It occurs to me that a great deal has been written about survival of the first year but very little about what happens after that milestone has passed. Other people in my shoes but a little further down the grief trail have agreed that this is not a journey with an end or destination in sight. This is a road with curves and turns and bumps and no real end.
I have just returned from what a friend referred to as my “vision quest”–a week alone in beautiful Door County Wisconsin. For those not familiar with the geography: when you look at a map of Wisconsin, Door County is the “thumb” that sticks out in the upper right. It is–in my opinion–the Cape Cod of the Midwest–charming, quaint, picturesque. I planned this trip last August as I began to look ahead and wonder what/how I would be feeling when I reached that one-year anniversary. I looked at various locations across the country–places L and I had enjoyed together–and settled on this quiet bucolic setting filled with memories. I am happy to say I made the perfect choice.
The week held so many serendipitous surprises that I have created a separate page to describe this adventure. I have added this page (like a bookend) to the pages I wrote in December of 2011 when I first started this blog. But in the event you haven’t the time or inclination to read this journal of a journey, let me give you the gist of it: the thing I kept finding myself focused on as I explores haunts of the past and encountered new venues was that L and I had 42 incredible years together–years that were filled with adventure and love and laughter. We had our bad days–we had days when we each thought we had made the biggest mistake of our lives hooking up with the other one.
But I see now that those were detours and construction zones as we found our way down side roads and byways until we came together again breathless with the relief at still being together. In short, for 42+ years he loved me and I loved him. We were each other’s best friend and wisest counselor and the fruit of that love story will sustain me for whatever time I have left in this world. Yes, I will cry and I will rant at what I will declare is the unfairness of our fate–we all want more and more and more of something so right. But in my heart I know that what we shared is more than most people get. Yes, I am a widow and I shudder every time I even think that word much less speak it aloud or mark its check box on some form. But I am now and ever shall be a woman who was half of an incomparable love story–and for that I am truly blessed–and with that always in mind I begin year two.
Hard to miss the fact that today marks one year since L’s death. Friends have been overwhelmingly concerned and supportive as the day approached–today there have been calls and cards and wonderful vibes of their love and support surrounding me.
Last night I found myself reliving those final hours and counting my blessings that I was with him and that it was just the two of us at home as he had always wanted. He was so afraid that he would die in hospital–he hated that idea.
I also found myself looking back over this last year and realizing how I have found my way–sometimes with sadness and even anger; most times with the assurance that I was moving forward as L had wanted me to–that I honor his life by moving on with mine. At the same time I know that I have more “promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” on this journey. In some ways marking this anniversary makes tomorrow feel like a new beginning–a second year–perhaps a little like the freshman in college feels having completed that first year and moving on feeling more experienced and equipped to handle what may come.. There are–I am certain– many more lessons to be learned, many more tests to be endured, many more slips and slides that will make me cringe. The one thing I know for sure is that L has kept his promise to be there with me every step of the way. I feel his presence, hear his laughter as well as his concern with every decision I make. And with that in mind I look back on a year that has gone by with excruciating slowness and at the same time seems impossible to believe. Wasn’t it just yesterday???
Here are a few of the lessons I learned on my journey–year one:
- The need to fill in the time gaps—times when I would have been doing something with/for L—planning dinner, watching TV, going to doctor appointments, picking up meds, setting up social dates, working on newsletter for his volunteer work, talking, laughing—even arguing. Hours and hours every day that were suddenly empty and without purpose.
- The disbelief lingered all year—there are still days when I am in the middle of something and I simply cannot believe that he is never coming back.
- The restructuring—of the rooms in the house, of plans for each day-week-month, of relationships suddenly shifted by the absence of L.
- The loss of self-identity—who am I now? (That’s actually the title of a song added to the film: FUNNY GIRL!) Who will I become? How will I achieve that?
- The surprises – travel held little appeal; buying the place in Florida felt incredibly “right”; the fact that I could continue to work—lose myself in the stories and characters for hours each day was a surprise and a blessing.
- The physical worries—what if something happened? How would EMTs get in? Who would they call? The weight gain. The disinterest in eating and so the improper diet. (Plan for start of year 2 = health/weight.)
- The friends—who was there throughout the year—and who was not. The wonderful gifts of friendships that blossomed where they had been only buds before.
- The ongoing confusion about how I was “supposed” to feel–was I grieving enough? There was always a bit of “survivor” guilt going on and it does linger.
- How to explain that although I am doing “fine” I am still a work in progress and what is “fine” today may have shattered by tomorrow. A pronouncement of some future plan or intent made today may be taken back tomorrow or next week.
- The connection to others through this blog and in books and in real life. The comfort of knowing that there is no formula–no right or wrong–for finding the road through grief.
- The acceptance that for decades I have lived in a couples world and while those ties are strong and unbreakable, the fact remains that I need to find ways to broaden my world–to do the very thing that L feared I would not do: reach out to others.
With so much yet to do–I suspect that the entries to this blog will be ever less prolific–but I will continue to record the journey and I hope that it will continue to comfort and support.
Yesterday was a tough day. I’ve been fighting bronchitis for weeks now and yesterday I had all these additional symptoms–stomach cramps, sleeping, fierce headache and of course the coughing jags. I was on a deadline for my next book and needed to read through it before sending it off to the editor. The weather was beautiful and eighty degrees but I was chilled all day. Poor me! The main thing I took away from this experience was the absence of anyone else in the house to commiserate or act as a safety net should things take a turn for the worse. I have many people that I could call starting with neighbors and moving on to family and friends–but that realization that I would NEED to call someone–that there is no one here but me was new. Because I am overall a healthy person this was a new first for me. A new detail of widowhood that I needed to face just when I had thought I was managing so well.
Another thought I had today concerning “details”–choices made or rejected: I was driving past a haircut place that had posted a sign for a sale on haircuts and all of a sudden I remembered that this was where L had gone for his last haircut about this time last year. But that was not what came immediately to mind–what I remembered was how he charmed the woman cutting his hair and how when she said she was putting the settings for the clippers into their computer system so they would know next time he smiled and agreed–knowing there would be no next time but choosing not to burden her with that news.
So it’s about choices–L knew that and he practiced that. I’m trying to follow his example.