We reprint today in memory of the author of one of the most provocative Sea Foam submissions.
"I hope the piece helps someone," said David A. Kerins of Sun City Hilton Head when it was originally published Jan. 24, 2011.
David died Aug. 24 at age 83 after a long illness.
He had taught history, English and philosophy in New York for 30 years when he and his wife, Helen, retired to Hilton Head Island in 1985. He enjoyed playing tennis, reading, writing and photography. He was a hospice volunteer and active in two local Catholic churches.
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At Sun City, he was a leader of the writing club, the Sunscribers.
His first Sea Foam essay, "Compassion," was published in 2003. He later wrote about a beloved grandson overcoming a physical disability to become a great athlete. He also told with great detail how the family found hope in Helen's fight with cancer.
His book, "Through The Dark Valley," told about his three-year fight with tuberculosis, discovered as he was discharged from the Navy in 1948. Again, he said he hoped it would help others going through hard times.
This was his final essay for Sea Foam. It stirred a lot of feedback because he dared to write honestly about a common problem that few prefer to talk about.
May David rest in peace among his fellow patriots at the Beaufort National Cemetery.
By David A. Kerins
The answering machine blinks on and off. Two messages. Who is reaching out to me? Is it someone in charge? Is it an omnipotent, all-knowing Father or my personal angel? Is it my deceased wife sending a message?
I'm in a new place in my circle of life and am not happy.
"Give it time," is the advice I receive. "Everyone has their own timetable working through grief."
I attend meetings of the church bereavement group. We new singles are alike now, but different stages of grief are etched in the faces around the table. For some, spouses have died unexpectedly while others after years of illness. Tears flow. These widows and widowers are new acquaintances. We come together to comfort each other (which is really impossible), but we discover we're not insane -- others share our tangled thoughts and weaknesses. My problem is common: an inability to make a decision. Should I go to the store or not? Watch TV or not? Take a nap, go for a walk, listen to music, call someone and go out to eat, stay home and take a shower?
"Till death do us part" is a reality. After 60 years, part of me has died. Everything reminds me of her. A song -- not our song, but any song -- will have a line about love, loneliness and sorrow, and I'm overwhelmed with memories of particular moments.
I find a note in her handwriting, and I'm close to tears. The TV plays reruns of shows she liked, and I hear her laugh. Sometimes I feel her presence. I work on the Internet and type an answer to a research problem when I feel her presence in the next room. Three times I'm on the verge of calling her in to see what I've written. A strange and eerie feeling!
I think about my new situation in the context of our culture. I'm told you have no useful function in society; what you produce determines your value. Single, elderly widows and widowers have little to offer. We are part of a family, and our children love us and are concerned with our well-being.
They want us to be safe, preferably with other seniors. They, and other young, active, productive members of society, have their own problems: jobs, budgets and their children. Their lives are full and busy. Their beloved elderly are an added and serious problem. We are in the way.
Perhaps we play one valuable role. If our grandchildren are very young and share time with us, they might retain some fond memories.
If attentive, they might retain some snippets of wisdom. Time is limited, though, because the young want to be with the young. Visiting Grandpa or Grandma becomes a chore.
You might think I've painted too bleak a picture of our families and the love that envelops us. Here is a typical weekly phone conversation:
"How are you doing, Dad?" my daughter asks. She is one of five children who dearly love me and call each week. All five are concerned about me. They often comment about assisted living.
"I'm fine," is my appropriate answer.
Does each child really want to know how I feel? Suppose I answer, "I feel like crap; it's lonely. It's a doubles world, and I don't fit in. I'm alone after 60 years, and the silence is deafening. I go out to eat, and the restaurant promotion is 'buy one and get one free.'
"I have no appetite and can't finish one meal; now they offer me a free one. I say, 'I'll take the free one, and you can charge the next single who comes in.' 'We can't do that, sir.' 'May I have one at half price?' <2009>'No, we can't do that.'<2009>"
AN ENDURING LOVE
A widow shows interest in a relationship with me, and I mention that in our church bereavement group. I'm reminded, "We know right from wrong. Let your conscience be your guide." I think the church is still not big on pleasure for pleasure's sake. I have another thought: Wouldn't the children be shocked?
Imagine hormones raging at m passing in a downward cycle from old age to adolescence; next I'll be a child, and finally a helpless baby. We arrive in this world naked. We leave naked and hopefully with some peace.
My new life is enlightening but disconcerting. I'm not alone. There are millions of widows and widowers. It's really a national health problem for individuals and their families.
I realize families share an enduring love, but I find myself in a lonely and lost place.
I try to remember what a wise spiritual adviser told me: "You are a child of God, and you're never really alone."
I cherish that thought, but it is difficult. Each time I attend Mass there are prayers for the dead, and I'm reminded I'm alone. For years I attended daily Mass but not now. Sins rear their heads at any moment, and the battle between my faith and the devil is joined. Faith often loses, and I wonder whether I have lost the best part of me. Is the devil winning?
I push the button on the answering machine.
The first phone call is a retired nurse in the bereavement group.
"If you need anything call me."
The second call is stunning: "Mr. K. This is Margaret Walsh, a student of yours, class of 1979. I want to tell you how much you and your 'Introduction to Philosophy' course influenced my life. I'm teaching and coaching and use Viktor Frankl's book, 'Man's Search for Meaning.' The same book you used in our class. I'll leave my number. Give me a call."
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