Before and after.
Two words that signify a complete and utter evolution in my life. From simple to complex…mostly predictable to unknown…happy to *it depends on the day and the hour*…
Before and freaking after.
A beginning that led to an unforeseen end, and an ending that has lead to a whole new beginning.
Recently I find myself going with the motions of my day to day life, barely able to remember a time that it didn’t seem so chaotic…A time when I breathed easier simply by sharing each of my breaths with Nate…A time when happiness came naturally and was a direct result of the beautiful life my husband and I were building. Nowadays, it seems like I have to work real fucking hard for that happiness. And while those moments of happiness seem to occur more often as I near the 20 month mark, I long for those days before, when happiness seemed easy…seemed guaranteed almost.
In my own experience with grief, I’ve come to learn that one of the most painful yet therapeutic things for me to do is to try and face my grief head on…I’ve gone back to the restaurants Nate and I loved, took Ian to the park he proposed to me at, we’ve gone to the baseball field he played every weekend on, and we’ve gone on many trips without him…we continue trying to do the things we loved. I have discovered that the memories I try to run from because of the emotion that ensues, almost become a dark, dreaded area of my mind for me. And I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want our life together, the memories we made, or the places we loved, to become something I’m scared of remembering and seeing.
One of those things I have kept locked away in that space in my mind, is our life that we built in Gahanna. It’s not that I don’t remember our life, it’s that I’ve gone into survival mode and allowed myself to detach myself from the memories in order to keep adjusting to the life I have now. And there’s no healing in that…At least for me.
Sooo…I took a walk down memory lane last weekend, and I visited the house we bought in 2012…the house we brought Ian home to in 2014. The house we were going to grow old in…The house I have only been able to drive by once in the 20 months since I walked out of it for the last time. I drove around our neighborhood and remembered all of the walks and bike rides we went on. I drove by our favorite park that we took our son to all of the time. Past the Kroger we walked to and did our grocery shopping at. Past the transfer station that Ian was obsessed with. I was blown away at how much he remembered about our life there…he was so excited pointing out things that were prompting memories of him and his daddy. My heart broke and soared simultaneously.
Oh man…It was hard. It was painful. I cried. And then I cried some more. But despite the pain and tears, it was also very therapeutic to allow myself to remember…to allow that part of my heart to once again beat outside of my chest freely. Like I said, most days I find myself unable to even think of a time when things were easier…So I keep busy. I stick to my day to day routine and keep pushing, and in return I nearly forget that there was once a day that I shared this load with somebody. I nearly forget that there was a day when I had most things figured out because I was figuring it out alongside Nate. Recently, I have found it difficult to even cry which isn’t a terrible thing…but it also isn’t something I would say is a good thing for me either.
So I actively chose to bring that life I once lived to the forefront of my mind. I chose to fully embrace the memories of that time when things were more simple. When happiness was as easy to attain as the air I breathed. The truth is, I don’t want that life (the before) to become a dark place I ignore. It doesn’t belong in the dark. The memories, as painful as they sometimes are to relive because of how much I miss them, deserve to be lit up as often as possible…and I need to give Ian as many opportunities to remember that joy as well. Yes, we live with the loss of Nate every single day. But I find myself becoming so accustomed to how things are now, that I’m depriving myself the chance to remember and grieve what once was.
The biggest reality to except when it comes to widowhood, is the reality that we will never again live the life we lived before our spouses died. It’s impossible. But I am learning that the memories of the happiness I felt with Nate, the simple peace of waking up in a life I loved, has the power to push me towards a new life full of possibilities…Including the possibility that the after chapter of my life will be full of beginnings that will lead me to yes, a different life, but a life that will still give me and Ian a strong of a sense of happiness and peace, similiar to what we once had.
There are no rules or protocol when it comes to grief. Not one single person will grieve the same, and each of us will grieve on our own timeline. It took me 20 months to take that walk last weekend. As one of my favorite motivational speakers and fellow widow, Nora Mcinerny, reiterates in her book, there is no moving on from grief…We must figure out how to move forward with it. As much as I sometimes want to, there is no moving around it either. As my journey continues, I am beginning to understand that idea more and more…The before of my life will always be connected to the after. The happiness of before reminds me of what I want to continue to work for in the after…And while the after will inevitably be without Nate, it is the beginning of a whole new chapter that my life with him will have brought me to.
Being busy is not a bad thing, and I find much of my joy these days while getting things done. But my experience last weekend reminded me about the importance of stopping and allowing myself to remember…The importance of slowing down sometimes and allowing myself to grieve the life I once lived before…That being productive is important, but keeping busy shouldn’t be the tool I use to avoid feelings…
For better or for worse, those feelings and that grief will be moving forward with me for the rest of my life. But that also means Nate and the memories of our life together will too…And despite the tears, that’s such a gift…To know that someday I’ll be standing in the life I’m currently fighting for, knowing I got there because of the before and because of the after.