Posted on February 29, 2012

louiseForty-six years ago my handsome young, soldier-husband placed a wedding ring on my finger and kissed me as his wife for the first time. Less than 12 hours later, we stood in front of his dark, Army barracks with snow falling and said our goodbyes before he went overseas. 15 months later Carl came home on a 30-day leave then kissed me goodbye again before boarding a plane to go right back overseas, taking my heart with him each time he left. Eventually he came home for good and we spent 45 wonderful years together before our final goodbye kiss in an Intensive Care Unit. It was there that I slipped his wedding band off his finger and onto mine where I have worn it these nine plus months since his death. It’s a hard journey and I miss Carl every minute of every day. He is my first and last waking thought.

Last year we were extremely busy on our 45th anniversary and put our celebration on hold. I planned to write 45 special memories about our dating days and early marriage and put them in a book for Carl. He was to write me a letter every day for a year. (Okay, my idea and he hadn’t totally agreed to it.) Then life changed forever. Carl became ill and at the end of May, pancreatic cancer took his life.

There are no words to describe the grief that overwhelmed me as I realized my husband would never again walk through the back door of our home and give me a hug or a kiss. Never another phone call or e-mail. No more smiles, caresses, laughter or tender words. I traipsed our acre plus yard that Carl loved so much, wishing I could find him trimming bushes or watering trees. What happened? Just weeks earlier we were living life normally. How could he be gone forever? At night I would crawl into bed, exhausted, and cry on Carl’s pillow, asking God why he took my husband.

Finally, I started writing down memories for the anniversary book. Sweet, sad and even funny things like the time Carl decided to teach me how to shoot a rifle. He forgot that I grew up on a farm with four brothers who sometimes took me hunting. Needless to say, he was a bit perturbed when I hit the target. Or the special memory of seeing our newborn son for the first time and realizing our love created this beautiful baby.

But Carl wasn’t here to write the letters I had requested. Then one hot summer day, our oldest son, Aaron crawled into the attic and found a treasure—a box of love letters from my beloved. Over a year’s worth of airmail letters with upside down stamps that meant, “I love you,” sent across the ocean. It had been years since I had seen those letters and I thought they were lost forever. I sat down and read them one by one, taking time to enjoy each hand-written sentiment like a delicious delicacy.

Then I read them again and again. Oh, the beauty of his letters, each ending with, “I love you more today than yesterday and even more tomorrow.” Such passion, love and sweetness. How he carved our initials in a tree on Valentine’s Day because he was in the field (mountains) training and couldn’t send a card, telling me, “Someone in Western Germany knows I love you!” Yep, I cried! I cried again when I read a PS that said, “I will be with you forever!” A 45-year-old promise now coming straight from heaven to my heart.

So yes, I will definitely celebrate our anniversary on March 4th, even though Carl isn’t here with me. I will glance at the clock and say, “Happy Anniversary, Darling,” at 5:20 p.m., the exact time we were married. I’ll enjoy our anniversary dinner of cheeseburgers and french fries then I’ll play some Elvis love songs that remind me of Carl and our many years of loving each other. In fact, I’ll do what I’ve done many times in these last months. I’ll wrap Carl’s comfy, denim shirt around me that still holds a faint aroma of him and dance to the music as if my beloved were holding me. I will celebrate our life, our love and our happiness of 45 plus years. And if I’m lucky, I will feel Carl’s arms around me as I dance and hear him whisper, “I’ll love you forever!”

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