Rick and I were married on July 12, 1997. He died one month after our twentieth anniversary. This Friday will mark the second time I’ve spent our anniversary alone. In a way, it’s almost the third time, because on our last anniversary together in 2017, he was pretty sick and often mentally confused, so our special day wasn’t so special. He did try valiantly to maneuver his walker down the movie theatre aisle, and he attempted to eat a meal sitting across from me at the local diner, because he wasn’t up to Mexican food and beer at On the Border. But the whole date was a huge effort and not at all what we envisioned our twentieth anniversary celebration would be.
Then again, he was here to celebrate the date, and now he’s not. I’d give anything to relive that day if I could. Or would I? Would I put him through all that suffering again? Would I wish that he could be here with me now, if that meant watching him slowly disappear before my eyes all over again?
No. Definitely not.
Last year, to mark our special day, my niece (the maid of honor at our wedding) and I went out and spent the evening doing what Rick and I probably would have done together if he were still here. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and went to see a movie. This year, I’m not sure what I want to do. How do I “celebrate” an event without the person it was meant to be shared with?
I’ve developed some peculiar coping techniques in the two years since our final anniversary together. For one, I talk to him a lot – and he answers. Recently, I was having some personal issues, and I just wanted him here to comfort me, as he had done for all those years of marriage. I was lying in bed talking to him, envisioning him lying next to me on the side of the bed that’s remained empty for the past two years. And, then, out of the blue, I remembered something he used to do – and it surprised me that I hadn’t thought of it in all this time since he died, because it was just about the most loving act he performed in our marriage.
Whenever I was overtired, or stressed, or upset about something, when we were lying in bed together, he would reach over and start slowly stroking my head. And the feeling of his huge, strong hand rhythmically, gently, caressing me from my forehead back across the top of my head always made me calmer, more serene. I felt incredibly loved and cherished. It was a heavenly feeling. Perhaps in the first year and a half since he died, it was too painful to remember, too hard to acknowledge the fact that I would never feel that kind of love again.
But on this particular night, when I needed comfort and he wasn’t here to provide it, that memory suddenly came back to me. And I gave into it. I lay back in our bed, closed my eyes, and visualized how he used to slowly, gently, stroke, stroke, stroke my hair back from my forehead. And I began to vividly remember how that made me feel, how he made me feel – loved, nurtured, cared for by my huge, strong, powerful husband. I was treasured and cherished by a man who could rein in his incredible strength and be so gentle with me. The man many people referred to as the Gentle Giant more than lived up to his name.
And, true, visualizing his act of tenderness made me a little sad, because it’s just one of the million acts of love and kindness he performed throughout our marriage that I’ve missed since he’s been gone. But it also made me once again feel his love, here, in the present. I sensed that he’s still here with me telling me that everything will be okay. I sensed him reminding me that he still loves me and that his love for me will never die. I know his love is strong enough to reach out to me from wherever he is – strong enough that I still feel it coming to me beyond the border that separates us now.
This anniversary will be more bittersweet because it comes at a time when I’ve decided I’m ready to date again. I’ve finally accepted that I need more than personal goals and plans to fill the next twenty years. I need companionship, too. But I can confidently say that Rick is smiling about that. He’d want me to be happy, and to live a full life, as I would want for him if he was left here on earth without me. I know he’s proud of me for all my attempts to make a life without him, and this is just one more step to creating a new and fulfilling life for myself.
Whatever I do this Friday – however I decide to spend the day that commemorates the twenty-second anniversary of the day we wed, I know he’ll be here with me, still loving me, and I can take comfort in that. We may have pledged to love each other “until death do us part,” but, in all honesty, I don’t think a little thing like death is strong enough to part us.