|Joan & Robert line dancing, 2001|
Thirteen years ago today, I kissed Robert for the first time.
Six years ago today, I kissed Robert for the last time.
Sometimes I think that he chose to die on the anniversary of our first kiss, so that I could soften the memory of his death with the memory of our first kiss. But as vivid as that first kiss is is my mind, as clearly as I still feel the magic of the moonlight on the first night we dared to touch, these memories don’t soften the loss — or the harshness of remembering how this gentle, loving, good man suffered from a painful cancer.
On this anniversary, I keep writing sentences and deleting them. I could write in my journal instead, and every word would stay.
|Robert’s last birthday, 2007|
But I’m not just writing for myself here — I’m writing for you, my community of readers, and many of you have suffered your own losses, many fresher than mine. Some of you are with the person whom you love, and you can’t imagine how you could survive losing your beloved. Others have been alone for a very long time. Some of you are losing someone now.
So what would be of use and of interest to you?
Here are some things that I’ve learned over the six years:
1. It does get better with time. Everyone told me that, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine it during the first years. My heart and gut had been sliced into pieces, the elephant kept stomping on my chest, and the most important person in my world was gone. How could this possibly get better? But it did.
2. We are remarkably resilient. We survive. We learn to laugh again. We feel the life force within us filling us with possibility.
3. We gradually find ourselves able to connect with new people. Many of us learn to love again. No, I haven’t fallen in love again, but believe it or not, I feel more open to that possibility than I ever would have predicted. I am able to connect with men now, and that feels good.
4. We can find our beloved in our world if we look and listen. Sometimes I practice being really quiet and watching nature around me. Then a bird swoops close, alights on a branch, and sings. I like to imagine that Robert sent me that bird.Or that iris that I spot on one of my walks that looks like the one in the kimono painting he created for me for one birthday.
5. We carry within us the best of the person whom we loved. I’m not religious, and I don’t know whether there’s an afterlife. But I do believe that the special lessons we learned from our beloved, the ways we grew that would not have happened without this person, these are the ways that our beloved continues to live. And when we pass those lessons on to someone else, this is immortality.
If you lost a loved one, I invite you to share what you’ve learned since that loss that might help others.
(If you haven’t read Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty — my first senior sex book which narrates our spicy love story, learn more here.)
|(Robert can’t stop laughing after pulling my hat down)|
For Valentine’s Day this year (2013), I’m re-publishing the post I wrote in 2011, updating it slightly.
I always loved Valentine’s Day with Robert. We bought each other gifts, professed our love for each other emphatically and often poetically. We spent the afternoon making love, glorying in the magic of the powerful passion we felt for each other. We would love each other for hours — a candle lighted even in the bright light of afternoon, the bedroom door closed though we were alone in the house. I can still feel the touch of his skin, the sweet pressure of his lips. I hear the love words he muttered.
Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner
When we’re together,
It feels so right.
Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?
Every Valentine’s Day and birthday — and sometimes New Year’s Eve, too! — he danced for me: a special dance he had created just to please and entice me. He practiced for days in private, choosing the music, the choreography, and the costume that he would shed slowly and sensuously as part of his dance.
2013: This is my fifth Valentine’s Day without Robert. It wasn’t until the third one that I was able to remember his special dances without crying. What beautiful gifts he gave me throughout our seven years together. What beautiful gifts he gives me still, as I remember him.
For all of you who have a special loved one on this Valentine’s Day, glory in what you share. Never take for granted that “the rest of my life” means anything more than “this moment right now.”
For all of us who are unpartnered on this Valentine’s Day, let’s glory in the love we know how to give, and let’s give it to ourselves and the people in our lives today. Let’s do something special that nurtures us and delights us. Let’s make someone else feel special. Let’s celebrate our capacity to feel joy. The more love we give, the more we have within us.
On this 2013 update, a good friend is just home from the hospital after suffering a heart attack. “I died three times,” he told me — that’s how often they had to re-start his heart. We need to make a special point always of letting the people we love know that we love them. We never know how much time we have.
Tomorrow, December 11, is the 12-year anniversary of the day that I met
Robert Rice and my life — personal and professional — flipped itself
upside down. Robert walked into the line dance class I was teaching, and I tried to remember to breathe.
It was lust at first sight… on my part. He, I learned later, was just looking for a new place to dance.
I didn’t know that night that I’d fall in love with this man. I only knew that his blue eyes and warm smile melted my world, and I had a sudden urge (which I resisted) to touch the chest hair that peeked from the V of his shirt. When he started to roll his hips, revealing a lifetime of dance and a self-assurance in his 64-year-old dancer’s body, I felt my own hips strain to match his rhythm. I kept forgetting the steps to the dance I was teaching.
It took nine months before I finally caressed that chest hair and our hips matched rhythm horizontally instead of vertically. I, whose motto had been “the only problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long,” pursued a man who didn’t believe in rushing anything. (Our complete story is in my first book about senior sex: Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty.)
I lost Robert to cancer on August 2, 2008 — exactly seven years after our first kiss.
Today, I made myself coffee in the coffee pot that he had used, held my cup to my cheek as he had done. I thought of the post I had written in 2010 — “I’m Going to Make You Coffee….”
I thought first that I would republish that post today. But another two-plus years have passed since I wrote that. As strong as the memories are still, and as freely as the tears flow at those memories, my grief has more layers of time cushioning it. The grief isn’t so raw and I’m not powerless or joyless from it. It still floods over me, but not all the time, and when it does, I know how to swim to the top and breathe again. My muscles are strong from practice.
For those of you who have lost a loved one, I think it’s important to share this with you: It does get easier. We all proceed in our own time frame. There’s no “right” amount of time to grieve, and anyone who tells you, “you should be over it by now” should be educated (first I wrote “pilloried,” but I changed my mind).
I’ve also learned that we can move forward and hold onto the memories at the same time. I’m listed with three online dating sites, and I’m enthusiastic about welcoming male company into my life. I still miss Robert every day. I am not looking to replace him — couldn’t be done even if I wanted to, and I don’t want to. Any new man I get involved with will have to accept that I’m not going to take Robert’s paintings off the wall or hide the urn that holds his ashes.
I’m 69 — I bring my whole lifetime of experiences with me into whatever path I take next. That includes my memories of the man who taught me how richly I could love and be loved.
We’re coming up on the third anniversary of Robert’s death August 2, and the dance class was a huge part of our love story. We met in my class and we fell in love there. The loss happened there, too — he announced his cancer diagnosis to the class, kept dancing even as he got weaker, until he finally couldn’t do it any more.
“Dance with Joan, and you’re dancing with me,” he wrote in a letter to the class when he needed to tell them he wouldn’t be back.
The first year after Robert died, I cried after dance class on a regular basis. I also cried in private, in public, in my car. I cried in the park, at the DMV, at Trader Joe’s, in the doctor’s office, walking along the street.
I couldn’t help it. It was like my heart caved in and squeezed out huge, unstoppable waves of sobs. I wailed, too, but at least I could hold back the screams until I was in a private place (though my neighbors came running once).
Do I miss Robert still, almost three years after his death? Only when I breathe. Only when I open or close my eyes.
I laugh a lot and I make others laugh. I learn, I teach, and what I do helps other people. I do find joy in my life. It’s a good life, I know that. I’m even kinda sorta dipping my toes into dating, as you know from my (very infrequent!) posts about dating, such as this one.
But I’m not done with grief, perhaps I never will be. Those of you who have lost a loved one know the grief journey isn’t predictable. You can be doing just fine, and then, boom, you burst out crying in the locker room.
The emotional stab wounds close up, then rip open again. I know this is “normal” because grief isn’t linear, it’s cyclical. Thank goodness, each year it gets easier to cope. As my uncle, psychotherapist Larry LeShan who lost his wife of 58 years, says, “The knife still keeps stabbing, but not as deep or as often.”
I didn’t want to call this post “Grief Sucks.” I don’t like the term, and personally, I think sucking is a delightful pasttime and shouldn’t be associated with a negative experience. But hey, this post wrote itself and insisted on that title. Sometimes that happens.
As always, I welcome your comments.