In 2008, I met this guy who made me smile and laugh. Then he made me talk and open up. He crawled into places I’ve never let another soul and he dug out the cobwebs. He took a sledgehammer and destroyed the fortress I had spent decades building, knocking it down brick by brick. He pulled me out of the shadows where I feel most comfortable and into the limelight. He saw inside me, to the deep, dark recesses where the shame and the pain and the scared little girl resided. When I said, “I don’t wanna,” he laughed and said, “but you will.” And I surrendered.
Our life together really was a bed of roses, both thorns and petals. I felt safe. I felt loved. I felt protected. And even in the limelight, I felt shielded. I was spoiled by his giving and loving nature. Even in his depressive cycles, I always knew I was loved. The more safe and secure I felt, the deeper my surrender became.
In December 2012, that life I had come to feel secure in changed dramatically. It changed again in May 2014. And yet again one year ago this month.
I’ve spent the last year and five months mostly in hibernation, peeking out now and then, dipping my toe back in the water of socializing. But mostly, I stay home alone, with only my own thoughts and Emmy the cat to keep me company. I want to be social again, but I still struggle with just exactly where I belong. I get excited about attending events and seeing people and maybe getting to play, but then once I’m there, I feel out of place, like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. I end up aimlessly wandering or sitting in the smoking area , not really a part but sort of observing. Many of my friends are paired off and I feel like the burdensome fifth wheel. And then I just wish I had stayed home.
I’ve learned some things about grief in this last year. First is that the level of emotional pain a body can withstand and not die from is astounding. Second is that I do have the ability to cry without being able to make myself stop. Third is that I can have an entire conversation with a ghost I can’t see but can feel. And fourth is that grief really is like the ocean – both in size and in behavior. It starts as a tidal wave, calms to gently flowing waves, has the occasional storm, some longer and more intense than others, and rises and falls on the whim of the moon.
Guilt and second-guessing decisions made can’t change the outcome after the fact. That’s another thing I’ve learned this year.
People’s true nature is always shown when difficulty happens. I’ve learned in the last year where trust was misplaced as much as I’ve learned who my tribe truly is. Actually, learning I had a tribe to begin with was a huge lesson for me. One I’m forever grateful for. That knowledge has helped me cultivate some of the most important relationships I’ll have in my life, and I am truly grateful for that blessing.
I’ve also learned that our community very much has an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. Of course, from where I’m sitting, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since I’m hibernating anyway. But I found it revealing.
This month is the one-year anniversary of Justin’s death – my husband, my Sir. My collar and our wedding rings sit on my dresser where I see them each day. His leather hangs in the closet, and I can smell it each time I open the door. The 5 foot tall wind chime he gave me hangs from the tree in the back yard and sings to me on the breeze. He’s here, even when he’s not.
I’ve learned that grief isn’t something that is finite. It doesn’t have an expiration date. It will always be a part of me, because he was such a huge part of me. I’ve learned that it really is okay that he figures so prominently in the stories I tell, because he was such a big presence in the stories themselves. And I’ve learned that I will create new stories that won’t include him.
I am largely a solitary person, an introvert. I’ve spent half of my adult life without a long-term romantic relationship, and I’m okay with that. The path that has been so hidden this past couple of years is now opening up and I see the way being lighted by the sun. The path isn’t flat. It isn’t straight. It curves and dips and rises, so it isn’t all visible just yet. But it’s there and it’s calling to me. And so my hibernation is being more often interrupted by excursions out. And as more and more of that happens, I seem to desire more and more of that. And so it’s a good thing.
I really am okay, if not exactly the same as I was before. Death changes us. Grief changes us. Eventually though we have to come out of the dark into the light again. I am grateful for those who have been with me through the darkness. The people who held my hand and guided my way when I wasn’t able to see it for myself. I am grateful for the texts and messages that say, “what can I do to support you?”, even when there really wasn’t anything anyone could do. I am grateful for the circle of friends who have continued to surround me even when I sometimes didn’t acknowledge them as being there. And for the ones who have listened to me repeat myself over and over again just because I needed to say it again. I am grateful to know without any doubt that I am loved.
And I am ready now to start creating new stories.