All the sincere expressions of sympathy and messages of love and support I have received since my wife’s death have been immensely helpful and heartwarming. I plan to respond to every one—and I will—but I do not have the energy to do justice to how grateful I feel for each and every message. Comments here—responding to yesterday’s short message—along with emails, text messages, Facebook comments, etc. reinforce my sense that I am surrounded by good, loving people. But beyond that, the knowledge that my wife, a very private person who kept so much to herself, meant so much to so many emphasizes her impact on the world in which she lived.  To all who reached out and who read these words, thank you from the bottom of my heart. On day, and I hope it will be soon, I will have the strength to connect directly and express my appreciation personally.


I spent the day yesterday inside my house. I wanted to feel the sunlight I could see from my windows and I wanted to experience the crisp air, but the idea of enjoying it for even a moment so soon after the death of my wife felt utterly wrong. The gloom of the previous day, with its thick fog and grey skies and constant drizzle, seemed more appropriate to the circumstance.

As if the weather somehow reflects our emotions. As if the texture of each day should somehow mirror the texture of our moods. As if the entire universe should somehow echo the chaos in the tiny space surrounding our brains.

We sometimes give ourselves more control and more credit than we are due. How many hundreds of billions of times has the universe proven that the world goes on without us? As important as we are to microscopic clusters of those like us in our “nanospheres” (I borrowed and adapted the term), the universe constantly and consistently disproves the butterfly effect, in spite of my multiple arguments in support of and to the contrary over the years. We’re too small and the universe is too big for any one component to have an impact on the entirety. But because we understand only the part we can conceive of, the butterfly effect is absolutely true in our experience. In my house yesterday, I controlled the weather; it was a gloomy, dreary, foggy day. I provided the rain and the mist.

I did not sleep well the night before and by mid-day the lack of sleep was getting to me. But I managed to call two of my wife’s high school friends to give them the news. I’d met both of them in years past and knew how close my wife had been to them, even though they rarely communicated any longer. Friends from church came by with food for my dinner (which I discovered later was a wonderful sausage-and-tomato-based soup). The morning telephone experiences drained me, so some time after noon I relaxed in my recliner to nap, where I slipped into a reasonably restful sleep for two or three hours.

My sister-in-law, who had come by for coffee early in the day, came by again in the afternoon. We chatted, played Words with Friends, and tried to emerge from the rain and mist I had created in the house.


I tried to watch another episode of Mindhunter last night, but promptly fell asleep. I find the series quite interesting, but mental fatigue seems to hold sway over interest.  A half glass of wine could have contributed to my drifting off so early, but generally a half glass of wine only encourages me to finish the glass and pour more. Not last night. At 10:30, I awoke and put a half glass of wine in the refrigerator. Perhaps I’ll try wine for breakfast. Probably not, though.

Predictably, I awoke last night around 3:00 with a need to pee. Fortunately, the dream that preceded the waking did not have enough of an impact to ruin the night. My wife and I had parked in front of a small meeting venue on the waterfront. I wanted to look at the place; my wife opted to stay in the car. When I went inside, a woman asked if she could help me and I said I wanted to see the meeting rooms. She showed me two meeting rooms, both with a wall of windows on the waterside. I asked for rental prices. She pointed to five artificial trees in pots in one room and told me the cost was one hundred dollars per tree to rent the room. In the other room, there were six small trees in pots; the cost to rent the room was fifty dollars per tree, which translated to $300 for the room. I told her I would think about it. She asked for my name and contact information. I made up a name and address and spent quite some time drawing elaborate letters and numbers on a sheet of paper. I then asked to use the restroom. The room was tiny; when I tried to close the door (which was a wrap-around door), I had a hard time closing it because I had more circumference than the room. Just as I started peeing, some guy pushed his arm through the space between the door and the wall and laughed, causing me to list to the side, peeing all over the leg of my pants. Then, as I looked down, I could see that there was a hold in the floor where the toilet should have been and there was a man’s face below, looking up at me just as I let loose with a stream of pee. Somehow, I got out of there and to the car to drive away. The dream ended just as I awoke with an urgent need to pee.


How can one’s mind mix such utterly disconnected sensations? Though the dream was not at all funny to me (I was quite worried that the men were going to try to hurt me), it was not in keeping with my mood during the day. I think our minds slip in and out of control; mostly out. We cannot corral our emotions and thoughts enough to make them acquiesce to our desires or expectations. Unless, of course, we have been trained to discipline ourselves to such a great extent that the natural expression of ourselves is bound and gagged and left to wither while the expectations of society are drummed into us.


I should take a shower today and I probably will. But not now. This morning, I will be lazy and will not punish myself for it. I will try to relax for awhile. Later, after my possible shower, I will see about returning my wife’s borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet. I will finish my online grocery shopping. But I may do nothing of the sort. Time will tell.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to After

  1. robin andrea says:

    This article was in the NY Times the other day and it made me think of you. It’s an interesting and profound read about death.
    I hope the link works and you can read it. We are thinking of you, John. Hope you can rest, sleep, and breathe deeply. Take care, my friend.

  2. Bev says:

    I hope you can just try to get some rest. Seriously, John. After my dad, Don and my mom died, I pretty much has to lie down and rest for a couple of days and just try not to worry about things. The wheelchair can probably wait to be returned. You’ve been through a lot in the past few months. Take care of yourself.

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