"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." - Aeschylus
Time is a funny thing, if you think about it. Two years can seem like both an eternity and an instant, and that is very much how I feel thinking about reaching the 2 year anniversary of Mike's death.
My life, it is very different than even a year ago, and so very, very different than where it was two years ago. It's not that life is better now, or worse, it's just different. I have found a new happiness and a new place to exist in, but it never means for a second that I've forgotten where I've come from and what it took to get here. I still think about him every day, though these days I tend to keep the thoughts to myself and the emotions behind the memories are not so fresh at the surface.
I don't think about that day so much anymore, although as this year's anniversary of it crept closer a flood of memories from it did come back to me. There are many moments that my mind wanders back to the time before.... and I think about what my life used to be like. I'll sometimes even let myself remember the little things -- our conversations at the end of the day, places we used to frequent, things we would do together, secrets only he & I knew about each other.... it's always the little things that are the hardest to let go of. They are the little reminders of my former self and my former life.
And then my mind will wander on the other losses I felt -- friends I no longer speak with, people who turned their backs on me, family I'm not as close to, and others who just drifted away. I miss all of them in my own way. I understand that some needed to be let go of, for my own well being; others needed to go their own way for their own well being; and others just could not handle the relationship anymore -- whether it was my grief, or my recovery that pounded the last nail down, for one reason or another it ended. Yet, it does not mean I miss them any less or that the loss of these people hurts less either. There are some wounds that I think time just does not heal.
It also stings a little bit to feel like I, and Mike, are forgotten. Fewer and fewer people mention him to me anymore, and fewer of the people who knew him are still around. This past year no one, except me, remembered our anniversary. And it also feels like on the anniversary of his death, that so few people have even thought about this day -- and of the few who do, most don't say anything to me anymore. I feel like I am the forgotten one. And it just seems that more and more that maybe because I am with someone new, or maybe because I am remarried, and for all outward appearances seem to the world like I've moved on, that people assume I no longer remember or that I no longer need other people to remember. They are all wrong, but of course people have been pretty wrong about what this whole experience has been like for me all along.
I remember in the days immediately following his death, I had hundreds of phone calls and emails and people reaching out to me. At first I felt like so many people cared, and that it felt so great that we could all still be connected, even though the person who connected us was no longer there. But I quickly realized how wrong I was. A lot of those people, those who knew Mike, were reaching out to me because I was the most tangible piece of him left -- and in the first few days and weeks after his death, they leaned on me for support. But as so many people know from their own experience, it does not take so very long and these people start to disappear. Just when my fog was breaking and the shock was subsiding -- that is when I found myself all alone. Everyone else had moved on, save for a very precious few. And of those that were left, more and more would disappear as more time went on. I'm not saying that it was anyone's fault, theirs or mine, but what so many people don't understand is that when we lose someone that was so much a part of our life, it takes more than a few weeks or even a few months to deal with things. That those early days, when everyone gathers around you for support, you are too out of it to accept the support. But when you do need it, is when that shock wears off and your real grieving begins. And this is when there is no one left to support you anymore. This is why so many of the widowed people I know sought out each other -- the left behinds, to find solace in our shared grief.
The second challenge comes when you do start to move forward. I've felt so many times that I need to justify my every move, from dating to remarriage. Like somehow I have to make it acceptable to people who knew me or Mike before. I can't explain why exactly, but it is a kind of survivor's guilt that is felt when you are left to pick up the pieces and move on, when your former spouse can't. I obviously can't live my life trying to please other people, let alone trying to please a dead spouse, but still everything I do feels so complicated. It makes no sense, I mean divorced people don't seem to carry the same guilt and shame around with them in making a new life for themselves -- not in the same way that widowed people do. I know that part of it (maybe a lot of it) is self-imposed, but we do get these signals to feel this way from somewhere -- whether it is the person who openly "tsk-tsks" you for dating "too soon" or that friend of yours who no longer wants to talk to you because you seem "too happy" now and they were more comfortable with you being miserable. Whatever it is, and wherever it comes from, it is always there.
What else is always there is the fact that everything I will do for the rest of my life feels like it will be bittersweet. Sure you can, I can, be happy again and sure I have a wonderful new life that I am grateful for every single day. But this doesn't mean I forget what I used to have, and have lost. Not that I feel like I want to go back, but you can't really ever escape that feeling of missing it -- even if it is just for the briefest of moments. Those times I let my mind wander back.... I think it is only human to want to hold on to these memories. As more and more time elapses between my present and the last time I can remember him being alive, the more the memories are muted. And the more muted they become, the more we try to hold on, despite the inevitability that some memories will be lost. I can still remember his voice, or how he felt, or the sound of his laugh -- but I have to think harder about it now, these things are not so fresh in my head anymore. And it hurts. It hurts when you realize that not only did you lose the person, but you will lose the memories too. With no one around me on a daily basis, that knew Mike when he was alive, I have no one to really talk to about him. And this makes it even harder to hold on to those memories, they seem to exist only in my head so much of the time. And that mind doesn't seem to work so well anymore, so I am afraid I will forget things and afraid I already have.
But still time keeps on.
The first year after his death I spent dealing with the immediacy of the death and my grief. The emotional, the logistical, all those really messy and urgent things. I had to move, and in doing so was forced to sort through the physical stuff. I found out things about him that perhaps I'd rather not know, and discovered other things that made me realize just how much he loved me. Through several cycles of sorting and donating and selling, I've paired down an entire life to about 4 boxes -- boxes I keep still, in my basement, not sure of what to do with the "stuff" inside, but unable and unwilling to let the last of it go. All that is left is stuff that is sentimental, or holds a strong memory for me, and can transport me back to a moment in time and space in a way that I can't do on my own, with just my own memory attempting to conjure it up. Perhaps this is why it is hard to part with this "stuff." My very understanding husband lets me keep these boxes.
The second year has been radically different. I've moved on in ways I could have never imagined I would do, and have built myself this whole other life..... but I've also had to confront a lot of the other stuff I didn't want to. Some of those other losses I talked about, and some of the darker demons that were left behind.
As I approach the third year, I feel like I am at a place where I no longer know what it is I should do. I've never been one for creating rituals, or even get so much from visits to a cemetery plot, or any of those "normal" things people do to commemorate certain dates and events. So in many ways I've always felt a little at a loss over what to do. I guess, to me, so much of this is just acknowledging some very personal and deep feelings, that I'd rather just internalize it and not really share it with anyone. In other words, sometimes I need to stop and remember, and even be sad, but I also need to just do this in my own way and on my own terms. Part of me doesn't really want to commemorate the day he died anyway, I'd rather remember him on days like our anniversary or some other "happy" occasion -- but certainly not this day. And yet, this is the day that so many people fixate on, so I feel obligated to acknowledge & mark it in some way -- I just don't know how to do that now, and I certainly don't know how to do that in the future.
All I can say for certain is that once upon a time I was married to a man named Mike, and that he will always be a part of who I am and I will continue to miss him for the rest of my life. It doesn't need to be an anniversary for me to believe that.