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A Loss for Words

February 27, 2012
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Sorry I have been away for a while.

I had plans to update this blog between Christmas and New Year’s, and try to return to my monthly (or semi-monthly) schedule.  In spite of the fact that Allison, our eldest dog, needed an operation on Christmas Eve, my wife Valerie and I were both looking forward to a relaxing vacation together.  After Val left teaching last year, we have had very little joint time off, and our disparate work schedules only allow us to spend a total of 4-6 hours together Monday through Thursday.  Thus, to say that we were looking forward to the pause would be like saying Rita Hayworth had “pleasant features”–something of a understatement.

So there we were on December 26th (Boxing Day to those of you in the current/former bits of the UK).  We had just watched Terence Malik’s “The Tree of Life”–an impressionistic and challenging film about making sense of death in a world that might lack existential meaning.  The film had ended, and Valerie and I were discussing it, trying to make sense of it,  to decide if we actually liked it. Before we could finish our conversation, the phone rang.  I noticed on the caller ID that it was Val’s mother.  We both found it odd that she would call at 9:45 at night.  After Val picked up the phone, the meaning fo the call became clear: it was not Val’s mother, it was her Aunt calling to say that Val’s mother Ruth had passed away that evening.

As if often the case when one loses someone close, our lives became consumed with her death.  There is, of course, an exhausting amount of emotional duress and grief, but what makes so much of it frustrating is life’s insistence that it move forward, in spite of the fact that you feel like a huge tear has been ripped into your soul.  How can everything just go on?  Doesn’t everyone realize that Ruth Heck just died?  Why hasn’t the world stopped to acknowledge that fact?

The truth of it is, the world does not stop when someone dies. Even when Gandhi was assassinated, and much of India and other parts of the world ground to a halt, most of the world continued on.  And we know deep in our bones that it must–that’s cold comfort, though, when we are grieving.

So the world marches on, and we must learn to march with it.  The vacation ended, and we did not get to have our joyous, relaxing week.  We returned to work exhausted, still managing our grief, splitting our energy between our jobs and the seemingly endless tasks one must perform when someone dies.  The constant email and phone communication with the lawyer. More phone calls to banks, insurance companies, tedious visits to the DMV.  The sort of difficult and trying tasks that call for focus and undivided attention, right when we are at a moment in our lives when we can muster neither.

The other night, Valerie asked me what I missed about Ruth. I thought for a moment, and mentioned a few of the things most people who knew Ruth would miss: her kind heart, her devilish sense of humor, her smiling eyes.   I think the thing I will miss most, though, is how much she meant to Val.  She was a huge part of her life.   They had contact every day, and while Ruth sometimes drove Val crazy (as parents are wont to do), there was no denying the love they had for each other.  The daily joy and comfort Ruth brought Val is really the thing I will miss the most.

If I have one regret–outside of the obvious fact that Ruth is no longer here–it’s that I wish I was able to tell Ruth how grateful I am for her daughter.  How happy I am that she brought Valerie into the world so I could share everything with her.  That I will spend the rest of my life finding ways to tell and show Val how much I love her.  That the “furthest star is too close, compared to the time I need. ”  (John Trudell).

That Valerie will always be the most important branch on my Tree of Life.

Postscript:  If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a link to Ruth’s obituary from the Davis (CA) Enterprise.   It gives some insight into how remarkable a woman she was.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 8:42 pm

    You are the best man in the world.

  2. tamara vlahos permalink
    February 27, 2012 11:13 pm

    This was a tear jerker for me. I know how special of a women Ruth was just from the conversations with val but I now realize just how amazing her husband is too. Your both so lucky to have found one another to grow old with.

  3. March 4, 2012 3:37 pm

    We are very lucky indeed. Thank you for your kind comments.

  4. Matt permalink
    March 6, 2012 6:09 pm

    This is a really good post Kevin. It struck to the core of how it felt to loose Mom. Putting it into words helps with the grieving, and ultimately gives us perspective. Cheers.

  5. March 14, 2012 11:46 pm

    I am very gald that you liked it.

  6. Brynna Perrault permalink
    April 29, 2012 1:57 am

    I am so moved by this piece and the love that you have for your wonderful wife.

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