Diana M. Martin has been an adjunct professor in The Writing and Reading Center at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD, for over 15 years. She has a MFA in Creative Nonfiction and has published articles in the areas of parenting, health and cultural arts. When her husband lost his battle with cancer of unknown primary, later identified as bile duct cancer, she became the sole caregiver for their adult son, Alex, who is autistic.
Remembering a loved one's spirit in a new way can bring healing and hope.
My husband, Dan, died three years ago on Nov. 20, 2015. Every year since then, on his birthday and on the anniversary of his death, I have done something to remember him. This year I am struggling with what to do.
I've given many donations to causes, planted trees and flowers, sent lighted crosses to family to place on his grave site in SD, and even had a play dedicated to him. I've celebrated his commitment to sobriety in private and with a group of his friends. We've raised our glasses to him at holidays. Yesterday at a friend's wedding, I brought a photo of us on our wedding day, more than 25 years ago, so he would be there with me in spirit.
Even at work, Dan's spirit follows me around. As a professor, when one of my students writes about caring for or losing a spouse or family member with cancer, I give a knowing look of empathy and try hold back tears. For our son's 25 birthday, I presented him with one of his father's rings. Alex, our son, is autistic and recently had a hard time identifying his dad in a photo. This made me want to sob uncontrollably. I know it is only a function of his autism, and that his dad's spirit also lives within him. They even look alike and walk the same way. I told a counselor and she agreed, but it was still heart wrenching. If we don't keep a person's spirit alive, is it as if he or she never existed?
We are a nation obsessed with remembrance. We remember the past so we don't repeat our mistakes. We remember our service members on Memorial Day. We have ribbons for so many causes that some of the colors are duplicated. We have quilts, songs, masses, parades and the list goes on. Remembering connects us. We are intertwined by who and what we remember because that defines our history as a person, as a family and as a member of the human race.
So, that is why I keep the candle lit. It is ingrained in me to do so. I don't want Dan to disappear. Ever. But I have begun to think of him in a different way. At a recent concert with a friend, the lyrics of Joe Crookston's song, Fall Down Like the Rain, explained what I mean. It's about what the singer will do once he dies and reaches heaven. He sings, "I'll turn myself around again [and] fall down like the rain... when I finally reach the ground, I'll soak into the sod, I'll turn myself around again and come up as golden rod, and then when I turn dry and brown, I'll turn myself around again as part of an eagle's nest, and when that eagle learns to fly, I'll flutter from that tree, I'll turn myself around again as part of the mystery."
I have begun to think of Dan as a spirit who has changed form. Recently, four monarch butterflies surrounded the cross I have in my meditation garden. As they received their sustenance from the Zowie Yellow Flame Zinnias and variegated Coleus, I got so close that I could see their tiny mouths partake of the nectar as if it were a great feast. The butterflies were filling themselves before the migrating someplace warm, some say as far as Mexico. I lay down underneath the flowers and watched them eat with a peace that I hadn't felt in a long time. I took a photo of one of the butterflies and had it made into a charm to wear around my neck. For some reason, I prefer to wear that now rather than the charm with Dan's ashes.
A few days later, I showed my son some photos and videos of the butterflies that I took. "It's dad," I said. And to my joy, he responded, "Yes."