When I picked up Roger’s iPhone, after his last breath, a long time passed before I remembered to breathe. I froze. Some people do feint at the sight of death; maybe they forget to breathe? I was amazed that I could breathe. But why was I breathing and not him? Why did Roger, who exercised and didn’t smoke or abuse drugs/alcohol get this horrible Pancreatic Cancer?
When distant gods and empty creeds offer no respite and no answers to this “why” issue, what’s a sensitive soul like me to do? Somehow, the pain and inner voices are guiding me to write Memory Clouds, especially for myself, but maybe reach out to others struggling with grief and lingering “why” questions. After all, misery loves company. But something or someone? won’t let me die with Roger, no matter how much I wish to on some days.
Most days, I still find myself frozen in shock, really fear. I lost someone I’d shared most of my life with–over 33 years of the good and the not-so-good, but it was ALL OURS—our children, our animals, our home, our dates, our triumphs, our tragedies. How the hell can I go on without him to face the money problems, the unfinished projects we’d both worked hard on, and just when it seemed the financial stability that our efforts over decades so richly deserved had finally started–the new coveted steady jobs, why, oh why did he have to die now?
Intellectually, I knew it would never be a good time for him to die, but where was my head? All I knew was a broken heart. Everything was gone: my lover; my friend; my confidant; all the life I knew. Even our old dog, Spookie, chose to die three days after Roger. Cowards! Get back here and help me! Who was going to pick up the dead bird in the yard or fix the garbage disposal or hold my hand while we watch the sunset or walk our daughters down the aisle at their weddings or go with me to the doctor or not care that I needed to lose 30 pounds? Each new minute in this new reality after Roger died still delivers different, shocking fears.
When I finally got some counseling, after I thawed out a bit, Ginette Paris, a wise woman with a PhD in Psychology and a twinkly eye, suggested that I not ask “why.” Not only is this asking “why” not helpful, but also by asking the unanswerable “why”, we get stuck in a destructive loop of always asking “why”? It seems that this “why” remains elusive for many things in life like sickness, greed, war or death. But “why” I ask. I’m stubborn that way.
In scanning our limitless Universe, all I know for certain is there will always be more questions for the inquisitive mind. Answering one question will just open up the door to another one. Ask “why” but don’t expect any definitive answers. Why birth? Why do we breathe air? What I do know is this: if you’ve been something to somebody (s)he will grieve when you die. Grieve, I do. This part of life is bad, bad, bad grief, being the one left behind—the fear immobilizing.
In some circumstances fear would be a good thing, if I was a zebra on the Serengeti running from lions. But when the lions leave, zebras totally relax. Not so with humans. We carry our angst on the tip of our tongues, buried inside our bodies like a steaming hot mess ready to boil over at the least provocation. At some tipping point, too much fear, too much grief and your body shuts down. Mine did. I just felt numb. I couldn’t move.
Will I survive this? How does anyone? Can I stop asking “why” questions? Time will tell. No matter how it happens: divorce, abandonment or death, it’s loss beyond words. But, grief is not a choice.
*Update: I wrote this 23 June 2012, the day I started writing Memory Clouds: Good Grief Bad Grief and as of 27 Nov 2018 I am grateful to be alive and enjoying my life in this next chapter ;).”
Conrad Reeder and John Denver after a scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef near Hamilton Island circa 1986. Photo by Roger Nichols
Some days I’d rather not think about Roger. His absence will always be painful no matter how many years roll by, and when I see him in family footage, my body aches. But, our girls and I are determined to keep going because we are producing a documentary about him and it has to be done.
I barely remember this day or the ones leading up to it, but apparently I did this.
However, I do remember the moment I wrote the speech. Cimcie, Ash and I were in Jupiter, Florida going through the property that was going into foreclosure, the home I thought Roger and I would grow old together–where we would play with our grandkids someday. The ordeal was excruciatingly painful for me, but then we got the news from Neil Crilly that Roger won this Grammy. He’d been nominated the year before and lost, a sad day for him (on top of the cancer), and then he died six weeks later.
So, this was a bittersweet moment. I walked into his studio and sat in his chair, looked around at all the gear, books…all his stuff left behind when he’d driven away to Burbank in 2010 with a trailer of more “stuff” for his new job teaching at Video Symphony. His intent was to get the rest of his “stuff” later, but later never came. His diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer happened several months into his new job.
Tears. Sobbing, really. After some time, I picked up a pen. While sitting in Roger’s chair in his office, looking out at our beautiful flowers and the butterflies flitting around, a landscape we’d so lovingly cared for and enjoyed, I stopped crying and the words appeared on the page. I don’t know where all the words I write come from, but I believe those words came from Roger.
Because that’s how he wanted people to remember him: inventive, driven to succeed, passionate about life and fun.
I am grateful for friends who are trying to help us (me and our girls) put something out there on film about Roger’s brilliant mind and beautiful soul. Love will find a way and my thought wrote that.