Then They Stay Dead: Reflections at the 15-Year Mark of my First Husband’s Death

My late husband Gary and our son at Giverny, Monet’s garden outside Paris

My first husband, Gary, died 15 years ago today in Sydney, Australia.

Many events have happened in my life since Gary’s death, including (not in chronological order) our son’s graduation from high school and college, my retirement from a long corporate career, my son’s wedding to his beautiful bride, my move from Australia to England, the deaths of both my parents and my wedding to Clive.

Last year I wrote about my reaction as a new widow to ‘In the Next Room’, the well-known words of Henry Scott Holland. In death’s immediate aftermath, the deceased may be in the next room of Heaven, but they most certainly are not the next room of our physical space.

And they never will be again. My faith is such that I believe the soul is eternal, and I pray I will be reunited with my loved ones one day. But they have left the life we knew with them on this earth.

‘Distressed Haiku’

Walkway to Sydney’s Shelly Beach, one of Gary’s favourite places

The following lines are included in Distressed Haiku, written by American poet Donald Hall after the death of his wife.

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

The husband and father – or, in my parents’ case, after the death of my brother Rob in an automobile accident, the son — stays dead while we raise children or attend graduations or weddings, when we gather year upon year for family birthdays or Christmas dinners, when we recall a special time and can’t share the memory with the person who made it so. And on every random day when something expected or unexpected causes us to think of them. They stay dead as we pass the one week mark, one month, two months, six months, one year, two years … fifteen years (or in my brother and uncle’s case, 45 years …).

I share Hall’s words not to be negative or bring anyone’s spirits down, but because they speak the truth to me. They capture the truth about the long-lasting impact of the death of a loved one, particularly when it’s an untimely death. If there’s a positive to this truth, it’s that some say grief is the flip side of love, and we experience grief because we were so blessed to love and be loved.

Love also endures

The first photo I took of Gary, a few weeks after we met

I’ve been doubly blessed with my two husbands, Gary and Clive. I’ve written about Gary before, about the night we met and how lucky I felt throughout our marriage; about the kind of person he was and the gifts he gave to the world as a devoted husband and father, son, brother, friend, gardener, coach, umpire, scuba diver, animal lover, photographer and DIY master; about the tradition I’ve developed to scatter red rose petals in his memory each August 2nd – at Shelly Beach near Manly, Sydney, his favourite place, or wherever I may be.

Gary loved to scuba dive around this Shelly Beach headland, where we scattered his ashes

Today I scattered rose petals in the Felixstowe seafront gardens. I came home to Clive and as I do each year gave him a red rose for his desk. Red roses for love, for Gary and Clive.

Thank you for reading and may all those who are grieving eventually find peace.

12 Responses

  1. Really beautiful and well said. Love to you!

  2. Carolyn, this has so touched my heart. Beautifully written and I will share with dear friends of mine who are grieving. One, the loss of her first grandchild. He was killed in a car wreck last July and was only 18. And the other who lost her son to an unexpected drug overdose. The pain is so great for both of them.

    • Linda, thank you for your comment and my heart goes out to both of your friends and their families. Despite the grievous physical absence of their son and grandson I pray they will eventually find a measure of comfort and peace. Heartfelt sympathy to all.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to Gary, family, Gary junior, your dad, brother, mother, Clive, to life, to love. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you so much, dear Vicki. You and Ted were the BEST when I first met Gary and Chris (and of course you still are) xxxx

  4. Carolyn,

    Thank you for sharing Gary with us. Your relationship with him and love for him was amazing. As is your love and relationship with Clive. Neither of of these are an accident. These connections barely come once in a lifetime. You have been doubly blessed.

    I am glad you share this same photo every year. It is how we will always remember Gary.

    Much love for you, Gary and Clive. Lynda & Ben

    Sent from my iPad


  5. Your words continue to inspire me … “we experience grief because we were so blessed to love and be loved.”

  6. That’s so nice Carolyn..I think it’s a tribute we can all identify with in some way. Thank you for posting this.

    • Martha, I agree — wish I’d expressed that explicitly ie something virtually everyone understands (or will experience) at some point, especially as the years pass. We don’t continue ‘active’ grieving but it softens into that ongoing awareness.

      Thank you and best to you and John xx

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