It was almost my wedding anniversary and my husband, Bob, had just died a couple of weeks before, of Brain Cancer. I dreaded that “birthday of our marriage” even more because I remember how terrible it felt last time that first wedding anniversary after the death of my first husband, Blaze. I knew that it was best to do something special to honor the day and that would help me a lot. I also remembered the days leading up to the anniversary are worse because of the dread of it, than the actual day itself sometimes.
I had a lot of wonder and gratitude about walking with Bob through that transformative, critical time in his life, our life, as we dealt with cancer, and about the beauty, holiness, love and unity we experienced through our fight and also at his death. I had a deep gratitude for Bob’s love for me, which was complete, passionate, tender, self sacrificing, life giving, and powerful; all I could ever dream of. I knew what I had when I had him. I loved every minute of it even though it was a terrifying and painful journey once Bob had the seizure that started it all. I would walk that journey with him again, even knowing what I know now. He was worth it. It was a joy to love like that and to know such intimacy even in the face of the unknown; the possibility of death and loss we had to deal with every day.
I decided for our first (“better- half, post-humous”) wedding anniversary, I would pray a rosary novena of love and gratitude for our marriage. I asked Bob, in spirit, to join me in praying it. I knew he would. We had often prayed together, even before he became Catholic, with my rosary wrapped around our joined hands. The first gift he ever gave me was a rosary. That particular rosary was also the sign I had asked for from God about whether I should be open to a relationship with Bob or not after a lot of agonizing and not knowing how I felt or what I should do. (That’s a whole other story.)
When Bob proposed to me (I will have to write you a story about that too sometime,) I happened to have a rosary in my hand and when I finally said, “yes” (I was crying a lot,) I wrapped it around our wrists.
The rosary had always been a part of us. So a rosary novena leading up to the big day seemed perfect.
I normally pray the rosary while walking. In this rosary novena of love and thanksgiving, I would walk the same route with my rosary that I had done every night of the two and a half years of Bob’s illness, praying for him. It’s a perfect route because I am almost home right when I get to the “Hail Holy Queen.”
I decided, though, to do my rosary walk during the day this time so I would be less likely to think of those nights I walked and prayed for him carrying such hope and pain. I wanted it to feel a little different at least. Of course now I was in a lot of pain with my grief, too, to the point I felt like I could die from it. It was hard to find comfort anywhere and praying the rosary felt strange and foreign like everything else I did at that time. But I did it anyway of course.
One day toward the end of the novena I was walking along my accustomed path, praying the rosary, feeling particularly broken and lost. My heart asked Bob the wrenching questions that agonized me in my times of acute desolation. “Do you still love me? Are you still mine? Are you joining me in this rosary novena really? Do you miss me? I don’t want you to suffer but I wish I knew if you missed me. I wish you could miss me a little. Can you even miss anyone when you are in Heaven?”
I finished my rosary walk. When I got home I went through some old e-mails of Bob’s to me from years ago. I forwarded some of them to his mother. I had paused, as a wave of grief went through me… then realized that I had been staring unseeing at a picture Bob had attached to an e-mail he had sent me a few years ago. Suddenly I saw what I was looking at. It was a picture of his dirty hand taken at work (he was a press room foreman & mechanic at the local newspaper so his hands were always filthy and inky). In this beautiful, calloused, dirty hand of his was a delicate forest green rosary. His caption said, “missing you.”
I couldn’t believe it. I cried.
To me this said yes, he is still mine, we are connected by heart, he still loves me, he is joining me in praying the rosary, and…. he misses me. It was overwhelming. I actually felt happy all day after that.
Here is the picture.
This is what it means to me:
• Love is stronger than death.
• The rosary is a glorious prayer that even connects the Communion of Saints, (I knew that of course but now I KNOW it!)
• It seems people in Heaven can miss us after a fashion, as well as answer and comfort us sometimes in our painful moments of deep grief.
That is how I saw that photograph; as a loving gesture from Bob and from the Lord. I have no idea why he would have titled it, “missing you,” at the time when he took that picture years ago. But thank you, God, that he did.