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The stages of dealing with the death of a spouse are likely common to all who must endure it. Perhaps it’s a keen, conscious appreciation of each of those stages that brings the survivor most fully to peace with the loss.
Of all the happy images I have of my husband, Ed McGrath, my favorite one appeared in a dream, a month after he passed away.
He walked out from our sunlit woods, in his softest blue shirt. He held one hand toward me, with a grin and a skip in his step, like a jig. Then I woke up.
Ed had not been able to walk, let alone dance, for many months since he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014 and life fell apart. But his love of music stayed with him to the end. He had always been a quiet, reserved man, yet when the music moved him, whether at FloydFest—his favorite annual event—or in the kitchen at home, he would get up and dance. He did a shuffling sort of twist, his own modest, Ed-style boogie.
By late January 2015, he was bedridden, unable to speak or remember much. One evening, while we were watching “Song of the Mountains” on public TV, a band began to sing “Sixteen Tons.” Ed lay very still, inward and silent.
Suddenly I heard him murmur: “Well, a-bless my soul.”
He lifted one hand and waved a finger—and sang softly:
“Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store.”
He smiled. I laughed. His sense of humor was still there.
Several times during his illness he had told me that it wasn’t time for him to go. “There’s something that God wants me to do first,” he’d said. He never told me what it was, though. For someone who took care of so many people—not only his family but clients and colleagues at Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare—he likely needed to ensure that everyone was looked after. Including me.
Eleven days after he sang, Ed did go. Saint Peter must have called him, satisfied that he had finished God’s mysterious assignment.
Early on that last day, when Ed and I were alone, we held hands and I prayed silently, Please keep him from pain. Keep him from fear. I whispered, “Don’t be afraid,” my voice shaking. He nodded. I tried not to be afraid as well.
But after he was gone, I was afraid. Grief broke me apart. I became someone else, a sobbing madwoman. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” I understand this now, as, despite my faith, panic woke me many nights. Where is Ed?
Gradually, though, the fear was soothed by a beautiful, peaceful presence. It felt like God, saying, He is here, and I am, too.
Many other wondrous things have happened. For Ed loved nature as well as music, and I feel his loving presence in the natural world around me.
On the bitterly cold day of his funeral last year, all five of my peace lilies bloomed. One flower each, all on the same day.
A week later, when I arrived home one night, a small owl stood in the driveway. It stayed there a moment, staring into the headlights, and then soared up into the pines.
For several weeks after Ed’s death, a lone deer stood in the woods almost daily, watching our house.