Finding my way without Joe

I haven’t been writing my blog since my dear Joe died on April 20. I will be writing more – about life and the spirit – but not right away. I’m still grieving. And healing. A deep part of that healing was writing this post.  It’s taking courage to share this, to hit the “publish” button. But I pray in some way these words may be healing for you as well.

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I once knew where things were. In my days. In my life. I used to know where Joe was. In his house, waiting for me to visit on weekends or during the week.

Then he died. Without warning. And I lost him. I lost my life.

I can’t seem to find myself. I amble around in my small place, repeating his name. He’s gone. He’s gone. I want to fill that ache, that void – the pervasive grief – with anything to make it go away. But this sorrow is all part of the love I tell myself. I have to feel it all. I don’t want to. I want to be numb.

I loved Joe. We had a unique relationship. A friend once said: “You probably have a better relationship than most marriages.” I don’t know what others have. I only know what we had.

He was my best friend. We knew intimacies about each other that no one else knew – or will ever know. We sat at the dining room table at breakfast or on the phone every evening and talked for hours. About politics. Sports. Religion. Discussed how our childhoods made us who we are.

We lived an hour apart but for 14 years we made it work. Our days were filled with the ordinary stuff of life, grocery shopping, dinners and movies. Many Saturday evenings, I’d read a book on the couch while he did the Inquirer crossword puzzle, both of us settling into the comfortable space of being together.

We traveled — to Newport, RI; to Williamsburg; to Cooperstown; to Stone Harbor, NJ. We went to Phillies games. He loved sports. He was over the moon when his alma mater, Villanova, won the 2018 NCAA basketball championship.

The last time I saw Joe was on his birthday. We almost delayed celebrating because March 29 fell on Holy Thursday. Joe decided we’d have dinner anyway. It would be our last supper as well.

I remember inspirational speaker/author Leo Busgalia’s story about the woman and the red dress. She had wanted a special red dress, hinting to her husband what a beautiful gift it would be, from him to her. He kept putting it off, telling her that some day he’d buy it for her. Some day. Some day. Then she died. And he buried her in the red dress.

I buried Joe in clothing I had to choose. I stood in front of his closet, paralyzed, my heart ripping open. What would he like? How could this be happening? After the funeral, I looked through old photos and saw that on one of our first dinner dates he was wearing the same clothing I chose for his burial. Did some part of my soul know then?

I’m thankful we had dinner on his birthday and didn’t postpone it. After our meal, I couldn’t finish my cheesecake and shoved it across the table to him. He ate it all and asked if he could lick the plate. I said I’d disavow knowing him if he did. He was witty, smart, funny, kind and good. He never believed those things of himself, though. But he was.

I went home that Saturday after his birthday weekend. For 14 years, as I’d drive way, he would stand on the front lawn, waiting, offering a small wave. This time, he didn’t. He looked back, went inside and closed the door.

In hindsight, something felt off. Something felt final when that door shut. Had I truly listened to my intuition, I would have heeded the urge to “go back” one more time. But the feeling didn’t make sense. So I didn’t.

Now, I sit with my grief. I’ve written about grief before but never had I experienced it. Now I write from truth, from a gaping space in my soul that swallows me whole. Grief wants its way with me and I must allow it. To deny it means I never loved.

At the funeral, before the open casket as we said our goodbyes, I placed my hand on his heart and whispered, “I love you. I’ll always love you.”

Friends keep telling me: “I’m sorry for your loss.” What they don’t realize is, it’s not just the loss of the man I loved, but the loss of a life I had. Of my home. Joe was my home. I am homeless.

In the end, life is about losing things. People. Our direction. Our way. Our home. But it’s also about finding. I’m still finding my way into this new space without Joe. It will take time. I want to honor the process of grieving.

And I’m not sure what I’ll find along this path. For now, I’m discovering glimmers of gratitude for friends and family praying for me and supporting me. I’m finding a new appreciation for the present moment, for each breath.

And I’m finding tears. Many.

When I was upset or sad, Joe used to listen with patience, then say, “Go ahead and have yourself a good cry.”

I’m crying now, dear. A good one. And you’d be glad for it.

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4 thoughts on “Finding my way without Joe

  1. Ohhh. Beautiful Marielena. Honoring deeply, and with love, your important tears. Whatever form they take in each moment.

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  2. My Dearest Friend Marielena, Thank you for allowing us to know the depths of your soul. Like Lisa, I trust and believe that you will see each other again. And, to take that one step further I believe in the extraordinary, so I believe that although in a different form and way, he is with you now and he is I’m sure amazed and proud of you.My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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