When Great Souls Die: Mother and Rex

 

My mother in 1945
Janet Kay Horowitz

Would my life have been different if my mother had lived beyond my 14th year? She was my universe, and I revolved around her like a planet orbiting the sun. It was safe and predictable, and I knew where I belonged.

My mother died suddenly, after a five year illness that was kept secret from me.  At the time, all I could feel was shock and disbelief. I no longer knew who I was, what was real or who I could trust.  So I looked for people, performance and academic achievement, to reassure myself that I had a right to keep living while she could not.

My grief was so deeply embedded that I couldn’t shake it loose. So I shut it down and kept it inside. I developed a polished “false self” that brought me external success, but internal emptiness. Because she wasn’t there to cheer me on, I never felt good enough.  As Maya Angelou said, “I was reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.”

I made it through college and even started grad school, still trying to find my place in the world.  When I got married at 23,  I started to figure it out.  My career took off and I had two beautiful kids. But I hadn’t dealt with my grief, so my default mode was to avoid getting too close. We inevitably divorced and I vowed to learn from my mistakes.

Rex in 1988
Rex Heuschkel

And then I met Rex. I was 39 and he was an artist–a deep creative soul who allowed me to be honest, to take down the façade and be authentic.  And he thought I was wonderful. He thought I was the smartest person he ever knew, the most talented, and with him by my side I was also the most loved. Yes, he was troubled, and not an easy man to be with, but I loved him. I loved him so much that I almost lost myself in the process. He died 2 years ago, and I still can’t always find myself without him.

Rex, I visited you at the cemetery Tuesday morning.  As I drove  through the gates a familiar calmness swept over me, not unlike the feeling of coming home. The grounds are lush with green rolling hills and tall leafy trees. How can a place that is so beautiful hold so much grief?  I drive to your spot and grab the burgundy towels that I brought from home. I spread them out like a blanket, softening the blow of the hard, rocky ground.

As I sit facing your gravestone, I notice that dirt has accumulated between the raised letters of your name. Why isn’t there more grass close to the stone to absorb the water from the sprinklers? You’re in the shade, so the surrounding dirt turns to mud and never has the sun to harden it. Damn, that makes me mad! I pour out some water from my bottle and start scrubbing with one of my towels to clean it up. Have I neglected you by not coming here more often? Do you miss me my love, or has your spirit long flown away to be with the angels?

I lay down on top of the earth that holds your remains, where someday I too will be buried.  I feel your presence so deeply; you are embracing me from below.  It reminds me of the many times we held onto each other in bed. “What happens when you die?” I’d often ask you. “Oh darlin’,” you’d reply. “We will fly through eternity, untethered by appetite or earthly restraints. We’ll be together in a place where there’s no judgement, no need to impress, just acceptance, freedom and love.”

You are in my heart as I yearn for that freedom to soar. I sit up and search for the stone I brought from home. “Here’s a special one from Hart mountain, your favorite place on earth.  I’ve cut it open and polished it, so the colorful pattern can shine with your brilliance.”  I place it on your now clean gravestone and dig up 2 more with my fingertips.  The stones are a symbol of permanence; unlike flowers, they will never die.  I’m counting on that, Rex. Please wait for me, so we can share your dream of the everlasting.

I hope my mother has found the soul of my dear husband. He’s not who she would have imagined for me, but he was good and he loved me beyond anything I ever thought possible. I want to be with him NOW. Some days that’s all I can think about, just being together in another dimension.

My dearest Rex, losing you has cracked me open in unexpected ways. I’ve faced the unimaginable and instead of destroying me, I am still in one piece. When great souls die there is grief and loss, but there is also hope. Besides getting stronger, I am helping others to cope with their grief. Try not to worry about me, Mother. I am being sheltered by Rex’s love.  He’s helping me release the darkness and ease through the narrow opening towards wisdom and light.

Sydell Weiner, July 21, 2018
Inspired by Maya Angelou’s, “When Great Trees Fall.”
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/when-great-trees-fall/

 

Does the Soul Survive?

Life after Death
Does the soul survive?

I’ve always struggled with the concept of life after death. Does our soul lives on  in the minds and hearts of those we’ve touched? Can it exist separately on another dimension?  If the soul survives, is it possible to actually communicate with a lost loved one? Can they come to us in times of need to give us comfort?  Or when we die is that it–over, finished, end of story?

Although I’m no stranger to existential dilemmas, it’s been constantly on my mind since I lost my husband in 2016. I feel his spirit intensely  throughout our home. We lived here together for 15 years, so naturally there are many associations to times we shared. But it’s more than that. My husband’s presence seems to grab onto me, and before I know it I’m in the throws of anxiety.

The hardest time for me is going to sleep at night. I’m flooded with memories and I can’t get him out of my mind. In bed, we loved talking through the endless details of our day.  We’d hold hands or swing a leg over the other, and the sharing was easy. Regardless of the issue, in bed we would listen and always be gentle with each other.  It’s where we felt closest and the most as ease.

I thought it would make a difference if I made some changes. So I bought a new mattress and indulged in all the bedding.  I even put down new carpet. Rex is still there the second I sit on the (new) mattress. I do my best to shut out the feelings and push them away, but he haunts me. My friend Susan suggests I embrace his spirit and let the feelings in. She’s right, of course, I just don’t know how to do it.

At night I enjoy sitting in a dimly lit corner of my room. I sink into the big, cushy chair and I’m comforted by its softness and warmth. I stay there as long I can, until I start nodding off. I’m afraid to get up and go to bed, because I know what will happen. Once I take the eight steps across the room, I’ll be wide awake.

I can keep most of my fears in check during the day, but in the darkness of night my anxiety’s unleashed. What if I have a nightmare, will it overwhelm me? If I get sick in the night, will I be able to take care of myself? I have people who love me, but when I’m alone in bed I lose sight of that reality. Will I always be alone? What if I get a terminal illness? Will I linger and be a burden to my family or will I be blessed with a peaceful death?

On difficult nights, I soothe myself by getting something to eat and bringing it to bed. I know full well that food won’t do the trick, but old habits die hard. Sometimes I stave off my fears by distracting myself with social media or reading a book. Whatever I do, I know it will take a while before I can settle down again and fall asleep.

Last night as usual, I got up from my chair at the last possible moment. There is meditation music playing softly on my phone, and the house is quiet and warm. I walk across the room and the familiar anxiety start to take hold. But instead of giving in to it, I close the light, get under the covers and focus on the softness of my new, luxurious down comforter.

I start to consciously slow my breathing and still my body. I relax my shoulders and neck to release the tension, and that’s when I feel it. My eyes are closed, but I see a dark shadow cross over my mind’s eye. I know it is Rex and for a moment I feel him drift passed me. I concentrate on him and the dark shadow returns. As it envelops me, a light seems to pierce through. And for the first time in months I start to feel calm.

It is Rex’s spirit, I’m sure of it. But instead of chasing it away, I welcome it. I feel his love and embrace his spirit. I remember the deep connection we shared and the strength of our commitment to each other. He could always comfort me just by being nearby and joining with my deepest self—no judgement, no criticism, just acceptance and love. I am finally able  to understand my friend Susan’s message. If I let him in,  Rex will come to me in bed when I need him the most. His soul will provide me with comfort and healing.

Although I miss the peace I so easily felt with Rex, I am beginning to find it on my own. When I get into bed at night, I slow my breathing and try to calm myself. Then I focus on a specific memory of our being deeply connected. I see it play out in my mind  and I feel his presence. It actually works. For a few precious moments he is with me and I am warmed by his love.

I’m not sure if this is life after death, but my husband comes to me in the comfort of our bed. Will I be able to transform my fears and anxiety into peace and acceptance? I’m certainly trying.  When his soul reaches out to me I openly embrace it.  Rex’s love was a blessing, an unselfish gift that is an integral part of who I am. When I cherish the memories, I can accept the present and have hope for my future.

Sydell Weiner, PhD

May 6, 2018