grief journey

Happy Birthday, Superman

Today is Rick‘s birthday. At this stage, I’m experienced enough with grief to know that I need to take a little time by myself before I try to venture out into public. Even two-year-old grief needs a time and a place to be released. So I stayed in bed this morning, my last vacation day this week, pulled up the covers and turned to the Amazon Dot next to my bed to request that Alexa play two songs. The first was a song I heard last week that moved me immediately when I listened to the lyrics. It’s called Best Part of Me by Ed Sheehan featuring YEBBA

But you love me, you love me
Why the hell you love me so
When you could have anyone else?
Yeah, yeah
He loves me, he loves me
And I bet he never lets me go
And shows me how to love myself

‘Cause, baby, the best part of me is you
Whoa, lately, everything’s makin’ sense, too
Baby, I’m so in love with you

I never understood how Rick loved me so much, flaws and all. And more than anything about those lyrics are the sentiment that “he shows me how to love myself.” He still does, because his love is still within me and always will be. The song made me feel once again how loved and cherished I felt with him here, and how much I miss that feeling. Because the lyrics remind me of the love we shared, it hurts a bit to listen to it, but it evokes the good feelings, too, so it’s still a comfort.

Next, I asked her to play Superman by Five for Fighting

That was one of Rick’s favorite songs. We always had a playlist of our favorites playing in the background of our lives. Whether we were eating dinner, or after dinner sitting in our easy chairs competing with each other in a game of scrabble using our phone apps, or out under the gazebo drinking wine, our favorites would be playing softly. And this was one of Rick’s favorite of favorites. He had the sheet music and was teaching himself to play it on his guitar. Sometimes we’d dance to it, but most times I remember sitting across from him watching him singing along, eyes closed, belting out the words while playing acoustic air guitar.

Although the lyrics really had no particular meaning in terms of Rick’s death, I put the words to the song in a little brochure that we handed out at his celebration of life two years ago today. I guess the only thing significant about the song was that it meant so much to him. Rick was a big comics fan, he would gladly tell you anything about Marvel and DC comics, the origins of each superhero and their alter egos. He was always explaining all the backstories and complications to me. And I really did pay attention! And, of course, Superman was right up there with the best of them. 

But, more importantly, Rick was my personal Superman, and he was a humble one. I think the lyrics fit him perfectly, this larger than life, muscular man who was never comfortable with praise and who didn’t ever think he was good enough for the many accolades and awards he earned for his layout and design skills year after year in his career. In fact, he often seemed surprised that I loved him as much as I did. He knew couldn’t fly, but he tried anyway. So I asked Alexa to play the song that reflected the soul of the man I loved and that meant so much to him and to me.

I’m only a man
In a funny red sheet
I’m only a man
Looking for a dream
I’m only a man
In a funny red sheet
And it’s not easy
It’s not easy to be

So there I was, buried under my covers, expecting to shed a few tears. Of course I would, it’s been more than two years since those days we shared, when I sat with him listening to this song. And of course yes, the tears came. But as the song built up, so did the magnitude of the tears until suddenly they became a monsoon. I was stunned by the velocity of feeling. Two entire years of grief poured out of me in the time it took for Five for Fighting to sing this one meaningful song.

Two years of grief poured out of my soul. My grief filled the room, then the house, and I could picture it flowing out into the street. The grief came from so deep inside, I felt like I was rendered in two and could never be made whole again. My love, my love, my life, how can you have been taken from me? How can you have been gone so long? Two years of grief, grief that I thought I’d handled and contained and put into its place erupted and destroyed me once again. 

And now it’s the calm after the storm. And I guess it’s a good thing I took the time to release it, because I might just have exploded as I went about the business of the day. Instead, I’m ready to move on with life once again, a life I’ve built as I go about recreating a future without the man who showed me how to love myself. I’m off to babysit my youngest grandchildren for the weekend, I have some invoicing to do for our side business, and I’m in the midst of messaging two men to arrange our first dates. I’m still alive and Rick is not. Life goes on and that’s just how it is. 

I’m okay now, and will be until next time I suppose, when a song or anniversary or birthday or photo or event triggers the grief again. But I’ve learned once more that I’m never safe. Time may dull some of the pain, but it really never heals it. The grief may seem to be waning, but it lies dormant like a smoldering volcano waiting to erupt and lay waste to my serenity. But for now, all is calm and life can resume. 

Happy birthday, Superman. You’ll always be the better part of me. 


About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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