Posted by Meredith Hellestrae
I sit here at my computer, a large portrait of my late husband hangs on the wall, facing me. His warm smile and kind eyes embrace me. I feel his presence as if he was really here. The photo is from the early ’90s, taken at my son’s wedding in San Antonio. Helles is wearing a formal tuxedo with a red rose boutonniere. The tuxedo and background are black, making his face, snow- white beard, and white shirt front and cuffs emerge vividly from the darkness, brightly lit by the camera’s flash. It is a strikingly handsome image.
In the portrait, Helles appears vital and healthy. No longer the youthful outdoorsman I married some 15 years before, he resembles a successful business tycoon or elder statesman. His face is a little fuller and his physique more mature than when we first met. The portrait, along with the thousands of other photographs I’ve looked at since his death, helps me push the shocking memory of his skeletal remains deeper and deeper into the recesses of my mind. When I concentrate on his portrait, gazing into those beloved eyes, I am able to push away some of the bad memories of his last days. Though I realize that I’m just looking at a picture, his image makes me feel more secure somehow. We’re at peace together in a new place, straddling two worlds.
Helles’ children have come and gone, claiming and removing all the family mementos that were rightfully theirs. Planning his memorial service helped me to sustain my sanity during the process of early grieving. The celebration was a powerful love-in attended by 135 or more friends and relatives from all over the country. For several days, there were joyful reunions, good food, floods of tears, and constant stories of warm remembrance.
Eight weeks of hospice-sponsored, group grief support is over. Occasional cards and memorial donations still arrive in the mail. “I’m thinking of you” calls are growing more sporadic. Some of the many green and flowering plants that arrived after Helles’ death are fading. I’ve learned to sleep alone in the “big, cozy, cozy bed” as our granddaughter Ellen used to call it when she shared it with us on occasion, but I haven’t yet learned how to grocery shop for one. I have learned, however, that leftover food grows stale quickly in the refrigerator.
My loving and loyal son has assumed the role of protector. He tries in so many ways to include me in his busy life. He insists I am not a burden. There is no end to his thoughtfulness, but I feel ungrateful when I am unable to tell him that he cannot wipe away the loneliness I feel and the need I have for the comfort of my old life and my old husband. In the midst of his attentions, I tell my son that I feel “invisible.” I am now in a place I call The Afterward, suspended somewhere between what was and what will be.
For those who are living with loss, JourneyCare offers a wide range of grief support programs to adults, teens and children at no cost. Support programs include: Individual and group counseling; grief groups for adults who have lost a loved one; family workshops; support services for children and teens, including Camp Courage summer camps for kids.