Three years later, memories of what was continue to remind me of what could have been.
EDITOR’S NOTE: RACmonitor and ICD10monitor Publisher Chuck Buck lost his beloved wife of 29 years to illness nearly three years ago now – but the grief never really subsides. In this Saturday Morning Post column, he celebrates her life and discusses how emotional pain that knows no limits can be a struggle to endure. But he also touches on resources that can help those who experience such loss to carry on – and he wants to share them, if needed. Email him your story directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like a scene from a movie, I reached over and kissed her face, despite the breathing tube and the assortment of cables stretched across her closed eyes. For nine days she had lain there in the ICU, unconscious, unable to breathe on her own, as she approached the end of the short journey we all know too academically as sepsis.
“Goodbye, darling, I’ll see you on the other side,” I said stoically, leaving her room and walking briskly to the lobby. A day later, her ashes would be scattered somewhere in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of my beloved hometown of San Diego. And days later, I would receive from the county coroner office a dozen parchment death certificates, which I could not bring myself to open nor read.
During the ensuing couple of days, I was in such a state of shock that her passing really hadn’t hit me – although my friends, and, in particular my good friend, the world-renowned psychiatrist and Talk Ten Tuesdays guest panelist Dr. H. Steven Moffic, assured me that I would soon be struck by the undeniable and utterly painful reality that she, my wife of 29 years, was gone. And when that reality hit me, I cried aloud for days, rallying only to conduct business for MedLearn Media. I did two live broadcasts the following week after she was detached from her lifelines, noting, as my father, the entertainer, would intone, “the show must go on.”
As I write this piece, the sun is setting. It is Sunday evening. There’s no network news blaring from one of three television sets that often remind me of the newsroom at KFMB TV, Channel Eight, where I spent considerable time earlier in my career. Tonight, there is no rustling of pots and pans, no savory aroma from the kitchen, heralding a delicious Sunday night dinner.
Even today, I will occasionally feel her presence – and the grief, like a chronic pain, reemerges to engulf me: it doesn’t take much for its fangs to attach themselves to my state of mind. Little bits and pieces of a life she lived tend to surface in front of me, as if to remind me that although she’s been dead for three years, her presence is still ubiquitous.
She was a serious home chef, and even today, there is an assortment of culinary tools and gadgets in our kitchen that remind me of her methodical food preparation. There is a lonely food processor, scales, measuring cups, spatulas, scissors, thread, tweezers, pots and pans, and a variety of dishes and flatware that we together had acquired. I still have yellowed sticky notes she left me with grocery lists and errands.
During the course of several years before she died, we traveled extensively into the Baja Peninsula, specifically Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. And during the course of those excursions, we dined at little-known Mexican gourmet restaurants and off-the beaten-path wineries, all of which she researched diligently. Her passion was celebrating in our home the Mexican “Dia de los Muertos,” the iconic and reverent Mexican celebration of the lives of passed-on loved ones. My wife made an altar, an “ofrenda,” populated by intricately sculptured figurines, all white plaster and festooned with sombreros and serapes. She named each figurine after a deceased family member; both my mother and father were represented, along with her father and stepdad. She also amassed an impressive collection of Dia de los Muertos masks, which still today remain mounted artistically in our home – now my home. She did all this while, apparently, I seemed to have gone along for the ride. Nonetheless, I have not gone back to Baja, the virus notwithstanding. I have not dined at the restaurants here in La Jolla that were our favorites, and where we were greeted warmly.
I have lost interest in college football, a passion of hers. Today, I can’t tell you the NFL standings, nor anything about the Lakers, a team for which she had an incredible passion. I disconnected the cable service shortly after she passed. The political news, to which she was keenly interested, no longer holds sway over me. I donated bags and bags of shoes, boots, jeans, dresses, and coats. I gave her jewelry to family members, including jewelry boxes. The rescue cat she adopted and named “Carta Blanca” is still with me today, and she spends an inordinate amount of time and attention on me.
I have foregone following the Oscars and the Emmys; she would always handicap the nominees for both.
So much of her life still inhabits me. Musical lyrics bring back painful memories, and then the ensuing pain of grief.
I have concluded that the loss of a loved one is just as they now say about the coronavirus – “It’s here to stay and will never go away, so we must learn to live with it.”
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, my condolences. But no doubt you are aware of the seemingly limitless resources on this subject of death and dying. Much has been written as therapeutic devices intended to help you during the grieving process. That’s good. Take advantage of those resources. You’re sure to find tools that might even surprise you; for example, my health plan, Kaiser Permanente, offers grieving counselling, through which I have usurped so much of their time.
Today, as I approach the anniversary of her death, I have reconciled myself to the realization that grieving is a process, an endless unspooling roll of 70-millimeter film – and when it stops, so will I.
But I am here. I have chosen to live with the living: to recognize that all good things do come to an end. For the present, I am committed to live life to the fullest, and be the best version of who I am. Cheers on a Saturday morning.