This is the second summer of my whole adult life without Nellie Katherine Kyle Bowden. Two summers she hasn’t lived since 1948. First two summers for our family without a Mother, Grandmother, and Wife – connector-of-all-human-life (her words!) and force-to-be-reckoned-with. It’s the second summer of grieving and living, living and grieving.
I used to feel a slight sorrow when August, despite its super hot ‘dog’ days, gained speed in its passing into September. This season’s passing is immaterial to what matters most. She is gone.
I know she is alive in Heaven. But, she isn’t here. I am. Her family, her kin and friends are. That matters. Sadness and missing are facts of life, not tests of faith.
The big deal I know, see and feel this second summer is how different it is from the first.
I’m astonished by my good health. Last year at the moment of waking came the realization that she was absent. Then, the pain came. Real, physical pain from my toes to my head. The iron bands of constriction were stacked and clamped hard. Even as they loosened a bit every week, I carried their weight and felt their squeeze all last summer. Then, during the day sudden waves of sharp grief overwhelmed. Weeping could last for hours – when I didn’t know a man could cry that long.
It was hard to concentrate. Time consuming to get simple things done. Much time got lost in a nothingness of foggy memories and thoughts bumping into one another.
Not so in second summer. I cry on occasion. Tears come with a hair trigger and no safety switch to stop them. Yet, I can get control in just a few.
I feel remarkably healthy as a man almost 65 years old. Still got fight in me. Deeply, humbly grateful to God, because I know a stroke or heart attack or cancer can come darken any fine day.
I live in a place of profound, exquisite, continuous beauty. My home on The Bay is called “Sanctuary”. Living here is a healing therapy. Every day and night.
My oldest daughter and her 3 kids lived with me for a year. They moved recently, so I end the second summer with a new solitude. And, it’s a good time to complete the second year which Nellie Katherine, the death and grieving counselor extraordinaire, said was so important. It’s the time that brings a survivor to the ‘new normal’.
My new normal is so different from my past that I’ll have to experience it to even begin to understand it.
When I was 16 I decided to live life under a set of vertical hierarchical duties. ‘Me’ being last and least. From age 21 on I had a relationship with one woman, Nellie, and then our family – which made those duties – and the Army, then Commonwealth, always the South and our America under the Lord God – become real, everyday living. I still have duties as father, grandfather, brother, kin, friend, Church family, teacher, citizen, etc. but no one, no duty debt holder, will be in my house. My immediate family will be 180 and 570 miles away. New world for me.
I’m going to have more dock time alone – with the Lord. I’m going to heal from the inside out to become the new normal for me – for the time I have left. I’ll do my duty to “read and write.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is expanding my heart, multiplying it, for agape, philos, storge, and eros love. Companionship is a blessing. My heart is happier, and it doesn’t feel disrespectful to my Beloved, in this second summer. Maybe peace and joy are built like a new house on top of the grieving foundation – and all the past.
In the second summer I can tell the flow of time is different. I can feel time, itself, is different
Yet, when I visited her grave, and took a picture of my shadow across our tombstone – on purpose, I was knocked off my balance for over a week. My breath knocked out seeing the granite – cold in the winter, so warmed in this second summer – with her name. Her sweet, precious, cherished, devoted, desired name etched in stone and done. Finished. Gone from my touch.
We shared all our adult life together. Sometimes it’s perplexing that she would be gone and, still, I’m here. I don’t get it. How can this be?
Second summer hasn’t brought all answers, but it brought balm and calm. Good health. Lovingkindness. Peace, joy, hope. Life is hope, hope is life.
Psalm 63. A psalm of David.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
Second summer’s grieving is blessed by Grace and gratitude. For me. For others. For our clan’s future.