A year ago, January 2020, pre-Covid, my sister and I met for lunch and she asked me, over fettucine alfredo, did I think of life afterwards? Alone, she meant, though I can’t remember exactly how she put it. We knew H.’s cancer would not be cured, though he was relatively comfortable and even relatively active for his circumstances, thanks to radiation and a regimen of meds.

I told her I’d had thoughts, yes, but I didn’t elaborate. I remember that I imagined pulling everything out of the closet and re-organizing the whole thing and that it would be emptier, tidier. I imagined taking a dream trip, starting from Beijing on a train, through Mongolia and Siberia and on to Moscow, which, given his diagnosis and restrictions on travel, would not be possible for him but which he encouraged me to pursue if I could.

But these were tasks, or single events, and in truth I didn’t know how it would be, and thoughts of the future, when they came, perhaps while cooking or staring out the window at the quiet street at night, were mostly tinged with dread. Sometimes the dread was a kind of fear, feeling that once his death happened, it would be time to get ready for my own. Some nights, falling asleep, I found myself thinking about having to sleep alone in that unknown stage ahead of me, and I comforted myself then, that for now, he was there, I wasn’t alone, and that it was good not to have to sleep alone, I felt safer somehow, and that even sleeping, he was good company.

As of this February 6, I’m in the afterwards of my sister’s question. Here. The living that turned into dying has so many stories, and so does grieving in the wake of it, I don’t know where to begin telling any of them, or even if I should, because, really, loss is ubiquitous and telling is more like joining a song already being sung in many places. But since I’m a writer, and writers show up in words, I figured I should drop by my blog and say Hello. Hello, everyone.

My Lenten bowl

9 thoughts on “Afterwards

  1. Hello, Dora. We are grieving the loss of a friend these days, and much more than a friend. Our doctor, (Ferd Pauls) the one we consulted before our marriage, the one we met again in Congo, the one who delivered two of our children by C-Section, the one who always surprised me by calling me Dr. Schroeder, acknowledging our equality. He died of Covid but was already in palliative care. He is the fourth to pass away of the guests we had at our 50th anniversary celebration four years ago. The third, Henry Bergen, a good friend passed away a few weeks ago. We grieve these losses, but we still have each other. One day we won’t, that is the reality we live with.

  2. I’m glad to hear from you. I think of you often. Any stories you wish to share, I will gladly read. For me, reading a story we all share in one way or another, is valuable. Covid has left a lot of families with their own stories of grief, and though that has not happened to me, I have not
    escaped pain and sorrow, and I wonder too about these next days, and years, as we are slowly
    becoming the family members standing between our own children and the next life. How did this happen?

  3. Dear Dora, thanks for posting this. I remember when Edd and was diagnosed with the same disease a year after Helmut’s diagnosis .I remember telling you that now I was part of your “club,” too. You said this club doesn’t need any more members. Now we are both members in another club. Edd’s cancer progressed much more rapidly and I have been living in this land of afterward for just over two years now. It is a different place to inhabit.

    I started with the tasks you mentioned. There are physical and emotional tasks. It is a sorting and giving away and letting go, some quickly, some much more slowly. Some I hold on to. Some I still process. Some I don’t know where to put yet.

    Living alone has its challenges, made more difficult by this Covid isolation. But it is also a good time to consider my new identity as a single person again. I both mourn and celebrate. It is a balance between the pain of loneliness and the freedom of independence.

    I wish you well on this new journey, and knowing your inner strength, I trust you will do well. ❤️🕊

  4. So sorry to read of your husbands transition Dora. Each grieving journey is different so accept each memory, each tear and every lonely moment as your own to process and become. Don’t sidestep, ignore or hide the process. It will change you, bless you, grow you and provide for you a voice you haven’t had before.
    Love and prayers from me, ALice

  5. I love this sentence especially, Dora: “I don’t know where to begin telling any of them [stories of grief], or even if I should, because, really, loss is ubiquitous and telling is more like joining a song already being sung in many places.” All of this rings true in my heart.

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