In a week I’ll turn 32. This time last year, I just wanted my 30th year to be over. I figured no matter what, 31 would be better than 30… and it has been better. Now I apprehensively approach my birthday, and I can’t help thinking that I feel old these days. There is so much behind me at this point, and even more hiding in the blurry future beyond my peripheral.
When Tim first died, I thought time would bring closure. It doesn’t. Closure is a myth. People are as desperate to see it as they are a miracle, and it’s as intangible as God. I have given up the pursuit of closure.
Though time hasn’t brought me the answers or closure I wanted, it has given clarity. I married a fantastic person who loved me wholly through a sickness that took his life. It wasn’t weakness that killed him. His disease cannot undermine the amount of strength it took him to fend off his darkness for so long and be successful in many different ways. I take some credit for that success, because Tim and I made each other better.
At this point in my process, I can find joy in reminders of him instead of only pain. This happens often on Facebook through their “On this Day” notifications. Sometimes they show a picture of him doing something ridiculous, and I get a small flutter of joy because I loved the person in that photograph. He was the smartest person I knew, a total goofball and one of maybe five people I could be my total, unfiltered self with. I spent almost ten years with that person, and man – what a gift that was.
I talk about him often, to friends who knew him well and those he never met. They’re little stories that make me smile and showcase his stubborn, questioning nature. A timely one is about when Tim learned the truth about Santa Claus. In his version of this story, he’s around five or six years old and asking his Dad questions.
“Is Santa real?” he asks.
“Well, it’s a make-believe story adults tell children to celebrate the magic of Christmas.”
“So just a story?”
“Yes, just a story some people believe in.”
“Cool. Just like Jesus then?”
And that was the day my late husband became an atheist.
It’s easy for me to talk about Tim, effortless even. He’s as deeply ingrained in my life as my love of horses or passion for writing. You can’t separate things out – they’re just me. What’s harder is the tone I take when I talk about him. I know better, but I talk about Tim like he’s away on a long trip. It’s hard for me not to tack on, Just wait till you meet him!
Sometimes I make myself remember. This is the person you loved the most, and he is not coming back. He is not replaceable. He drifts further away from you. When I entertain this thought spiral, all of the “bravery” others have pegged me with disappears and I am the same sniveling, broken person I was eighteen months ago. I take comfort where I can. Now that it’s cold out, I wrap up in the quilt made from his t-shirts. In those moments, I address him out loud like I did in the first weeks after his death, “I miss you so much.” Then I blow my nose, dry my eyes and go to sleep to start the next day with a smile whether I feel like it or not.
The truth is, nights like the one described above are rare these days. He drifts away, and I am torn in-between wanting to hold on to this grief forever and needing to let it go. When the person is dead, the ashes are scattered and many belongings have been re-purposed grief is the only thing that is left. If I’m not grieving him, what am I? If I’m not always sad, who was he to me?
No one can grieve forever though, no matter how great the loss. The mind protects itself by dulling the image of that person, and washing over the darkest moments. My eyes, even if they are tired from crying the night before, begin to focus on new people. I have one foot in the past, and one in the future. I spend as many days being confused about my new life as I do grieving my old one.
When you’re faced with a tragedy like mine, there are three options: you can deal with a lot of bullshit in the attempts to start your life over, you can settle to be unhappy or you can die. Dying was never an option. I’m attempting to start over, but it’s not easy. Right now I’m living every meme of “me trying to get my life together” that you’ve ever seen. The one that comes to the forefront of my mind is the baby horse trying to stand up straight on the ice.
Most days I am happy enough. My battle right now is not to exist or not, but how I can thrive again. I don’t know. I’m told it’s foolish to think my best days are behind me, but it’s hard to believe otherwise.
The truth is I learned to live without hope
as well as I could, almost happily,
in the despoiled and radiant now.
– Stephen Dunn, A Postmortem Guide
Those lines from the same poem I printed on the sheet at my husband’s memorial sum up my life right now. I am scared to hope for anything. I’m going through the motions, but I am afraid.