Shipwreck

Over the weekend, as I was polishing what I hope will be the final and definitive version of the query letter for my memoir, Detour in Cancerland, about caring for my husband as he faced his terminal illness, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in decades, and I heard it in a new and shattering way.

My book is about my ridiculous behavior during Mike’s illness – when some kind of temporary insanity gripped me and I developed an absurd infatuation with a carpenter 21 years my junior, who was in our house to build Mike the new and beautiful kitchen he should have had all along, the kitchen that I was desperate to give him before he died. This crush was some wild form of deflection or denial about what was happening – that Mike was dying, would definitely die, and leave our daughter and me, without him. Mike knew and understood that, and he forgave me for it, as I had forgiven him, over an over, for things that he had done that most women would have used as grounds for divorce.

As I was trying to condense the complexity of all this into a “hook” in the query letter, Spotify played me Heart Like a Wheel. I had only ever heard the Linda Ronstadt version of it, and not the recording by the writer, Kate McGarrigle, and her sister, Anna, so I was hearing that version for the first time that day.

As a lonely, self-pitying teenager – the fat, smart girl who was never asked to the prom – I played Ronstadt’s version (which omits the second verse, about death), over and over, a bazillion times. When I heard that second verse for the first time this past weekend, I suddenly understood the song from a completely different perspective – that of a person who had loved me, out there on that sinking ship, feeling alone and lost and full of regret. I felt my late husband’s love for me and our daughter tearing him apart, as cancer tore him from us, too soon, and how this love left him floundering on the sinking ship of his incurable, merciless disease:

“Some say a heart is just like a wheel
When you bend it, you can’t mend it
And my love for you is like a sinking ship
And my heart is like that ship out in mid ocean

They say that death is a tragedy
It comes once and it’s over
But my only wish is for that deep dark abyss
Cause what’s the use of living with no true lover

And it’s only love, and it’s only love
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out
That can wreck a human being and turn him inside out

When harm is done no love can be won
I know this happens frequently
What I can’t understand
Oh please God hold my hand
Is why it should have happened to me

And it’s only love and it’s only love
And it’s only love and it’s only love
Only love, only love
Only love, only love”

Kate McGarrigle

Love can wreck a human being and turn him inside out.

No true lover.

For years, Mike and I both felt left without a true lover, for all the complicated, personal, tangled, hurtful reasons a long and difficult marriage can engender. But we stuck it out. And the toughest thing of all was that we found each other again with so little time left – each on our own sinking ship, out in the middle of an ocean of regret, reaching for each other one last time.

Our love survived the shipwreck, and carries on, a slow, steady current streaming through an ocean salted with pain and yearning.

Mike used to say he wanted to be buried at sea. I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to do that for him. But after hearing that song in this new way after all these years, I’ll never get the image of Mike on a sinking ship, and me reaching toward him, but not able to save him, out of my head.

Staring at the sea in my mind’s eye, cherishing every piece of the wreckage, I remain,

your steadfast, loving, forgiving and forgiven,

Ridiculouswoman

Ship image by ArtTower from Pixabay

______________________________

I have updated my new page, “27 Things,” with a list about widowhood. My head’s been there these past few days, after that song, and revisiting the book and querying, and not knowing if I even want to anymore, and all of it.

3 thoughts on “Shipwreck

  1. Gorgeous and so heartful- thanks. My husband’s death date is coming up soon, and not because I seek for memories or triggers of grief- they arise anyway almost every day now. My friend, whose husband has been gone for thirteen years, said she just had the exact same weird sleep pattern the night before his death date that she had in the hospital the night before he died of cancer. Holding our hearts open for full on living today means we also open to full on grief attacks that makes us oh, so human. Music surely holds a key for opening up.Thanks again.

    Like

    1. Thanks, and so true, Judi. From the day it happens, widowhood is a permanent state of being, even if we’re lucky enough to find new sources of love and happiness. Once we’re on the widow’s walk, the path may change but the baggage, however carefully packed, comes with us.

      Peace to you, my friend.

      Like

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