I’ve had it with being a professional griever.
Five years ago today, my husband Tim died. In case you’re a new reader, it wasn’t expected or peaceful or anything like a Nicholas Spark’s novel. It was a raw, real drug overdose. I found him. I called 911, and did the chest compressions even though the second I touched him, I knew.
In the five years following that it’s almost comical the things that I’ve lost. All of the three dogs we loved together, two due to old age and one robbed in the prime of her life from cancer. The horse that got me through everything.
I’ve grieved so much and so publicly that people reach out to me about their grief and loss. Sometimes it’s for advice, sometimes just for someone to listen to their story. In those conversations, I hear familiar patterns of confusion and broken trust. How is it possible that it hurts this bad? Like everything they’d ever been told about death was a lie.
And that’s because it probably was. As a society, we are afraid to confront death and loss in this magnitude. Take for instance, Winnie the Pooh.
How lucky am I? Well yes, I was lucky to know Tim. Was lucky to spend almost ten years with him, unlucky to lose him how I did. But luck is too simple for grief. Loss isn’t healed by being grateful. If it was, I would never get upset. Every day I’m grateful for how Tim loved me.
As a society, we don’t know how to accept that the people we cherish, wake up to every day and love above all others will one day suddenly be absent from this earth. In most films, death is allowable only by the (typically old) loved one expressing how they’ll “always be with you” before artistically passing away. I mean, thirty minutes into Moana (don’t judge me—there’s no limits to quarantine TV choices) the grandmother returns as a magical manta ray to inspire and lead.
I doubt those kind of moments are written by someone who has lost someone. The actual rupture does not bring peace or acceptance. I do not feel soothed by carrying Tim in my heart. Knowing I was lucky to have someone I loved that loved me did not make his passing any easier. But five years of holding Tim’s memory instead of his hand has changed me and my experience of loss. Simply put, I can at least believe it gets better.
Most days I weave around the world like anyone else. I see my friends, complain about being single, procrastinate cleaning the kitchen. It can be hard to remember that five years ago I was a wife who made vegan lasagna and giggled when accused of “burrito’ing” all of the comforter at night. Those days seem very far away now.
Since then it feels like everything about me has changed, and I wonder if Tim would know this person at all. She is so different.
I try to step confidently into each day to create a life I’m proud of, but there is a layer of sadness that washes over everything I do, one that I think will never go away. Despite how much I love what I’ve built for myself, sometimes I want to shower with Almond Dr. Bronner’s soap and smell him again. Wait to wait too long in the passenger’s side at the Starbucks line to get his Almond milk iced coffee (no sweetener) with a shot of espresso. More than anything, I want to come home and walk into those big bear arms. Lean my head against his chest, hold it for a long time.
Looking back on the previous years I wrote about this day is complicated. I feel how deeply sad I was, how broken. I also sniff this arrogance, this idea that I knew so much more because of my heartbreak. In the later years, I just seem tired. Exhausted by everything.
At five years, I’m still exhausted, still broken. Grief continues to be the most isolating aspect of my life. I have dear friends and family, but most cannot begin to understand. Rather than wishing for some unfortunate circumstances to give me a level playing field within my social circle (let’s just keep everyone alive, okay?), I keep the feelings to myself. When Pascale was alive, I told her everything. But Lucie, like so many, is unburdened by this kind of sadness. I watch her play, and try to find the light.
According to Sex and the City (which of course is the authority for human experience), it takes half the time of the relationship to “get over it.” So at five years, I should be good… right? Even I thought I’d be firmly into the “next chapter” of my life. Death isn’t something you get over, but instead move forward from. In some ways I have moved forward, just not in the ways I thought I would. But a lot of the time I still feel frozen by the severance. Stuck looking in the rear view mirror back at all that I loved, hoping for a sign they’re all still part of this world with me.
Tim used to send lots of signs. Dreams, visions, unexplained coincidences, but they’ve all but stopped. A few times a year I dream about him, but it’s never “him.” It’s like being haunted by a shadow that reminds me of how hurt and alone I am at times. But even when I have those dreams, usually about him hiding from me or cheating on me or any sort of troubled existence, I’m still thankful to see his face.
Pascale and Simon rarely make an appearance. One night I dreamt about working in the garden I’ve made for Pascale. She ran through the new plants and rolled in the dirt, wiggling her spine with an upside down grin. Mostly though, there is only a quiet absence. The dead’s energy folds back into the earth. Maybe that’s why I enjoy gardening so much these days. It’s the only way to get back to where we are from.
The last weekend Tim and I spent together was in the hill country. In the days where I chronicled everything about my life, I even blogged about the good parts. But there were a lot of bad parts too. Even after swearing he flushed all the drugs, he used outside the cabin that night and lied about it. I was too blind—or too hopeful—to look at the truth.
Earlier that day, we had tried to hike Enchanted Rock. Every physical activity (hiking, biking, anything!) involved Tim kicking my ass and me hyperventilating, red in the face, behind him. Everything except that hike. For the first time, I saw how abused his body was from his addiction. He saw it too. We couldn’t make it up to the peak. Instead, we had Snoballs at the bottom until he cooled off enough to head home. Neither one of us dared verbalize how hopeless we felt.
This morning I head back to hike Enchanted Rock—all of it. If I’m being honest, I still feel pretty hopeless most days. Happiness is held together by a thin thread for all of us. It doesn’t take more than a tug to disrupt, but I keep re-collecting the pieces again and again.
I do not have the life I thought I’d have when I married Tim ten years ago.
I do not have the life I thought I’d have when he died five years later.
But I have the day off, sunshine in the forecast and a puppy that needs to expend a lot of energy. I have memories made with so much love, and the words to articulate them back into life. And I have friends to share pizza and beer (Tim’s favorites) with tonight.
For today, this five year anniversary, and really any day, that’s enough.