A small good thing

April 21, 2020

Photo credit, April Deutschman

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

memory and desire, stirring

dull roots with spring rain.”

— T.S. Eliot

In 2017, Mike Madigan’s life ended abruptly on April 19 in a car accident. The end of Carolyn Marquardt’s life began on April 17th, with hospital treatment for a leukemia she was not to survive. For Carol and me, April has been the cruelest month for the past three years.

We’ve both learned that widowhood continues on even after new love is found – that’s the breeding lilacs out of the dead land, I suppose. And then in April comes the stirring of dull roots with spring rain, as our memories of Mike and Carolyn surge.

But in this April of coronavirus comes perhaps a new cruelty. The sadness of loss over these past three years has undergone many changes. Over time, the overwhelming grief gives way to a numbing sadness and then an emptiness for unlived lives. Because Carol and I continue to live a life that was denied to Mike and Carolyn, our sense of personal loss transfers to them. Carol thinks of Mike missing the experience of his four grandchildren as they grow to their own adulthood. I think of Carolyn never having the chance to experience just one day of a retirement she’d been building for more than forty years.

“Carol and I know we have been blessed both by our love for each other, but also the love that preceded this one.”

Then came coronavirus. The day Mike died, he’d been developing a client that had the potential for a lucrative expansion of his investigative business. With the courts and judicial system shutting down as a result of the current pandemic, it’s not unreasonable to think Mike would have seen his business suddenly dissolve at the moment of his greatest success. For Carolyn, she’d be watching the airline industry collapse before her eyes, throwing all she had worked for toward her retirement suddenly into doubt and anxiety. To say nothing of her continued leukemia treatments leaving her lethally exposed to a virus, even as she struggled to survive that cancer.

We know both these people well. Mike and Carolyn would have soldiered on with the spirit, grace and fortitude that Carol and I had both fallen in love with when we first knew them. Mike’s words for life were an upbeat “when life gets tough, ride the waves.” Carolyn’s were “if you wait for good things to happen, they will.”

Carol and I know we have been blessed both by our love for each other, but also the love that preceded this one. We can certainly be thankful we have each other to help us remember Mike and Carolyn, without the lonesomeness and emptiness that would have trailed us doing it alone. Whether we can take some small comfort in knowing neither would have had to face the calamity of coronavirus is less clear.

When life gets tough…

If you wait for good things to happen…

That’s the legacy Carol and I are using to get through this crisis, so perhaps in that way, Mike and Carolyn are still around to inspire us with their example, even if just in memory of it.

We’re both learning you’re never going to experience an end to widowhood once it happens, and maybe in some ways that’s a good thing.

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