Focus on the living, not the dying

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

We keep photo albums to remember, baby books to mark the milestones as our children grow, yearbooks to chronicle our high school and often college years and when we lose someone, there is yet another memory book. It’s the one people sign when they come to pay their respects after a death and the place where it’s noted what floral arrangements and plants were sent along with who sent them. As the keeper of the family fires, I have my Granny and Pop’s, my dad’s and a few others tucked away. And, although I have never opened it since I finished the last thank you card, I have my husband’s.

It’s tucked into a plastic crate on the top shelf of my closet along with every sympathy card received and other memorabilia from his passing. In my bedroom, there’s a huge photo collage of moments from his life from infanthood to his last few years, photos that include him with his family, his siblings, our kids, at work and at play. In a place of honor in my living room, an American flag rests within a triangular wooden case designed for that purpose, the flag that the honor detail first placed upon his casket, then folded and put into my hands at the grave.

Photographs are prominent in that room. Many feature our children and some our ancestors. There are a few favorite places depicted on those walls as well along with our wedding portrait. On a shelf are photo albums with more pictures from our wedding and family albums. There are also some video tapes made on holidays and special occasions. I believe there is also a DVD of the funeral, but I have not watched it and have no plans to do so in the future. Maybe someday a curious grandchild or other descendent may.

When I want to remember Roy, however, - and I do, daily – those are not the things I need. Instead, I glance at my rings. On my left hand, I still wear the engagement ring and wedding band, and on my right, the ring Roy gave when we made our wedding vows once more in the Catholic faith. I’ve yet to remove the rings. Some widows, I’ve been told do and that’s fine. Someday I might – or not. For a long time, during the last year or so of his life and beyond, I wore Roy’s wedding ring on a chain around my neck, alongside my St. Michael medal. The ring now rests in my jewelry box.

Memories come with the small, everyday things, cooking a special recipe that he loved, the glass pair of bluebirds he once gave me, a movie we both enjoyed or music, sometimes a double-edged sword when it comes to remembrance. Those are the things I recall and although I do visit the cemetery – my memories are of other places and times – because I prefer to focus on his living, not his dying.

I became a widow on a cold, rainy January night two years ago today, after four long days of keeping vigil and watch, weighted with the knowledge of what was to come. I will never forget those difficult days that seemed to last forever but I prefer to remember our evenings on the porch or deck, shared laughter, a moment’s kiss or a smile.

Two years but it seems a lifetime that I said farewell and God speed to my husband and my heart.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a former newspaper editor and reporter who also spent time in broadcast radio. She is also an author and freelance writer.