Living Well–Heart Outstretched


Twelve days ago, the love of my life, my husband Richard Cabe, died of brain cancer at home in hospice care. He died as he had lived: he was present, gracious and loving until the end.

Richard toasting the evening fog at Lucia Lodge, Big Sur Coast, on our September "Big Trip"

After we sat in silent meditation/worship with his body, sending him on his way with mindful hearts; after we washed his body and consigned him to the care of the funeral home folks on the way to the CU Medical School to be used for research, our little group of family and friends walked over to a favorite local restaurant for brunch, as has been our Sunday habit for a long time.

We ate, toasted Richard, and laughed and cried. Then we walked home.

So it’s gone in my new life without the man I loved and lived with for almost 29 years: Though the seemingly endless rounds of official phone calls and filling out forms, the cleaning and organizing, answering cards and emails–through all the word generated by any death, gracious, graceful, or otherwise, I’ve made a conscious effort to live well, mindfully and with thankfulness for the life I have.

Each day I get up before dawn, measure out the whole grains and organic dried fruits for my hot breakfast cereal, clean the wood stove and make a fire, and do yoga to greet the day, centering myself in this landscape, at home.

Each day I think my love for helping design and build this house which enfolds me in the work of his hand and heart. Each day I look for some grace note.

Each day I also consciously do something to bring joy to my life, honoring Richard’s memory and our shared love of this numinous blue planet and the lives it supports.

And each day I put hands to keyboard and write, even if only for an hour.

Last Sunday, I went cross-country skiing with my friend Lisa. Neither of us had gotten our cross-country skis out in more than a year, so getting ready for our jaunt around the neighborhood golf course meant dusting off skis and poles, and searching for gaiters and other gear.

When Lisa walked over, skis on her shoulder, and confessed that she had completely forgotten how to operate her bindings, we spent a few hilarious minutes of random poking and prying until the bindings popped open.

Then we passed a glorious hour at the golf course schussing on fresh snow, our skis swishing and our legs moving in a rhythm that has always seemed to me close to what it must feel to be able to cup wings on air and take flight. We skied past a hundred or so Canada and cackling geese, roosting with bare feet on the snow, past fox tracks and pounce marks, past quiet houses and noisy dogs.

Does it seem wrong to look for joy a less than two weeks after my love’s death? Perhaps I should be doubled over, wracked with sobs, or curled up under the covers, eyes shut to the world.

Holding hands in the days before Richard died

That’s not for me. I think the best way to honor the love Richard and I worked hard to grow over nearly 29 years, to honor his love for all life, large and small, common or obscure, beautiful and grotesque; his attitude of lovingkindness toward the earth, and the smile that touched everyone who met him is to practice living well on my own.

By “living well,” I mean living in the spirit that we shared: living with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand–an attitude of love, kindness, joy, generosity, and appreciation for the gift of each moment.

And I mean writing. Every day.

What does living well mean to you? Why? Write that down!

10 responses to “Living Well–Heart Outstretched

  1. Dear Susan, please accept my heartfelt sympathies at the death of Richard. Thank you for writing a beautiful description of what you are doing to grieve and to live well as a tribute to him. You have expressed and clarified what I would like to do should this happen to me [my husband of 45 years is not in danger; in fact, I am the cancer survivor].
    Love and roses, Geni Wixson

    • Geni, Congratulations on being a cancer survivor, and for being mindful of the unthinkable. Seems to me that if we can talk about the “what-ifs,” something Richard and I did often in the two and a quarter years that he lived with a glioblastoma, parting is if not easier, certainly clearer and less fraught with regrets and guilt. Writing is critical too, at least for me. It helps me process what’s happening, gain enough distance to understand my responses, and the telling can be useful to others. So live well and write!

  2. You honor Richard well. I miss my x-country skis. They were one of the casualties of RV life. But, as you have demonstrated so wll, life goes on and you throw yourself into other things. Thanks for sharing this beautiful blog.

    • Pat, Thank you. Remember that you can always rent x-c skis if you and Gypsy Lee land somewhere that has snow! In the meantime, enjoy the freedom you have and the time with family during the holidays…

  3. Susan,

    Living well, with heart outstretched…heart shining through.

    As the Buddhist Heart Sutra says (in part):

    …form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.

    ….all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

    …in emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element;

    There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and non-attainment.

    …Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all-hail!
    ___________

    Love from us all for the compassion and wisdom you and Richard shared with the world both in living and dying.

    Affectionately,
    Janet

  4. Janet, I have to admit that I find some of the Buddhist sutras so mystical my very literal mind cannot follow them. Following those intricately unlinked thoughts is fascinating though, much like yoga for the mind. Thank you for the heart sutra quotes and for the love. Richard and I will always be linked, as the heart sutra says, by that which is “emptiness” or unknowable, the strands of love that are simply part of the fabric of the universe…

  5. As I emailed to you, I am one of the quiet online members of this Circle, but have read and been so moved and inspired by your journey — your connection with your husband through the process of his illness and life and death. My sympathy to you. As well as my thanks — for your honesty and generosity of spirit in this sharing.

    • Barbara, Thank you for your email and for this comment. You may be one of the quiet ones, but you have just the right words when you need them. I believe in the power of kindness and love to turn whatever life brings us into the best it can be. Richard and I certainly experienced that in his journey with brain cancer: not only did he live two years longer than his docs initially expected, they were two years full of sweetness, grace, and joy. I couldn’t heal his brain cancer, but I could give him a good life with it. That’s worth a lot.

  6. Beautifully written, Susan. My husband and I have been together 31 years. We’re both healthy, but I know how quickly things can change. I try to stay mindful of every moment we’re privileged to spend together. Thank you for allowing us into your life transition. You have a wonderful attitude.

  7. Grace, Thank you. I’ve been writing about my approach to life–and death–in my personal blog, Walking Nature Home (http://susanjtweit.typepad.com) for several years. Staying mindful to every moment is the best way to live well–fully, happily, completely–with no regrets. Whatever happens. For me, writing about the “whatever” keeps me sane and able to keep up that healthy and healing attitude.

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