There’s a common belief that sometimes when things happen they come in threes and I for one don’t dispute that, as a matter of fact over the course of my life I must confess this to be a fact rather than a myth. In my own case I want to share something with you all and in particular anyone who may be having a really difficult time in trying to deal with the loss of a loved one and who on their way through their grief journey may be encountering some of these bad days that we all know only to well.
Grieving people will tell you that the first is always the worst, for instance the first birthday the first anniversary the first Christmas that comes up since the loss of your loved one, all can be particularly devastating and difficult to deal with. In my case help came for me in the form of three cards that I look upon today as a wonderful legacy to me from my late wife Jenny but more about the cards in a moment, first I have to tell you briefly about the kind of relationship that Jenny and myself shared through all our years spent together, and grief recovery can become complicated due to the intensity of a relationship one has with the person who has passed on.
Jenny and I were together for over fifty years and we were rarely separated, we worked in the same place for a number of years always took our holidays together and the only time we were apart was when I left Scotland on my own to set up a home for our family here in Canada and I missed them all so much that I vowed we would never be separated again and that has been the way it has remained until I lost Jenny in January 2005.
Thoughts between two people can come in many ways for example, spoken, expression, written, body language etc. like all normal people Jenny and I used all of these but we also shared a unique way of expressing our thoughts to one another and the more time we spent together the more intensified it would become, have any of you reading this ever been sitting close to someone and you are about to say something to the other person on a subject matter that has nothing at all to do with what you are talking about when suddenly the other person jumps in first and takes the words right out of your mouth?
I would guess you probably have, and this thought process seemed to develop more deeply especially in the last ten years of our life together, you see if Jenny was out visiting friends or just shopping or driving home from work in snowy conditions I might be frantic with worry at times but deep within me I always knew she was safe and Jenny was getting so good at this that when I would get in from work some days she was able to tell me that I had stopped off somewhere and who I may have been talking with and best of all I can recall one night we were at home sitting on the sofa watching a movie on TV when we both burst out simultaneously talking about something that had happened nearly forty years earlier.
What does all this mean? Well for me I can tell you all that I firmly believe that two persons do not have to be physically present in order to care for one another and to give words of encouragement and comfort to one another when we need it the most, for love to exist between two persons even after one of them has died I also believe it will last forever if you have faith and as I have said on numerous occasions to my Chaplain and many grief councilors ‘’True love has no boundaries and even death can not separate it’’ Now to get back to the cards.
The Christmas Card
It was a cold brisk day one afternoon in the month of December 2003 about a week or so before Christmas and Jenny and myself were sitting in our kitchen at home looking through some Christmas cards we had received in the mail that day, as we were going through them I came upon a card with just my name on the envelope and no address, this instantly aroused my curiosity and I said to Jenny I wonder who sent this? As I slowly pulled the card out of the envelope and gazed inside the open pages I got the answer to my own question and it sure surprised me because the card was signed by Jenny and just to let you understand why I was surprised I should tell you that Jenny and myself always exchanged birthday, anniversary and special occasion cards but we never ever shared cards between ourselves at Christmas and I think part of the reason may have been that just like everyone else at the holiday time we were concentrating on trying to make sure we did not leave anyone out when we were writing and sending out cards and we just didn’t seem to get around to sending one to one another.
When I got over my initial surprise I said to Jenny ‘’we never usually give Christmas cards to one another’’ and she responded to me in this way ‘’ I just thought it would be nice’’ as I read through the words on the pages my eyes started to fill up and I said to Jenny ‘’these words are beautiful I am going to keep this card for evermore ‘’ I got up and walked through to the living room and put it away in the teak display cabinet where it would remain undisturbed for three years, little did I know then how much that card would mean to me in the years to come. When I returned to the kitchen Jenny looked at me and could tell I was happy and gave me one of those smiles that only Jenny could give, I was happy but I was also feeling bad inside because I did not have a card to give back to her and to give her one later on would not have the same meaning but I was able to make it up to Jenny on Christmas Eve by putting a little extra surprise in her Christmas stocking.
Nearly two years had now gone by since I lost Jenny and in December of 2006 I was putting up some cards I had received onto the top of the TV in the apartment where I now live and trying to get ready for Christmas I had not felt much like celebrating the previous year but this year I had put some lights on the balcony and was trying to get back in to the spirit of the festive season, I am not sure what it was I was looking for but I was searching in the display cabinet trying to find something when I picked up a small bundle of cards that I knew I had put away recently and they were the last birthday and anniversary cards that Jenny and I had sent to one another and as I was sifting through them stuck at the bottom of the pile I came across the Christmas card that Jenny had given me in 2003.
Well as I have said before ‘’the first is the worst’’ and this was the first time I had seen and read this card since Jenny died, as I read through these beautiful words once again and they truly are beautiful all the memories of that year came flooding back to me but it was the words on the card that Jenny had written that had the biggest impact on me and as I read through them once again for the first time in three years I could feel my body beginning to tremble my throat became numb and I started to cry I cried uncontrollably sobbing my heart out for almost an hour. It was now nearly 1am in the morning and I knew I had to get to bed and try and get some rest so with shaking hands I walked over to the TV and placed the card on top beside the others and went to bed, sheer exhaustion drove me to sleep.
The last Anniversary card that I received from Jenny is the one pictured above and as usual it was sitting on the breakfast table waiting for me when I got up the morning of January 28th 2004. I was still sitting reading through it when Jenny came into the kitchen and sat down beside me like she always done every morning, we greeted one another with a kiss and a ‘’Happy Anniversary’’ wish, you see putting our cards out the previous evening had become something of a ritual with us the reason being that whoever was up first in the morning would always have the card waiting for them and could read through it before leaving for work secure in the knowledge that we had always ‘’Remembered’’ as it turned out however we always tried to make sure we were both up to see one another before setting off. We had been doing this all through our married life and neither one of us ever forgot a single card. Anniversary and Birthdays were very special to us and it always gave Jenny a reason to visit the local card stores and like I said on another page ‘Jenny’s Cards’ she could literally spend hours searching for that special card with just the right words to match the right occasion.
As I read through my Anniversary card from Jenny that morning I had no idea that it would be the last one I would receive from her and although we would have one more year together Jenny would spend the last three months of that year in hospital. Those last 12 weeks included her Birthday, her last Christmas our last Anniversary and our daughter’s birthday, which also just happened to fall on January 28th how’s that for coincidence? I can tell you this the wall in the hospital room facing Jenny was covered wall to wall with cards and photos she had received from friends and her loving family to mark all of these special occasions.
The Birthday card pictured above has a very special meaning for me as it would turn out to be the last card that I would ever receive from Jenny and as you can see from the caption on it Jenny’s sense of humor continued to shine through. None of us thought for a moment this would be the last Birthday card I would be receiving from her yet about a week later when I took my cards down I decided I wanted to keep this one so I put it away beside the other cards I had been saving and now I had three precious cards all with a special story of their own that were yet to unfold.
As I began to approach my birthday the following year I knew I was beginning to dread it more and more, this would be the first one without Jenny and I had no idea how to face it and as the day became closer and closer I could feel a sense of panic develop within me, what was I going to do? There would be no card on the breakfast table, no good morning kiss and no happy birthday greeting, the stark reality of the situation was quickly setting in and I asked myself is this how it is going to be for me every year from now on? Thankfully for me I was still attending grief seminars chaired by my friend Dr. Bill Webster so one evening I explained my fears concerning my upcoming birthday to Bill and the other members of my group and after listening Bill responded by saying to me and others in the group that may have been experiencing similar circumstances ‘ Ian I have a suggestion for you, why not do something different this year’ and Bill asked our group, who would like to go out for breakfast with Ian this coming Saturday morning to celebrate his birthday?
Well when Saturday morning came I got up had my shower got dressed and without as much as a glance at the breakfast table left the house and drove to the restaurant where we had agreed to meet, Bill was there and so were eight others from our group some of who I still meet with today. Everything went very well and as an added attraction it just so happened that the Heart and Stroke foundation were fund raising outside our restaurant and lo and behold forty Hooter Girls rode up on this huge bicycle right outside the window where we were seated and stopped to give us all quite a show.
The rest of that first birthday without Jenny I spent with my family who I know are still going through deep grief of their own yet were still able to help me through that very difficult time and with their help and the help of Bill and my group I somehow made it through the day. As I write this it is near the end of 2007 and two more birthdays have come and gone so how did I handle these ones you may ask? Well if you can recall the story of the Christmas card and how I found the strength and courage to go forward at difficult times from the words that Jenny chose for me on that card and someday I might decide to publish the inside of the card but for now these words are still very personal to me, I can tell you this, I now have no fear of getting up on my birthday or sitting down at the breakfast table looking for a card, you see I was deeply inspired by the loving words Jenny left me and on the eve of my past two birthdays I took the last card I ever received from Jenny placed it on the table before I went to bed knowing there would be a card waiting for me in the morning.
So do I believe things come in threes you bet I do and I hope the story of Jenny’s Legacy to me ‘The Three Cards’ can somehow and in someway inspire other people who themselves are going through the very difficult time of losing someone they care for, losing that special person in your life can be so painful and though you may not feel like it just now it may be as time softens you can reach out and find a way to remember the happy times you had with that person and find the strength and courage to go on. Love is powerful stuff and if you believe in it and have faith nothing can ever destroy it or take it away from you, and your loved ones will always be there for you when you need them the most.
The ‘Three Cards’ go hand in hand with three other significant events that happened in my life
1 The day I found Jenny.
2 The day I lost Jenny.
3 The day I found Jenny again.