When you lose someone you love, time becomes meaningless, instantly dissolving into the bottomless void left by their absence. But time marches on without and despite you, and the reminders on the calendar always bring you back. Back to the day, the hour, the moment of their death.
As I've walked this path of widowhood since February, I've marked the 4th day of each month, and Friday evenings (Joe died on the evening of February 4, a Friday). As the months have passed it's gotten a little easier, and lately on Fridays I don't think about it quite so much. A couple of Fridays ago I went to a chamber music concert and didn’t think about it being Friday until, driving home alone in silence, I imagined the lively conversation we would have been having if he’d been there at the concert. In the car. At our home. By my side.
So here I am, 6 months into this new life: changed in ways I never would have imagined, figuring things out as I make my way forward. I’m still a bit shaky and still have days heavy with sadness, fear and anger; tears still come out of the blue like a sudden south Florida summer shower. Yet oddly enough, even though I’m pretty sure all of that is not going to stop for a while, I can say now with a fair amount of certainty that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I really am going to be ok.
And while I still notice the date and still count the months, I also noticed this morning that I no longer know the number of days and weeks since Joe’s death without looking at a calendar. It is no longer the fierce prevailing drumbeat of my daily life.
Make no mistake: the loss and trauma are immense. They are part of me now and will shape the rest of my days, as will the memories of the life we shared over 49 years. But today I feel a small, subtle shift. It’s a tender ache so strong and sweet and deep that it softens the edges a bit, making room for smiles even as tears come. It’s a quiet confidence in newly-discovered strengths I didn't know I had or even thought I needed. It’s a living, breathing gratitude that matches the depth of my grief like a twin container, holding equal space for all the grace and love that have flowed into my life and held me over these 6 months.
It’s a strange thing, grief. It levels us in an instant, like a cyclone or hurricane or flood, altering our landscape forever and tearing down everything we have ever known. It shakes our identity, tests our faith, mocks our resolve, like no other kind of disaster. But thankfully, Nature abhors a vacuum. In the wake of the most unimaginable and devastating thing we’ve ever known, grief draws to us equally unimaginable and precious blessings disguised as casseroles, cards, flowers, phone calls, hugs, or a hundred other forms of kindness. And because of such blessings, day by day, week by week, little by little we can begin to pull ourselves from the quicksand of despair, denial and fear. We can begin to remember our innate, indestructible ability to endure, survive, grow, and ultimately thrive again, albeit in ways unlike what we had planned or imagined.
All of that said, I still have flashes of “Wait: what??” when I think about Joe’s death. Because this is not a place I ever imagined I’d be. First of all, when I promised “til death do us part” as a naïve young bride 49 years ago, the possibility of death ever happening to either of us was simply nonexistent. Later, after the deaths of grandparents, parents, in-laws and friends, I concluded that I would probably die before Joe, as his family had greater longevity than mine.
But, here I am. So today I remind myself of wise advice I once heard from a Holocaust survivor: as long as you’re alive, he said, live your life to the fullest. My friend Meredith’s grandmother put it this way: “You’re in it now--you might as well dance.” I’m not sure I feel like dancing yet but I’m starting to listen to the music again, for the first time in 6 months, 26 weeks, 182 days.