see those eyes. And, speaking from personal experience, he won’t feel the unconditional love that caresses you when you have done something to disappoint. Not that my grandson could ever do any wrong.
I am fortunate. I have a loving family, including Crystle’s siblings who continue to love and support me still, and love me as if I were their own brother. I am blessed to have friends who fill my life with joy.
I am grateful for the gift of family and friends in my life. And gratitude feeds me.
This picture has been hanging in our home for years. It still holds a prominent space in my apartment. Crystle loved it, and so do I. It embodies our life and our love in so many ways.
We loved the ocean and spent so many vacations on the Maine coast I cannot count. Nothing made Crystle happier than strolling along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Me. She could not wait to take Quinn, our grandson, to her favourite place by the sea. She wasn’t able to enjoy that but I will make sure Quinn sees his grandma’s favourite place by the sea.
The picture screams spontaneity, don’t you think? Surely this lovely couple didn’t plan to dance on the beach in the rain. Maybe the rain had spoiled a picnic when they came across this beach and decided to enjoy the time alone on nature’s dance floor. Whenever I was able to surprise Crystle with a spontaneous event, I was rewarded with her biggest smiles.
Then this picture shows a couple who love each other deeply. And while they love family and friends, they cherish moments alone, hand in hand; heart to heart. That was surely Crystle and me.
The funniest memory is our dancing. We weren’t very good, but that didn’t stop us from dancing, most often around our kitchen floor. We took ballroom dancing lessons about ten years ago—it didn’t last long when Crystle found out the instructor insisted on the man taking the lead. I can’t help but laugh as I remember those times together. We resorted to dancing in our kitchen to John Pardi’s ‘Head Over Boots’ country song.
For me, it is good to sometimes sit and reflect on our love together. I just can’t dwell there. I keep dancing.
It will be our 38th wedding anniversary on October 10th. I celebrate these ‘big’ important dates. I see them coming and they are times of happy reflection for me. I don’t allow them to be sad days.
The picture of Crystle that I have hanging in my home was taken at a Niagara restaurant when we were celebrating our 35th anniversary. It struck me this year that I will never be able to update that picture.
It seems like an obvious thing, doesn’t it? I mean, Crystle passed away eighteen months ago. How would I ever think I could get an updated picture of my beloved wife? I have no profound answer to my dilemma other than to say I have come to the stark realization that for me, Crystle is frozen in time. Whenever I think of her, that picture of our anniversary in 2016 comes to mind. Or at least, an image of the way she appeared in that photo always come to mind.
So I stopped myself. I began to remember her wearing different pieces of clothing. I spent time reflecting on the times I had been with her when she made those purchases. I remembered her changing her hair style, and sometimes her hair colour. I changed the wallpaper on my phone to a picture of Crystle wearing a pink dress she wore to Megan and Steve’s engagement party.
I don’t know why I did this but it seems to be a journey that I needed to take. Then I realized that Crystle is so much more than her physical body. I continue to hear stories about Crystle and the beautiful person she was, in the way she treated people. So I am content to remember Crystle, as the beautiful 58-year old woman she was when she left us.
Losing a spouse presents a unique situation in the grieving process. Family and friends are—I am not sure I can find the correct adjective. Curious? Anxious? I don’t know what words to use, but they want to know the answer to this question.
They allow some time to pass after the death of our loved one before broaching the subject, but the question hangs in the air, so palpable you feel you can reach out and touch it. Especially in those moments where conversation lulls. You see the question forming in their mind, wondering if it is too soon. Then, pop! As if in a bubble, the question dissipates. Too soon, they must have decided.
For me, there was no ‘too soon’ for this question. It never bothered me, in fact, I felt it was a perfectly reasonable question. My sister was the first one brave enough to get the question out. Others followed as time passed.
My answer has always been the same: “Never say never, but I do not see myself getting married again.” My response could imply I was not happy in my marriage with Crystle. If you have read any of my previous writings you will know that Crystle is the best thing that ever happened to me. No, three reasons to come to mind. First, I am still deeply in love with Crystle. Second, if I married again, I am afraid I would be constantly comparing my new spouse to Crystle. That would not be good for either one of us.
My last reason for shunning a second marriage is family politics. My grandfather never remarried after my grandmother passed. He would often say when asked about this topic, “What if Richard (his son) wants to come over for tea?” Worried that his ‘new’ wife might say she didn’t want him coming over, my grandfather would smile broadly and say, “I would have to tell her to go lie down upstairs because Richard was coming for tea.” I echo my grandfather’s sentiment.
Despite my own hesitation, I have to say that I have seen many people get remarried, at all ages, and have happy second marriages. I rejoice with them. I may even envy them a little. Never say never, but for now, I am still Crystle’s guy.
I believe I have defeated grief. What does it mean to defeat grief? Ask one hundred people that question and I suspect you get one hundred very unique answers. I can describe what that means to me, but does it really matter what it means to me?
In its very basic definition it invokes the idea of duality. You either win or you lose, so if I have defeated grief, am I in effect saying that I won? I read an article recently wherein the author was taking exception to Sheryl Sandberg’s personal story of losing a spouse, as she shared in her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Ms Sandberg is an American executive, currently COO at Facebook.
The author of the article took issue with Sandberg’s journey through grief, and was particularly bothered by the words used by Ms Sandberg in her book. Words Matter was the heading of a section in the article where she took issue how Sandberg described her journey with resilience, overcoming, recovering, and control. She suggested that if one followed Ms Sandberg’s advice you would view grief as a monster to be beaten. And that’s not how one should approach grief.
I differ with the author in that I believe words DO NOT matter. At least, not in how we choose to define grief. My definition of pain in grieving is almost certainly going to differ from yours. I have only skimmed Option B and I must say I have little in common with Ms Sandberg’s path through grief other than to say that for me, grief was a monster to be avoided. I wanted to defeat grief. And I did.
In defeating grief, does that mean I have left Crystle in the past? Far from it. She is with me in my thoughts every day. I miss her fiercely and wear her wedding ring on a chain around my neck to remind me of her every day. At times I am overcome with sadness and I weep in her absence. I allow those moments to come and go. But I still feel I have defeated grief.
Words can be dangerous. Please allow me to carry the belief that I have defeated grief.
The most important thing for us to do as we support each other in grief is to allow each of us to walk our own path. Whatever that looks like, we all have the right to grieve in our own way. The author of the article handled grief very differently than I would want to, at least in the words she used to define her grief. I support her in her journey, and who knows, if we take away the words, maybe we live our lives in much the same way.