Kim Abbot (Frank Kimball, Jr) -Oct 1, 1943 –March 12, 1982
Today is the 30th anniversary of my first husband’s death in a horrible fire. Some of you already know our story, but others don’t. He was very disabled by Multiple Sclerosis and I was unable to get him out of the house. I did get our then-four-year-old out and safely to a neighbor’s home. We had three children at the time, but thankfully, the older two were in school (I adopted a fourth as a single parent years later). Kim’s death followed the loss of my brother, my father and my twenty-four year old nephew, only four months before. We also lost most of our belongings, and our home was badly damaged by the fire, necessitating our moving around until we found a longer-term rental. We were without our home for about a year.
Naturally, we were all terribly bereaved. We had a lot of help over the years and I suffered from PTSD connected to anything about fires. Thankfully, it is now very mild, but still present. It was a pretty awful time for me and for my kids, the eldest of whom was nearly fourteen. It was many years before I was able to call to mind and enjoy the memories of happier times that Kim and I had shared. We had met as college students and during our early marriage, lived in San Francisco, which we loved, and then moved to CT where Kim had mostly grown up.
Over time, we processed our grief and the knife-like sharpness diminished, returning occasionally and unexpectedly, with a vengeance, but less often as the years passed. Still there were triggers.
Most years, March 12th was a very difficult day for me. I followed the cues of my kids, encouraging them to talk about their father and their feelings as the anniversary approached, but tried not burden them with my own feelings. That is not to say that I didn’t express them, but was careful not to make the kids feel they needed to take care of me. Finally (and I can’t pinpoint the exact time) there were more silent tears than visible ones, as normal workday duties called and distracted me a bit. March 12 was naturally noted and felt, but not dwelt upon.
Yesterday on Facebook, I posted that this 30th anniversary was coming up today. I got a variety of kind and helpful responses. My colleague, Deah Curry, PhD, coach and therapist,
www.facebook.com/NoHypeMentor commented that such anniversaries are both bittersweet and sacred. As usual, Deah made me think. I had always acknowledged that it was an emotionally hard day. The bittersweet aspect was apparent in that I was/am proud of all I have come through and of my strong survival skills. I am able now to remember Kim with smiles and to evoke the positive feelings that come when I think about the old days with him, and about our family experiences. There are still tears sometimes, but I no longer view the past and our life together only through a veil of tears. I had just not thought much about the sacred aspects of such a milestone as the 30th anniversary of his death.
There are various cultural beliefs and practices around how to honor dead loved ones and ancestors. Many cultures believe that deceased family members have the ability to look after, and to influence the well-being and fortune of their relatives. The belief is that the family never dies or ends. Family is something that exists in perpetuity. Such cultures create rituals to ensure that the dead view the living in a positive manner and they honor their dead in this way, both as their filial duty, and in order to ask for special assistance and intercession.
I like that idea. I can hear the disdain and see the smirks of some very rational and intellectual people I know, but I don’t much care. My family is undergoing a period of stress for a variety of reasons, and there are several of us with health issues right now. I find it comforting and fitting to think about Kim’s spirit as somehow being able to watch over us. I imagine a lot of folks feel that way.
I wasn’t able to find any really unique and special way to commemorate Kim’s life and death, but I did get up extra early today to have some time alone to reflect. Each year on this anniversary and those of the others of my family of origin, I light a memorial candle and say a prayer that comes from the religion of my background. Some of the observant people in my family would be upset, I am sure, since Kim wasn’t of the same religion and because I have personalized and modified this prayer. This morning, I sat and listened to the silence that is unusual here. My older daughter is staying with us temporarily and my younger one lives here with her pre-schooler. I am remarried and my husband, Art, had the day off. I deliberately woke before anyone else. I brewed a cup of tea and as it steeped, I permitted the luxury of steeping myself in memories of Kim. I wondered, too, what he might be like as a senior citizen, no doubt with grey or white hair and beard. I thought about some of our adventures together. I thought about what a joyful and exuberant person he was before his illness and how passionate he was about life. I thought about his dreams and his enormous intellectual curiosity. I remembered the music he loved and could visualize him, listening to it with his whole spirit, whether Vivaldi, Bach, the Beatles or rock. My very special quiet time was brief, but I enjoyed it and felt that I had indeed created a sacred time and space in which to think about Kim, whose life ended when he was thirty-eight years old.
I think he would be pleased about how I grew up, since in some ways, I hadn’t truly done that before his death. I wish he could have been there to see the kids grow up, as well, and to meet his only granddaughter.
I don’t live in the past. The past has contributed to who I am now in a way that can’t be denied.
There is an Islamic saying that you tell someone you meet who has just lost a loved one, “”May you be alive and may God’s blessings be on him or her who is deceased.” While I would never, in a million years, want to relive what we went through thirty years ago today, I am glad to be alive and glad I created a sacred time and space today to send these wishes for blessings to Kim’s spirit.