The Song Remains The Same

On Saturday, the world will formally say goodbye to Hank – husband to Shannon, father of Ella. Hank was 38. He had cancer.

Twenty-eight years ago this month, my husband Bruce died when his tractor was hit by a train near our farm. Hank and Bruce lived and died differently, but each left behind a daughter and his daughter’s mother.

The days before and the day of Bruce’s funeral felt much like the days this week – cold and windy. The air…damp and heavy. This is one of life’s hardest weeks, the one we feel the sting of the death of a loved one and the ensuing pain of goodbye.

Except for the moments I escaped to nurse Carlene in our bedroom, the bathroom had been my only refuge, the only place people left me alone and I could think for 10 minutes without making decisions about flowers and cemetery plots and caskets. On the day of the funeral, I lingered in the shower longer than usual. I wrapped myself in Bruce’s bathrobe and sat cross-legged on the counter like I always did when Bruce and I got ready for a date or church. He’d shave, I’d put on my makeup, and we’d listen to the radio and talk.

I rubbed foundation on my face and imagined him next to me knotting his tie, something he tried to teach me many times. I turned on the radio and heard the song “I Won’t Hold You Back” by Toto. I sang along until I got to the line, “Now that I’m alone it gives me time, to think about the years that you were mine.”

I stared in the mirror. Even though for three days people were everywhere and would be for more days to come, I was alone. I’d been watched and worried about like I was a fragile girl with a scarlet “W” stitched on her chest, but no one could share this pain with me. I was a new mother who should have been perfecting nursing and bathing her baby daughter and sleeping when she slept, but instead I was eyed and pawed and clung to by grieving masses, people with real grief, but who would go back to their homes where they could ponder this tragedy while I lived it.

It didn’t matter that I felt every bit the obese, nursing, bleeding mother I was. Death came with obligations. No one would understand if I stayed home. I turned off the radio and put on my suit. I walked out of the bathroom with my chin up and eyes dry. I left Carlene with a neighbor and got into my father’s car to ride to the church.

Bruce and me, April 3, 1982. Bruce died March 22, 1983.

 Dressed in a suit with a thousand sad eyes watching me, I walked down the aisle of the church with my parents behind the pall bearers and my husband’s casket. Almost a year ago to the day, many of those same eyes watched me walk down that same aisle, 40 pounds lighter and holding on to my father’s arm as Bruce waited for me at the altar, tall and handsome, young and vibrant.

Now he lay dead in a casket covered in sprays of lilies, carnations and roses with a small red ribbon attached, scrolled with the word “Daddy.”

Except for a few muffled cries, the mourning congregation was controlled and dignified, and I was, too. I kept myself together through “Children of the Heavenly Father” by staring at Bruce’s casket. I chose the song because I’d introduced Bruce to it a few months earlier when he was looking for something to sing for a solo in church. Bruce could sing a TV commercial and I’d melt. Over the summer I learned to play two of my favorite songs on the piano – “Your Song” by Elton John and “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce – just so he’d sing them to me.

When the hymn ended, the church was quiet except for the sound of one person weeping. It was my father, fully engaged in shoulder shaking, head-in-hands, inconsolable sobbing.

Dad was 6 years old when his father died in 1937, and his mother was 8 months pregnant. It was the middle of the Depression, and like chocolate, grief was a luxury. There were fields to plow and children to raise. The only way my grandmother could deal with her grief was to bury it. She did not allow Grandpa’s name spoken in the house, so my dad, who was named after his father, was called by his middle name.

He’d lost his father and his name, and now his only grandchild was fatherless, too. The man had earned the right to cry.

I imagined liberating my own pain that way or by throwing myself on Bruce’s casket and wailing. But I didn’t want to be known as the woman who lost it at her husband’s funeral. My only emotional emancipation was when I kissed my hand and touched his casket when I thought no one was looking, like I was saying goodbye to a clandestine lover.

Now it is Shannon’s turn to cry, and in the days, months and years to follow, she will raise Ella and remember Hank. Her life will go on and she’ll work and she’ll one day smile, but this week? This week will crawl inside and forever be a part of her.

I love you, Shannon. Peace, my friend.

27 thoughts on “The Song Remains The Same

  1. Beautifully written. I always find your Bruce stories so capturing – I think because I read your blog for a long time before I knew. Peace to you and especially your friend.

  2. Two years ago this April my 38 year old brother-in-law died in a terrible accident, leaving my 33 year old sister with a 2 and 5 year old.

    I've often wondered if she will ever be OK again, but only because every time I think of that day and the week that followed, I wonder if I will ever be OK again.

    This is both a heartbreaking and beautiful tribute Lynn. One that can only be written by someone who knows.

    Hugs and prayers to both you and Shannon.

  3. Ok, I'm crying. Beautifully written. You are such a special person. And even though we will most likely never meet (are you planning a trip to Alaska?) I hold you close to my heart.

    And prayers for Shannon.

  4. So well written that I could feel your pain through this. Hugs to you. I really can not imagine what it is like to go through something like this.

    And Shannon. I don't even know what to say. I don't have the right words to ease the pain. Sorry for your loss just doesn't seem adequate. But my heart breaks for both of you.

  5. Brings back the same memories for me also…..Oct. 19, 1999. I remember like it was yesterday. When everyone goes home, they go on like normal and for those of us who have experienced this ……..well we know like will never be the same……my thoughts and prayers for Shannon it is so very hard….

  6. Oh Lynn, I never knew you were widowed! This is so nicely written and I can relate so much to how you felt with the funeral. My boys were 9 and 12 when I lost my husband. Prayers for Shannon!

  7. Powerful writing, Lynn. You are amazingly gifted. My heart is heavy for you and for Shannon. Prayers and blessings to you both. You have come a long way my friend. What a journey. I am trying my best to get on a healing journey myself. It has been almost 3 years since my beloved sister took her own life. I will never be the same. But, I am tired of wallowing in the pain. Sure gets old being swallowed up by “life”. You need to know, my friend, that your writings are one of the bright spots in my day. I need all the help I can get these days and so I thank you for being raw and real. Please hug Shannon extra tight for me. Thank you, Lynn, for all you do.

  8. Heartbreaking stories, beautifully told. I feel sorry because, yes, I have the luxury of sitting here only having to “ponder” what such tragedies must be like. I have such a soft spot for my now-deceased father, and therefore your story about your father at the funeral was particularly wrenching.

  9. Yes, so sad and beautiful, all at the same time. I think it touched me so deeply, because it was only 3 days ago that my Dad died. What you said about “liberating your own pain” caught my attention.

    I am sure that having you there to understand will be a blessing to Shannon.

  10. Oh Lynn. You are such a beautiful writer. You share of your own self beautifully. Thank you for being willing to share your pain and your joys.

  11. Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers. Also, thank you for sharing stories of your own losses. I don't believe grief should ever be silenced. Does it feel good? NO! But remembering the good, feeling the bad, it's all part of being alive. I have so many wonderful memories of Bruce, and today is our daughter's birthday.

    Wishing those of you in grief much peace.

  12. This story moved me so much, Lynn. The strength to carry on is so hard to do sometimes but the fact that you made it through such a tragedy brings a sense of comfort as well. There have been only two times in my life when I have felt grief like that and wondered how I would ever survive. Somehow though, when you hear another person's story you realize that it can be done, with time.
    My sympathies go out to Shannon and my admiration goes out to you.

  13. I am sorry and I understand. Your story was wonderful and although heartbreaking you wrote it with the depth of emotion I know first hand is felt. It was 2 years ago this last December my husband passed away. We have 5 children with the youngest at 15yrs old. Each and every day that goes by there is always “a first”..its a time I have to face something with knowing he isn't with me to share it. The hardest part. It takes so much strength to survive this. I send my heartfelt sympathy and wish her and you all the courage and strength to survive this part of our lives. Please take care of yourselves and take time.

  14. I am new to your blog and was truly touched by your story of Bruce. My heart goes out to you and to your friend Shannon. I have been blessed with a husband for 26 years and cannot imagine the grief you have lived and spoken about. Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. Thank you for sharing your courage. You are truly inspirational.

    Marilyn C.

  15. DebH, my heart goes out to you and your family, too, as you live each day without your husband. Thank you for commenting. I know it's hard, but sharing your story helps me (and others, I'm sure of it) feel less alone in our grief.

    The previous comment by “Cassie” was actually from me. I was on my daughter's computer when I wrote it, not realizing I was signed in as her.

    Thank you again for all your messages and stories.

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