There have been a few inquiries about how I came to the end of grieving, met Judith, and proposed marriage. Ellen died February 8, 2000. I am writing this on July 17, 2000. On that day in February I wrote to you:
"Ellen began a new journey this morning, with new wings, perhaps a new form - but certainly the same wonderful soul.
We were not ready to start a journey in separate worlds, but God provided a path and Ellen was able to choose to follow it, with all my love and support.
Our 4 year journey was aided and comforted by dozens if not hundreds of you. You are a gift of immeasurable value. I will always be in your debt.
Her new journey began at 7:30 a.m., very quietly and with a great deal of peace. A compassionate emergency room staff aided me in one of the decisions no caregiver ever wants to exercise.
Our cancer support group is led by a minister and a MSW, and a second hospital minister befriended us over the months. With their love and support my separate road started with prayers, compassion and realistic support - and I am thankful for that. "
More than a few people have wondered about my sanity, stability and overall mental health. I don't question their concerns, and it is healthy for me to share my experiences.
The events of February 8 were not something Ellen or I ever dreamed of and God knows I would have sold my soul to the devil to have changed that day to continue the romance, love and dreams that Ellen and I shared.
As you will find out there are no secrets - and as I've learned the nice thing about telling the truth is you don't have to remember what you said. I hope this tale is easy to read and accepted simply as a view of events.
Shortly after Ellen died I was in possession of a wealth of wonderful craft supplies and clothing. Rather than dump it on family members or try and sell it for a profit, I listened to what I knew Ellen would say. She had a strong sense of community and she had a long history of volunteering and giving to others.
That made the decision to donate her gifts an easy one. I worked with two senior centers (Elma, WA and Chehalis, WA) and the Oakville clothing bank.
Every week I would go to at least two of the three locations and leave a quantity of supplies or clothing.
It is now late July and I still have clothing and materials, so you must understand that the process was long, involved, somewhat painful and yet something I believed in.
During those early months I went through a lot of grief work and processing. Not only did I witness the death of Ellen, but then the emotional deaths began to surface. They surfaced slowly and painfully and there were many dark days and nights.
Without agonizing detail, the events included the death of the couple, the death of the future, the guilt and death of the guilt surrounding her physical death, the death of her love and caring for me, the death of my ability to care for others, and then a gut wrenching and private explosion of loud anger and frustration which brought some peace to me.
Those few words cannot begin to describe the true events - it took support of a few close people, a psychiatrist and a grief group to see me through those miles along the grief road. More significantly I learned to pray again. God accepted me back the day of Ellen's death and has stayed with me every day since then.
After the explosion I started writing positive affirmations about Ellen's death and about my desire to honor Ellen's life, my love for Ellen, my respect for Ellen while respecting my health, healing, need for life, need to grieve and the ability to participate fully in life.
It was then that I ran into Judith and stumbled my way through bashful invitation to go on a date.
Why did I ask Judith out? From the very first meeting in February or March she displayed many characteristics which I already had known as important. That first brief meeting was followed by weeks of no contact. I did receive a thank you letter from her, but that went into Ellen's scrapbook.
4, 5 or 6 weeks later Judith happened to be in the building when I delivered another donation. She asked how I was doing, and we had a long discussion about grief and grieving. Afterwards I recall feeling bashful and somewhat uncomfortable, in a nice way, that someone so nice could really be interested in what I was going through. She learned from me that Ellen was not my first wife. I learned from her that she had been single many years. We talked about the grief associated with death and the grief associated with divorce. Considering the difficulty associated with grief talk, we found many points of agreement and compassion for others who were in our different shoes and walking similar paths.
I have to admit that the kindness, generosity and integrity she had shown in these two brief meetings really impressed me - those were important elements in my life with Ellen. As a result I did have more than a few occasional thoughts about her, but since we had met only 2 times in the building there really was nothing to base anything on.
After several more trips to the senior center, I once again encountered Judith in the hallway. Maybe Freud is alive and well, but her first words to me were something like: "I've missed seeing you". Freud then prompted me to reply: "Gee, it is good to see you again".
After a couple of even sillier comments, which neither of us recall, I did ask her if she still dated. She replied "No, because no one ever asks". So I asked if I could call her to arrange a possible lunch date. And the rest is almost a fairy tale.
I called her the next day. I managed to arrange a date for the next week - but not without shooting myself in the foot by nitpicking a restaurant choice and criticizing the Washington coast in favor of the Oregon coast. Something told me to call later and apologize, which I did and it was accepted by her answering machine. That same day she called my answering machine, accepted my apology, and in the process let me know she would be at a place I knew to be my neighbors. My neighbor lives 1/2 mile or more east of me, and Judith had been visiting her for over a year.
Around 6 p.m. I decided "what the heck" and made up my mind to meet her in person - so I walked through the forest area, across the fields, climbed two barbed wire fences and arrived on the other road just as Judith was leaving. Fortunately she recognized me, stopped her car when I waved, (I'd been cleaning horse stalls) and picked me up.
We drove from that road to my road and stopped at the gate. Since Judith is a budding horse person I invited her to walk down the 1/3rd mile driveway and see the horses, barns and arena. We walked and talked for over 2 hours. Literally every topic led to another, and topic after topic went flying by like chapters in a book.
By the time we walked back to her car it was 9:30 and she accepted a new "dinner date". Unfortunately the only local cafe was closed, and then she agreed to go to the local Indian Casino for dinner. Somewhat casually attired we spent 2 hours over salads and then Judith dropped me off at my gate a little before midnight.
I asked her to let me know when she arrived home in Chehalis and when she called 30 minutes later, a quick "I'm home safely" call turned into a 4 hour telephone conversation.
In a week or so nightly telephone calls consumed two prepaid telephone calling cards. Each card was $20.00 and each minute cost 1 cent. One might say we enjoyed talking and found sufficient reason to continue calling and talking.
Our relationship swiftly changed from phone calls to visits. Walks around the property changed to a nervous initial cup of coffee at my kitchen table. Long talks changed from the telephone to chats over coffee, and then dinner at the table. Sometimes we would finish talking at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and Judith would commute home.
We weren't far into this style of relationship when we both knew that there was more to our relationship than talks. We agreed to seek some counseling and advice. Our first choice was a minister Judith knows. Our second choice was the psychiatrist who had worked with me and Ellen over the years when we went in for a mental tune-up over career, medical and family topics.
All this began on June 15. This is July 19th. We have set a wedding date of July 23rd.
We've met with the minister, with the psychiatrist, and with two chaplains who have known me in my former caregiver role. Our decision to marry and the commitment we have made to each other has successfully endured.
Initially we planned to marry later this year, then some health issues suggested an alternative. One evening during a chat we talked about the dates and the reasons why we would wait (to appear socially correct) or not (major medical issues) - and the thought of "we will wait if everything is okay, but will marry early if things go wrong" seemed comical. That was when we threw caution to the wind, set a wedding date, and then proceeded to enter the medical maze.
We are rather old fashioned and dinosaurs in our own time. The marriage will be rather traditional, the vows very sacred, and our honor is still intact.
Sometime ago, long before the initial invitation to date, I wrote this affirmation:
Without initially telling Judith about this affirmation, I found it happening in our phone calls and eventual visits. Ellen is very much a part of our normal conversation and I find it easy to recall past events and share them with Judith. She has talked to me about the issues and events. Judith's conduct with my grandchildren and family members continues to shine a light on Ellen's memory and Ellen's value to this family.
Judith and I both acknowledge and recognize that all of our good intentions and love for each other would not have happened except for Ellen's death. We are very cognizant of that and are saddened and humbled by the emotions that knowledge provokes. Ellen's memory lives on in this home, my life and the lives of all the family members who surrounded Ellen and me.
Now that I am focused on a new life, with a partner and wife, I am eager to begin planning our future, our dreams and our life together, as husband to a beautiful lady and wife, Judith.
Each day I live has always been an adventure. Now I am simply overjoyed and quite humble when I think of the events and random steps which led to this formal engagement and marriage.
Somewhere between the utter despair and loss of the past, and today,
I have found peace and for this I am thankful to God
and everyone who helped me on this journey.