In a few days, it will be one year since my beloved husband died. Had he lived a little longer, we would have celebrated our sixtieth wedding anniversary. One year ago, my two sons, one daughter and I stood at his bedside to say goodbye to the man who had been the mainstay of our family. Although we had known for some time that his frail body would lose its battle with cancer, his passing rendered us mute and shocked by the reality. It happened; he was gone. But we have yet to fully believe it.

A giant hand has cut out the shape of my partner in lifeDespite the fact that my profession as counselor has brought me countless times to the role of assisting families to make peace with loss, to emerge from denial which is the narcotic we crave for the pain, to step forward into life with renewed purpose, our grieving has shown me that there is no formula. It is as though a giant hand has cut out the shape of my partner in life, leaving a gaping empty space wherever I look around me in this house we shared. Every deep breath I try to draw brings a kind of pain that defies description. It has been said of long married people that they finish each others' sentences or hardly need words at all. There was little in our days together that we did not share. Now, when I hear or see something of note, I find myself turning to tell him.

A year has gone by. I am sleeping again. I'm living alone with two cats for company when the rest of my family cannot be near. Everyone has been kind and helpful. My thoughts go back to the time when my life with Ed began. It is a comfort to do this. I am grateful for memories which remind me of what a truly good person he was. If anyone thinks there is no such thing as unconditional love, let them have known him. We were not an easy crew for him to pilot, but he was always there, at the bottom of the stairs to catch and encourage no matter what our choices and adventures cost him in stress. In the end, his concerns were for us and I shall never forget one day when he lay in bed, staring at me. When I asked him what he was thinking, he replied, "I want to memorize you for eternity," and I felt humbled.

I have written about the gift of humor and Ed had that gift. It was what drew me to him when we were introduced by a mutual friend at our local Jewish Community Center. I was seventeen. Ed was twenty-one. The first thing I saw was his Naval uniform which he would wear another two days before being officially discharged. Looking up, I saw two brown eyes which smiled… and I fell in love.

He was one of those people who are naturally funny. I learned that his fellow sailors sought him out for his jokes and warmth. Being somewhat shy, I basked in his popularity during our courtship and no one could have had a better audience; I would hold my sides listening over and over again to the same stories and never tired of his talent. As sad as I am now, I still chuckle to myself when I remember. There was no laughter in our house in the past year. Ed was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. How did one of my friends put it? "It's not a pretty disease, Shirley."

He was incredibly brave to the endBut, for a man who abhorred violence and confrontation of any kind, he met his illness head on. He followed doctor's orders until the time he knew that nothing would help and, never once, did I ever hear him say he was afraid of the inevitable. He was incredibly brave to the end, only concerned for me, how I would handle widowhood, and if his children had been adequately planned for. He remained at home until three days before his death in a local hospital. His children and I were at his side as he drifted away quietly and at peace.

When that unmistakable silence filled the room, the silence that would never end, I stood there as one in a time warp. The finality of his leaving simply did not register until days later, when family and friends left my house and closed the door. I sat on the living room couch, where so often Ed and I watched television together, often sitting close, holding hands even after almost sixty years of marriage. But there was no hand to hold. There were only memories… memories which would come to me over and over again like a movie being replayed over the past year. I petted the cat and sat there, looking off into a space that I wished he could fill once again… a space where he would often stand as he walked into the room.

It has been one year today. Those first days and weeks are a blur. I know I walked and talked, even answered the phone, but likely was on automatic pilot. I could hear myself but didn't recognize the voice. I know I woke alone, washed, dressed, combed my hair and fixed food for myself… but don't recall eating it. At times, I cried so hard that I thought I might never stop, but the tears would end. Family and friends would call but nothing I said seemed to make sense. Life began pulling me forward to do the things we had always done together or that were his domain, but I found to my dismay that I did not know how to do them very well. I frankly did not know who I was now. The painful task of finding out lay before me.

I found that if I woke every morning at a special time rather than linger in bed… as I wished I could… if I dressed, put on lipstick, brushed my hair and set a simple place at the table for breakfast… it was the right thing to do. I knew where I had learned that, since my mother, who was widowed at age thirty-five, had done so. She lived into her nineties and one of the last things she said to me was, "Always look nice, Shirley." Yes, she was a Jewish mother.

Ed was always so proud of me and now I have to be proud of myselfDuring this past year, I have had many conversations with Ed. He listens when I cry as hard as I need to... He helps me make decisions. His voice has become fainter over time. On his nightstand, there are a couple of letters and a card which he once sent to me… but I have not yet been able to open and read them again… not yet. I sleep, but only after I have read a while… books have always been a passion of mine. They take me away. I have harkened back to what I always loved to do. I am teaching once again, as a volunteer. It gives back something important to me. It reminds me of who I am and of all I have accomplished in my life. Ed was always so proud of me and now I have to be proud of myself. That is a very lonely thing to do.

The evenings are the hardest. He died today, one year ago. I am sitting in my little office in my little house, with my little computer… and my memories. Sixty years is a long time, but not long enough. Tomorrow I shall put one foot in front of another and get on with my life.