Alrighty, there's no graceful way to say this, so I'm just coming out with it -- I failed my mission.
The last time I was in this space, I wrote an article about death, grieving and anger, with help from noted grief expert Dr. Bea Haapi.
With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I wrote a fake newspaper story about Sheila Hagar being angry at the death of her spouse and acting out because of it, including trying to run over a co-worker.
Of course, the good doctor's name was a play on the words "Be Happy," and it's obvious from reader response I made some of you anything but.
Many of you, bless your hearts, were indignant on my behalf that someone would actually say those things about my grieving process. A couple of you took me to task for handing out such terrible advice ... to myself.
One reader emphatically told me she was angry with me for handing out bad "pop culture" advice to the woman I was writing about, scolding me for not giving my subject time to get over her grief. Otherwise, the poor dear will drop those so-called friends and stop reading Sheila Hagar's terrible advice in the long run.
One reader said I needed to quit writing "depressing personal stories." Um, here's the dealio: This is a column, not a news article, it's all mine except when I share space with someone else, and -- to my great delight -- my bosses let me write what I want with very few exceptions.
I've been at this columnist stuff for a dozen years and it's nearly always intensely personal. If that doesn't float your boat, you might want to avoid this section of the newspaper every other Tuesday.
Several readers had a good laugh, however, and that's what I needed, too. You see, that column, while silly and made-up, was in response to feeling misunderstood by some people ... like I needed to get over myself and get on with life.
Turns out I am not alone. One woman put it in succinct language:
"My husband died like yesterday (actually, I'm told, it was 10 1/2 years ago -- how can that be?) so I know exactly what you are saying. Only my friends don't say I'm so much angry as (er, witchy) and in need of counseling. Just wait till it's their turn!"
Boy, that was good to hear. I, too, have been quizzed if I've "thought about getting some help."
How do you know I haven't?
I could go on, but I'm guessing you've had enough. You can see why it was more fun to invent a ridiculous "expert" and her unbelievable self-help book, "Getting Over It in 30 Days or Less."
Despite my ham-fisted approach to the matter, I was showered with support, including real, live letters. With a stamp and everything.
Today I want to share with you one of the best gifts I got through this whole thing, which more than makes up for the guy who is sick of the "depressing personal stories."
It came from my friend, Dr. Vern Shafer. Vern and I haven't met face-to-face, but he's a good correspondent and an equally good sport -- he wrote about the woes of nailing down e-mail skills at an advanced age and allowed me to post the letter on my blog (you'll find the address to that at the bottom of this column).
Vern wrote me a beautiful letter this time, sweetly lauding my skills as a writer (I don't know how he knew I might need that balm) and showing an exquisite understanding of the pain of having your heart cut in half.
He lost his half, too, nine years ago. "And we are left here faced with the challenge of learning how to deal with the torturing pain of emptiness. It seems like a nightmare, but it is frightfully real."
But here is Vern's treasure; I will hold tightly to this the rest of my life:
It must have been for one of us
To drink this cup and eat this bitter bread.
Had not my tears on thy face been shed
Thine would have fallen on mine.
So when this cup's last bitterness I drain
One thought shall its' primal sweetness keep:
Thou hads't the peace,
I the undying pain.
(Adapted from Philip Bourke Marston)
Of course, I get it now. David could have never borne this level of grief. While I inhabit a larger world, family was his entire universe ... whenever I was sick or injured, my husband was nearly beside himself with anxiety.
I'm not saying he wasn't strong -- he was. The man I married endured a terrible childhood that would have foundered most. He fought personal battles and emerged with determination to be the best father and husband he could be.
The guy went to college at age 35, for goodness' sake. No one in his family had even finished high school. David graduated with a culinary degree after doing homework night after night at the rickety kitchen table in a two-bedroom apartment, surrounded by a moody adolescent, a bouncy toddler and cranky, pregnant wife. And eventually, an infant.
You think that didn't take guts?
But this ... this he could not have done. It would have destroyed him.
Thanks to Vern's shared wisdom I can see, at last, I am giving David the last gift I ever will, paid for with the dearest price.
I stayed behind and will do this work until I no longer draw breath. Knowing how very hard it is, I would never ask him to do this for me.
You're welcome, Honey. And you owe me.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom or by calling 509-526-8322.