Live the questions

Learning to continue on after the loss of my wife

What am I going to do? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately.

My wife, Jennifer Saltzstein, passed away unexpectedly on this day one year ago. I grieve for her still.

Grief, as I have come to experience, is complicated. I am often sad and exhausted. It confuses me; I have so many questions.

How could this have happened?

Could I have prevented your death?

How am I going to raise our baby boy without you?

How would you feel about the choices I’m making?

What would you say to me if you were here today?

What am I going to do?

I don’t have answers and I suppose I may never have answers. But I still have the questions.

Even though she is gone, I still have much to learn from her. The way she carried herself through chronic illness—with love, grace, compassion for others—was an amazing gift to the world. I celebrate and honor her by carrying myself in this way the best I can. I’m learning how to be a dad by sharing joy and laughter, the way she would, with our boy. I’m learning how to continue on in my career, which she gave me the courage to pursue. I’m learning how to love and laugh again.

From long before we met, she has kept a refrigerator magnet with one of those inspirational quotes. When we moved into together, it went up in our kitchen and it still hangs there today. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before, but lately, I’ve been reading it over and over again. Given the circumstances, the message carries much more weight with me now. It is attributed to one of her favorite writers, Rainer Maria Rilke, from his Letters to a Young Poet. It helps me feel as if it is Jen who is speaking to me and I am the young poet who is struggling to make sense of the world:

I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

So this is what I am trying to do. To live the questions. I may never have closure for all that’s unresolved in my heart, but it’s comforting to know this is part of the journey. I continue on without Jen by my side, but I carry her love—and the questions—with me.

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