‘Heartache comes in many shapes and sizes’

EDITOR’s NOTE: In November, 2023, the whole world is overwhelmed with grief, wondering: How long? From Pope Francis to individual families on every continent, we know that grief—and often our sense of isolation in that grief—is a challenge we share. The many writers who contribute to ReadTheSpirit magazine have been writing about this challenge every week. And, this week, Suzy Farbman shares an important truth about this journey: It is long. We need to remember and honor that truth as we reach out to our neighbors. Here is Suzy’s column:

Grief returns and recedes in wave-like reminders. I write these words on Nov. 1, four months to the day my husband of 56 years died. I’ve asked friends who’ve lost husbands how long it takes to stop grieving.

The universal answer: It takes as long as it takes.

Four months isn’t enough.

Things bring back the memories. So many things. Having grown up poor, once he could afford them, Burton loved acquiring things. His adored aide, Angela, and I tried to de-Burtify the house. We put away the obvious things that reminded me of him, of the void he left behind—things that make me sad he’s not around to use them.

We put away his Laurel Oak sweatshirts and enormous shoes– size 14 near the end. They rest in closets behind closed doors. So do his clothes. Our sons and grandkids will come to Florida at Christmas. They might want a jacket or sweatshirt or golf cap. Ditto the golf clubs Burton once wielded with skill. Ditto the Titleist ProV1 golf balls.

I haven’t found a home for Burton’s camera equipment. Until he became sick, my husband appointed himself unofficial photographer at Laurel Oak, our winter home. He captured pictures of friends and club members playing golf or tennis or celebrating birthdays, developed them on his own machines and gave them to their subjects. After his stroke in 2018, I touted the quality of cell phone photos. Couldn’t convince him.

There’s also the fishing equipment. Poles lean against the wall in our garage. Don’t want to give those away. Our grandkids use them when they visit.

There are knives. Too many of those as well. Burton loved good quality knives. If he came across one at a farmers’ market, it accompanied him home.

There are playing cards. Burton once enjoyed playing Bridge. Two decks of cards wouldn’t do. I counted the packs of Bicycle playing cards in a drawer in our living room: 34.

There are trophies atop laundry room cabinets from contests Burton organized for grandkids’ visits. They remind me of how Burton loved being a grandpa. He took the trophies to the trophy store every January to update them and proudly displayed them in the living room when family visited. Trophies for Bingo, Boggle, Rummikub, Pop-a-Shot and Tennis. In 2016 when Fischer was too young to win anything else, Burton ordered a trophy for Congeniality.

Sad reminders also remain. The handicapped shower chair. The exercise band and hand weights Burton used faithfully to strengthen the arm that still worked after his stroke (his non-dominant right arm). The golf cart I still use. Angela helped him into it. He drove it around the streets, waving at neighbors. Doing what he could to enjoy fresh air and sunshine and still stay mobile.

Thankfully the two sons who played golf with their Dad and took his phone calls every single day are alive and well and present in my life.

In 56 years of marriage, Burton and I experienced plenty of ups and downs, as readers of my first memoir and Oprah’s 5 million-plus viewers can attest. Heartache comes in many shapes and sizes. No one gets through a long-term marriage without scars But overall, on the four-month anniversary of my husband’s death, I’m grateful for the life we led together. For the family, the homes, the trips, the friends.

Burton not only cared for me, he took care of me. As a devoted believer in signs, I believe my husband’s soul is still looking out for me. In that spirit, I share the Godsign Burton left for me to see today. It’s small but significant: a tiny heart shaped mark on my kitchen sink.

For me, there’s no one who can fill Burton’s size 14s.

It takes as long as it takes.

As Queen Elizabeth II told the world after 9/11:

Grief is the price we pay for love.

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