The Opening Bell

Articles from The Opening Bell

A Year of Grieving, Loving, and Persisting

by James F. Bell, Chairman & Founder

December 2020

The team at Bell tells me that many of you as clients and friends often ask after me and want to know how I am doing. This heartens my soul to learn of your care and concern. My purpose in writing to you is to tell you just that. Let’s catch up.

November 20 marked the one-year anniversary of my Bonnie’s death, or as I believe, her transition to Paradise. In reflecting on my grief, I realized that it took several months for my mind and body to accept that she was not coming back. After Bonnie died, a good friend of mine recommended that I keep Bonnie’s clothes just as they are for as long as it felt right to me. He said, “You are going to want to see them and touch them.” I am grateful for his advice. Bonnie died in my arms wearing beautiful red floral pajamas, and I would often step into her closet to hold a sleeve and speak with her. After several months, it felt right to donate Bonnie’s clothes.

With my new situation as a widower, I chose to focus on cleaning out and organizing our home from top to bottom. For at least two hours a week, I let go of everything I do not want and beautifully organize everything I do want. I call this “The No Stone Unturned Project.” It is often painful but very liberating, and I have a long way to go. Grieving is a lifetime process.

I have also developed five priorities for each day:

  1. Make my super healthy smoothie for breakfast using all 13 ingredients. I worked with a nutritionist remotely to improve my diet for the hard work of grief and to start each day in the best way possible.
  2. Meditate each day for 20 minutes right after breakfast. I find that it is best to do the most important things of my day first thing before anything else. I use a very simple practice of meditation; I count my breath. Inhale one, exhale two, repeat. I observe all the things that crowd into my mind and let them go. I focus on sensations in my brain, and with my eyes closed, I begin to see different lights and colors. I start each day with silence and peace.
  3. Do a strength and stretch workout every morning and walk for one hour each day. Since the COVID restrictions began in March, I have lost 25 pounds.
  4. Learn to play piano. This is something I have always wanted to do. I purchased a black satin Yamaha grand piano for the living room, and I am learning to play using excellent workbooks. I practice every day.
  5. Talk to someone I love on the phone.

There are days when I only do three or four out of five, but it is becoming more frequent that I hit all five.

I practice the recommendation that it is good to lean-in to grief – don’t try to avoid it. One way I lean-in is to set aside time to look through photographs and all the things Bonnie saved about our love for each other. Bonnie was very romantic and saved every card and letter that we had ever written to each other going back forty years. Last week I pulled down one of her “Love Boxes” and went through the memories. This box was special: she had saved one of the shoes she wore in our wedding. I love this quote from Pierre Auguste Renoir: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”.

Bonnie was so passionate about reading that she read a book a week, fiction and non-fiction. The last book she was reading is a novel by Nina George, The Little Bookshop in Paris. The book was with her during her three hospitalizations for colon cancer and stroke. The book would be on her tray when she would spill her water, so the last 100 pages are rumpled and waterlogged – but still readable. As a way to stay close to Bonnie, I decided to read it too. I was immediately blown away that this novel is “Dedicated to the departed and to those who go on loving them.”.

The protagonist, Jean Perdu, a Parisian Bookseller, is grieving the death of his lover, Manon. He takes a road trip away from Paris and is listening to talk radio when the host asks her audience, “If you were to describe one event that made you who you are, what would it be?” Gil from Marseille has this to share:

I became myself when my son died because grief showed me what is important in life. That’s what grief does. In the beginning it’s always there. You wake up and it’s there. It’s with you all day, everywhere you go. It’s with you in the evening; it won’t leave you alone at night. It grabs you by the throat and shakes you. But it keeps you warm. One day it might go, but not forever. It drops by from time to time. And then, eventually . . . all of a sudden, I know what was important – grief showed me. Love is important. Good food. And standing tall and not saying yes when you should say no. 

Best Wishes for a Season of Love, Mercy and Community.

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