Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | April 26, 2017

Our last anniversary together, 2013.

April 26th forever for us

Today, April 26th, would be our 42d wedding anniversary, but my wife, Nellie Katherine, died 3 and half years ago. It’s incomprehensible to me. I believe I have survivor’s confusion. Not survivor’s guilt.

I read about survivor guilt in Nellie’s counseling books on death and grieving. In fact, I thought I knew all about death and grieving. I had read her books. We’d talked about it often and in great detail after so many funerals we attended together. I listened to her expound with expertise in her chosen specialty. I’d experienced the early loss of my parents and hers, expected passing of grandparents as well as others, and the tragically unexpected deaths of friends, acquaintances and a few of their children. I knew everything until my wife died.

I re-read the books. I could say the words, “Mourning and grieving are universally, common human experiences which are uniquely, individually experienced”. Experiencing them for my wife was beyond my imagination.

Nellie and I had spent the whole of my life soon after West Point – my entry into manhood – involved in a relationship that led to marriage and evolved into a lifelong love. A love sealed by shared faith over time. A love bound by an intense desire for one another and caring for the other that stayed vigorous, grew stronger and became more tender until death did us part.

I wasn’t ready for the ‘physicality’ of grieving. My body hurt. I didn’t sleep right for nine months. My BP spiked. The first year I worked to survive. I didn’t want to bail out on our three children. I wasn’t that keen on living, but knew I needed to be a father and grandfather – do my duties. In August 2014 I was shocked to first feel my body feeling better. It felt good to feel good.

Time passed. I lived life as it came. Now, this is the fourth Spring that Nellie didn’t exult in the flesh.  How is this possible?

Four. 4. Quatre.

Nellie was two years older than me. For two years I was catching up to her life – in my mind. Since then, I get confused. How can I be here and she is not – still? It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right that there is a granddaughter, named for her, and she didn’t share one hour of the pregnancy, birth and wonderful life of baby Katherine with my daughter and her family.

I know she is happy in Heaven. Got it. Yet, I feel her loss – what she is missing here – like a knife in the heart. I ache for what she would have loved because I can’t really comprehend her missing it – and being happier. So, I don’t get it.

I have survivor confusion.

And survivor gratitude. The gift of my home, Sanctuary, as my sanctuary makes me grateful – daily without fail. I didn’t earn or deserve it. I had given up my desire to live in a place with great esthetics. Almost 17 years after I get the message, “I’ll take care of the details”, from the Lord, I move into a gifted place of constant, exquisite beauty to grieve. To live again.

Living again means loving anew with gratefulness.

I asked my kids for their blessing to have female companionship in September 2014. I found out I wasn’t ready to date. But, over time I became able to share time and experiences with women, who weren’t my wife. That was so discordant for so long – to spend any time with a woman – it was like a loud gong in my head. I wasn’t ready for prime time for a long time.

Now, here I am courting a woman I love. We were penpals for 9 months before we ever met. We’re building a long-distance relationship shortened by Facetime and deepened by long visits.

I recall what my friend Danny Goad said to me in Roanoke – during early deep grief – about when he became a widower in his 30s with four kids. His grandfather told him that the Lord God doesn’t expand the human heart by adding to it. When we experience the birth of another child, or to love and marry again after death of a spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ multiplies the love in the human heart.

Survivor confusion is about my survival without my late wife, not about living life again. In fact, it’s truly remarkable to be at this end of life and feel so much like I did at the other, younger start. It’s wonderful, not confusing, to be old and feel young and very alive. It’s a blessing to feel your heart expand by His multiplication. It’s always a blessed anniversary, too.

The Lord multiplies the capacity of the human heart.



  1. Really touching post. Love does indeed conquer all. Many blessings to you.

  2. Beautiful. I’m so happy for you and yet so sad for you … I’m confused for you. Guess that’s why I’m crying and smiling at the same time. Who knew confusion could be so beautiful?

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