Grow old with me; the best is yet to be. Robert Browning
Yes, I AM sappy enough to have hung that innocently hopeful plaque in my bedroom – but it was also the first thing to go after my husband died. It seemed a pretty lousy reminder that growing old together wasn’t on the table.
Remember your first wedding anniversary, when you toasted the 365 that followed your wedding day hoopla? Maybe you congratulated each other on how well you maneuvered those first months of growth, woven together with discovery, change, joy and maybe even a little disillusionment. You made it through the milestone first married year. Like us, you probably made an anniversary toast, as you celebrated each other and the years ahead.
Well, this week marks an anniversary, too, but not one I looked forward to. October 14 marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death and there’s nothing to celebrate about that. There’s no joyous newlywed year-end toast nor any of the anniversaries that marked another year of precious memories. All the laughs and kisses once shared with the man I loved will only be given and received this anniversary with all who gather to remember him that day.
Unlike those newlywed days, there is no looking back on a year of laughter, and happy discoveries. But, if truth be told, there were achievements of another type, albeit reluctant, earned kicking and screaming along the way. Somehow this year, with the help, shoulders, and patience of sweet friends and family, I made it through. Armed with my research and Consumer Reports, I bought a new car this year. I let go of my handsome guy’s natty clothes in a way I know honored his care for others through his alma mater. I finally replaced the worn 20 year old carpet with savvy coastal-looking wood floors. Holidays with all the grandchildren were still held in our house and his collection of model planes now sit proudly in an aeronautical museum.
But most importantly this year — I survived. I survived a blizzard (literally) and the emotions that felt like one. I survived all the events, worries, even happy occasions this year without my other half beside me. I survived the sleepless nights, the uncontrollable sobbing, the endless ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s”. This traumatic, overwhelming, searching and growing first year is over – almost.
People say the first year is the hardest. Yes, you go through all the ‘firsts’ without the one you shared everything with but after the first year is over, what then? That’s it? You’re done? I think not. You may have made it through the first 12 hellish months but that’s just a calendar schedule. When you lost your person, you landed in a different world. Now you have to navigate it.
Unlike our first joyful anniversary the future isn’t colored with excitement but with curiosity, and more than a few other emotions. Our what-would-have-been a milestone anniversary this past year – wasn’t. It was just a sad medley of what-if’s and of course — a completely masochistic viewing of our wedding video. I don’t know what my future now holds but I do know I’m not the same person I was and never will be again. And you know what? That’s okay. We are not meant to be static creatures but constantly growing. We are meant to be changed by our life changes. We are supposed to have hearts that can be broken so they can be rebuilt even bigger and stronger, as painful and overwhelming the revision. How can we NOT be changed by traumatic loss; by the sudden disappearance from this planet of a person we love so much?
All I know is that while we are encouraged by the cliche ‘time heals all wounds’, grief doesn’t magically disappear on a calendar date. Oh, you’ve started to accept, to adjust to the huge black hole that opened up without permission in your life. And time may lessen the glaring ‘missing limb’ that was your person. You won’t wake up the morning after a first anniversary of death with the glow of celebration still lingering like it did when you were whole. Nothing is the same and never will be again. You are changed forever.
But while time doesn’t really ‘heal’ it can lessen. Time can offer perspective and even blur the pain. It allows you to be more awake to life revolving around you, to compartmentalize your pain a little and slowly begin to enjoy the memory of happy times. And those happy times are precisely why we grieve our losses so much.
So, now I put this first year behind me with an anniversary of sorts. Don’t expect a party; it’s not that kind of anniversary. But we will raise a toast to that funny, handsome, kooky guy who was my husband and partner in the life I now go forward into alone. Those who loved him will gather together to laugh at some silly memories, probably cry a little, too. We may not eat the single plate of fettucine Alfredo because, though it was his favorite, I still think of it as ‘heart attack on a plate’. But I guarantee my oldest daughter’s signature strawberry champagne cupcakes that he loved so much, will be reduced to crumbs in a nanosecond.
Most of all, on this strange anniversary, the family and friends who come together to mark the life of the man we all loved, will connect to each other with love. He would really like that. After all, there was nothing that former newspaper reporter liked better than talking to everyone, getting the story.
This sad anniversary is its own story. It’s jam-packed with life, love, laughter, comedy and tragedy. It really could have been a best-seller— except the ending sucked. I can close the book now but the story lives in me forever, in every chapter he brought to life and every chapter still to come without him.
To the anniversaries we never got to have and the one this year I never wanted, I raise my glass and heart with love always to my man of many words from the woman who was left to tell the story.