The grave cannot silence my husband’s voice

I know last week’s blog “Letters from the heart led me back to camp” was difficult for some of you to read. The letters were difficult for me to write at the time, and difficult for me to share even now.

The emotions were raw and real and from my heart. They also beautifully reflected my relationship with my husband Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2010.

For those of you who missed last week, I shared the letters that my grief counselor had instructed me to write about my fears surrounding going to camp for the first time without Jim. I wrote one from me to Jim; the other I wrote from Jim’s perspective to me.

As expected, I could hear my voice in my letter to Jim, but what surprised me was that I could clearly hear Jim’s voice in the letter I wrote from his perspective.

As much as I agonized over trying to put my ragged emotions into words for the letter to Jim, the other flowed easily from my fingertips. I had heard Jim say many of the phrases to me time and again, or write to me in the short notes he would put in my lunch that I would take to work.

The tone was Jim’s too. Practical, not too syrupy. Yet loving. Just what I would expect to hear from him if he were talking to me face to face.

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So in the end, I had received a special gift from the grief exercise: I felt like I had had a conversation with Jim about my worries, and that my husband had reached out to me from Heaven, talked me through my fears, and lovingly reassured me.

That feeling has stayed with me and manifested itself in many ways over the last few years as I’ve dealt with daily life as a widow. I’ve had daily conversations with Jim. I don’t write them out any more, but the process is similar.

There is always SOME problem. It’s an old farmhouse with a big yard and garages and weather and two vehicles and mowers and a boat and dogs and a myriad of places where things can go wrong. Panic has become my normal initial response, but increasingly, I find there are things I can fix myself.

If the solution is not immediately evident to me but I should know how to fix it, I talk it out with Jim. I tell him what it is and then I listen to Jim’s voice tell me what tools I need and how to go about it. I know I’m really talking to myself, but it is more reassuring to hear the instructions in Jim’s deep resonance.

And as I regain confidence in my own abilities, I find I am reconditioning that initial panic response to be less intense.

It probably sounds a little crazy, but it works. Jim always did have a calming influence on me. He knew how to talk me out of my panic tree and settle me down enough so I could tackle whatever the problem was. He regulated me. Kept me functioning in the middle of life’s path.

He fed my confidence and allayed my fears. He reinforced what I already knew, enlightened me when I was stumped, and worked together with me when he didn’t have the answer either. He gave my life balance.

Now that’s gone.

With his death, life as I had known it came to a bone-jarring halt, turning me wrong side out and disorienting me to the point of almost immobilizing me. I could not move forward. There was no going back. And I was facing a huge emotional event: returning to camp.

Being able to voice my fears to Jim through the letters liberated me on some level, and “hearing” his reassurance brought home to me that he would always be with me in my heart.

I had lost his physical presence in my life, but not HIM. That became an important distinction and helped me get moving again.

I went to camp, and began making the experience my own.

I have a different camper now but I still go to camp every year. Many of Jim’s and my friends are there and embrace my presence, plus I have some new friends. Many aspects of my life there are familiar, yet the experience is different.

I certainly have my melancholy moments, but mostly I have found the peace at camp my Mom had hoped I would find. And I feel Jim’s presence. It’s the closest thing I have to “going home.”

JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.