So, the time that I dread the most all year long is finally upon me.
Not just “the” anniversary. But also my wedding anniversary. Yup. We actually had my husband’s visitation on our 11th anniversary (2 days after he died). If that doesn’t make me sound like a bad country song, I don’t know what does.
As this day creeps closer and closer, I feel worse and worse. Experience has shown me that this is my lowest point and the actual day really isn’t so bad. It’s like I get all of my depression and sorrow out in about 1 week of weepy, exhausted, messy living and then I perk right back up again on the “big day.”
I’ve been thinking about the last few years and how some things have gotten harder and some things have gotten easier. I know that for a lot of people who are at the beginning of this journey, they get a little uneasy when the more seasoned grievers tell them that it doesn’t get any easier. My usual response to that is, “That’s not true! It gets easier! You’ll be okay.”
Because who wants to hear, when they have to truly concentrate in order to put one foot in front of the other and breathe at the same time…that it gets worse?
But today, I started thinking that the term “easy” is really relative. When I think about the first year…it was a blur. It was 365 days of anxiety attacks, shakiness, and sleepless nights. It involved days that I had to get up even when I would have rather been sharing a bed with a wild tiger if that meant I could just stay in it a little longer. It was a year of listening to bad advice and incorrect commiserating and squirming through more uncomfortable moments than I ever thought possible.
I dealt with the demons of remembering those days in the hospital, but at the time, it seemed like it had happened to someone else. If anyone asked me to tell them the story of how my husband died, sometimes I could spill it like it was a fictional story and then sometimes I would get midway through it and realize, “My God. That happened to me.”
It was…well…a bad year.
This was followed by year number 2. The anxiety had lessened a little. Getting out of bed was a bit easier. And I learned to flip people the finger behind my back as they told me I should get on with things.
I just got a lot of dirty looks from the people standing behind me in the line at Wal-Mart.
What I found the most disappointing about that year was that I didn’t have the magical moment that I was hoping for. Like a child who realizes that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, I discovered that there is no such thing as “getting over” what has happened. I didn’t wake up on the 366th day and feel any different than I did the day before.
Sorry y’all. But that’s the truth.
Now, year number 3. This is the year I have really felt the milestones. The first year, I knew they were there, but the pain was too fresh. The loss was too new to really know what my husband’s absence was going to mean for the rest of my life. The second year, I was too busy trying to find that mythical “new normal” I kept hearing everyone talk about and fighting to keep my head above water. Or just closer to the surface so I could gulp the air every once in awhile.
Year 3 was the first year that I really cried when my husband wasn’t here my son’s birthday…because it really hit me how much they were both missing. I suddenly realized that pretty soon I will have had the dog that we got together (our first kid) longer than we had been married. This is the year that I really felt the passage of time and how fast it goes. (Even with a willful but entertaining 4-year-old around. If you’re going to feel pity for me about anything check back with me in about 11 years and see how I’m doing. If I’m not around, I may have checked myself into assisted living early.)
My grief and my loss have become as a part of me as a vital organ. To lose them may mean losing some of what I have left of my husband and that would be a real loss. It’s not that I welcome depression and sorrow, but some days they remind me that he’s still with me. And if I want to keep the good memories…with that comes the pain of realizing that that’s just what they are. Memories.
I don’t know if this will make anyone who is new to this game feel any better, but I do think that the first year is the worst. The difference between the first year and the following years (in my experience) is that the blinding pain of loss isn’t always with you. As I said in a speech recently, “Even though your loved one may be the first person you think of every morning for the rest of your life, eventually this becomes more of a routine and less of a jolt.”
What makes some of us feel like sometimes the years after the first are worse is that when the pain does come, it’s sharper and more defined. For me, since it’s not the same pain that used to be my constant companion, when it happens, it takes my breath away. After a few years, we can pinpoint what’s happening, but we have learned through experience that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And we have the added bonus of being far enough out, that people don’t understand why we’re still grieving.
But I’ll tell you something. Year 4 is the year I will forgive myself for it. Year 4 will be the year that I realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks…I loved my husband and I will grieve him however I need to for the rest of my life. I don’t care if it’s when I see a lifted Jeep (one of his great loves) riding down the road. I don’t care if I cry like a baby when his beloved Steelers win the Superbowl (and they will again, my friends). I don’t care if I get funny looks when I just tear up at a stoplight for no apparent reason (I do that a lot, by the way).
My grief is my own. It’s part of me now. And just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Kind of like love.
© Catherine Tidd 2010