Thursday, January 19, 2012

Message in a Bottle

A week from now it will be two years. I haven't yet reflected on how this makes me feel.... enough to put into words, anyhow. So as I do try to reflect on things I'm going to republish the story I wrote on the 1 year anniversary. Here it is, "Message in a Bottle":

"The Deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." ~Kahlil Gibran

It's been a week since I crossed that "magical" threshold of 365 days.  I've tried to synthesize what this all means, if it means anything at all....

On one hand it means that Mike is 1 year further away from me. His memory is less of one that is close, and has become more distant. Not that it is less strong, or that I think about him any less, but it is different. I no longer can spend my time thinking about what he & I were doing last year-- this time last year I was just trying to breathe when it felt like all the wind had been sucked out of my very being. No. I no longer can, nor want to spend my days thinking about "last year." Last year at this time was too horrible. I have worked to make the vivid memories end on Jan. 26th, and make those that come after a cold, distant echo.

I do not know if I have achieved whatever it is I am supposed to have achieved..... acceptance, synthesis, or insert "whatever catchy psycho-babble term you like better" here. But  I am here. I am exactly where I am now, and I am ok with that.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to the beach with 2 very dear widow friends of mine. It was designed to be a little retreat where I could reflect on the year & could try and find that last little bit of peace I have been struggling to find. I don't know if I will ever truly be at peace with it all, I mean, I know I will never forget this experience, nor the life I had with Mike. I have made a lot of progress in healing, and working towards finding and accepting a new life. After all, none of this was my choice. I was forced to face a very dark choice -- give up or keep going. To keep going meant letting go of the life I had and even more importantly, the life I had wanted and planned. To keep going meant finding a new everything -- a new purpose, a new me, a new place where I could fit in. I don't think I can adequately express to those of you who have never lost your everyday lives just how traumatically and permanently this changes you. I am forever changed. I hope that in many ways that the changes I have been forced to undergo make me a better me. But I am not the same Ann that was here last year, nor should I be.

I am Mike's widow.

I will always carry that identity with me, just as strongly as I carry the person who was his wife. I was a wife. He died, and I may move on, I may remarry, or I may not. But no matter what he will always be my husband. When you lose a father, or a brother, or a son they never stop being that to you, so why would it be any different when you lose your spouse?

When we were making plans for the beach, we knew that we wanted to do something to honor and remember our spouses, so we came up with the idea of sending out messages in bottles. Little did we know that it is not so very easy to actually get your bottle to go out to sea.....

I had brought with me these fancy kits, so we wrote our messages, pushed them into the bottles and then corked them & used sealing wax to seal them all up.

We went out to the beach and threw them in. I think in my head I thought that we would have this wonderful moment, where I could throw in this bottle I had filled up with all my final thoughts to Mike.... all those things I have wanted to get out this past year, but had no where to put them. And then we would hug and cry and watch the bottle drift off to sea, along with all our love and thoughts and we could all have this moment of tranquility......

Reality is always a little different.

Instead, after throwing the bottles out, they came right back with the surf. OK, so we had not considered the tide.....

Now anyone that knows anything about widowhood, knows that there is a thing we call "widow brain." Its sort of our jokingly way of describing the way your brain goes on vacation after you lose your spouse, and really it never fully comes back. I know I am still a lot more forgetful than I ever was, and trying to think too hard or too long on something...... what? was I talking? No, that is what I refer to, affectionally, as my widow ADD. So picture the 3 of us trying to figure out the logistics of this thing. So we decided to go get lunch. And find a tide schedule.

So after determining that high tide was at 4:30 that afternoon we decided to shop until then. Then we would go out and try again, but this time as he tide was receding. Sounded really smart, right? Well, again, in theory, this was how it should work. In practice this whole business of sending out a bottle was not as easy as movies make it seem.

So we went back to the beach. Said our solemn stuff, and threw -- as long and far as we could.... and watched as the bottles bobbed up and down in the surf.......... and right back onto the beach. So we threw again. And they washed up again. And again. And again. But now I was freekin' determined. I was getting mad, like Mike was rejecting my message, and God dammit, he was going to listen if it was the last thing I did......

By this time a group of seagulls had become interested in our bottles and were pecking at them as they washed ashore. I wanted to shoo them away, but was equally afraid of having my eyeballs pecked out, or at the very least, getting pooped on. The three of us were also now laughing hysterically. So much for my moment. I picked up my bottle and again tried to toss it in. As it washed up for what was probably the 20th time, I could now hear the distinct sound of Mike laughing. His big, baritone, laugh. It was a laugh that no one could ever copy. He was laughing at me. And if he was right there with me I am sure he thought that this would be hilarious.... I could almost hear him "pumpkin-head....." Yes, I felt very much like a pumpkin head.

As it started to grow dark, I figured that perhaps all I needed to do was get it to go out far enough so it could get swept away with the tide in the morning. By now the beach was pretty deserted, so I was confident that no one would find the bottle if I left it. So I threw. And it started to go out into the sea. I could see it bob up and down, methodically bouncing with the waves. It started to go out, further and further. I followed it as it continued out and down the beach for a while, but wait.... it was getting smaller. It had found some current and was being whisked out, slowly, into the deep. I stood there and watched as it floated out farther and farther away. It was at that moment that I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me, and my whole body felt this sense of calm. And peace.

Grief is often described as waves. Waves that wash over you, sometimes expected, other times catching you by surprise. Sometimes you just give in, and yet other times you try to figure out what the tide schedule will be and prepare yourself, only to be thwarted anyway. And when you give in, really give in, you start to heal. And eventually, those waves grow further out, become more smooth and you can just let your body bob rhythmically with them when they come. And as I watched my bottle finally get taken out to sea, I finally felt a sense of calm that I had not known for a very long time.....

I finally let go of the negative things I had been clinging to, and have allowed the good memories to have a place in my heart once again. I will always love and remember Mike for the good he brought to my life, and will forget all the rest. And I have made my peace with the universe and with God who decided I needed to go through this journey much sooner than I wanted to. I've no doubt that I still will have many days of grief ahead of me, I think that a part of me will always grieve, but I no longer want to, or need to, keep it so close to the surface. I can love and remember Mike without having to also keep the hurt and pain of losing him. And this realization above all else, it what has brought me the most peace.

~ Ann

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