Letter to a Loved One, Twenty Years Later

Dear Joanne,

Today marks twenty years since I walked you over the threshold and out of your life on this earth. It feels like yesterday. It feels like 100 years ago.

I cried last night at the benefit for the Breast Cancer Fund. It’s complicated when I cry like that. I’m crying because you are no longer bringing your good nature, your fierce determination and your insight into this life. I’m crying because so many others are going through what we went through (the room was full of them). I’m crying in wonder and disbelief at all the changes we brought into our lives. But mostly, I’m crying from gratitude.

Thank you for those years when we walked, and sometimes ran, towards a new way of looking at death, and life. Thank you for refusing to shrink from brave choices. Thank you for protecting my heart so I could risk facing my worst fears. Thank you for bringing all those beautiful souls, the ones who cared so well for our little family, into my life. And thank you for continuing to impact my way of looking at my life. The experience of living next to cancer is at the heart of all my work and also deeply ingrained in how I love. I’m more fearless, engaging more fully with everything I do, and I have our time together to thank for that.

When I am with a guest on my radio show, Good Grief, I keep you, and everyone I have lost, right by me, reminding me that the voices that reach out in those deeply challenging times are like beacons that help us find our way. Each of my guests is a representative of the radical concept that we can take our difficulties, our traumas and our disappointments and transform them into something; that they don’t have to be only painful. You and I learned that together.

The children we were raising together are all grown up now, all engaged living their meaningful lives. They seem to me to be better able to handle life’s difficulties then their contemporaries. Could it be that they learned that even the worst can be lived with love, compassion, and openness? Is it possible that, along with the fears that losing someone close embedded in them, there is also a true experience of how wonderful, precious and undeniable (even irrepressible) life is?

As you imagined and encouraged, I found someone to share my love with. I had to let go of you as my life partner and re-form our relationship, making you into a sort of spiritual adviser; maybe part angel, part ghost, part whisper in my ear. I am heartened that grief counselors are beginning to refrain from asking grievers to find completion, to get through loss or say goodbye. I was never able to do that- our relationship was too important to make myself let go of the things I was able to keep; the wisdom we gained, the sense of direction you helped me to cultivate, the ways I could count on you!

That’s not to say there weren’t losses; of your body, your voice, your quirks, smiles and irritating habits. It’s just to say that not ALL was lost and that, on balance, I came out on the plus side. All the fear, anguish, uncertainty and pain COULD, in fact, be transformed into something. For me, that realization liberated my life.

So, at this momentous milestone, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you; to publicly acknowledge everything that came to me because I loved you, cared for you, and helped you die.

I hope things are well where you are, if you are anywhere. Meanwhile, things are well with me here, as I like to imagine you already know. I carry you with me and maybe, somehow, you carry me too. It’s hard to imagine that it could be otherwise.

Kisses and hugs,

Cheryl

 

 

 

Cheryl Espinosa-Jones

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Cheryl Jones is a grief counselor and the host of Good Grief radio at VoiceAmerica. During her education as a Marriage and Family Therapist, her first wife was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, which was at the time a uniformly terminal illness with a six month to one year prognosis. In the eight years that followed, Cheryl engaged daily in the work of preparing for her death. She was trained during this period by Stephen and Ondrea Levine (Who Dies and Grieving Into Life and Death) and Richard Olney (founder of Self-Acceptance Training). After her wife’s death, Cheryl immersed herself in her own multifaceted grief, startled by frequent moments of joy.! ! Along with her private therapy practice, Cheryl is Manager of Professional Education at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, CA. She has trained extensively with Erving Polster, leader in the field of gestalt therapy and author of Everybody’s Life is Worth a Novel. Previously, she was Clinical Director at the Alternative Family Project, which served the therapeutic needs of LGBTQ families in San Francisco. She also wrote a column for the San Francisco Bay Times called Motherlines and ran Considering Parenthood groups for the LGBT community. Website: www.weatheringgrief.com Good Grief host page: www.voiceamerica.com/show/2264/good-grief

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