Onwards and upwards has been my saying since this whole journey began. Why? Because it seems to motivate me. Every time something happens and I get through it, I find myself thinking these words. It doesn’t mean I like it, but it means I survived whatever was thrown at me.
There are many different ways to interpret these words. They always make me picture a mountain with various paths for climbing. Sometimes you have to switch paths mid-climb, other times you might need someone’s help to get over an obstacle, but most of the time, once you’ve accomplished it, you’re just a little bit further along than you were before.
Not everyone traveling this messy grief journey chooses to move forward. For me, after a few months, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere by just staying in my recliner and wallowing in tears and memories. I’m one of those people who has to be productive; has to do something. I’ve never been one to sit around too much, although, as an introvert, I do need my down time. So, after a few months, I got tired of myself. It didn’t mean it hurt any less, or that the memories weren’t still throwing me back into the thick of it, but I needed to do something. I think the first step I made was that spring, when it came time to switch out the closet from fall/winter clothes to spring/summer. I realized that if I moved his clothes, I could have the entire closet full of all seasons of clothes and no longer have to trek up and down the stairs to make the switch. Closet space is definitely a motivator for me! Besides, his clothes had long since lost his scent, but yet it was a very difficult decision. Luckily, I found a way to keep some of his clothes, without having them take up space. One of my best friends agreed to make blankets for us out of his dress shirts, and a quilt out of some of his ties. Once I started going through things, it was a bit easier knowing I wasn’t truly getting rid of all his things, and I soon took over all the drawers of the dresser and chest of drawers, too. Onwards and upwards.
I also had to do something about an income. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone inherits a windfall when someone passes. After all, who plans to die unexpectedly at 58 years old? I had quit my job of almost 18 years just 9 months before, which turned out to be a blessing as it allowed me to spend quality time with my mother before she passed away, plus time to work on clearing out our family home. But, with hubby’s death, the financial fears soon hit. Onwards and upwards. Time to get things moving! And, while my initial plan didn’t work out, in the long run I’ve landed in a meaningful position that uses my skill set very well. God is good.
Then there’s the house. Wow, you don’t realize how much your spouse does until they’re no longer here! Not only was there the hurdle of figuring out if I could stay in our home, but there were all the little repairs to be done, the never-ending yard work, and all the bills that roll in. Talk about anxiety! Plus, everything still looked exactly as it did when he was still here. That was another tough decision. Sometimes you realize that if you’re going to keep moving onwards and upwards, you need to make changes so that the emptiness and loss don’t drag you down day after day. Just moving a piece a furniture or changing a wall hanging can change the view from what it was when he was here, and make a physical reminder that he’s not going to walk through the door saying, “Hey, everybody!”
One of the first things I did was make a list of all the little things I accomplished on my own. It was quite empowering! Figuring out how to change the lightbulbs in the fixture on the vaulted ceiling. Having the railroad ties removed outside and the wall and steps put in (a project we’d planned for that spring). The first big change I made was to repaint the master en suite. When we painted initially, we went with a color that he liked that I never really cared for (but I never told him that, since we finally found something he agreed to). There was no reason not to change it now, and while the furniture placement and items hanging on the wall haven’t changed, that room is now my haven. Since then, I’ve repainted most of the interior of the house and redecorated some. It’s enough the same to still feel like our home, but changed enough to feel like mine.
Having suffered through a lot of losses in a short amount of time, I soon realized that “stuff” was no longer important. I made the decision to surround myself with things that have meaning for me and that make me happy. Over the years, I’ve collected Santas, as in I had three curio cabinets plus more in storage, totaling over 100 of them. I’ve since downsized that collection to just one curio and a few bigger ones to pull out during the holidays. Onwards and upwards.
The journey isn’t over yet. I still face the difficult task of going through his garage workshop, and figuring out what tools to keep or give to our son. Even now, that’s a tough job to think about, and every time I set foot in there, I know it needs to be done, but I just can’t start it yet. That’s his sacred space. I know I’ll tackle it soon, if only a little at a time, but unlike the other things I’ve done, this one won’t feel as productive, it will only feel like losing another part of him.
Onwards and upwards doesn’t just apply to stuff, though. As I look back over the last few years, I often wonder if he’d recognize me. I think nothing now of going to a restaurant and having a meal by myself or going to a movie alone. I never would have done that before. It would have caused a major anxiety attack. I think of all the things I do in my job now that just a year or so ago would have freaked me out. Making calls and just talking to people, visiting schools and businesses…. that all was so out of my comfort zone before. I’m still not as brave as many of my friends. I know others who travel alone and have no reservations (pun intended) about it. That’s something I couldn’t do. Just last night I passed up free tickets to an awesome concert because I just couldn’t do it alone, even though I knew I’d run into people I knew once I got there. New situations still scare me and the what ifs take over my thoughts. Still, compared to the beginning, I know I’ve come a long way becoming more self-assured and assertive.
Holidays are still rough, and sometimes Facebook is not my friend as I watch friends celebrate anniversaries and milestones we’ll never have. I’m not looking for pity, it’s just how it is.
Looking too far into the future can be scary, but I’ve learned to take each day as it comes. There are still days where it feels like I’ve backslid a bit, but just like that mountain trek, it’s always onwards and upwards.