Looking for Magic: My Journey through Grief

I’ve been looking for magic.

On Monday evening, November 28, 2022 at approximately 6:35 p.m., my partner of thirty-nine years, George William Reichert, Jr., rested his left cheek onto the palm of my right hand and died. Just like that. He was gone.

Six days before on November 22, my love, my Bill, as I called him, collapsed to the living room rug. As much as I tried, I couldn’t lift the block of cement his emaciated 130-pound frame had become. He asked for water. I couldn’t get it into his mouth—he couldn’t lift his head.

I phoned my neighbor, Anne, who arrived in minutes, suggesting I contact the hospice nurse. When Theresa entered the scene, she examined Bill and then raised her eyes to mine, and said, “It’s time.”

Those words; that phrase. “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” from T.S. Elliots’ Waste Land have shuffled through my mind on auto play for the more than 300 days since Bill passed away. How had Bill and I come to this time so quickly? When I was a child, I memorized “Danny Boy” for a school presentation. Looking back, I didn’t realize then as I do now that for most couples, one must go and one must bide. I’d always believed we were the Hallmark movie with the happy ending, walking off into the sunset, hand in hand. But that was not so.

That evening was filled with paperwork, questions about Bill’s medical history, and four strong men from Fire and Rescue with a single mission—who quickly dispatched Bill from the floor onto our bed.

The firemen left, Theresa and Anne undressed Bill, and I stood in the kitchen where the nurse had told me to wait. When she appeared, she reviewed the ingredients for the “cocktail” and instructed me how to mix and administer it.

Soon she and Anne departed, Bill snored, and I sank into bed—exhausted.

In the remaining five passing days, the hefty fire men returned and moved Bill from our bedroom to the living room where the hospice bed had been set up, and I began a new phase in my caregiving role—administering the “cocktail” as instructed every four hours.

In between those hours, I held my personal wake for Bill.

I was someone who took photographs and made albums, often joking with Bill that if we ever broke up, the albums were mine. In those passing days, I pulled all twenty albums into the living room and walked through every photograph with him, describing what we had been doing and how happy we were.

Amazon’s Alexa played songs from our early days while I sang Bill’s favorites to him: “When I Fall in Love, It will be Forever” by the Lettermen. “Fly Away” by John Denver.

I kissed him, washed him, and told him with every breath how much I loved him. On the second day of his passing, I asked him if he still loved me and he replied, “Certainly.” When I said I tried to do the best I could to take care of him, he replied, “You did a good job.”

Those words were final—the last he ever spoke.

For the last 300 days, I’ve been looking for magic. When Bill was passing, I told him I’d look for him in every flower, every butterfly, and every airplane crossing the sky above me. (Bill and I were private pilots and had owned a Cessa high wing airplane.)

And so, instead of choosing grief therapy, I chose to look for magic. I don’t know if I can fully explain why I made the choice I did other than I wanted action. I didn’t want to spend time dissecting our life together with someone I didn’t know. I could do that myself in every waking moment.

In some ways, I was like Harry Potter in the “Order of the Phoenix” after he lost his godfather, Sirius Black. Sirius had gone “beyond the veil”. In his grief, Harry remembered the mirror which Sirius had previously gifted to him at Christmas, telling Harry to use the mirror whenever he wanted to communicate with Sirius. Harry called out but Sirius did not appear and Harry realizes Sirius’s disappearance into the clouded, obscured, other place called death is irrevocable.

How I cried when I read that scene. Those words; that phrase: “Death is irrevocable.”

As it was for Harry so has it been for me especially when I found the note tucked away in one of my little-used wallets. I hadn’t seen the note in six years.

It was December 25, 2016. In my mind’s eye, I see Bill, kneeling at the side of our bed, a pen and sheet of lined 6 by 9 paper in his hand. Instead of buying a Christmas card that year, he presented me with this note, “Martha – know that Skipper, Teddy and I are here at your side now always and forever. Love Bill.” Skipper and Teddy were our Schipperkes.

After that holiday, I’d folded the note, and placed it into the wallet. That day, I didn’t understand the import of the situation. Now, in hindsight, I realize Bill’s message was deeper than I would ever know. He knew he didn’t feel quite right and one day he would go and I would bide.

When I found the note, a few weeks after Bill crossed over, I hoped, no, I longed to see him. For a time, I imagined him at my side, holding my hand, a spirit guide watching over me as I poured over wills, and irrevocable trusts (there’s that word “irrevocable”), and financial statements, making calls and lists as I worked through the tedious but necessary forms and regulations that accompany death.

After a while, when people asked “how are you doing?”

I replied with, “I’m looking for magic”. I began with a promise I made to Bill when he lay on that hospice bed and drifted away. I promised to take care of myself as I had not done during the six years of caregiving. And so, I threw myself into body sculpting, joined a gym, and hired a personal trainer.

At that time, I knew a few reasons why I choose going to the gym. Selfishly, I didn’t want to end up like Bill, whose strong, physique had wasted away. In the end, he walked hunched over and I was taller than him. I’d begun walking bent over and my shoulders slumped from years of lifting and moving Bill around. So, I decided I wanted to regain the body I’d had when I began the care-giving years.

Going to the gym, also helped put boundaries on my crying. On a Monday, early in my training, as the instructor demonstrated how to do low pulls and vertical traction, I told him I’d invented cry-less Mondays. Like people who don’t eat meat on meatless Mondays, I never allowed myself to succumb to grief on Mondays.

Working out and practicing body sculpture at home became my personal grief therapy. My posture improved; my physical strength increased. I became addicted to the clang and thud of weights slamming against relentless, unbending steel frames. I felt good and punished at the same time. The solid steel structures offered no sympathy, no hugs, no encouraging words. Instead, they offered sweat, aching muscles, and on those days when my boundaries collapsed a way to cry undetected. For in a gym where everyone is focused on self, where everyone is absorbed at looking in the mirror, I wept sweat and tears silently, riding an elliptical with Juice Newton’s “Love’s been a little bit hard on me” playing in my Apple airpods.

At home, whenever the grief, whenever the loneliness, and reality threatened me, I threw myself onto the creamy, thick shag rug in the living room where Bill had died, and did Russian Twists, Bird Dogs, and Glute Bridges until sweat dominated. When I regained my footing, I felt strong and courageous. I imagined myself as a Sumo wrestler circling my grief and slamming it until I took it down.

I continued my search for magic. I became a tourist of nature, going to Ireland for a month, a place Bill and I loved. I looked for Bill in the forests, the hills, and sky. One of the first days, I was in County Mayo, a circular opening in the midst of a tall, tight, green hedge beckoned me to step into the unknown like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Surely, I would find the magic, I would find Bill in this ancient, spiritual, nature-filled country. The peacock butterfly’s powerful eyespots flittered across my vision often. Imagining Bill was sending me a message from beyond the veil, I followed as the butterfly, a strong flyer, moved from flower to flower.

“Know that I am here at your side now always and forever.” I believed the magical words Bill had written to me. He told me he’d be with me and there he was in all the beautiful moments as Ireland’s nature unfolded around me. Those walks among shaded, cooling forests, gazing at water falls became part of my grief repertoire often accompanied afterward with a session of sweaty body work.

It’s almost a year since Bill has gone, people tell me how different I am, how good I look, how well I’m doing. My body has changed. I cry less each day. But still, the hollow heart hole remains and I continue to look for Bill. But most days, I realize that like the peacock butterfly, magic is found as I move forward with my life. My magic comes from Bill’s love for me which is ever present in my heart.

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  1. Micki Quinn on November 27, 2023 at 1:44 pm

    Oh, Martha, your essay on Bill touched me in ways I cannot even explain. Just to verbalize what you experienced is an emotional journey I know we all must survive one day. I cried at your words and applaud the “magic” you did indeed find! You are a strong and amazing women whom I admire tremendously!

  2. Anne Marie Bosler on February 29, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    I just read your essay, “Looking for Magic”. The love you and Bill shared is alive in your writing. You are strong and yet fragile. The journey is long yet short. The roads are sometimes bumpy and sometimes smooth. Through it all, love is what counts and what gets us through. What impressed me the most was how you relived your life with Bill through the pictures in the albums. How beautiful!

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