grief and birthdays

I want to keep you alive

I want to keep you alive

I look around me and I see that there’s no way to keep you here, but I’m trying. Life shouts at me, Move on. Move on. Move on…but I don’t want to if that means leaving you behind.

I know I can’t bring you back. I hate that I couldn’t save you, that I wasn’t able to change events, or do anything to help stop the cancer’s insidious progress. I hated feeling helpless to save the man I loved. I did all I could to comfort and care for you, but it wasn’t enough. It would never have been enough, no matter how I rewrite history in my mind. You were dying. The end.

But now, don’t I have some control? I can control how much I strive to keep you ever-present in my mind and my life. I can think about you, speak about you, write about you, grieve you daily. I can keep the shirts you wore. I can try to replicate your recipes, or try to finish household projects as you would have wanted them done.

I can gather the things that meant the most to you and cherish them in your memory. I can purchase the furniture we selected together, or choose any new purchases based on what I know you would have liked.

And yet, it still isn’t enough. None of those inane attempts to keep you with me will work, because you are gone. Forever.

I’m fighting against the winds of change. I’m fighting an uphill battle to keep your life sacrosanct. I know I’m destined to fail, because time will move on, and you will remain in the past. And oh how that hurts. I want you to stay with me here, but you’ve moved on to somewhere I can’t go, no matter how much I wish it weren’t so and attempt to keep you here with me.

You are gone. I want to keep you alive, but I can’t.

I have choices to make and things to do. I have new experiences on the horizon. I have options that I can’t discuss with you. Well, I try, but I never hear your answer.

That’s not entirely true. I do hear you. I knew you so well, I can answer for you. I’m pretty sure I know what your response would be to most given situations.

And do I really want to know what you’d tell me now? Can I face “hearing” you?

You’d tell me that you are dead and that I should live. You’d tell me that my time isn’t through and I should embrace every moment I have left on this earth. You’d tell me that life is short – and don’t you know that more than most? And you’d say that I should do what I want, and quit worrying. Travel, play, enjoy, live, love.

If you could visit me right now, you’d tell me that you love me and you’d hug me and dry my tears. You’d say there’s nothing I can do about the fact that you are gone, and that I should just keep living life to the fullest.

And, oh, how I wish I could.

May 18, 2018

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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