the empty chair   22 comments

Posted at 7:09 pm in being alone,Don,farm,loss,sabrina,sage

A year ago, at just about this very minute, the person I love more than life itself, slipped away from me into the night. A lot has happened over the past 365 days. Within a few weeks, Sabrina and I left the farm, headed west across Canada, then down to the redwoods of California, then turned southeast to spend the winter in Arizona. Along the way, we stopped at many of the places where Don and I had camped and hiked during our many years together. In spite of a host of problems and perils, we survived both our adventures and misadventures, eventually making it back to Ontario in April. Soon after, we were joined by Sage, who has now become part of our little family. Springtime was spent putting the farm up for sale. I packed our belongings, wrapping up what was left of our lives at the farm, moving everything into storage until our future becomes more clear.

Earlier this week, we drove out of the lane for the last time. Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t feel much in the way of sadness or regret at leaving. Several months ago — really, the evening that I turned our van into the yard, ending our journey from the west, I realized there was nothing waiting for me — nothing that meant anything to me now that Don was gone. The spring and summer flew by with me becoming increasingly disconnected to the farm. The only thing that brought me close to Don was when the dogs and I would go out to the pasture to sit and watch the sun setting over the distant forest. I would sit in one of the chairs that I’d placed at intervals along the mowed paths throughout the farm. I put them there for Don, so that he could stop and rest in his favourite spots. He so loved to walk around the trails until he became too ill to go outside anymore.

Last year, throughout the spring and early summer, we were still able to go for walks in some of our favourite places. Like a porter, I’d carry a folding camp chair on my pack, and set it down for Don every time he felt like taking a rest. That was a very special time for both of us, and for Sabrina too. We knew that there was only one possible outcome to his illness, but we pushed those thoughts away from us and tried to enjoy every minute of our time together. Despite the devastating effects of his illness, Don never complained of pain, or fatigue from the treatments he chose to undergo. He never gave up, not even in the final few days of his life. He wanted so much to be with us. His main concern was how we would manage when he left us.

I like to think that he would be pleased with how Sabrina and I have managed in spite of what often seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. I’m glad that Sabrina and I have had each other as the loneliness has been more than others can probably imagine. For weeks, I go pretty much without speaking aloud, to the point that sometimes I’ll utter a few words and the dogs will come racing through the house, barking because they heard something unexpected — the sound of my voice. I’ve made a resolution to try to remember to talk to them a little more during our upcoming travels.

And so we’ve left the farm. My plan was to head west within a day or two of our departure, but I decided to stay a few extra days at my mom’s place to rest up and mend a foot that got injured in the process of moving. The respite was probably a good idea. I’m now feeling a little stronger and ready to be on our way. Besides, it gave me some time to finish sorting out some papers so that I need not drag them along with us. Earlier tonight, I came across a little cardboard parking receipt — the kind that you get out of automated parking machines. This one was from the hospital parking lot where Don spent his final few days in ICU. It was the ticket from September 6th, 2008 — the last time I left the hospital. It felt strange to hold that little slip of cardboard, knowing that the last time I touched it, I’d just left Don’s room after holding him in my arms as he died. It’s strange how such a tiny object should form such a strong bridge between this moment and that.

Some people say that time heals all and that with the passage of a year or two, the pain of loss is less often felt. Those who know better know that’s not how it is. We never get over these losses — we just learn to carry on and try to get by. The pain is still there – just as strong today as it was a year ago – but somehow I’ve learned a few things about living with it. That’s what I’m doing now – living with it and the three of us are getting by. I know Don would feel good about what we’ve managed to accomplish over the past year, and also for the journey upon which we’re about to embark.

For Don ~ I miss you ~ I love you.

Written by bev on September 6th, 2009

22 Responses to 'the empty chair'

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  1. A truly beautiful and compelling post, bev. You describe it so well, that knowing that time does not heal all wounds, but that we learn instead to live with them. They inform us and actually let us see the world in a new and profoundly different way. You honor Don’s memory with so much love here. You help us to know him and remember him. You remind us of what life and love are about. That compelling, heartbreaking continuity. Don’s hand on Sabrina, the empty chair, the setting sun. A perfect haiku.

    robin andrea

    6 Sep 09 at 8:34 pm

  2. A beautiful tribute, sharing your pain along with your good memories. I cannot even pretend to imagine how you feel as I have never experienced a loss like this. I hope your future journey brings peace and happiness your way.


    6 Sep 09 at 8:58 pm

  3. Godspeed Bev,

    I was thinking many of the same thoughts tonight as I talked to a friend….six weeks is a year for me. You are a far braver person than I, moving on to make a fresh start, and I hope that one day we will really get the opportunity to sit over a real cup of coffee, as opposed to a virtual one.

    Drive safely, and enjoy the ocean…it has its own healing powers also.



    6 Sep 09 at 10:04 pm

  4. Oh Bev….. I thought the first anniversary was approaching, and you have been in my thoughts. This was a beautiful beautiful tribute, and what I call “a bone song”, something deep, loving and right from the heart. It’s scant (or no) comfort, I know, but Don’s light was a beacon to steer by, and such a light never goes out. Safety on your journeys come, sweetness, rest and peace by the ocean…


    7 Sep 09 at 6:27 am

  5. Bev, this is such a beautiful tribute to a man I know only through your words and photos… I so wish that I had been able to meet him.

    Each anniversary date is a time to reflect on our loved ones, and to remember all that was special about them and how privileged we are to have had them in our lives. It is also a hurdle to climb, or jump, over. One song that always brings my mom back to me is John McDermott’s ‘One Small Star’ (on youtube)… if you haven’t heard it, you also may find that it tugs at your heartstrings. (Josh Groban and Rhydian Roberts have the same effect on me with ‘To Where You Are’.)

    I wish you, Sabrina and Sage safe and happy trails as you journey to points west and south… I will be sending good thoughts and vibes your way throughout the coming months.


    7 Sep 09 at 7:19 am

  6. I was also remembering in the last few weeks, as Cate was, that the anniversary was approaching.

    It’s a very fine tribute to Don, Bev. I also think it’s important to remind us all that those we love can be taken from us, and that we should all stop now and then to remember that. What a year it has been for you.

    Thanks for that, and be well.


    7 Sep 09 at 8:14 am

  7. robin – thanks – yes, it’s important to me that I and others continue to remember Don. He’s still a very real part of my life. Death doesn’t really change anything in how we love.

    ruth – thanks – i think our travels are just what is needed at this time. I look forward to time on the road with Sabrina and Sage.

    Shelley – I was thinking of you too – that you’re almost at the same point in time too. I’m sure one day we meet and have a cup together.

    Cate – That’s a good way to think of things — that Don has been a beacon to steer by. I have often experienced the calm that he brought to those times when things weren’t going right. I will think of you in some of your favourite places such as the shore of Lake Superior.

    Wayne – Yes, it’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. It helps us to appreciate and value that which we love. You’re right — what a year it has been.


    7 Sep 09 at 10:34 am

  8. Wonderful post! And oddly comforting. It’s a path we’re all on, the one you’re walking, though for some, the bend in the road is farther ahead. For me, it’s just a few steps more; I find myself saying often, “This is the last time we do this together.” But the road goes on, and memory persists.

    Next time I notice a chair alone on the shore or in a field, I will remember this.


    7 Sep 09 at 1:00 pm

  9. That is a beautiful tribute to Don. The first picture of the chair, Sabrina and Sage pulled at my heart strings. I miss not having you and Don next door. It has been thirty-one years and now the Wigney’s do not live there any more. Thank you for all the information and laughter and fun you and Don have given me over the years.
    May time lighten your heavy load. Thinking of you and the two busy companions you have with you.
    Take care, Lynda.


    7 Sep 09 at 10:36 pm

  10. Thinking of you and Don and Sabrina and Sage. There is so much love in your words and in your photos.

    The chairs that were placed at intervals so that Don could rest speak eloquently of his presence and absence.

    Thank you for these words especially:

    “Death doesn’t really change anything in how we love.”


    8 Sep 09 at 12:02 am

  11. Even though you have addressed this before, i have been thinking about how sad it must be to leave the farm. But I have thought about it a little more, and about your posts, and now
    I think i understand. I’ll follow your progress as you post about it, and I am pretty confident it will be progress.


    8 Sep 09 at 4:30 pm

  12. Susannah – I expect that there are many people feelin the same way — thinking, “this might be the last time…” I know I’ve been feeling that way for quite some time.

    am – Thanks. Yes, it’s true — death doesn’t change the way we love.

    Mark – Actually, on a certain level, it’s sad to be leaving the farm. However, I’m also hoping that moving on will help me to leave some of the more difficult memories behind. I’m looking forward to being able to write about some of the things we will see along the way as we carry on. Stay tuned…


    9 Sep 09 at 12:27 pm

  13. A beautiful piece. A beautiful place.

    Thinking of you, Bev.

    Chris Clarke

    9 Sep 09 at 1:20 pm

  14. Bevly
    I knew you and Don from the beginning of your relationship and unfortunately I lost track of you for all these years until Don,s untimely passing.I will not tell you it will get better as time goes by.My only comment is that there are so many people that have lived to 90 years old have not had such a great love as you and Don,and I am sure he is there behind you ,and will be there till you meet again down the road.I wish you good luck in your future endeavors and if at some point you feel the need to talk please think of me.

    Jim Jordan

    9 Sep 09 at 5:30 pm

  15. My companion is in his final years, dying from a liver disease. I can certainly associate with lots of what you wrote in your post. When a diagnosis is given, in a strange way, it is as though there is a stage of grieving that comes before death. Maybe I am not explaining this well… Those are difficult realities to describe. So much of it is pure raw emotions, irrational.
    Two books I read during this last year where amazing works where writers, with their skills and craft, found the words to say what goes on when one grieves a companion of many years.
    Joan Didion. The year of magical thinking. (biographical essay)
    Donald Hall. The painted bed.(part poetry, part biographical essay)
    I would recommend those. They said the very words that I couldn’t find. The words thoughts I couldn’t bring myself to spill out.
    Thanks for your posts on this topic, and for the superb photography.


    13 Sep 09 at 7:58 am

  16. Such a lovely and sweet remembrance. Safe travels to you as you journey west.


    18 Sep 09 at 8:19 am

  17. A beautiful tribute to your beloved. It made me cry a little. To have known true love and friendship is such a blessing to us and no I don’t think we can ever get over their loss. We just keep on moving forward toward life. Blessings to you and your sweet doggies.


    21 Sep 09 at 2:14 pm

  18. Chris – Thanks, it really was a beautiful place. We had many happy years there together.

    Jim – I often think of how lucky Don and I were to have met and had so many good adventures. It’s a rare enough thing.

    Suzanne – You’re very right about a stage of grieving that begins once you know that there isn’t too much time remaining. I felt that way for most of the year after Don’s diagnosis. It can be a very sad time. I’ve heard of Joan Didion’s book, but not Donald Hall’s. I’ll look it up.

    Doug – Thanks. I’m hoping this year’s journey will go well and we’ll see good things along the way. We’re off to a good start.

    Cherie – No, I don’t think we get over our losses. It’s interesting, but I was just telling some friends, that before we left the farm this summer, Sabrina would still lie on the lawn and intently watch the front gates in the late afternoon each day, just as she always did waiting for Don to come home from work. Also, while we’ve been hiking at parks on the first part of our trip, I’ve noticed her turn back along trails and start looking around. I’m quite sure she thinks Don is lagging somewhere behind and is going back to look for him as she always did that when we walked too far apart.

    Lynda – Thanks, I’m going to miss being next door too. So many years and such a change in our lives, isn’t it?

    Marni – I shall have to look up the John McDermott song as I’m not familiar with it. Yes, I think that these anniversaries are a good time to try to remember the good times we had together.


    22 Sep 09 at 12:19 am

  19. I had tears in my eyes. The parking ticket reminder was especially poignant. Hope your travels serve as a salve.


    24 Sep 09 at 1:51 pm

  20. arvind – Thanks, I’m already feeling a bit better since hitting the road on this trip. Coming across the parking ticket was actually quite a significant event for me — it brought back some very powerful feelings. A lot of what has happened over the past couple of years has been very difficult. Some people say things get easier, but I don’t really think that’s how it works.


    27 Sep 09 at 5:01 am

  21. I was directed to your site today by Ned on Lungevity and Cancergrace. First I took in the insect and frog photos in the gallery. These little creatures are sort of familiar to me. I photographed many of them as a youth, and still love seeing them in the garden or along a trail.

    Then I read this latest blog post. I push these thoughts of mortality away and pretty much live for each day. I had no deep relationship in my life and no children either, and I think that makes my experience very different. I understand loneliness. I suspect that the life I led prepared me for the challenge of my illness. I don’t seem find it difficult. You have been asking, does it get easier? I think life changes. It gets better or worse, and past experience may not have a lot to do with it.

    I am inspired by your photographs to do more. Here is a link to a few photographs:

    I bookmarked your site and will come back.

    Chicago, IL

    David Fourer

    21 Jan 10 at 4:45 pm

  22. Hi David,
    I’m glad that you dropped by to visit my blog. I remember you from when I was posting on CancerGrace last year. It’s good to hear that you’re doing well in spite of the challenges that I know you must be dealing with. I agree – it’s not really a case of thing getting easier – it’s more that things change and we learn to adjust. One thing I’ve noticed is that, over the past couple of years, I’ve developed better ways of coping with or dealing with difficulties.
    I checked out your Alaska photos and they are wonderful. I especially like your photos of nature – the meadows and wildflowers. Beautiful. Take care, bev


    21 Jan 10 at 11:23 pm

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