Four Years

Four Years

I am, to put it mildly, a bit of a planner. Some might even throw around the words “control freak,” although that sounds fairly harsh to me. I prefer meticulous, driven by detail, thorough.

It’s no surprise then that I had a plan for my widowhood. In my grief, I doubled down in planning and control. My best friend was ripped away from me, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. With him went the safe, idyllic life I had worked so hard to cultivate. In the aftermath, control was my only safety. In many ways, it still is.

Through my planning, I thought I knew what these years would look like.

  1. Survive
  2. Heal
  3. Rebuild
  4. Carry On

Let’s be real—my plan for years two and three involved building a relationship with someone else. For a hot minute, I even thought I might know who that person would be (ha!). By now, I thought I’d be moving into the next phase with another life partner. That was the plan.

Tim came into my life with no warning. I was fixated on someone else at the time (one of my trademark moves), and had pretty much given up on dating. But then I met this kind, intelligent, absolutely funny person who, despite all reason and practical sensibility, was smitten with me. He had so many amazing qualities that led me to fall in love with him, but the real reason is this—Tim was one of the few people I’ve ever known that I could be my entire self with. My goofy, anxious, horse girl, control freak self. No exceptions, no reservations. We gave the best, and worst, of ourselves to each other. It was the kind of love you can’t plan for.

But this is not a post about how wonderful and complicated our marriage was. This is a post about today being the fourth anniversary of his death. I write about it every year, that’s part of the plan after all. The first year was about thanking him for making me the person I am today. The second on how scared I am to forget him, how isolated I feel. The third about all the things I am still afraid of.

When I wrote those posts, especially the first one, I think I expected year four to be something happy. Redeeming. Look at me living my best life! I survived, and now I’m doing great! I’m so, so healed y’all. Sign me up for a TedTalk.

There’s some truth in it. I did survive. I’m living a good life. Last week, I graduated and earned my MFA in creative writing—a degree I’ve wanted since I was 18, but didn’t believe would ever happen. In a world driven by technology trends and blazing media, I’m making a living as a professional writer. I am fortunate enough to have support to follow my dreams, whether it’s cantering my baby Thoroughbred or finishing my first memoir. Even on my worst days, I know I have a lot going for me.

But I’m not healed. This is not the kind of loss you can heal from.

The first year of widowhood was all these crazy ups and downs, legal mountains to climb, huge mood swings. The second stabilized, but became a task of remembering, memorializing, and living for Tim since he cannot. The third was trying to let go a little, but often failing. How can I ever let go of the person I still love more than anyone else? The answer, at least my answer, is that I can’t. Not completely.

When I was trying to think what to write today, I had trouble. Previously, these yearly updates contained big revelations about my grief that couldn’t help but pour out. They were so strong, they overflowed. This year was harder, because I realize now this feeling, this level of grief, is my new constant. The pain is not as acute as before. I can push it away much faster, but it’s always here. It hasn’t lessened or changed in years.

This level of pain lets me laugh with friends until my abs hurt. Go on trips without the main feeling being regret that Tim couldn’t see new, fantastic places. It allows me to find the style of clothes that I prefer instead of dressing in the ways he liked best. It keeps a handful of his framed pictures around, but not in every frame. It grants me permission to be romantically interested in other people, even though let’s be honest—most people suck.

Most days, it tells me I can stop feeling guilty.

But it also erupts in tears, especially late at night when I can’t sleep and allow myself to remember what a fantastic man I loved. It will fiercely shut down a group of young students being cavalier about hard drugs, bragging about how cool it is to do coke (spoiler alert—it’s not). It gets melancholy around the holidays. It’s sentimental about the old tin tray he kept in the kitchen or his collection of Sandman comics. It loses patience often when people complain—especially about breakups that last less than a year. It will never forget what that visceral loss felt like.

The loss that made me wake up at midnight, vomiting for weeks. The loss that made me afraid to let other people drive me around in a car, or convinced me that if I didn’t hear back from someone within an hour or so of texting them, they had probably died. The loss that changed my entire psyche as a human. Even Simon’s death, another trauma I’m not even remotely close to healing from, didn’t hurt like Tim. Nothing ever will.

And that’s year four to me, living with this constant, muffled state of sadness. Even with it, I continue to live. I search for joy. Often, I find it—sometimes even copious amounts. Don’t confuse this post with a cry for help or a fit of depression. Mentally, I feel good right now. My good is just always, forever, layered with grief.

This complexity wasn’t part of my plan, but I continue to re-learn the lesson that life isn’t something you can plan for. Despite how much I want, I can’t control it.

In about a week, I’m moving back home to start “life 2.0” as I’ve been joking. The California, graduate school life sabbatical is over. I’m still alone, not counting Pascale and Baby Dragon, and I don’t know what the next phase will bring.

I don’t have any predictions for year five of widowhood except that things will still be complicated. There will always be hurt in the joy. Tim will always be a part of my life, but I accept this because the pain is a privilege. He was worth it.

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