Now that it’s been six weeks since my adored partner passed away, I find poignant reminders of him in unlikely places throughout our home. Yesterday I opened a drawer and found a small note in his handwriting — which is as precious to me now as if I’d discovered a note in Charles Dickens’ own hand — that simply read “Wound, 2/18/97.” I don’t know how long I spent trying to figure out how he had been wounded twenty-five years ago.
And then last night I glanced up from the couch and saw the antique clock we’d purchased during the first year we were together in 1983. The drawer with the note in it was directly below the clock. I had been remembering the wrong “wound.” His note referred to his having wound the eight-day clock and had been left to remind our house-sitter, when we were on a vacation in Florida, to wind the clock in eight days.
It’s little wonder that I had first read “wound” in its injury definition rather than the clock one. Since LeRoy died, I feel like I have suffered as many wounds as Lizzy Borden’s poor mom and dad. I don’t even have the comfort of moaning to myself, “Oh, woe is me!” My English-professor status forces me to moan the more grammatically correct but much less satisfying “Oh, woe is I!”
But still, being an optimist by nature, I take solace in the fact that I feel wounded rather than completely devastated. The positive thing about a wound is that it connotes an injury from which we shall recover. Wounds usually heal. A gunshot to the shoulder we call a wound. When it’s a gunshot through the heart we call a mortician.
It’s similar to hearing a doctor tell us that we’re “not out of the woods yet.” Although we’re being told that we have a way to go before full recovery, the use of “woods” is hopeful. Woods are covered with trees, a bit bigger than a grove, but rather easy to wander out of once you wander in. A forest, on the other hand, is immense and overgrown with such huge trees and thick underbrush that it can be impossible ever to find your way out. So if a doctor ever tells you that “you’re not out of the forest” you might as well call for that same mortician mentioned above.
And so I have faith that my wounds will slowly heal as I stumble my way out of these woods of deep sorrow that certainly feel like a forest. You have inundated me with precious emails relating your own experiences with grief and empathizing so deeply with mine. And I have gratefully answered every one. The manna that the Israelites were blessed with in their forty-year desert wanderings could not have been more welcomed nor nourishing than the blessings your emails have provided to me after spending forty glorious years with LeRoy. I say to all of you who wrote to me what the Israelis would have said: “Todah Rahbah” (Hebrew for “Thank you SO much”)!
As a major optimist with a minor in college Latin, I know that their word for wound —VULNUS— became our adjective “vulnerable.” To be vulnerable is to show others our wounds. I never dreamt that by revealing my current vulnerabilities, I would be embraced by so many of you.
Since my writing of the two previous essays, I had been restlessly trying to keep busy in a foolish attempt to mitigate at least a little of my grief. But I discovered that I was continually feeling entirely off of my normal daily rhythms, not once at peace.
I didn’t mention that when I looked up from the couch at our eight-day clock, it was not running. Given all my anxieties in the weeks preceding LeRoy’s death and my grief following it, I had forgotten to wind it. But as I went to rectify that omission, I stopped before I’d even started to rewind it with the old brass key; instead I put it back in its drawer.
I had suddenly remembered one of my favorite sayings: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” With all my feverish activity to attempt to ward off the grief I needed to experience, I was like a clock running minutes ahead of the actual time and thus never once accurate. And so I simply stop now, sometimes for more than an hour, and quietly reflect on all that I lovingly shared with my partner. And like my stopped clock, I very occasionally am right on the “Mark”— or even better in my case, on the “LeRoy.”
May I ask a favor? When you write an email to me (or Darian) responding to an essay, would you please provide me with your city and state, and how you know of me? You’d be amazed how much I’m forgetting lately, so this absent-minded professor needs as much sweet help as possible. And I’ll promise not to use my “poor grieving widower” get-out-of-jail-free card too often. Deal?