Standing Tearfully on the Cusp of . . .

My fourth book, Light Bringer, is going to be released later this month. I thought this would be an auspicious time, a time of endings and new beginnings. March is the two-year anniversary of my being published, it’s the anniversary of my birth, and it’s the first anniversary of my soul mate’s death. What I didn’t take into consideration is how emotional this month would be. I mean, I’ve had almost a year to get used to his death. I should be over it by now, right? Apparently not.

After his death, I told myself, “If you can just get through the first month, you’ll be fine.” I wasn’t. So then I told myself, “After the third month, you’ll be fine.” The months passed, and I still grieved, so I told myself, “After six months . . .” And, “after a year.” I’m nearing that first anniversary, but I don’t seem to be completely shedding my grief. Grief follows its own time. It will not, cannot be rushed. Even worse, I seem to be keyed into this same month last year — the final month of his life — and I feel as if I’m counting down to his death . . . again. The big difference is that last year I did not give in to emotion — at least not much and not until the end. His care was all that mattered. Well, I’m feeling now what I didn’t feel then. And just like last year, nothing I do can make him well.

This will be my first birthday without him, and oddly, it saddens me. We didn’t celebrate our birthdays. Sometimes we acknowledged them, sometimes we didn’t, but they were no big deal, just a change of numbers, so I’ve been wondering why this birthday troubles me, and tonight I figured it out. This is one of one of the big 0 birthdays, the one where you can no longer fool yourself into thinking you are still young (even the actuarial tables acknowledge this one as a major change). And here’s the kicker: my mate and I will not be growing old together. There will be no walking hand-in-hand in our twilight years, no reminiscing about our youth, no helping each other overcome the infirmities of age. “The end” has been written on our love story.

If that weren’t enough trauma for one month, Light Bringer is his memorial — his funeral service, obituary, epitaph — all rolled into one. Perhaps I shouldn’t imbue the book with such significance, but it is the culmination of two lifetimes of study — his and mine. It’s the last book he helped me edit, the last one I read to him from beginning to end. Once the book has been launched, it no longer belongs to us — to him and me. It belongs to anyone who reads it. And so one more piece of him will be gone from my life.

I’d hoped to be able to give the book a good send-off, but it’s hard to think of fun, innovative ways to promote when I’m constantly reminded that he won’t be here to help me celebrate. And it is something to celebrate. (Heck, I’m even going to celebrate my birthday!) So, here I am, at the beginning of this auspicious month, standing tearfully on the cusp of . . . what? I don’t know.

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Surprised by Grief

I continue to be surprised by the intensity and depth and variability of grief. It’s been more than ten months since my life mate — my soul mate – died. Most days now I feel normal, but “normal” for me is his being safe at home, perhaps in the other room, perhaps outside shoveling snow or watering our trees. The renewed realization that he is gone from this life still brings me raw pain. I’m getting used to being alone — in some ways, that aloneness feels normal, too. Until I met him, I’d always expected to be alone, and so part of me is looping back to that earlier life when I had only my concerns to worry about.

Still, despite that normalcy, there are days when it feels as if he just left, as if he walked out on me (or I walked out on him) and it’s a matter of time until we reconcile our differences. I don’t know where such thoughts come from — we had no major differences. Well, except for the soul-shaking differences that came when our journeys diverged — his into death, mine into continued life.

I mentioned before that love and grief were the bookends of a relationship. Because of its intensity, the ability to change a person’s life and outlook, and the all-consuming focus on another person, grief seems to mimic falling in love, though in a bleaker, blacker, lonelier way. And like love, grief stirs up your depths, making you realize you are more than you ever thought you could be. As I’m slowly beginning to define my life solely by me, not by “us”, I’m seeing another similarity. When a couple embarks on a life together, they learn to depend on each other, to find ways to complement each other, to meld their likes and dislikes, their hopes and frustrations into a workable emotional environment for both parties. When half of a couple dies, the person left behind has to find a way to unmeld. To go from thinking about both of you, to thinking solely of yourself, to depending solely on yourself. It’s hard and painful and feels futile at times. (Because, you think, if life is worth living, he would still be here.)

It’s like a teeter-totter. When one person leaves abruptly, you crash to the ground. You do learn to play by yourself, but you are always aware that the other side is empty. Gradually, you get used to it, though — or at least resigned. And that’s where I am, most of the time. Resigned.

I’m even getting resigned to that great yearning I once talked about, especially since it’s nothing new. Looping back to the time before I met him, when I was young, I remember being consumed by yearning, though I never knew for what. I didn’t feel it when we were together, but I feel it now. Could that yearning have been for him? Or could our being together have masked the earlier yearning? Just one of the many questions stirred up from the depths by grief.

Building Hopes and Creating Dreams

And so ends the worst year of my life.

Last year was a time of soul-shattering loss, grief, and strange blessings. It was a time of despair and self-realization, transition and adjustment. But of course, you know all that — I’ve made no secret of my ordeal, chronicling every painful stage of my journey. Many people endure worse traumas than the death of a soul mate, and they continue living without whimpering, which has made me feel a bit self-indulgent and whiny with my grief bloggeries, yet that was never my intention. The impact of grief after a major loss seems to be one more thing that has been discounted in our discount culture, and I simply wanted to tell the truth.

Oddly, I still don’t know the truth of it. It seems unreal at times. Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she still feels broken nine months after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

I’ve always considered myself a passionless woman, so how can that woman be me? During periods when I don’t feel the weight of his absence (I never feel his presence, though sometimes his absence feels normal, as if he’s simply in another room), during periods of emotional calm, my stoic side rules, making my grief feel fake, as if it’s something I’m doing to make myself seem important. Yet other times the desperate need to go home to him, to see him one more time, claws at me, tearing me apart.

Making the situation even more unreal, I can barely remember what he looked like — I do not think in images, so it’s understandable (though distressing) that I have no clear image of him in my mind. Even worse, I don’t have a photo that matches what I remember of him. (The only one I have was taken fifteen years ago.)

Nor do I have a clear sense of time. Sometimes it feels as if he died just a couple of months ago. Sometimes it feels like years. The demarcation between our shared life and my solitary life was once so stark it was like the edge of a cliff. All I could see was the past and what I had lost. The living I have done in the past nine months has blurred that edge, adding to the sense of unreality.

I have learned much this year. I learned the importance of importance. If there is nothing of importance in your life, you have to find something and make it important. I learned the importance of goals, even if it’s only the goal of getting through one more day. I learned the importance of hope, though hope for what I still don’t know, but that is part of the journey – building hopes, creating dreams, finding reasons to live.

And so begins a new year.