I catch myself talking out loud a lot when I’m alone in the car. Luckily, nowadays, the passengers in the cars around me assume I’m on a hands-free phone, so it doesn’t seem strange to see me alone gabbing away while I’m sitting at the red light next to them.
Except, the reality is, I’m not on the phone. I’m talking to Rick. And, although it’s not truly audible, he usually answers. I can’t say when I discovered this odd little habit, but I realize that I’ve never stopped talking to him since the day he died. Throughout our marriage, he was my go-to in-house therapist, my sounding board for everything, and the person who gave me a pep talk when I was down.
How could I ever stop seeking his advice and comfort? Death isn’t strong enough to sever that connection.
From the beginning, we developed our little private language. I remember when we were first dating, telling him that a friend and I were discussing those days when you wake up and everything seems too overwhelming. Days when we couldn’t even handle making a left-hand turn in traffic. For years, if I woke up upset about something or feeling anxious about life, he’d ask, Is it a no-left turn day?
And then there were the “Rickisms,” like when I’d tell him something good, and he’d say, That’s better than a hit in the head. Or I’d tell him how annoying someone was, and his response was always, Everyone’s a hero in their own mind.
After 21 years of conversations – and we talked a lot – I know exactly what he would say in response to just about anything I could tell him on our little private drives together. Sometimes he can be very succinct. Last week, I told him that I’ve been thinking him alot lately, and I seemed to be grieving him more. I wondered if it’s because I have his photos on my Apple Watch background and I see his face every time I look at my watch. He said, Ya think? with that little chuckle he always had. Yesterday, I was telling him about something that’s been upsetting me, and I said, I know I’m probably making a big deal out of nothing. He replied, No duh.
And now, after 22 months of our little private conversations, I’m able to laugh at responses like that – they are so “Rick.” And I discovered it makes me feel good to know that he’s still in my head, still making me laugh.
And that’s just one of the things I’m left with. Now that the fog of the first year of grief has lifted, and I’ve made it through nearly the second year, most of the sadness has lifted. At this point, I can finally enjoy the memories, and I no longer break down sobbing when I hear that voice in my head. Finally, I’m able to cherish what I’m left with, the part of him I’ll always have, the essence of Rick that’s inside me and that will never be gone, – despite death stealing the physical man from my life.
And very often, the fact that he can’t be here with me colors what I hear him say. The fact that he won’t enjoy the future we planned, that he battled so very hard to beat the cancer but lost everything that I’m still able to enjoy, is often reflected in what I hear him telling me…
What should I do about this, Rick? or How can I possibly cope with that? What if I make the wrong decision? What if I screw up everything?
Just relax, Ger…enjoy your life. It’s short, you know, very short. Stop being anxious and enjoy the ride.
And that’s the Rick I loved – the man who always moved fearlessly into life’s next adventure, while I was planning and researching and trying to find the best way to go about the next step. He’d say, Let’s try this, and plunge ahead, thrilled at being about to discover some uncharted territory, while I tried to keep up, running after him waving my maps.
Not that he couldn’t use some reining in – and that’s why the marriage worked. He was the yin to my yang. He often needed a person to put those breaks on, to curb his enthusiasm just a bit, before we ended up in a deserted alley or broke and homeless.
So here I am. He’s dead and I’m alone with my worries and thoughts and plans, trying to figure out life, trying to navigate without him to pull me along. So, I talk to him and he’s still answering. Oh, of course, I desperately wish I could still audibly hear his voice, but the words in my head are better than the silence of reality.
So, if you happen to see me driving down the street gabbing away, look in the passenger seat and you may see a shadow of my invisible partner. He’s always with me, and he’s always got something relevant to say. I hope he keeps talking to me forever.