February: Grief and Gratitude

It is the second month of the new year. What signifies that it is a new year besides the celebrations declaring it to be so? I look to seasonal weather patterns that highlight the fact that our planet has completed another circle around our star. The nature of time seems to keep changing as I age. The past reference point that a new school year had begun when I was a student, a teacher and then a mother, no longer applies. A year unmarked by schooling (though I do take an ongoing zoom class) or by the lack of a regular job does not leave me bored or untethered. To the contrary, it seems that my life is fuller and more creatively engaged than ever before.

As a retired woman living on a fixed income in a wonderful CCRC (continuing care retirement community), I no longer need to decide where I will live next or how I will earn enough to support myself. This is it. This is my ‘Last Resort’ as a former neighbor used to jokingly call her ideal future living place. I do not feel sad that this is my final home: rather it is a relief to be in such a wonderfully supportive environment. Given my ongoing physical decline from a variety of neurological issues, I know I will be cared for all along the way. I also have made good new friends here and have encouragement and appreciation for expressing my creativity in writing, singing, and more, in various venues within this remarkably dynamic community.

Of course, as a grandmother, I am thrilled by both of my grandsons’ brand-new year. They are three and one-years old, and are still changing every month, let alone every year. It is a joy to delight in their growth. My older daughter is a professor, so she does have the academic context of the new year and a new semester. Their family enfolds me into another new year as I share with them the busy life they lead. My younger daughter has entered the new year by moving into a wonderful apartment and I am happy to track her life as it unfolds in a new environment.

The other yearly anchor point for me, is that this is the month that Richard, my husband, died. It was on Valentine’s Day in 2018. My daughters and I have our own quiet ritual to honor that day in his memory. For five years I have let myself recall whatever arises. The earlier years of acute mourning have softened until now there are more recollections of the best of our almost fifty years together. Other widow friends of mine assured me that eventually not all memories would end in feeling grief. Of course, there are still pangs of loneliness or sorrow, feeling the loss of his loving warmth, intelligence, strength, and his many passions in life. Watching other couples here who have been together for almost seventy years, I sometimes feel sad that we didn’t get to navigate this ending chapter of old age together.

At the same time, I can laugh at a remembered in-joke of ours from when we were teenagers or know how utterly in love he would be with our grandsons. I am also beyond grateful to him for leaving behind his support for me to be able to live here in Kendal at Oberlin. He and I worked hard for many years and this is the result of our labors. He would be thrilled to see me safe and loved and cared for in my new home. I am lucky and grateful every day. I am grateful for another year and even grateful to work on embracing all the unknowns that our challenged world holds in store. This year, I offer the following poem that I wrote for Richard and what my journey after his death has revealed to me. Before he died, I did not know that Grief and Gratitude are in fact, one evolving experience, one whole.

Grief and Gratitude                by Judi Bachrach

Grief swept me out with the tide

farther than ever before

you weren’t there to lift me up

guide me home never

there again

fifty years out of practice

sink or swim crawl to dry land

Miles of mudflats abandoned

toy shovels sand buckets

dry seaweed crackled underfoot

seabirds overhead shrieked

broken seashells held to my ear

scattered empty houses

echoed with memories

Waves of grief holding

engagement with life

with cells run amuck

the irrevocable gift of death

release reality reflection

gradually reveals

endless tides that turn

waters raising me higher and higher

greeting the mysterious undertow

floating my body supported from below

fully embracing sorrow

sun flooding my face my soul

my heart infilling with gratitude

cleansing all wounds

Gratitude a state of being

embeds the ocean floor

salty tears of love awash

in grief

and gratitude

4 thoughts on “February: Grief and Gratitude

  1. So beautiful Judi. It’s wonderful to know that you are happily engaged in your own creativity in a dynamic community with friends. Much Love, Val


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