The Truth About Grief

In about two weeks it will be the fifth anniversary of his death. Five years! How is that even possible? In my mind I can replay those four days down to the most minute details as if it were yesterday, yet it’s amazing how the pain dulls a bit. The decisions made during those days were the most difficult of my life, and I pray I never have to do that again.

It’s amazing how much life can change in five years. Here I sit, in a different house, married to a most amazing man with whom I share a love I could never have imagined. I told him this morning, “P taught me to trust again and to love again, so I could love you completely now.”  And he doesn’t ask me to not love P, nor does he negate that love. We celebrate every day together and honor our pasts in the life we have now.

In five years, my son has gone out on his own, and while he’s still finding his way, he’s taking chances again and exploring what he wants out of life. He’s choosing to live again, too, which is what his dad and grandparents would want for him. Thankfully, he has a great relationship with his step-dad and they’re enough alike to have found common ground.

If you’ve ever visited any of the grief groups on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen some of the sayings and memes that are prolific in those groups. I’ve been a part of some of those groups and they’ve been a great support to me over the years, along with my counselor.  I’m going to try to not use their exact wording, but the overall lessons I’ve learned about grief have been discussed on those pages and in memes. While they can be harsh when you’re new to grief, in time you find they are true.

The truth about grief is grief never ends. It changes, and the harsh corners soften with time, but it’s always there. The loss is always there. There will always be things to remind you of that person, or things that should have happened.  Case in point: watching so many of his contemporaries receive awards and accommodations for things he should be receiving, too. How quickly they forget someone once they’re gone!  Or seeing someone walk down the street that has that same stride to their step, or using a similar mannerism or turn of phrase.  There will always be reminders. And the empty hole will always be there.

It’s a decision everyone has to make after a loss: to burrow in and live in the past and the memories, or to attempt to live again.  The past is a place to visit, but not to live. My husband asked me why I look at my Facebook memories so much. It’s comforting. Sometimes I’ll see a comment from over five years ago, and it will make me laugh, remembering how we were always egging each other on and teasing constantly.  Other times, I’ll see comments and reminders from friends who lifted me up during that dark time.  It’s a good way to see just how God has worked in my life, and how blessed I have been and continue to be by friendships and love.

This may or may not be my last post in this blog.  The future will decide that. Several have said I need to publish this blog as a book, and I’m looking into it. Either way, thank you for accompanying me on this journey. And remember: honor your memories, but live the life you’re given.

The Guilt of Living Again

One week from today is Christmas Day, the fifth since he died. After that comes the fifth anniversary of his death.  It’s also the first Christmas with my now husband and the first in our new home. While I try to focus on that and all the good that is now my life, there is a generous portion of guilt that comes along with it all.

I wondered what it would be like to be in a new and different marriage, after being married to him for twenty-two and a half years.  Those of you who have been married a long time know what I mean. You become like a well oiled machine and you know, or think you know, what the other will do, or what’s to come. It’s like a pair of old, comfortable shoes.

A new marriage is definitely like a new pair of dress shoes. It’s all shiny and new and a bit uncomfortable at first, with some pain involved.  And there’s a wedge in this shoe called guilt.

Not to get too involved in specifics for personal reasons, but I must say that while I’m incredibly happy with my life now, guilt comes along with it.  There are times I want to tell my now husband just how happy he makes me, or how very much I love him, but how do I do that without negating my love or the happiness I had with my late husband?  Not to mention the guilt of even feeling this way again!  Should I be this happy and this much in love? Well, yes, I know it’s perfectly fine, yet part of me feels guilty for feeling this way, especially when I think back to some of the not-so-great parts of my decades’ long marriage.  It creates a bit of a conundrum and swirls in my mind.

Luckily, again, he gets it, and I don’t always have to put things into words, but there are times I really want to!  My head knows they are two very different people and two very different loves and relationships, but my heart feels the guilt. And while it’s easy to not compare them as men, it’s not easy to not compare other aspects, especially since I didn’t choose the end of one.

So, once again this Christmas, I’m going to try to focus on the blessings and the gratitude for the love once shared and the love now shared, and try to convince my head and heart to accept and enjoy what is and believe that he wouldn’t want me to feel this guilt.

New Life- Same Grief

I’ve been very open and honest about getting married again (Living Again Doesn’t Mean Forgetting). It’s been twenty-eight days since the big occasion and I must say I never knew I could feel like this at my age. Our friends have dubbed us “adorkable”, and that’s pretty accurate!

But the grief spiral still comes back to bite me in the tush, and usually at the most inopportune times. For example, the day of our wedding I’m standing at the altar about to say my vows, looking into his eyes and thinking how very right it all is, and suddenly it occurs to me that I’m standing exactly where the casket was for visitation, and suddenly I see his face as he’s lying there. (Insert Twilight Zone theme) I shook it off, but that was definitely unexpected!

Skip ahead four weeks, and last night he was preparing for a medical procedure this morning and chose to sleep in the other room so that I could get some sleep.  Thinking nothing of it, I went to bed, only to dream of the night before the four day drama started with my late husband, and how if he hadn’t slept downstairs, maybe I would have noticed his breathing and maybe…. (The road of what-ifs can be a dangerous trek.) Boom! I was out of bed checking on him and thankfully, he knew instantly what was going through my mind.  This morning, his procedure was in the same building where my late husband used to work. I had braced myself for that, but just the sight of him lying on the gurney and I became a bundle of nerves and fears. Outwardly, I held it together. Inside, I was a complete wreck.

As my good friend told me, “Big change can trigger a lot of things.”  Definitely true.

Grief doesn’t go away when you choose to continue living.  This week my new husband and I are going to an event that would have meant a lot to my late husband, the retirement of someone he not only worked with, but who was in our wedding.  It touches my heart that friends I met through him still keep in touch and invite me to events and that they include my now husband. Still, it will be difficult. There will always be that sense that he should be here. Worlds are colliding in my brain and in my heart.  Deep down I know that, wherever he is, he’s happy for me. We had the talk, and I know he wished I’d find someone and keep living, as I wished the same for him.  Still, when those worlds collide, it’s a strange dichotomy.

I asked him today how in the world he could love me, a widow with a son, with all this baggage. His reply? “Consider me your personal bellhop.”  Yep, he’s a keeper!

Attitude of Gratitude

In one week I’m getting remarried.  I’ve written quite a bit about this adventure of trusting again and daring to date again after loss.  I’ve also heard the words, “Now you won’t be a widow anymore!” Uh…nope! Once a widow, always a widow. But here’s the thing: there can be life after widowhood.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your late spouse, or that the love shared in that relationship wasn’t “enough”. It doesn’t have to mean anything at all.  For me, it means that I can take the love we shared, the person I became because of our love, the lessons learned, and love again.

Loss leaves you with a choice: what to do with the time you have left. What attitude will you have? What will be your perspective on life and death?  For me, I decided early on to have an attitude of gratitude.   As I mentioned early on, a friend of mine, who had also been widowed at a young age, gave me a journal during that first month. The journal had a spot for writing the good things that happened that day.  Writing in that journal daily put me in the practice of looking for the blessings in each day.  That practice lasted long after the journal was filled and packed away.  An attitude of gratitude helped me to change the way I look at things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of each day, or the trials that can come along, but it’s also easy to find the good when we look for it.

If you write down those blessings and take time to look back through them sometimes, it’s easy to see how things have worked out. For me, I prefer to see it as the hand of God in my life. Looking back, it’s easy to see the lessons learned, the fears overcome, the support provided at much needed times, and most importantly, how this whole experience has formed me into the person I am now.

It’s easy to slug through each day, just trying to survive. Writing things down and looking back at them provides us the gift of hindsight and the ability to see what we’ve not only survived but how what we needed was provided for us, maybe not exactly when we thought we needed it, or how we wanted it, but provided all the same.

He and I were talking last night about details of the nuptial Mass, and it was then that the ugly grief monster reared it’s head in an unexpected way.  I’ll be speaking words I never thought I’d say again, hearing prayers I never thought I’d hear again, and exchanging rings again.  Do I feel guilty? No. I just feel sad that forever with my late husband ended way too soon, and pray that this forever lasts decades longer, which is a gamble at our current ages.

Next Friday will be bittersweet. We’ve traveled a long, winding road full of obstacles to get here.  Our families and dear friends will be present for the happy occasion, and I’m sure, somewhere, he’ll be smiling down on us and giving his blessing, too.


The Grief Spiral Still Exists

We (my fiance and I) just got back from a 10 hour one way trip down south to close up his property and move the rest of his things up here. It was a great, though physically demanding, trip and we realized on the way home that we’ve been “a couple” for about eight months now and haven’t had our first fight yet! That’s got to be a record.

Still, I found myself moody at times this week, and then I realized the dates and why. This week would have been our 27th wedding anniversary, and we always did our anniversary up big ( Tough Times ).   Even when you try to ignore things, that old spiral comes back to bite you. Even when you try to focus on the positive and how wonderful life is now, that ache of loss can still sneak in.

We were sitting in Mass on Sunday and, out of nowhere, I heard his voice as if he was whispering directly in my ear saying, “Be happy, Sweet Cheeks.”  I know it was permission from him to be happy again and to continue living.

This week will be difficult, I’m sure, although probably not as badly as past years. Still, I wonder if certain dates will every slip by without remembering, or without a little bite from the ever messy grief spiral.

Life goes on….. Life can be happy again…… But the loss never goes away……

Living Again Doesn’t Mean Forgetting

It’s been two months since the sale and move from what was our home to the new house. I admit it, it’s been a bit strange, but it’s also felt right and has felt like home since the moment I stepped in the door.  I’d be lying if I said it was easy to leave that house.  It was very late at night when we loaded the last of the items and I went to look around one last time.  And I lost it.  All I could see in my mind’s eye was Christmas mornings, and I could hear his laugh and see our son’s joy. And the tears flowed.  My fiance was supportive. He knew when to give me space and when to come to me. That would be when the ugly cry started.  Yet, as I look back and think about it all, I realize it hasn’t been home for a long time. It was a shell of what it used to be and I was really no longer happy there. It was becoming a tomb of memories and memorials with no real feeling of life.

People keep asking me how I like the new house, and congratulating me on my upcoming nuptials. I hear things like, “Now you can start over,” or ” You can put the past behind you.”  Others get it and say things like, “You know your late husband has to be happy for you,” or “He would want you to be happy.”  And yes, I know he would, and I’ve received my signs.  Following your heart is almost always a good thing.

But here’s the thing.  Starting over doesn’t mean I’m forgetting him.  Loving again doesn’t mean I no longer love him.  The way I’ve described it is that when you have another child, you don’t stop loving the first one. They’re completely different people, and the heart is capable of great love and change.  How can I forget 25 years of my life, and 22 years of marriage?  It’s impossible.  And yet I’m head over heels in love with my fiance.  It’s a totally different love because he’s a totally different person and completely different from my late husband.  There is no comparison.  Oh, sure, there’s been twice when I’ve accidentally called him the wrong name, both when I was over tired and complaining about something, but as I’ve heard from others, that’s totally normal.

And I’m finding that it’s easier to let go of his things now that I’m in this space. There are certain things I’ll never get rid of, but others that were so much a part of that house just don’t fit in this house.  It’s the same with a lot of mementos from other parts of my life. I find I’m looking at things with new eyes and I don’t need the stuff.  The memories are in my heart, where they will always be, not in the stuff.

My late husband will always be a part of me. It’s because of him that I am who I am today, and it’s because of this journey that I”m able to be the spouse my fiance deserves at this stage of our lives. I will always love them both. ‘Nuff said.

Is this the end of the blog? Probably not…..The journey never ends.  But I might just share wedding photos in the fall.


The Roller Coaster Ride Continues

In two weeks, it will all be over.  In two weeks, this house will no longer be mine.  In two weeks, I’ll be in a new house, with my “new” fiance, and without a dedicated room for my son.

As the time draws nearer, the roller coaster of emotions gets more intense. One part of me is incredibly excited that the time is almost here, that “my guy” will be here for longer than four days, although he’s not yet moving here permanently. We’ll finally be starting what we’ve dreamed of for several months.  Then, like a roller coaster, the bottom drops out, and I’m in free fall, encountering “landmines” as I pack and memories coming out of nowhere.  This week, two things snuck up on me: 1) As I was packing up my closet, out of nowhere I found his favorite baseball cap.  He wore this cap everywhere. It’s completely stained with sweat and totally worn and falling apart.  Yep! Tears fell.  2) As I was packing up the bathroom, in the back of a drawer was a baggie filled with medical gloves, or, as we liked to call them, “Papa Smurf gloves”.  No tears this time, just laughter.  Any wife of an athletic trainer knows you find these gloves in the most unlikely places, but the worst is when they go through the dryer.  So many memories, and so perfect that, of everything I could have found, it had to be those. I had to laugh!

I was talking with “my guy” yesterday, working out the details of the move. I told him that I will need some time as we empty this house. I know that, amidst the hubbub of friends, movers, trucks, boxes, and furniture, I will need some time alone to say goodbye.  It brings tears even thinking about it.  I need to allow myself time in each room and most of all, our yard.  I’ll hate that the swing will already be moved.  In the last four years,I’ve spent a lot of time in that swing, my dad’s swing, thinking through things.  I wish the weather would cooperate, allowing me one more time there with this view, but it doesn’t appear to be possible.

It’s a crazy feeling to feel both emotions at once: the excitement and anticipation of a new beginning with such an amazing man I never expected to love like this, and the unexpected wave of grief and the feeling of saying a final goodbye to the man who was my husband for over twenty-two years and almost half my life.   This house is no longer home, but it’s still difficult.

By the way, I never liked roller coasters.