Seven years’ mourning drawing to an end

Seven years marks the formal period for mourning the death of a spouse. I know my grief will not end when that time has elapsed. But it will free a part of my soul.

Seven years marks the formal period for mourning the death of a spouse. I know my grief will not end when that time has elapsed. But it will free a part of my soul.

The mystery of seven

I don’t measure time in decades. I measure it in sevens–in combinations of threes and fours. In number symbolism, three is the archetypal number of the eternal female, four the archetypal number of the eternal male. Their simplest combination yields seven, the archetypal number of creation. My world fills itself with three and fours, but most especially, sevens.

I can’t say when I heard the body replaces every cell in it over a seven-year period. I know the idea made sense to me–and in a symbolic sense, still does. The truth is more complicated than that–as it is with most things. Some cells live a few days. Others can live a decade or more. But symbols are powerful things. They can rule our hearts even when science speaks otherwise.

Memories and dates

I’m living the seventh year since Jane’s death. In a few days, I’ll face her seventh birthday since her death. She would have been 63. Next week marks my seventh Thanksgiving without her. In less than a month, the seventh anniversary of her last coma–and her death–will haunt my thoughts and feelings.

The cells of my lips that caught her final kiss vanished years ago–as have the cells in my lungs that held that final breath. But I can still feel that final brush, that final breath. I can’t hear her voice, but those tactile moments remain.  I can see her walking down the aisle on our wedding day, feel her hand in mine. But equally burned in my memory are that last birthday, that final Thanksgiving, and that hopeless Friday morning and evening of the day she died.

Time of formal grief

The ancients set the formal period of mourning for a spouse at seven years. That hour draws close and I am anxious for it to arrive. I wait anxiously for the time to end, anxious for some small taste of an end to the emotional turmoil of these seven years.

And I am fearful. Grief has defined so much of me the last seven years. What defines me when the formal time of grief ends? Who–or what–have I become inside this chrysalis? A butterfly? A moth? Something else? Or are the seven years of mourning another illusion, like the Year of Firsts? I’m not sure how I deal with that.

Breaking the chrysalis

I know the end of seven years will free a part of my soul–a part of my mind. I know this because I have felt that freedom building inside me all year-long. The waves of grief come less often, the torrents hit less often and with less force–though this weekend was difficult in ways I have not experienced in a while. In September, the last renewal of our vows–an every seven-year event–expired.

But I am not sure this is a freedom I want. It means seeking a new definition of who I am–a definition that includes Jane’s death and the grief that followed and all I’ve learned in that journey–but goes beyond that. What present can I build? What future? Can I still create the visions I hold in my mind?

Dreaming dreams

Like Ulysses before his last voyage, I am not what I once was–or who I once was. My body has grown old–too old, perhaps–to carry forward the things that I conceive. I want an end to NET cancer. But I also want a world where life has meaning and possibility beyond a cure for one disease.

Jane and I dreamed dreams of things we knew we would not see except, perhaps, from a mountaintop across an ocean to a far-distant shore. Those dreams evolved from love–and we knew they could yet be. But no dream comes true from the dreaming and so we set our shoulders to the boulders in the path before us. Many told us we were crazy–that we gave too much and that we expected too much.

Moving boulders

Jane did not quit. Even in her dying she tried to teach–me as well as her students–and every person she encountered. She died a death that changed the lives of doctors, nurses, nurses aids, and technicians. She changed the lives of patients who never met her and never heard her name. Even I was changed by the way she lived her death.

My Penelope is gone. But love remains. Ideals and dreams and goals remain. And the work of those myriad connected dreams remains unfinished. They may die with me, but I will keep shifting those boulders aside, nonetheless. And, perhaps, when I am gone, some other souls will take up the stones Jane and I leave behind unfinished. Perhaps not. But the boulders we moved will be moved.

Posted by walking with jane on November 13, 2017

2 responses to “Seven years’ mourning drawing to an end”

  1. Ronny Allan says:

    Lovely tribute Harry. Especially for Jane but also for yourself. Take care.