On November. 29, 1959, Alec and I got married in a fairy tale wedding in my parents’ garden. Today’s date is Nov. 29, 2013 and I have to get through the day that would have been our 55th wedding anniversary, with all the memories it evokes.
February 12, 2014 will be 4 years since Alec passed away. All I know is that while grieving, I managed to keep myself alive. While missing him, I managed to keep myself alive somehow. While handling the million and one things I had to do and have chosen to do, I kept myself alive even while feeling so terribly lonely. Alec’s side of the bed was empty. His place at the breakfast table stood waiting. Suddely, food had little taste for me and became a survivor’s tool. When night fell, our apartment which is such a bright, happy place during the day, became lonely and depressing. Most nights I wandered about opening and closing closets and doors, thinking the usual if only’s that one thinks at these times. To mark the first year, I bought and planted a creeper with lemon blooms that he loved. To mark the second year, I planted cyclamens in a shady spot and the third year, the family had breakfast at his favorite restaurant overlooking the sea where we spoke about the good things that we remembered and had done as a family.
After someone you love dearly dies, the first year consists of solitary firsts filled with memories too countless to describe. And slowly, ever so slowly, I decided not to descend into a depression but to keep on living, loving, enjoying my children and grandchildren and to make a new life for myself.
Some time after our son committed suicide, a social worker asked whether I could possibly visit a family whose son had taken his life six months previously and the family was not coping at all. She told me that this young man had tried to commit suicide on a previous occasion in order to shake off his demons but had failed. The second time, his parents buried him. “Why do you want me to visit them?” I asked. “Because you have experienced what they are going through,” she told me. “I want you to show them that in time, they might be able to cope the way your family did.” “That took us a very long time, I replied crying softly.” Her reply was; “I know, and you can tell them that, but eventually, with the right mindset plus a lot of help from the mental health organization, they should be able to lead a more regular life: a different kind of life, but a life nonetheless.”
I was not sure how I would handle the situation but I agreed. I climbed many steps to reach their apartment on the sixth floor – the elevator was out of order. I did not see a single plant in the building’s entrance hall or later, in their apatment as there was no place for anything but bare necessities. The view from their living room window was the gray, concrete wall of a soccer stadium. I dread to think of the noise when a soccer match was in progress. There was not one drop of greenery visible from their windows. The daughter introduced me to her parents and she did all the talking. All I could do was listen. Only when I shared my family’s exeriences and told them what had happened to our son, did the parents open up a little. Slowly and in turn, they choked out the horrors of their son’s mental illness and how it had effected them all. They no longer owned a car, had never taken a trip abroad or even a vacation in the country. Any spare money went toward helping their son. The words golden agers flashed through my mind but there was nothing golden to be seen here; neither in their wa of life, nor in their attitude. Instinctively, I twisted my engagement ring and my wedding band toward the palm of my hand and I was thankful that I had worn jeans. I spent two hours with them, and when i left, I hugged them in turn and gave them my telephone number in case they felt the need to talk again. That family still haunts me and I call them from time to time.