HOLLENBECK: Reaching out to touch someone in pain is priceless gift of love

Words are my life. This has been so for as long as I have memory. But there are times when words are inadequate to express what one feels.
I'm living in such a time.
As most people know, on May 4 I suffered the greatest loss I have known. This was the final day of life for my husband of 36, nearly 37, years.
Before this happened, I thought I understood grief. I've buried both my parents and other loved ones and said the final goodbyes to friends who were as close as family. But losing a spouse? It's an experience unlike any other.
Only those who have been there know what I mean.
A writer for another newspaper once compared grief to seeing the ocean for the first time. Paraphrased, she wrote something akin to "once you've seen the ocean, you will never view life in the same way again."
That thought was penned by Jennifer Hansen in a wonderful column published many years ago. I saved it somewhere, but couldn't find it to refer to it to pull out an exact quote, for which I apologize.
But the underlying message has stayed with me.
I have learned that there is no way to prepare for such a moment. In my head, I knew what was coming, but the heart is a fierce adversary. And my heart wasn't ready for the depth of pain such an experience brings. I learned there is no way to get ready for something like this.
But talking about my loss isn't the purpose of this writing. My intent is to say thanks to the many, many people who have reached out to me and my family during this experience.
I've heard from lifelong friends, more recent friends, business acquaintances, relatives near and far, readers whom I've known through the years, readers I've never met, and my co-workers. About the latter, I never can say enough. They opened their hearts completely to take care of all my needs at the time I needed them most. I love every one of them.
Every act of kindness has touched my heart and will be treasured always. Ed would be so grateful.
My husband was a humble man and had no concept of the wide-ranging effect his death would generate. He naively thought family, some close friends and a few of his minister colleagues would mark his passing.
He never dreamed that hundreds of people would come together for the two days set aside for the celebrations of his life. Yet they did. And I have received — and am continuing to receive — wonderful notes, touching phone calls and emails from friends in many states. There have been gifts of food, flowers, other remembrances and memorial contributions that Ed would be so pleased to know will help a number of entities serve others.
We've all heard the expression "life goes on." I remember hearing those words from Betty Berry Gwatney, who never has been one to wallow in self-pity. When she went through an experience like mine, I recall how she tackled it head-on and survived. I am trying to do the same.
People ask "how are you?," a question for which there is no good answer. The most honest response I have given is "the best I can."
The fact of the matter is that life changed for me on May 4 and will never be the same again. I'm grateful for all the happy years and the deep, abiding love Ed and I shared. Every woman should be so blessed.
But because our relationship was so special, it's that much harder to go on without it. Still, I think of Betty's words: "Life goes on."
And so it will for me.
Because Ed was Ed, he left me a final letter, which includes several pages of practical advice he thought would be helpful. This was included in the "funeral folder," which he had prepared some time back. I knew it was there; I just couldn't open it until he was gone.
The folder also included a love letter, which I will treasure to my dying day. Included in the packet also are many informational tidbits — what business to call to repair this or that, insurance agency phone numbers, various contact numbers for other needs, etc. He continues to look out for me even though he's gone.
Since humor was always part of our relationship — and Ed's dry wit rarely could be matched — it's not surprising that his words included some cryptic comments that made me smile.
In particular this applied to the passage he titled "burial clothes." The list stated:
"Suit ... blue or striped shirt, tie of your choice, underwear and socks — no shoes. I have to go barefooted to heaven."
I miss him.
But again, to you who have shown your love and compassion for me and mine, I say thank you. I'll never forget you.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.