In Other Words: Paying tribute to the sounds that aren’t there
Another light has been extinguished. This time it is my dear friend Ann Chernow’s life partner who died. This happened abruptly after a week’s illness, where a massive infection invaded his body.
While I pay tribute to Martin, I am also reminded of other losses, specifically that of my husband who passed away on Jan. 15, 1995.
Memories are the grieving person’s gift, the glue that holds pieces of our past lives together. They are ours to keep, mental replacement parts of the person who is no longer here.
As it is now for Ann, it was for me — “the quiet” that resounds most loudly, the sounds we no longer hear, the lack of a physical presence. Suddenly, the house is noiseless.
In a less daunting way, empty-nest syndrome feels similar. Except with empty-nesters, they are taking flight into adulthood and all the magical moments that lie ahead. They are just starting out instead of winding down, and therein lies the difference.
Loss is interpreted and experienced for each of us differently. When my parents died, it was a natural evolution, part of the grand scheme of things. Though sadly, my father died much too young at age 67. Babies are born. Parents die. But when husbands, wives and partners perish, it’s a loss of a different kind — a miscarriage of a life not yet fully lived.
Following Mort’s unexpected death, the grieving period took hold. I was catapulted into an environment, which, though physically the same, felt oddly strange and foreboding. The chair he sat in was now empty. The table had one placemat instead of two. The other side of the bed was missing its occupant, and only one toothbrush filled its holder. Little daily familiarities were gone, and the sounds of silence permeated every room. That is what death does: It erases sound, so that the person who lives on is forced to face the quiet days alone.
Ask any person who has suffered such a loss, and you will be told endless stories, each one different in its scope. Some fear the loneliness will never end. Others, who have suffered through their spouse’s terminal illness, will view death as a relief for both the deceased and the one who remains. Death can be kind or merciless. It bestows upon us our own set of “grievances.”
It is years now since my husband died. Time can heal, but never quite lets us off the hook. There are constant reminders floating about that serve as evidence of what was, but can never be again. Occasionally, I will find a remnant of Mort’s life: A missing sock, a favorite pen, a bottle of after-shave cologne that was kept well-hidden on a shelf inside a cabinet. I view these as souvenirs of our marriage, the little non-descript items which pop up unexpectedly.
One morning while cleaning out a closet that had accumulated too much clothing, I discovered Mort’s old and ugly, cherry red linen jacket, the one I implored him never to wear. Out of respect for me, he honored my request. He hung it in the far end of the closet, never to be spoken about again.
Now my friend Ann is once again thrust into a similar dynamic. Her first husband, Burt, died two years after Mort. We had all been close friends. When Martin came along, Ann’s spirit was restored, and she spent the next 22 years celebrating this relationship. The house was once again brimming over with the sounds of life. Parties were held, brunches were served, musical soirees were well-attended, and camaraderie ultimately replaced the sadness and the gloom.
But now Martin is gone. He, too, left abruptly as did Burt, as did Mort, and the sounds that aren’t there reverberate loudly. Ann is sad, and I watch her playing out her sadness once again. And my anniversary reaction on Jan. 15 was equally resonant as I paid homage to Mort. I will miss him terribly along with that glaring eyesore: The cherry red linen jacket that I made him promise never to wear, and which I wish he was still here to wear, so I could tell him, “Take that atrocity off, or you’ll fear for your life.”
Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at judithmarks-white.com.