Imagine you’re driving in your car, enjoying the scenery. It’s a beautiful sunny day and you’ve been looking forward to this trip. You’re happy about being halfway to your destination and singing along with the radio, when – suddenly – the car next to you swerves in front of you and slams on the brakes. You slam on your brakes, try to avoid hitting the car and swerve off the road. You’re fine. The car is fine. But the serenity is gone. The dreamy quality of your nice soothing drive has been interrupted and it takes quite a while to get back to a calm state. The whole experience is jarring, puts a whole new perspective on the drive and on life. You realize how fleeting happiness is, how close to death we are at any second, how one second everything is great and the next it’s not.
That’s life a couple of years into widowhood.
I’ve gotten to the place I never thought possible. I go for days now not thinking about Rick. Two and a half years – that’s what it took. Two and a half years after a twenty year marriage, and I no longer think constantly about the man who was my whole life. I’m driving along a new road now. I’m looking towards the future with hope and happiness. I feel serene and sometimes even excited about this new journey. And – although the ride is sometimes bumpy – most of the time it’s smooth sailing. And then suddenly it’s not.
It could be a trigger word, or a favorite place, or a photo – or nothing at all, that brings up a memory. My friend’s dad is in the hospital. My friend told me he has a low hemoglobin count. Hemoglobin, there’s a trigger word. It immediately brought back a rush of painful memories. I felt the desperation of watching Rick suffer through chemo treatments and shots and radiation treatments. The word hemoglobin triggers memories of Rick with the IV drips, smiling across from me so bravely, ashen gray and sickly. Hours of hoping and watching as he sat silently playing with his phone – or joking with nurses and attendants. All in vain. One word brought back statistics and sadness, learning about how many ways things could go wrong, hoping things would be normal again. And finally things were. He was in remission. But normal only lasted a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks and then everything that could go wrong went wrong and normal never happened again, and he was gone.
And all of those awful memories were triggered by one word.
Or perhaps it’s a Friday morning and I’m at work. I’m thinking about the date I have that night with the guy I’ve been dating for a month. I’m looking forward to seeing him again because I enjoy our conversations and it’s been a couple of months since I found someone that I want to keep seeing. I take a few minutes to check my email. And there it is… an email saying Macaroni Grill has a special, and just like that car swerving in front of me, my tranquility is jarred. Suddenly I’m sitting across from Rick clinking wine glasses, toasting our evening while we wait to be served our peppadew pepper appetizer. I see us simply enjoying being together, looking into each other’s eyes, and talking – never dreaming that our Thursday evening Macaroni Grill date nights would ever end.
All those memories come rushing in and that feeling of shock returns – just fleetingly – it can’t be true! He can’t be gone, can he? And now, two and a half years later, all of those times with him seem so long ago. A bygone era of my life. And I remember shortly after he died, dreading that this would happen. That someday, he would slip so far into my past, that he’d no longer be a part of my everyday thoughts. Yet I also hoped for time to heal the grief of those early months, because it was too much to bear.
So here I am now, halfway through the third year without him. And most of the time, as I drive along on this new journey, the road is smooth and the drive is pleasant. I’m enjoying the scenery, and the drive, and hoping to get to some new goal, a promising destination. Most of the time no car swerves in front of me, and I don’t hit too many speed bumps. Most of the time life is okay now.
I guess the point of this blog is to give hope to those of you in the earlier stages of grief. To the newly widowed who can’t imagine waking up and not thinking about your husband the moment you open your eyes. Or to those of you who still reach out to him in bed and are stunned not feeling him next to you. Those of you who lie awake longing to cuddle him once again in the night. I just want you to know that you, too, will reach this place someday. It might be two years for you, it might be five, but you’ll get here, too.
And it’s a relief not to feel the constant pain and longing, but it’s a double-edged sword. Because the bad part is NOT thinking about him also makes me sad. I was afraid I would get to this point. I was afraid I would forget him.
But, of course, the truth is, I will never forget him. I no longer think about him constantly, but I also realize how much a part of me he still is. I find his words coming out of my mouth when I least expect it. I find myself looking at something that was significant to both of us and saying, Look at that Rick! Wouldn’t you love seeing this today?
I realize that I barely notice my habit of talking to him throughout my day, because it’s so much a part of me I can no longer separate it from myself. In reality, I talk to him quite a bit – and it no longer saddens me that I can’t hear him answer. I’m used to the silence now. I just know he’s there.
No, I think I was stupid to worry about this. I will never forget that man. Or his love. Sometimes I get a little sideswiped with grief, but mainly I have a serenity about it now. It’s hard to explain… I’m a single woman, but I will never NOT be part of a couple again. I joined with someone who will never be gone from me. No matter what my future holds and where my life takes me, he’s going with me on the ride.