Linda and I were married in a little church in Doraville, Georgia on May 24th, 1974. (Yes…THAT Doraville. No…It’s not a touch of country in the city. The little church building is still there but now it’s a Buddhist meditation center.) We followed the traditional ceremony except the preacher somehow managed to work in something about the Rapture. (He may as well have slapped me with a carp. But that’s a different story)
Two phrases in the traditional vows stand out to me. The first is ‘for better or worse.’ One thing that 47 years of marriage has taught me is that when you say for better or worse, you have no idea as to how good better can be and how bad worse can get. (Sure, you can use the line but credit me. It’s one of my better ones. I’d hate to see a meme one day that credits that to Winston Churchill or Groucho Marx.)
The other phrase is ‘until we are parted by death.’ We take that to mean that the only thing that will sever us from one another in marriage is death. When death takes one of us, the other is under no obligation to the vows and is free to go a-courtin’ and get married.
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I am learning that it doesn’t always work that way. The dying part I get. The parting part I get.
But so what?
In terms of my experience, I am as married today as I ever was.
Linda died but I’m not parted. (I can’t speak for her.)
Oh, I know. It’s only been a little over a month since that horrid day. Experientially, I have no idea how this works over the long haul. But, in my my mind, my emotions, my heart…heck…in my behavior I’m still married.
And that’s part of the problem when it comes to grieving Linda’s death. This inability to shelve the marriage, this thing which has been my life is not over. Yet, physically, she is gone. And I mean GONE!
Before I tell you how that makes me feel, I want to say something about the experience of grief. On the one hand, given certain premises, the experience of grief is a rational experience. That was behind what I wrote in that little piece called “I’m Fine.” My weeping and wailing is perfectly rational given what has happened. It makes sense.
On the other hand, the experience of grief is non-rational because, as I wrote before, it is an altered state of consciousness. For awhile at least, you don’t live in the same world as other people. Who weeps over scrambled eggs? Who talks to a box of ashes?
Having said that, part of what is so wrenching about this grief is the awareness that Linda is gone and I am still married to her. You know how that makes me feel?
At first, I wanted to write “Abandoned.” However, that word suggests that her dying was a choice. Something on the order of running off with a traveling salesman.
So how does it make me feel?
To be bereaved is to feel deprived of something (or someone) of great value to you. Of course, she didn’t ‘choose’ to die on December 8th. If it was, in fact, a pulmonary embolism, which is likely, then some dumb clot passed Into an artery in her lung and that was that.
She was deprived of her life.
I am deprived of her.
All by a dumb clot.
I’m furious at that stupid clot. But what does a clot care about that?
Bereavement is tricky business. I mean when you have been suddenly deprived of someone, you don’t wipe them from your heart. You go on as if nothing and everything has happened all at once.
I’m still married to her. Nothing happened.
She was taken from me. Everything happened.
I wrote a song about this the other day. The song came to me while I was flipping through some old pictures. I turned to one in particular and all but fell to my knees.
“I spread some old photographs,
On the table top.
From forty years ago.
My heart almost stopped.
You were so beautiful.
I could not believe.
That you said, ‘yes’
And married me.”
Now get this chorus:
“Now I am falling, falling, falling in love with you.
What am I gonna do
If I keep on falling, falling, falling in love with you?”
A clot took my bride and I’m still married.
She’s gone and I’m falling, falling, falling.