As I made my way to the stage to speak, carrying a glass of red wine in my hand, one of the women from the lively table next to me perked up, “Oh, good, she’s one of us.”
I was at the Freedom Ball in Waco, TX, a charity event born from the desire to let our military know that they are appreciated and held in high regard. What a concept! And the woman who noted the beverage in my hand was one of about 17 in attendance called “The Gold Star Ladies,” all of whom had lost their husbands in the line of military service, and I could smell the freshness of their loss from my table next door.
The Freedom Ball’s motto –
“Forever grateful, never forgotten”
This evening was special for me in many ways, not the least of which was – It was Sept 14th, the 4th anniversary of my husband’s death.
And wait a minute; it just so happened that the event raises money for aviation scholarships.
I would get to share stories of Patrick’s and my flying adventures, our love of aviation, it’s challenges, and how much Patrick, as a pilot, showed his “best self.” I couldn’t think of a better way to honor, and remember him on this day.
I used to be afraid that if I didn’t feel the pain of my loss that somehow I’d forget my husband. But that was mini-widow thinking when I first embarked into this vast oceanic-sized-cauldron of grief.
It’s amazing, however, how we hold on to our loved ones and those we appreciate. I never “got” the immenseness of our impact on each other until these past few years. Our influence can be far-reaching, even if it seems short and insignificant. What we do, who we know, what we learn moulds us.
Like – my beautiful girlfriend, Mela, used to brighten with unabashed affection every time saw me, “Hello, my Daaarling!” And after she passed 6 years ago, I suddenly started lavishing, “My Daaarling!” on those I loved, including my pets! It was like I was carrying Mela’s special love forward.
And my amazing, recently departed mother-in-law, Patsy, had such an impact on my course in life in encouraging me to persist and pursue my dreams. Even now when hear Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” if there’s room, I will break out into dance choreography that she taught me over forty years ago. And I feel united with her in our deeply shared love of dance and it’s power to change lives.
And whether I honor Patrick by speaking, or sending bright balloons into the air, he is always with me. And I like it. We were married for over 34 years, and now, he’s inside me: making decisions with me, helping me figure things out, cheering me on, chastising me when I’m wrong, and offering the comfort of a loving smile. He helps me to be stronger, wiser, and sometimes…he has even supplied a few choice jokes to zing out that have left ‘em laughing in the aisles. Yes, my Darling, I’ve learned well!!
The more time that passes, the more I know this is true – My relationship with him is still close, but now it’s close, very close, in a very different way. And yeah, I miss him, miss his physical presence (today is one of those days where I particularly feel lonely for him), but there is no doubt that I feel his thoughts with me, his wonder, his courage. He offers his eyes to see life through when I need it, as he offers me love to guide me.
Never forgotten? Not possible.
And at the end of my speech at the Freedom Ball, I raised the glass of red wine for a toast – for the loved ones, friends, and husbands of the Gold Star Ladies that were lost, for the Fallen Soldier, and for my darling, Darling Patrick.
And all said and done, the music revved up, and the crowd got up to dance. The Gold Star widows, in particular, danced with a kind of unbridled passion. Like no there was no tomorrow. Why? Because they know there may not be.
And also, because the immense feelings that rumbles inside threatens to overtake us, torture us, cripple us. This dancing out loud is a way of exorcising the demon part of grief, turning it into an “I love you!” and a “Good, or bad, I’m still here!”
And with your help, my Sweet, I will find my way.