Interview: Bonnie Cramond
When Bonnie lost husband Neil to cancer last October, there was hardly any time to grieve.
“Unfortunately, I was not given the luxury to grieve my husband after he died,” Bonnie says, “because my son Adam was so ill with leukemia in the hospital in Atlanta. As soon as my husband passed away, I went to Atlanta to be with my son. Then Adam died six weeks later. So, I was missing my husband but I was fraught with worry about Adam. I was nauseated and fatigued.”
Although Jerry Sittser (see Review: A Grace Disguised) lost three family members at once in a tragic car cash, Bonnie’s experience with losing a husband and a son over a six-week period seems to carry a special kind of “what’s next?” dread to it. One that doesn’t allow for any kind of respite or relief.
“I still don’t know that I will be okay,” Bonnie, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia, admits. “I think so at times, but at other times I think I cannot go on another moment, much less another day. I try to do creative things to help myself deal with the grief—write poetry, sketch, and cook. I am trying to exercise and see friends, but almost everything takes great will power to force myself to do it. I have told some friends that the only way I can deal with my grief is the Zen Buddhist practice of living in the now. If I think of the past or the future, I am sad. So, I try to stay in the now. I cannot always do it, but I try.”
Bonnie can distinguish, though, between the pain of losing Neil and that of losing Adam. “I think my sense of loss for Neil is like a constant ache, whereas my feelings about Adam are like sharp stabbing pains.
“Missing Neil is more of an emptiness, rather than loneliness. I miss him in so many ways. I have such sensorial memories of him—his smell, his touch, his taste, his look, the feel of his hand in mine, and so forth. I miss all of that and more. The feelings have increased rather than diminished. I think that is because I was in so much shock with the loss of Adam right after Neil that I did not really get to mourn. Lately, I have been feeling really low with missing him. The only way I get out of these feelings is to distract myself with a book, a movie or some activity.”
Bonnie admits there is some anger, too. “I sometimes get angry that his smoking caused him to get lung cancer and that he continued to smoke even after he was diagnosed. I understand that it was an addiction, but I get angry that he left me with so much to handle, so much to do with the house.”
When asked if she agreed with C.S. Lewis that widowhood could be seen as another phase of marriage, Bonnie answered, “I still feel married to Neil. He impacted my life so much. When I see or hear something, I still think, ‘Neil would like this.’”
Bonnie is less sanguine about one day being reunited with Neil, the way I’m convinced I will be with Carolyn again, just as I also believe we were together before this life.
“This is a hard one,” she admits. “I am agnostic, so I don’t have any traditional religious beliefs to rely on. I wish I did. I have read a book on reincarnation that is very credible and reassuring, and although I would love to think it is so, I am open but skeptical about that, too. Besides, if I did see Neil or Adam again in a different life, it wouldn’t really be Neil or Adam. What is the essence of Neil or Adam? If he doesn’t have the same look, smell, taste or feel, how is it him?”
Yet, Bonnie does believe experiencing Neil in a dream is possible and would be good thing.
“I keep waiting for a visitation dream—one that is so realistic that it seems that the person really visited you and you wake up comforted. I’ve not had one yet, but I did lie in bed one morning recently with my hand palm up, fingers slightly curled on the pillow beside my head. As I lay half asleep, I distinctly felt Neil’s hand in mine. We often fell asleep holding hands or he would take my hand if he woke before me. It was such a definite feeling of Neil’s hand in mine that I expected him to be there when I opened my eyes. Maybe that was my visitation. Neil was an athlete, so it makes sense that he would do something physical.”
I’ve told myself that even though I only had five years with Carolyn, they were five of the happiest years of my life. And I would do it all over again, knowing it would be for such a short time. Bonnie feels the same way about Neil.
“I have thought about this a lot. Is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Yes, it. I had fourteen wonderful years with Neil, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. In the yin and yang of life, to live a life without pain, we must also live a life without great joy, too. No, I would rather have the full experience of life.”