By Lynda Hollenbeck
When it's a baby, all of the "firsts" are exciting. There's the first smile, the first word, the first tooth, the first step.
It's a world of unfolding miracles. Each day is surpassed only by the one yet to come.
Then there is the other side of the picture — the rite of passage no one chooses — the one that brings the firsts you never wanted.
There's the first birthday without the one who was loved most; the first Father's Day; the first Thanksgiving; the first Christmas; the first Easter; and — the hardest of all — the first anniversary of the person's death.
Recently I marked the first full year's journey without the husband I adored and who, I'm grateful to say, adored me. We had nearly 37 years together. We were blessed.
But I'm a selfish person. I wanted more.
Several times in recent years, as his health began to wane, Ed and I talked about our life together and how much fun we had had along the way. More than once I said I wished it were possible to rewind the clock and go back and do the whole thing over. I would have loved to have had the child-rearing experience again with someone who cared for the children as much as I did, even though this father arrived late in the game.
So a year has passed. It seems illogical, on the one hand, to think the situation is suddenly harder because of a date on the calendar. But logic has no part in this; this is strictly emotion.
I've felt his absence every day — at times more so than others — but on May 4 the wound became raw again. Explaining that to one who hasn't come along for the ride would be impossible.
On the anniversary day I had expected my children to reach out to me, and they did not disappoint me. They, too, felt the sting, for they lost a parent who loved them, believed in them, encouraged them and honored them. But I also was blessed with numerous contacts from other family members and friends who knew, without my saying a word, that it was a tough day.
I thank each of them, as well as the ones who thought about Ed while I never knew.
Bauxite Mayor Johnny McMahan was among those who thoughtfully remembered me in an email. Johnny never has forgotten that Ed reached out to him in his darkest hour and, as one who's walked the walk, he understood.
Many times in the past year I have thought of my mother, as of course I do today on this day we pay tribute to all mothers. Mamma idolized my father and was devastated when he died suddenly at age 65, but she became a shining example of a person who could draw on her faith and inner strength to make her way as the remaining half of a vibrant couple.
Two weeks after Paul Parnell's death, Lillie had returned to her place on the organ bench at the Cotton Plant United Methodist Church, where she was organist for 55 years. She stayed active in every facet of the community, traveled with friends, continued to cheer on the Razorbacks with a troupe of ladies, and just kept on keeping on.
I realize now there were times she must have been horribly lonely, but that's a battle you have to face on your own. You can stay busy, as Mamma did, but when you go home at the end of the day, the joy of your life is still missing.
But, as they say, life goes on.
Just a word of advice to those who want to help someone who is grieving: Don't avoid mentioning the deceased. The worst thing of all is, by omission, to make it seem that the individual didn't exist.
Grief is a continuing voyage. I've completed a year in my travels, but this is a journey without a destination.
Before I found myself in the role of widow, I read that one shouldn't make major decisions or undergo any drastic change for at least six months. It was good advice.
For me it's been a period of inertia in many ways. I have no difficulty in staying focused at work, but I plan home projects that I don't complete. I was mid-way into writing thank-you notes when my cousin, for whom I'm the nearest relative, suffered a serious injury and I was thrust into a supervisory caretaking role that has consumed my attention for months. The thank-you note project never was finished, something for which my mother would "tsk, tsk" me from the grave if it were possible. I hope those I missed know I was grateful.
And as I write on this subject — more serious than what is usually found in this space — I again offer my thanks for all the kindnesses I have received in the last year. Caring people make a difference all of the time, but especially during times of grief.
Of all the wonderful comments made to me in the months since Ed died— and there have been far too many to enumerate — the one that touched me most came from Ken Hughes. Witty with a bent toward sarcasm, Ken is a tender soul at heart. Here's what he said:
"You gave Ed so much happiness, and he deserved it."
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.