Dear Rick,

How can you be gone?

I repeat this question to myself at least once a week, sometimes out loud, usually accompanied by a silent sob.

I guess I’m getting better. It used to be several times a day, and – in the weeks after you died – it was several times an hour.

True, as life and time have moved on, I’ve become used to the idea that you’re no longer here. Sometimes, when I’m wrapped up in my day-to-day activities, I can go an entire day without thinking about you now. Then, I’ll be minding my own business, working on a project or cleaning the house, or – most often – driving along in my car, when a vision of your face pops into my head. Or I’ll imagine I hear you saying one of your pithy sayings, “That’s better than a hit in the head,” or “Let the big fella take a look at it.”

Other times, from out of the blue, I’ll envision a scene of us doing something together. Maybe I’ll picture you standing behind me, hands on my shoulders, leaning over to look at something on my computer screen – and then leaning in to kiss my cheek before you leave the office. Or, more often, I’ll have a vision of us lying in each other’s arms.

I’m used to these memories and visions. I take them in stride. Depending on my mood, I’ll smile to myself, or I’ll get a little weepy. I cherish these memories of you. I accept them as part of my life, and I relish the evidence of the time we shared.

But, sometimes, I’m affected differently. Sometimes, I’ll be stunned by the reality of your absence. At those times, it’s like a slap in the face – he’s really dead! He’s really gone! And I’ll cry aloud to myself, “How can you be gone? How can you be gone? It seems like you were just here!”

How can you no longer exist? How can it be possible that I’ll never see you again?

True, it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. But when it does, I’m blindsided all over again. The shock to my system is the same. The stab to my heart is still as painful.

How can you be gone?

After all this time, and after long-ago accepting the awful truth, sometimes it still seems unbelievable, and I have to wrap my head around the fact of your death all over again. I have to confront the truth as if you died yesterday – the awful truth that I will never speak to you or touch you or hold you again.

Rick, Rick, Rick… how can you be gone?

You died seventeen long months ago. Life has moved on. I have experienced nearly a year and a half without you here. I’ve adapted to new habits. I’ve created a new existence. I’ve established new goals. I’ve almost come to terms with being a single woman, again.

Yet, sometimes, in the quiet moments, it still feels like a bad dream – a nightmare that can’t possibly be reality. Sometimes, after days, maybe a week, of thinking I’ve adapted to life without you, I’ll still be shocked that you’re not here and that I’m alone. And in the midst of my new life, I’ll wonder once again…

How can you be gone?

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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