I know this happens to you. As you travel around your town, you pass by many places that were once either special or routine to you and your late wife. If you’re like me, sometimes you pass by them absentmindedly. Other times it brings tears to your eyes.
For me, the places are within a five-mile radius of my house. Most are on our primary thoroughfare in Ballwin, Missouri, where I’ve lived for the past 39 years. It’s a four-lane highway with numerous shops, stores, gas stations, and eating establishments. It’s a typical American suburban landscape.
Regardless of my travel direction, I’m bombarded by decades of memories. Jan and I frequented every restaurant on that highway. We hit them all many times. There is not a drug store, a supermarket, a park, or a gas station, etc., that escaped us. If I let my thoughts wander, I can see us in each one of those places on numerous occasions. I can “hear” our conversations. I can see her lovely face with her million-dollar smile that used to light up a room. I can’t see when her life was ebbing in those memories. The memories are all happy ones.
It was tough enough for me when I would pass these establishments when she was an invalid at home being attended to by her 24/7 caregivers while I was out. I would get nostalgic for those happy times, knowing that we would never be able to experience them again. But while lost in those thoughts, I knew she was still alive.
Those were the days of anticipatory grief. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. But what I experienced after Jan died was much more intense. These establishments took on a haunting quality. It became tough for me to enter them. Going to the supermarket, drugstore, and our local gas station can be gut-wrenching. I see her in every aisle of our supermarket and drugstore. I see her making herself a cup of hot tea at the local QuickTrip that I frequent for gas and coffee.
I make myself go into these places with other people I know. I act like there’s nothing unusual, but I can see tables in these establishments where we once happily sat. I avoid sitting at certain tables. I usually keep my pain to myself. Just being in these familiar places is challenging enough.
I catch myself talking to her as I drive by them, asking her if she remembers our stopping there in the past. Telling her how happy I was with her doing even the simplest of things. I chastise myself for how I thought that we had forever ahead of us in this life. Sometimes I just sigh; other times, I weep. At all times, I tell her how much I love her and miss her; and how I look forward to reuniting with her for eternity on her side of the veil. More than anything, that keeps me going.
I wish I could say that it has gotten easier for me, but that would not be true. However, I’m able to accept the truth more readily, that she’s never coming back to me and that I must get on with what remains of my life. Mercifully, I have a purpose to my life now that is divinely directed. I tell God that I am his. He is directing my hospice ministry. My workload of mercy to other men who are caregivers and widowers is rapidly increasing. There is plenty of demand, unfortunately. I know that when my work is all completed, he will gently call me home. I tell him that I trust in him and that she will be there to greet me when I cross over.
When Jan and I were young—dating and newly married- we enjoyed sitting and listening to The Lettermen sing old songs in perfect harmony. One of their best songs was from the World War II era: “I’ll Be Seeing You.” There were millions of goodbyes going on when that song was popular. Tens of thousands never got the blessing of saying hello again. That song is ever more poignant to me now.
“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces all day through.
In that small café, the park across the way,
The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well.
I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day,
In everything that’s light and gay, I’ll always think of you that way.
I’ll find you in the morning sun, and when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.”
Someone once said that grief never goes away; rather, life has a way of filling in around it. That’s what is happening to me now. I’m blessed. A purpose-driven life is, indeed, filling in around my grief. I hope you have found—or are finding- purpose in your new life and that it’s also filling in around your grief.
Michael Burroughs is the author of Moving Mountains. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.