Anniversaries are hard, regardless of the number.
The first time I attended a support group after my husband passed away, I met a tall woman in her forties and asked her how long it had been since her husband passed. Eight years, was her reply. Only about a year into the journey myself, I asked if it gets easier.
“Oh it doesn’t get easier, really. It just gets… different,” she said. “This morning I missed him pretty badly, so I wrapped myself in his bathrobe,” her eyes twinkled with sadness.
I felt my own eyes bulge. Eight years and still wearing his clothes! I wanted her to be wrong.
I’m now about a month out from observing my own husband’s death at a distance of eight years, and I’ve been wearing one of his t-shirts to sleep, on and off for the last four months. I finally made arrangements to do something with his ashes, but haven’t followed through. His urn has moved from the dresser to the closet since we arrived at our new house, also four months ago, because of the pit I get in my stomach, every time I see it.
And today I have to make a concerted effort not to think about it. The season of heavy grieving is upon me. It always seems to happen at a subconscious level in spite of me, as the big anniversary approaches. I can’t sleep, can’t concentrate. I’m restless yet exhausted. I want to drink myself stupid and stare into the sun. The burning sensation in my chest builds up my throat to my ears and I can almost see the white static of this grief before my eyes at all times. I love him today as much as the day he died, as much as the day we married, as much as the little moments when my heart was bursting with ecstatic love, while he was still alive.
It feels like being caged sometimes. When I think I may be here for another 40 years like this, I want to bolt. I want to run as fast as I can until I fall off the horizon. There is the kinetic energy to do so at any moment, in every muscle of my body, as though I am spending whole weeks at the redline, where bursting awaits just one degree further. I have no buffer to help absorb the blow of a little bad luck, or an unnecessary comment from someone else. I could smash all the china in the kitchen at the slightest thing – but that still wouldn’t be enough. I have dreams of driving my car through brick walls, screaming with rage at the top of my lungs.
I have two wonderful children now, a caring partner, and a life that is clearly carrying on, one that I am present in and tending with care. One that I am invested in and care very much about. And there’s no resolving this conflict as far as I can see, besides simply enduring it. And it sucks. Another year, and I feel completely, passionately outraged that he’s still gone, as if I have been expecting him to come walking through the door, every minute, all this time.
What’s the point now, on the eight-years-hence side of his death? What do I do with all this time on my hands? It feels like I’m supposed to do something – I don’t know – better than I am. That little demon on my ego’s shoulder gets fat in the season of heavy grieving. It asks me why I’m not doing something heroic, or something that helps other people. Something I can point to and say, aha! There’s the reason I’m still here! It takes a step further and mentions that my life is instead becoming increasingly normal.
I buy into its nonstop chatter, telling it, “You know what I’m doing for money right now? I’m a telemarketer. I lost my job and this is what I found to do, because babies need to eat. They need clothes and a safe place to live. I had plans, dammit! I have three degrees and speak six languages! I know useful things! I wrote a book! And now I’m doing this job where I get micromanaged and harassed by my boss daily. Sometimes it feels like my life keeps collapsing before my eyes, since Manny died. Like it’s propped up by spider webs and hope. I struggle with imposter syndrome in every task I perform, as if I cheated our joint death and have to commandeer each day in order to stay ahead of the reaper. I should not even be around other people, let alone be at work this month, because I am defensive, combative and cannot concentrate. I’m a wreck. I hate the season of grieving; I hate who I am during it, and I hate every single one of the challenges this time presents. My therapist tells me to practice gratitude and I think, I AM grateful. Really, truly grateful. For many things! But a pile of bullshit doesn’t magically turn into a rainbow, no matter how much I try to admire it. It SUCKS. And it’s ok to feel that way. It has to be. What doesn’t help is to insinuate that I’m not grateful while I’m already upset.” (You see? The slightest comment and I’m over here breaking my dinner plates, so to speak.)
Anniversaries are so hard. They don’t get easier. I acknowledge that I am grateful to be here on earth and I am grateful for the people and the blessings in this life with me. I am grateful for the time I got with my beloved, and I’m even grateful for the lessons his death both taught me and continues to teach me. And in spite of that, it is SO, so hard to breathe, every time the anniversary begins its approach.
Grief is ugly. And so if you feel this way sometimes, too – well, you’re in good company. Wish we could sit together and tell stories of our loved ones. I’ll tell one, and then you can comment one of your own – how about that?
English was Manny’s second language, and sometimes he confused shampoo with champagne. It became a running joke with us, so that whenever I mentioned anything about shampoo, he would heartily cheer, “Time to celebrate!”
Cheers, friend… L’chaim, and stuff.