What it means to say goodbye: one woman's story

"A Reluctant Life, A Wife's Journey Through Love and Loss" is a profoundly felt and beautifully written chronicle. Quietly poetic, Yvette Nachmias-Baeu's first published work is a brave accounting of the process and permutations of grief, after losing her husband, Dieter, to a rare form of cancer in 2009.

Nachmias-Baeu is particularly adept at making deeply personal moments — like sorting through Dieter's shoes after his death, or rearranging the bedroom they shared in a burst of a anxious energy — universally recognizable. It is easy to imagine oneself in her place, and there were times I had to stop reading to clear away the tears. This book is powerful and it is likely to prompt personal questions about the nature of love, the people we choose to travel with on life's journey, and who we are and who we become in our relationships. It should be emphasized though, that where the book is difficult, it is not unrelenting. Like grief itself, the emotions expressed in her writing ebb and flow; profound despair is balanced by profound gratitude for the life, love and connection she found in marriage.

"I do believe there is a good chance that with the loss of someone terribly important, you grieve till you die," she said recently, reflecting on her loss three years later. "And yet you are perfectly capable of embracing life and what you bring to it and vice versa. I think that is the positive side of understanding that how we accept death is very much about how we accept life..."

The following passsages are excerpted from "A Reluctant Life":

LETTER TO FRIENDS - JULY 9

Dieter is now in his last descent. I don't know if he will survive the weekend, but I believe it is now days. He is declining rapidly. ... He is like a little bird quietly lying in his nest. Each breath becomes harder. He is not in a coma, but his body is beginning to shut down. I sit with him hour after hour, and tend to him as I can. The tears are endless...

I have no words to explain what I am feeling right now. A dark shade has been drawn around me and I am in considerable pain. But I do send this with love. I know you love him too.

YOU ARE GONE

Dieter is gone! These are the words I hear as I enter the house. A short sentence — a simple fact. You are gone. Where did you go? I see that you are lying there half-turned as you had been earlier in the evening. But now there is no breath. No life. I wash you down and cover you. I remove all the trappings and devices you no longer need. You are still warm. You lie there silently. I brew a pot of tea. Your color is changing. What is there to do? I have no thoughts. I sip the tea that is now getting cold. There is a sense of emptiness that may be what misery feels like. Should I play Beethoven's 9th at decibels loud enough to drown out my sorrow? I am without impulse. I feel that my life is over, except for the gestures and the strange need not to break down. I realize I can do nothing because there is, at this moment, nothing left to do. You are no longer here. I stand by your bedside, tears in my eyes blurring the image that will remain with me for all time, unable to believe that while you are here before me, you are no more. You are placed on a stiff board. The sound, as they zip up the black bag they have put you in, startles me.

The descent from your house is made feet first as you are carried down the stairs for the first and the last time. The stairs that you built, that you used to climb daily and often. I find myself wondering if you ever imagined that this would be your final exit.

GRIEF

The word that surrounds me is grief. It has become more than a word. It has become a live thing, infiltrating everything, like water.

Grief has the capacity to rearrange itself and accommodate any space or object, attach itself to whatever you are doing. It is everywhere, and it is not benign. When, out of desperation, you light a cigarette, it combines with the smoke. When you slip into your jeans, it surrounds your legs. It mingles with the smell of coffee grounds, sits on the steering wheel of your car. Stares back at you in the mirror. When you run, it joins you. You try to pound it into the ground, only to find it has grabbed onto your toes. It mixes in with the sound of a word or phrase and takes it for its own. It follows you when you make the beds and has a place of honor on your pillow. It is my special, but unwanted, companion.

NON JE NE REGRETTE RIEN

Tears form as I listen to the melody and the lyrics of this well known song which only Edith Piaf could truly capture. It belongs to her. Others who sing it are simply borrowing it. I repeat the words, no regrets, I regret nothing, over and over again, hoping that I will believe it. I have been playing the song for hours. ...

Her signature song impacts me deeply, precisely because I am aware of how terrible her life was. How can I compare it to mine? She numbed her relentless disappointments and isolation with alcohol and drugs. If she was able to sing this song with such clarity and honesty, a song whose words say that she did find love, and that love, though tangibly gone, is strong enough to carry her for the rest of her life — So it seems I can find no reason to regret either. I did have you, Dieter. Wishing for something else has finally come to an end, and the fire of renewal has begun to flicker with a cold blue flame. I feel as though life has returned and the flame begins to glow a bit brighter.

THE LAST LETTER

This will be my final letter to you, though my conversations with you will not end here. I will include you in at least three different thought messages a day and many more conversations. ... I will know you are scolding me when I forget to close the kitchen drawer. I will remember how your arms encircled me after a long day apart, how you placed them around my shoulders when you acknowledged that I did something well, or when you noticed that I did not take myself too seriously. I will sense your confusion and frustration when I bring another electronic gadget into my life. You will be present at night in the memory of how we wrapped ourselves around each other like a prayer and I will still feel the soft touch of our skin mingling. ...

Today is the sixth day of September, a year and two months since your death. Someone new is in my bed. I feel compelled to spend sometime on the banks of the stream where your ashes floated away. I wrap myself in a robe and wander down to this sacred place. I begin a conver-sation with you. I ask if you might approve of the way in which I have entered this new phase of my life. I want you to give me an affirming nod.

Should I seek and explore the feelings that still exist within me? Do you know that you are still my guiding star? Throughout this past year, I have wanted you to present yourself to me again. I have hoped that a magical moment would occur to convince me you are still nearby. But there has been no sign at all. I stare down at the flowing stream, watching the water rush over the rocks and pebbles as it flows down towards open water.

I hear the familiar strains of a violin concerto hanging in the air. I follow the sound, thinking there must be a source, but the closer I walk towards it, the more it fades. It is your way of telling me you have been paying attention and reminding me you have been listening. I sense a mild warning. I believe that you are asking me to remember I am still precious to you, that I need to be cautious, but I must try nonetheless.

I must make the most of every day. Calm and reflective, I walk back towards the house. I know I have just received my wish, though so many questions still remain unanswered. The mysteries continue, and I know now that so will life.

"A Reluctant Life" is available online at www.areluctantlife.com and Amazon.com.

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