10
Apr
14

The World Looks Different When Traveling Alone

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"The World Looks Different When I Traveling Alone" 30" x 48" oil on linen

“The World Looks Different When Traveling Alone”
30″ x 48″ oil on linen

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I’m now nine months into grieving the loss of my wife and in some ways, it’s gotten lighter. I’m generally hard on myself but I will give myself credit for working hard to try and grow from this experience. As I’ve said before, Leslie died without a second of self pity and that made it impossible for me to slip into that mud, even though it seemed likely, given my inclinations.

I’ve also written before about the courage Leslie showed in facing her death. She accepted it and walked toward it willingly and proudly, knowing she’d lived a wonderful life. She even joked on the way to death’s door. Although the experience was profound, it wasn’t heavy. We shared a lot of laughter during her last days. She showed no fear and, although we cried at our becoming separated, she approached it with dignity and grace. There was nothing sad about her death. It was magnificent and miraculous. It is her absence that causes me pain.

I’m often confused about my feelings and suffer very strong emotional waves. Sometimes it feels like I really can’t endure another wave but they keep  coming. I never know when or where they’ll hit. I’ve learned to strap on my seat belt and observe my thoughts as they surge through me. Sometimes the longing to feel loved and connected to someone overwhelms me and I reach out to some unsuspecting friend with a heartfelt outpouring of gratitude and love. I worry that I sometimes overwhelm people with my urgent need for connection. Then, of course, I suffer over that.

In recent weeks, Ive felt myself start to turn away from my reverie over death and try to find something in life that I can engage myself in. I’ve felt some moments of acceptance and even feel satisfied for brief moments. As I turn back toward life, I realize that I have an opportunity to remake my life in any way I want to. Currently I feel consumed with the idea of having my life be used for something worthwhile.  I’m aware that I’ve been through these periods before and they’re fragile and shatter easily. I’m doing my best to stay as grounded as I can while still believing in the possibility that I can be useful, maybe even inspiring.
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"Two Dogs attending in Hospice" ink and watercolor in sketchbook

“Two Dogs attending in Hospice”
ink and watercolor in sketchbook

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I want to share this poem by the great John O’Donahue, who my friend Eithna Joyce introduced me to.

For Grief ~ John O’Donahue
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.


12 Responses to “The World Looks Different When Traveling Alone”


  1. April 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Reblogged this on Martha Keim-St. Louis' blog and commented:
    painter, writer, great. Sharing

  2. 2 Sandra Barth
    April 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. I wish you strength in this time of grief. You are inspiring with your thoughts and paintings!

  3. 3 Katharine
    April 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    “As I turn back toward life…” …. good to hear you say that, and that time is taking her inevitable turning ..

    Thank you for the poem, and thank you for the difference you are making by sharing this journey with us, both visually and also so powerfully with your writing.

  4. 4 Vanessa Whitacre
    April 10, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    My dearest Bill, you speak so eloquently of your journey, it is amazing, inspiring and tugs at my heart. You are a courageous man, although you probably wouldn’t say that about yourself. Nut you are, just the same and I am honored to be your friend. I love you.

  5. April 11, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Absolutely beautiful… I’m so sorry for your loss… and have thought of you many times since. I think Leslie is smiling down upon you… you’re in my prayers. Your work is beautiful, that’s got to help to be able to put some of what you feel into your paintings?

  6. 7 Kathy Gore Fuss
    April 11, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for sharing your process Bill. The poem is worth reading every day, since dealing with grief on all of the various levels involves a daily practice of acknowledgement and letting go. Breathing it in and breathing it out. The shifts are slow, but remarkable. You have my encouragement and empathy for moving your glacial till. With love – Kathy

  7. April 11, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Your paintings and words inspire me. I wouldn’t know how to get through what you are going through. I guess one minute at a time. I think the watercolor sketch is so moving. But, I love all your paintings.

  8. 9 Ketzel Levine
    April 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    That is quite an essay, so casually shared in your post. Quite amazing. KL

    Ketzel Levine (503) 720-2270

  9. 10 Marsha
    April 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Hi Bill
    you already are useful and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful poem and your heart wrenching thoughts and feelings about coming through grief. I am a long time hospice worker now in private practice coaching and counseling others around grief and loss. I think the very best witness to anyone’s grief (and we all need a witness to our lives, especially in grief) is the person who has already ” been there” before. You are going to be a tremendous gift to others who are hurting. You are already seeing changes here and there for yourself…those moments of hope and inspiration…it is happening! Keep going. Thank you so much again, for sharing

    One more thing: I admire your paintings very much! They inspire me to keep painting,
    Marsha

  10. 11 Cheryl Ramette
    April 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I just reread this post and the poem at home, after spending a good part of yesterday with you. The post, the poem, and you yourself are inspiring, moving, necessary. It’s difficult to put in words what it’s like to be with you at this time, but in reflecting on it, the experience of being present with you so broken open and so fiercely charged from within to create a new life is almost painful in it’s intimacy. All the more so as we have been friends for so long and have been through so much together. I consider it a great honor that you love and trust me enough to let me witness your grieving process. Thank you for that, Bill, and for painting, and for writing, and for watching that video of yourself where you saw how good you are. I love that you have even a little glimpse of how the rest of us see you. I love being able to see you struggle (good struggle) back to life the way birth occurs or seedlings push through the mud toward the light of day, again each round.

  11. 12 Bill Sharp
    May 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    I’m very touched by the comments from this post. Thank you all so much for your thoughts.


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