When my husband’s beautiful life left his permanently sleeping body on September 29th, 2016, he was 47 years and 239 days old. On Sunday, July 8th, 2018, I stood on the bank of a creek along a hiking trail at that exact age myself. When I woke up Monday morning on July 9th, I had officially lived one day longer – was one day older – than my husband ever got to be. He is stuck in time. And I now grow older. Without him.
I’ve always had an “overthinking” mind – it never turns off. I’ve dealt with some level of insomnia my entire life, continually rabbit holing myself into situations that don’t even exist, and further thinking myself to death. It’s a blessing because it allows me to be able to write full length novels and come up with some pretty unique and interesting ideas or solutions to problems. I think it helps me always be in pursuit of knowledge and growth. It is also the reason I can manage a crisis like a professional. But it’s also a curse because I can be intense at times, intimidate people without meaning to, cause myself additional and unnecessary anxiety and pain – and that’s the LAST thing I need – and of course, it’s hard to sleep for any length of time when your brain won’t let you.
I don’t know if I’m like this because I’m creative, damaged, naturally curious…or simply female…but these are the types of things…things like the exact age Eric was (to the day) when he died and when I would be that exact age (to the day) myself…that I think about when confronted with my loneliness, mortality and the outright injustice of what happened to him. Numbers. Dates. Times. A Year Since This and a Year Since That. Ghosts, images, smells, words, signs. Constantly. There is no break from it.
However, these types of obsessive thoughts also give me the strength to hold onto his dying words to a friend…that he believed I will have a “Second Act.” I ordinarily hold onto meaningful words that are said to me because I feel like it’s holding onto hope. Eric was a man of his word, and so I take what he said seriously. And because he is gone, I hold onto his words even more tightly because they are part of the few things I have left of him…sometimes the only flecks of hope I have left for myself.
Forget the fact that I don’t want a Second Act. I was perfectly fine with the First Act. In the First Act, I knew what I had, understood and truly knew the man I was married to, figured out how to do the dance and the back and forth/give and take of a relationship without destroying it, could TRUST him FULLY. We finally arrived at a point where we were genuinely happy in our marriage and looking forward to our future empty nest after so many years of working so hard and struggling. We had earned the spoils of this First Act. To have it taken away and left to try to figure out a Second Act? Alone? What does that even mean?
He’s been gone for 21 months, and I’m finally back on the right grief track after being side-barred for a bit from addressing my own grief and pain. I sometimes have a day or two or three where the silence is quieter, the hole in my stomach is harsher, the hauntings of his last two weeks are more vivid, and there is no relief in sight.
Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on owning the stage of grief known as “Acceptance” of this Second Act. I’m not there yet. In the Second Act so far, Eric is gone and I am completely alone. Every day, I wake up and say to Eric, “I CANNOT believe you’re dead! I CANNOT believe that happened to you!” And then I look around and see just how ALONE I am in my life and cannot believe this is, in fact, my life. This is a crappy start to the Second Act and a hopeless existence most days, for sure. But at some point, I simply must accept it.
In my quest toward this grief stage, I’ve been reading a lot of books about how we spend our lives trying to avoid pain rather than embracing and allowing it to pass through us. We don’t want to feel it. It hurts. It sucks. But if we don’t feel it and experience it, we will remain stuck in a First Act that is long over. The Second Act doesn’t have to be hopeless.
We often avoid our pain – not just grief pain but all of life’s pain – with many harmful distractions: alcohol or drugs, jumping in and out of unfulfilling or one-sided relationships, allowing ourselves to be used by becoming caretaker to other people’s problems when we should be care-taking our own, shopping for things we don’t need, hoarding things we should let go, lying in bed all day and watching Netflix or sharing stupid things on Facebook; or even by refusing to open our hearts to someone who cares, and instead closing ourselves off from being loved again.
In other words, we allow pain and fear to control us and not move forward into the Second Act.
There are several older books on this very topic, like The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck or Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Some are spiritual, and some, like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, are more modern and not based in religion or spirituality at all. But the message is all the same: to be able to truly live your life authentically and peacefully, you need to learn how to embrace everything about it – even the unimaginable hardship of losing your husband.
Stop avoiding pain and allowing it to control you. Stop numbing it with the vices that are only going to destroy you and keep you stuck in a long-over First Act. It’s easier said than done, for sure, but what else have you got to lose?
I’ll tell you what you’ve got to lose – your Second Act.
To be able to carry forth the legacy of my husband, to honor his memory and the life he led, I am trying to own this nightmare, accept this pain, stop numbing it with all the fake people and distractions out there, and move toward no longer allowing it to own me. That’s certainly what my husband would have wanted for me and expected of me. I don’t know how long this will take, but one thing I’ve learned in this grief journey is that as long as I’m trying…I’m living that Second Act. Maybe not well or very gracefully, but at least it’s real.