On December 15, 2013, my husband died. There was no warning of his illness other than the fact he started feeling nauseous on December 3. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and died at home, peacefully, in my arms. He was an American citizen and a Canadian resident, a medic in the Vietnam War who became a Physician Assistant serving veterans in Michigan his whole life. He died as he lived: with purpose.
I know everybody dies. I know many of us have to deal with the life invading, gut wrenching grief that comes with losing the love of our life. I knew all of this, but I didn’t know how to do it. I felt like I had unwillingly entered a long, dark tunnel and all I could do was surrender and walk slowly through it, hoping there was another side. Most of the time, I was stuck in the tunnel, unable to move.
Did I give up? No, because hope is a vibrant part of me. I went through the motions of life, but I totally withdrew from the world around me. Most of all, I never smiled or laughed, and I cried every day. I lost myself and my life, and I didn’t know how to get them back. My only contact with the outside world was my bird feeder. My husband loved it, so I kept it. He called it “the restaurant.” I kept the restaurant open, because before he died, he told me every time I look at that bird feeder in the future, he would be right there with me. I believed him.
Every day, for more than two years after he died, I went out in the backyard and filled the feeder. On July 4, 2016, U.S. Independence Day, as I was doing this, a chipmunk ran out of the stone wall and came to sit on my right foot. Just like that! He looked up at me, and I bent down with sunflower seeds in my hand. He gobbled them up and ran back into the whole in the wall. I was shocked and…I smiled! A coincidence that a chipmunk appeared in my life on Independence Day? Maybe. But I don’t believe in coincidences. Hope.
I went back in my house and five minutes later, there was the chipmunk, sitting at my patio door, waiting. I grabbed some peanuts, and our magical, mesmerizing relationship began. Every morning, he sat at the patio door, waiting for me. More smiles! I spent hours sitting outside, in the sun, feeding him peanuts. I work at home and on rainy days, when I sat at my computer, I left the patio door open by a few centimeters and he would come in and take peanuts from a plate. If the plate was empty, he would take a few hops inside and sit next to my desk, commanding to be supplied!
What an amazing feeling it was to be in physical contact with something so wild! Slowly, I started taking long distance walks, I called my friends, opened up to them and shared my pain, and I resurfaced in my community, in the world of the living. I will never totally understand why this chippie touched my heart so much, but he did. My relationship with him helped me move forward, out of myself and into whatever future I had to accept.
He left at the beginning of November to go do what chipmunks do in the winter. I never saw him again, and I don’t know if he made it through the winter because I moved myself physically, out of the grief house, to a new house where I find myself smiling a lot.
The restaurant is still opened, and I have a new chippie friend here, although our relationship is not as intense. And as I write this, I haven’t cried in four months. I have come out at the other side of the tunnel. My life is mine again and filled with the love of a man who most probably sent me a chippie to guide me out of the tunnel.
Do I believe that? Yes, I do! Because ultimately, grief’s best friend is what we believe, and how we integrate that in our lives.
What do you believe?