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On Grief

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


I can’t remember ever being able to smell daffodils all over the yard, but they are stinking up the place this year, blowing yellow trumpets along every wall and border. The best they’ve ever been, I’m sure. They didn’t get frozen hard after they went to bud, for once; didn’t have to lie down in translucent submission to winter’s slap.

 It’s two years tomorrow since you died, March 25, 2019, and I feel as if it’s me with six feet of 

sandy loam between me and the grass and sky. Why is that? Why at the two year mark? Has anyone studied this? Today, I am impervious to joy. I see it all around me but I can’t feel it, I can’t make it up through grief’s deep clay. Look, everything tried to lift me up, but it barely worked. I cried at lunch, I cried at dinner, even though I took nice food out onto the patio I had built for myself. I fed a lot of it to Curtis. At lunch I looked straight up, bawling, at a creamy white cloud and there were three hawks circling silently—a pair of redshoulders being escorted off to the west by a very large, very white- bellied, broad-breasted redtail.

 At this point I know her just by her tanklike shape, but I look, I must make sure; I wait for her to turn and yes! There is the light hitting off the rumpled white feathers on her torn and mended right patagium, the one she ripped on barbed wire before I found her hanging there on October 25, 2019. How is it that I get to see her again? And how is it that seeing her just makes me cry more? Nature tries, I cry.


And Nature tried again—a raven circled high, high above, a wedge-tailed, still-winged marvel, letting out a rolling croak, just to the north of the tower atop our house, the one you dreamt, the one we had built, the one that was worth building just to know we could do that. Nobody but you thinks to build a tower on their house. And while I was watching the raven, the lisping tlit! of a tree swallow, first of the year, and my unbelieving eyes watched it cross the path of the raven. How is it that I got to see those two birds together? And this morning, the ringing wild song of the first Louisiana waterthrush came up out of Goss’ Fork, and only now do I remember when writing about it that right after we met you wrote me a song about how “the waterthrush so sweetly sighs,” rhyming that with “the warmth in her butternut eyes.”  It was the first song you wrote for me, and it was a fairly good one. Not many people get good songs written to them. I put that in my basket of pluses. Those two fine kids, too, the best music we made. 



All this happened today. At sunset I sat out on your little patio and a woodcock flittered back behind the great brushpile I’ve built—I know the sound of their wings. And then a big red bat came circling over and over around the back yard, the evening sun lighting its chestnut wings and setting its cinnabar hair afire. My favorite bat. Well, OK, there’s my favorite bat now, circling. It’s all piling up. The meadow woodcock started up calling and dancing, adding its twitter, hiccup and beep to the evening drag racers out on the county road, to the moron’s roar of engines and barking dogs in three directions. Clinging to the magic I could hear above the din, I decided to walk out the orchard in the moonlight to see if there were more woodcocks out there. No, but there were spring peepers in the wet field below, and I needed those. On my way back by your parents’ graves, a brown thrasher, the first of the year, scolded me with a dry skidding tuff! call, one I know by heart, knowing a little something about brown thrashers. Again, a first of the year, and my first ever heard in the dark. I thought then that this means it’s time to plant the peas, but the thought  brought no leap of excitement; it just made me tired. More tussling with my faint-hearted gas rototiller, with no one to even hear me cuss.


I sat on the stone bench and listened to the woodcock, then headed out the meadow in the bright moonlight, to the big black shadow of the lone pine that watches over your grave. I thought how odd it was that I could lose you quickly, so sadly, and now can only sit down by your bones. But at least there is something of you here. I feel lucky to have that much. Not many people get that.

 I thought I might tell you how it all was today, how it has been for me here alone, but found I had nothing to say that wasn’t covered by the moonlight. I looked at the perfect black blot of my head’s shadow on the still-bare clay of your grave, looked at the black spikes of liatris poking up, heard you in my head saying, “Prairie GAAAAYfeather!” and sort of quarter-smiled. I looked at the outline of our house against the sky, the only light a pale blue glow emanating from my little fishtank in the kitchen. I needed some other souls in the kitchen, so I bought three tiny guppies, who swim up and down and side to side in their miniature world, begging for flakes. 

 The guppies, my sweet dog,

 the sunset luau of that hibiscus,

 the daffodils, the patio…the endless brush cutting and clearing; even the 16 goldfinches twittering in their cages all over the house; the bats and woodcocks and thrashers and wrinkly dry peas counted out…they’re all hedges against sorrow, really, they’re what keeps me with the living, on this side of the clay. Today was hard. Tomorrow will be what it will be, I suppose, and my feet will go on, and my heart will have to go along with them.

To you, Will.


Oh, Julie. I think of you often, alone but for Curtis and the fish, fighting the nonnative plants and brush, waiting for Phoebe and Liam to come home again. My heart feels for you.

This is that bright violet edge of love, it comes with the territory, so we have to feel it.

Thank you for sharing this. Only someone who has experienced such grief can truly appreciate the feelings about which you write. It's like time goes quickly and slowly without them.

My grief is different - probably more akin to your children's grief - as I lost my dad to pancreatic cancer (he was 64) in 2014 and lost my mom to esophageal cancer this past November. I cry every night after everyone in my loud crazy house falls asleep. My mother never got over the loss of my dad and I will never get over the loss of my parents.

I understand. At least, I share your sorrow, your struggle to find any joy, the sense that everything good and lovely and fun and heartfelt leads back to the deep grief at no longer sharing any of those things with a passionately loved partner, friend, lover. I'm also going through this alone, except for our lovely cat.
My love of almost 42 years died on 9 June 2020, "only" not quite ten months ago. Every day is a struggle. Every night is achingly lonely. I'm trying to remember and resurrect him in his pre-illness physical and mental glory by researching and reconstructing our life together and his life before me (we got together when he was 42 and I was 25, so he lived a long, interesting life before I knew him), interviewing our friends, his oldest friends, former lovers, the events he participated in. Somewhere down the line, I plan to write his biography.
The dead only live on in people's memories, so I'm collecting those memories and trying to jump-start my own to build and hold onto a more complete picture of my love.
Now I have to fend off the "concerned" family and friends who think I should be getting over my grief by now. I truly hope no one is doing that to you.
This is the hardest and most painful thing I've ever been through. Sending you my empathy and sympathy.

To answer your question about the length of these feelings, yes, it has been written about. It makes me think of the phrase, "The we of me" from "A Member of the Wedding". The writers give us at least three years to feel a little better. And memories of the we of me surface unbidden, and I'm off again. Jay died two years ago, brother, David just over a year. And early Spring is achingly beautiful and full of sense memories of us. My dad said he never did come up out of it, and I don't think I will either. And that's ok. Thank God for a good cry. It helps one go on.

Sending my warmest hug.

Thank you for your courage, your eloquence, your sensitive heart. You give voice to such universal yet uniquely personal sorrow. We find ways to carry our losses with grace. Time for healing tears is part of the journey. The both/and of love and loss. I bow to your beautiful gift of spirit.

I have no wise words, nothing that approaches your experience. Yes, I've lost loved ones--parents--and while my mother's death was untimely, but now--30 years past--only the love remains. She is in the "next room."
I think of you often. In conversation and in writing, I refer to you as "my friend, Julie Zickefoose" even though we haven't met. I must write your name with some frequency, because Spell check no longer challenges the spelling.
May peace surround you, and hold you in your grief. While loss is ever with you, may the good memories remain strong and sustain you.

Sending love, Julie! So much love!

Hugs to you and the cur.

Been thinking of you and Bill, this time of March with the birds returning and the days getting longer, the songs in the trees, the flowers coming up, that promise of spring. We will raise our glasses tonight in Bill's honor and say his name out loud into the universe.

Your post is beautiful and achingly sad. Sending you love. Someone once said that a map of grief would look like a tangled up mess of yarn; there is no clean, direct route through it.

My own experience is different: I'm watching my beloved husband of 40+ years die by inches of Alzheimer's. In fact, my main fear is that I won't have a tear left to cry by the time the physical death takes place. But thank you for this beautifully written window into your experience. I send love and solidarity from my lonely place to yours.

Such a beautiful,soulful and heartfelt post. I don't know you personally but I always enjoy your writings in the digest and your books. I am so sorry for your loss and heartache. Sending hugs

All my love. Life is so hard and so beautiful and all we have.

Oh I feel all of this emanating from you...and I can't help but wonder where my heart will be in two years. Thank you for sharing your grief and sharing it SO beautifully!

Nature tries. I cry. Oh dear Julie, your words and reflections are just a faint representation of what you and your beautiful kids have been through these past two years. There are times when everyone has to be alone with this much grief to let it go through them so they can carry on with more clarity and strength. And there are times like now when it was good that you shared these memories and reminders with us. So many people who knew and loved Bill and even those who never even met him want to hear the stories and admire the man who chose you as his wife, as the mother of his kids, and the person you will always be connected to because nature will continue to try. My love to all of you.

Thank you for sharing the beautiful spring chorus that I feel was meant especially for you. I am glad you had spring peepers as I asked myself that while reading your post and then you mentioned them. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself.

Beautifully written. I am coming up on 2 yrs of my son being gone, I thought it would surely get easier, but it's not. Sending you love, hugs and prayers.

The two year mark is the worst, at least it was in my experience of losing my husband (also to pancreatic cancer). The first year I was sad for him, and brave. The second, sad for myself and bravery had run out. Grief is exhausting. Keep going, Julie. Anytime you feel the tiniest bit of joy, milk it for all it's worth. I know from your beautiful words and love of nature you already do this. It will get better. Truly.


My friend Richard died this month. He was a renaissance man of many interests and talents. I think he and Bill were kindred spirits in many ways, from what i have heard about Bill. Richard always liked to recite this quote ( i have no idea where it came from, but i love it).....he would grin and say “I have my hooks in the groove of a vast circumference!” I think Bill did, too. And so do you. Me too. Hang on - it’s one hell of a wild and wonderous

I am so sorry for your loss. 💚🌿

Julie, I am so,so sorry for all of your losses and pain of recent years. I'm so glad you can go and sit with Bill in the meadow. What a special and personal place to go in times of sadness and grief. Thank you for sharing, so honestly, the unavoidable emotions of grief that life serves us all from time to time.

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