Choosing Life

A toasty fire cackles in the wood stove this morning. Small sounds of lovely people fill my home. Tears gently bathe my cheeks and settle into my beard.

Jeannie died almost 15 months ago. I miss her terribly every day. Mostly in the morning, when I drink my coffee. It’s just so hard to understand the huge hole in my heart and my life left behind by Jeannie’s death.

And I’m blessed. Daughter Annie and her partner Chris and her son John moved in with me at the end of August. Probably for a year, until Chris gets assigned a place to do his residency as part of his training to be a family physician. Annie resigned from her job in a dental office as of November and in January will return to school full-time. John is in grade 4, nine years old, and I share the basement in this little bungalow. He suggested we make the basement bathroom into a “boy’s bathroom” by removing all vestiges of “girl stuff” from when Annie lived at home.

Back yard birding

I’m back at work, part-time. A changed person. With a different perspective on meaning. And work. Also, at age 64, I have a new outlook on how I want to spend my remaining years. I’m healthy and hope to be able to have time to go through all the eight gates of wisdom described in the book by Angeles Arrien. The first gate, the Silver Gate, is all about taking on new experiences. Wonder what that looks like?

Jeannie’s legacy lives on in all our lives. Songs help me understand what we lost and how her love lives on. Bruce Cockburn explains part of what happens to survivors when he sings:
Each one lost is everyone’s loss you see
Each one lost is a vital part of you and me
Willie Nelson does too:
Life goes on and on
And when it’s gone
It lives in someone new

And so I experience life and love in new and unexpected ways. My family moving back in with me was a surprise, but it’s a good fit for the stage of life we are experiencing. Love really does continue to live on, undaunted. Babies have been born, some I’ve gotten a chance to hold. There’s nothing like a babe in arms to help heal a wounded heart.

A book by Elizabeth Lesser explains how the tough stuff that happens to us can help us grow. Broken Open is full of stories about how transitions and tragedies and difficult times can all be a gift too. Not that any of us look forward to sadness. And each time I experience the death of someone close to me I return to the book of Job. It’s a great read – an inquiry into how people think about life’s setbacks and try to wrestle with meaning. Right and wrong. Why things happen.

But we can’t know it all. That’s the territory of the almighty. I can rest in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything. That life goes on. That love springs up. Eternal.

The final gate of wisdom, according to Angeles Arrien, is the Gold Gate. I watched Jeannie struggle and then come to peace with this passage in ways both graceful and poignant. The Gold Gate invites me to practice non-attachment, accept the death of my physical body, and turn to the numinous or mysterious light. We can do this at any time in life, of course, and yet there are many opportunities open to me in the other gates. There’s a lovely arc to the opportunities afforded while passing through these gates – from doing to being. The second half of life can indeed be a great adventure. The greatest?

I continue to grieve. And heal. And live. Sadness and happiness. Hugs and sorrow. I’m blessed. Part of the family of life. Loved by so many and so well. Thank you.

Jeannie wrote me a letter to read after she died, and it closed with this thought: “I am wholly blessed to be your partner, David. And I can barely express how glad I am that you have continued to choose me to be your partner. Together, often imperfectly, we have explored our vulnerability, joy and true healing.”

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