I started teaching a brand-new class at Hartford Seminary this week. It has forced me to do a lot of reading and reflection. There have been hundreds of times when I wanted to talk to Bill about something that I had discovered or learned, or was struggling to articulate. This is just one of a myriad of ways my life has changed since his death.
To be honest, I still talk to Bill a lot, and, in our decades together, I often was the one doing most of the talking. I’m sure that surprises no one, but Bill understood that I was someone who thought out-loud. It sometimes drove me crazy because his thought process was internal, and I just had to let him be quiet and think through something. What drove me craziest, though, was that he would process it, but then never share aloud what he concluded or decided. He seemed to forget that last part.
Not having my 35-year thinking partner has been a bit like having part of my brain removed. I find myself having a very hard time making decisions. My assumption at first was that it was simply grief and that time would help heal that. I’m discovering now that is simply not the case. Bill and I were such great partners because we complemented/completed one another. His linear, logical thinking balanced my instinctive, intuitive approach. We needed one another, and I still need him.
In a conversation this week about capital punishment, a student of mine said, “I think a life sentence is a crueler punishment than death.” As a lifelong opponent of the State killing people, I instinctively started to argue with her. Then I thought about my own “life sentence,” and I had to admit she might be right.
When someone who is connected to you at the heart dies, and you are sentenced to live, there is a certain cruelty. Death is so permanent and irreversible. I keep finding parts of me that have “saved” a place for Bill’s return, which of course isn’t going to happen. Like an athlete whose leg has been amputated, I, too, must learn new ways of living and even thinking. Part of my brain is gone forever, but I’ve been sentenced to life without him. Right now, I need him to help me figure out how to do this. He isn’t here to talk to, though I still do. He doesn’t answer any better than he used to, but I have found voices of friends and people like you who seem to channel his gentle wisdom. That has been a great gift … when I am open to shut up and receive it.
Rev. Michael Piazza