May 18th 2008

Memory poem – Through The Portal

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy

Izzy on Helen's sofa
Izzy climbed on the sofa where he first met Helen and lay on the blanket that covered her until her death, and did not move until I made him get off.

May 18, 2008 – Sitting with Warren this afternoon, I recalled C.S. Lewis writing about the awful embarrassment of grief, one of the bewildering byproducts of great loss. Warren is constantly apologizing for the way he feels, for talking to Helen, thinking of her, missing her. He was moved to tears by a photo of Helen taken on her hill with her wildlflowers, that had been framed and given to him.
He said he was busy, dealing with the many details of death, insurance, credit cards, relatives. He was, he said, alone much of the time,  facing the enormous emptiness of life without Helen.
Lord, I thought. This is hard to see. Can I do this? I closed my eyes, took a breath. Because it’s difficult, I need to do it, and am needed.
The other Hospice work seems almost easy to me in comparison with this – while people are still alive, there is much to do, and I know what to do, and this grief has not yet struck like the tidal wave that it is. Now I know, and I will look at the process of dying differently, yet again.
Listening has never been harder, or more important. And there has never been less to say, a wider gap between me and them.
Warren is in his own world of grief, with its own language, ritual and it is almost completely beyond my understanding, almost something physical that you can see. But I can’t imagine it. I keep thinking Warren might want to be with people or get out, but the truth is he wants – desperately needs – to be alone with Helen and his memories of her, and is waiting to be reunited with her, in his mind at least.
This grief is transforming, awful in its depth and power. In our culture, where the dying are often hidden away, even shunned, we recoil so much from death and grieving that noone seems prepared for it, and perhaps that is nature’s way of making sure we can do what we have to do, before it strikes.
Warren told me that his gray hair has turned completely white, and I could see that is true, I noticed it when I came in, but wasn’t certain, and he is in shock. His new Med-Lift chair has arrived, and he is resting more, taking some of the pressure off of his bad knees.
He is also, as always, gracious, courteous. He is Warren.
This embarrassment, I told him, is something I have read about. His behavior is both natural and appropriate, and he has nothing to apologize for.  I gave him a handbook on grieving, which he had asked for, and he said he wold read it. He said he needed more time to think.
At the moment, and for as long as is necessarily, I said, he should be himself. He is not like most other people right now, and doesn’t need to behave like them. And it is perhaps true that most people can’t understand. He was comforted, he said, to hear that.
“I’m not usually like this,” he told me. I said nothing, and thought, well, why shouldn’t he be like this, why wouldn’t he be? He has just been on a long and difficult road. He is now on another one.
He said he’d like to go out to dinner this week. His treat, he said. Fine, I said.
Izzy visited Warren, then startled the both of us by hopping up onto the sofa Helen lay on for six and a half years, and burrowed his head into her blanket, and lay still. “My God,” Warren said, “he knows, he knows.”
I don’t know what Izzy knows. He is in his own world also.
Warren lit up at the suggestion we write a poem about his thoughts about Helen, a Memory Poem, I called it, and I thought it might be a useful way of channeling his grief, reassuring him about his memories, and before I knew it, I had the pen out, and we were into one:

Through the Portal,
By Warren
I’m thinking all the time
about Helen and about me
and our life together,
and sometimes I think,
the first 60 years are just the beginning,
at least that’s what I hope and believe

The other evening, I looked
out the window – I don’t go out to the garden
but I look out the window,
and there was a beautiful display
of flowers, still coming up
throughout Helen’s garden,
gold and blue and scarlet.

And I thought,
maybe the garden is a portal
and one day I’ll step through it
and see her up on that hill
in her meadow
touching her flowers,
calling out their names,
my hand on her shoulder.

I look out the window
and I see the two of us
and she touches the flowers
and her hand is on my shoulder, and she’ll say
“I’m glad you’re here, sweetheart,”
Whenever I would come home,
she would say, “I’m glad you’re home, sweetheart,”
and I would say, “I’m glad I’m home, too.

So perhaps this is the portal,
that I will walk through,
her garden,
and we will be together.

And do you know, Jon,
did I tell you, that there wasn’t
one time, in those 60 years,
that either one of us raised a voice
to the other. Not one time.
We always wanted each other to be happy.

Warren looking at pictures of Helen on her hill, greeting Izzy