Life is for the Living

By Sue Mayfield-Geiger

Life is for the Living

When my 55-year-old husband died suddenly in 1993, I went through all the emotions of loss: sadness, guilt, anger, depression and, finally, acceptance. He was unemployed at the time, so money was tight. We had accumulated a considerable amount of debt, so our savings were depleted as well as the life insurance policies.

With one son in high school and the other one in college, I felt enormous weight on my shoulders and awoke each morning with the same lingering question: “What now?”

Born in the ’40s, I was from an era where wives depended on their husbands as primary breadwinners while we took care of the domestic part of life. I was working as a secretary at a law firm, but certainly not making the kind of money needed to pay a mortgage and college tuition, not to mention past due credit card bills.

I decided to just let each new day carry me through my sorrow, while friends and family offered enormous support. With decisions to make and uncertainty facing me, I wallowed in the quagmire of it all. Fortunately, our house sold before it went into foreclosure, so moving furniture and packing boxes offered the busyness and structure I was lacking.

A few months later, I heard a familiar song on the radio – “Already Gone” by the Eagles. I had never paid much attention to the lyrics, but one particular line stopped me cold: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and never even know we have the key.” I immediately ran out, bought the CD, came home and played that song – over and over – again and again. I repeated that one line in my head so much, I could see every word. “I have the key,” I thought. “I do have the key.”

Every time I sunk to low levels, I’d remember the key. I began to use it, little by little. Some chains are often more difficult to unlock than others, so I turned the key slowly, releasing the chains gradually until I was ready to face reality. Somehow I shook myself back into normalcy, got my affairs in order, became a stable role model for my sons, and moved forward. I went back to college and got an English degree. I began to find comfort in journaling, meditating and reading the classics. I had the key, and I was using it!

The months turned into years, my sons became adults, and I had come into my own. I was out of debt, fulfilling my long-standing dream of living by the water, and writing.

I often think back to those times of despair, the darkness and seeking answers. And when I do, I always remember a wise, older woman who attended my husband’s funeral back in 1993, whom I barely knew. She was quite small, not a smidgeon over five feet tall, with smiling eyes and blue-gray hair. She approached me with warmth and compassion, took both of my hands in hers, looked up at me and said, “My dear, life is for the living; you must live now.” Her face was almost luminous as she squeezed my hands and walked away.

I remember thinking at the time how odd that she would say something like that during my time of mourning. But I never forgot her and certainly never forgot what she said.

Today, it all makes sense. Life is for the living, and we must always remember that. People, places and events will come and go, we will have ups and downs, and we will suffer extreme loss, but we will also experience exhilarating joy and fulfillment. So, as long as we are here on Earth – well and alive – we must embrace life. Because it is indeed for the living – and I’ve truly learned how to live.

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