Today was a very sad day. My “little” cousin, Becky (she’s five years younger, so she will always little in my mind) passed away from metastatic breast cancer. She was diagnosed in March of this year, 40 years young, and gone so soon. She left behind her husband of 20+ years, and three children, 20, 16 and 13. We received news last week that the prognosis was grim, but I’m not sure anyone expected her to pass away so quickly. My heart goes out to her husband, Jason, simply because I have some understanding of what he is going to face in the coming months, and beyond. And he has three children to care for on top of his grief.
Monday marks 15 months since my sweetie took his final breath, and this week marks one year since we buried his mother. It seems like it was decades ago when I think about the last time Frank and I talked, laughed, held hands. And yet, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember every day in the hospital, little details I would NEVER remember of an average, every day event or encounter. I remember entire conversations with nurses and doctors and strangers sitting vigil in the ICU with their loved one. I remember so clearly my trip rushing back to the hospital the night the nurse called and told me I needed to come back, what I said and what I prayed in the Jeep, the walk from the parking garage to ICU… what I saw and felt and heard when I hurried into his room. He was already gone. I remember almost everything of the following days and that first week. Some of it, I’m glad I remember, some details I wish I could forget.
It took a little time for the shock to wear off, and the intense pain of grief to take over. Had you asked me back then, even a few months ago, I would have told you that I would feel this terrible, wretched pain until the day I left this world. Because truthfully, it only got worse as the year went on, NOT easier. Do not ever tell someone that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. Period. It doesn’t. It CHANGES over time, it doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get BETTER and it is never healed. I will miss Frank every day, FOREVER. Jason and the rest of Becky’s family will miss her every day, for the rest of their lives. (Also, never say “they’re in a better place”, it doesn’t help, because, even if it’s true, in that moment you ONLY want them to be standing next to you… but I could go on and on about what not to say, but that’s a whole ‘nother post).
For much of the past 15 months, I believed my life was over, because I was alone and single again, and nothing was as good as it was sharing it with him (it still isn’t). And what would be the point of trying to find someone to fill the void, because he was the PERFECT person for ME. I was convinced that I would live in that dark, painful place, forever. There were times I wanted nothing more than to join him where he is; not because I had a death wish, or was suicidal, even, just because it was so damn unbearable being here without him. It still is at times. This is the one thing I hope you never understand, or at least, you never have to understand until you are a very old person; unless you have experienced it, you cannot understand what it feels like to have to live without your chosen partner in the world. I thought I understood what it must be like for my Mom and others to lose their spouse. But I really didn’t “get it”. It’s hard to lose any person you love; grandma, parent, child, friend… I know what it’s like to lose a parent too soon, and to lose a child, I cannot even imagine how gut-wrenching it must be. I’m not writing any of this for sympathy, or to diminish or dismiss anyone else’s loss. I’m simply saying, that losing your PARTNER, your spouse, the person you shared your home with, had dinner with and slept next to every night, and planned to GROW OLD with; It’s like lost half of myself. It’s a different loss, because it literally changed every single day of my life from that point on; every plan, even the simple one of tomorrow, to say nothing of the next holiday, the next year… simply because he would have been the one constant contact every day of my life. He was the one, solitary constant of every single day of my life for the past 8+ years.
I still feel the pain (and in case you’re wondering, it is an actual, physical pain that has been in my chest for 15 months. Non stop.). I focus on one day at a time, because the present is all there is right now. In the early days, I focused on getting through the next 10 minutes, and then the next, and then an hour. Now I focus on getting through each day. Some days are good, some days are still as emotional and hard as they were six months ago. You never know when a grief trigger is going to pop up unexpectedly. And the grief didn’t stop, or even change, when I hit that magical “one-year” mark that everyone talks about (you know, “getting through all those firsts is the worst part”) it is every bit as present as it was three months ago on the anniversary of his death. Try to remember that when dealing with your friends or family that have experienced a loss. It takes every person as much time as it takes. Give them time, be patient with them.
It will never be okay with me that he died. It will never be okay with me that I don’t get to have that life anymore, that his girls don’t get to have their Dad anymore, that his granddaughter will grow up with no memory of how much he adored her. I’ve wished I could trade places with him, so he was still here for his girls. I wish this week I could trade places with Becky, so her kids could have their momma back. But God didn’t choose to take me. So the best I can do, the best any of us can do for those who leave us too soon is to honor them by living the best life possible.
That is what has gotten me through the past 15 months without ending up in a psychiatric ward (NOT a joke); I decided a month after Frank died that I was going to find joy, whatever small iota of joy I could find in the day. Believe me when I say, there were MANY days that this was a herculean task. But I made myself do it, and for 100 consecutive days, I documented it. I still choose to find joy every day, even if it’s a day where I end up sitting at his gravesite crying my eyes out. Because he was so good at finding joy in every situation, no matter how frustrating or ridiculous it might be. He always put a positive spin on it, always found the good in everyone. I know he would want those he left behind to be happy, and to live, not to wallow in grief over losing him. So I do my best to live every day with a positive attitude, and determination, because Frank no longer has that choice. I don’t succeed every day, but I try, and I will endure the pain and accept the sad, tearful moments, so that I can experience the life that is to come. Earthly, and Heavenly.
There are days now, when I’m shocked to find myself laughing, enjoying time with friends or family, even making plans for things further out than tomorrow. Because even a few months ago, I couldn’t. My laughs, my smiles were just on the surface; inside I just felt lost and uncertain about everything. I’d make plans and commitments, and then cancel because I really wasn’t ready to face life. I’m not certain about dating again, but it’s no longer the absurd, unfathomable concept that it was just a month or so ago. I don’t know if any of this post makes sense, if I explained myself well enough, but it’s okay if you can’t understand it, because I want you to never have to understand it.
I know so many people who are currently struggling with a loss. I wish I could take it away, or carry it for them, I wish I could fast-forward them through the pain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. So instead, I pray that they allow the pain and the tears to come when they come, and do what they have to do, so they can get through to the other side. I can finally see it, that little glimmer of light, of hope, that one day, I will be okay. It takes a little time before a person is ready to feel it, to see it, but it’s there.
Thank God, it’s there.