The periods of unrelenting tearfulness are becoming fewer. The depths of loneliness I feel, especially at night, in bed, alone, are as powerful as they have been throughout the decade since my wife died, but I am becoming stronger. I am working with them and not against them. I am beginning to relish the memories of her presence instead of lamenting her absence. Not that I don’t miss her. Nothing could be further from the truth. I never want to stop missing her. Last month, though, I celebrated my first natural, un-medicated sleep for more than nine years.
Jim, Col. Lieves, arranged a memorial service for August on the first anniversary of her death. I couldn’t attend. I know I should have, and there will always be people who will feel that I was less of a husband, less of a man, for not turning up; but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never believed in Karma before that date, but since then, my attitude has changed. You see; I was supposed to have travelled to the service and back with my parents, in their car. How different things would have been if I had.
Instead of going straight home after the service, Mum suggested she and Dad should come around to my place to comfort me and to offer some support. If they had gone straight home, they might not have found themselves directly behind that propane tanker truck when it jack-knifed and burst into flames, engulfing their car in the process. If they had gone straight home instead of coming to help me, they’d probably still be alive now. I knew that, and the knowledge hurt me. When one of my uncles, Dad’s younger brother, told me that I should have been in that car with them, and would have been, had I steeled myself and gone to the service, I was devastated. Yes, Mum and Dad might well still have died, but so would I; and natural justice dictates that I shouldn’t be here now. Fate, Karma, circumstances, whatever you choose to call it, decided that my life was forfeit and, when I frustrated that, Mum and Dad had to take my punishment.
What did I have to live for after that? The three people I cared for the most had been taken from me, one by an undiagnosed medical condition and two as a result of my spinelessness. No-one could possibly hate me more than I hated myself. The love of my life, my soul-mate, had succumbed to a brain tumour, and my parents, the source of all that I am, took the punishment for my crime, my total lack of moral fibre.
Do you know what was the most surprising thing? Not that I tried, on many occasions, to end my own life; knowing the depth of my love for Autumn and for my parents, I don’t think anyone saw that as anything but a strong likelihood. The biggest surprise was not even that one person stood by me, supporting me, counselling me, holding me as it were in his hand and cushioning me against all the pressures from without, and my demons from within. The surprise was who that person was: Jim Lieves, August’s father.
Jim came to see me a couple of months after that fateful day with Marie, August’s mother. I’ll never forget his words; he told me that I was all he and his wife had left of August. She had been their only child. He asked me to move into his house, to use August’s room. He asked for my permission for him to treat me as a member of his family; as his son. I broke down then. Those tears represented the first feelings I had expressed in a long time; before that, all I had was fourteen months of numbness; not living, but going through life like an automaton, doing only the things I had been programmed to do. And once I had released the flood gates, there was no stopping me.
A few years, and a greater number of hospital visits later, following my various failed attempts to join August wherever she had ended up, Jim and Marie knew what to look out for; how to recognise my lowest periods and how to help me through them. As you can imagine, the hardest time of year for me was, and is, Autumn. As soon as I see the falling leaves drifting lazily by my window and the trees wearing their red and gold finery, my thoughts go to my wife – amplified as the days and weeks go by. Then, part of me wills time to rush by; I yearn for the end of nature’s finest display and for the covering of snow to hide the visible signs of the object of my undying love. My in-laws know how to nurse me through this period, and stop me from reaching the depths of despair I felt in those early years.
Now that I am starting to sleep naturally, and am feeling stronger by the month, Jim and Marie have invited me to go with them on holiday for much of the season. I get to choose the destination; either south to Australia to avoid the northern autumn, or west to the US to endure and enjoy it. I know that they will be with me, to lend me their strength, and I know that it will be as hard for them, as it is for me. They were surprised and delighted when I told them of my choice.
“I think I’m ready,” I said, “I can listen to either of the two songs that used to give me so much pain, and relish the sentiments. My pain no longer owns me. I own my pain. Let’s go to what is billed as the finest show on Earth,” I added, “Let’s go to the Adirondacks.”
Wish me luck.
The other song?
Video from YouTube. Published on 18 Oct 2012 by user ClassicPerformances2.
Arranged by Gordon Jenkins, there are not to many versions of “Autumn Leaves” that can stand up to Sinatra’s 1957 recording from the “Where Are You” album.