Town square: Honoring and connecting, with a bench
By LAURA KIESEWETTER
For Montclair Local
How do I measure 525,600 minutes, let alone, now, in solitude?
I lost my husband of 30 years last May. Now the anniversary flashbacks have been harsh. And that was before COVID-19.
Ted, aka Theo, viewed the world from a rational perspective, tempered by his optimistic, rose-colored glasses. I would give anything to have a deep conversation with him about this pandemic. He grounded me. He made me feel secure even when life was worrisome. What better time to need grounding than now?
It is said that people of the world are suffering from grief — from unexpected loss of life, routine, income, social gathering, and touching. I feel all of that, too. How do I maneuver through grief on top of grief? I miss my family and friends, socializing, grocery shopping, attending live exercise, Nia and Ikebana classes, but mostly, and without hesitation, I miss my husband’s embraces.
As I approached the anniversary of his passing, mourning the days and hours of his last five weeks from diagnosis to death, I was fraught with sadness. My stepdaughters and I had to cancel his Celebration of Life. My eulogy, already in progress, used some of the words and all of the feelings expressed in Jonathan Larson’s song “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show “Rent.”
In my vision, we were to have listened to the words of that song in the finale of my tribute, and then, together, belt it out, in all our cacophony, to set the tone for Theo’s celebration and measure his life in our love.
Now, I mourn that as well.
How do I honor him, how do I live through these next minutes, hours, and days, on my own, to deal with the pandemic on top of profound loss?
Last December I donated a bench in memory of my husband to Van Vleck House & Gardens — something my nature-loving Dutchman would have loved. The bench and plaque were installed last week. The gardens remain closed to the public, due to COVID-19, but the director allowed me in to inspect Theo’s bench. He led me to the area and left me on my own.
The birds chirped harmoniously, as they had last spring, in the moments after my husband took his last breath. The breeze gently tousled my hair, and sunshine kissed my cheeks.
I hunkered down on his bench, as there is no need for social distancing with my lost husband. I was alone, but not lonely. I began to feel grounded.
There was a gentle but palpable connection between the two of us, and in these 60 out of 525,600 minutes of this last year, I felt inklings of what the Dutch call “sterkte” — strength to persevere.
A gift from nature, from the universe, from God, from Theo. This bench, and its significance, will remain with me through COVID-19 and beyond.
It’s a beginning.