This past week, I was up at our cottage in northern Michigan, and I joined the family at nearby Ocqueoc Falls. Rick used to make fun of the falls. When I first took him there, he kept laughing as he watched the water cascading across the large stones, and finally he asked, “Well, where are the falls?” Two weeks later, he took me to Minnehaha Falls a few miles from his apartment in Minnesota. “Now THAT’S a waterfall,” he said. “The water flows vertically, not horizontally like your falls.” And that became a joke for years. Every time I’d mention taking someone to the falls, he’d make a quip about hoping we could find them, or some other snarky comment.
Rick didn’t like going up north with a gang of people. Instead, the two of us drove up alone for little honeymoon weekends. For us, it was visits to Mackinaw City, or the Soo Locks. Bicycle rides in the small town twenty miles away. Spending the day on the west coast of Michigan. But no matter how we spent our days, we always returned to the cottage for an evening of chicken or burgers cooked on the grill followed by a bonfire down by the lake as the sun went down.
On this trip, on my way to the falls to join the kids, I had one of those weird intrusive thoughts I sometimes get. The rocks in the falls are slippery and difficult to navigate and I’m 64 years old – or as the kids now jokingly call me “Brandon’s aging mom,” due to an offhand remark my son made the last time we were up here. When he first said it, I was not thrilled, to say the least. The kids all thought my reaction was hilarious, so I’m betting this moniker will stick. But the truth is, I’m not as nimble as I was when I was 20, and on the drive there, I began to have misgivings about plunging in with the youngsters. I thought, what if I slip and fall, and break a hip or something?
Four years ago this week, Rick died from complications of a broken hip. He was extremely sick from cancer, but it happened. And I thought, well, if I die, at my funeral, they’ll say something like, “She’s with Rick now. They’re together again, and happy.”
Yes, I took the thought to those extremes. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer so I tend to embellish any random idea that pops into my mind – especially when driving alone on a deserted highway. But then I thought, yes, we WERE happy. I’d like to be that happy with another man again, someday. To spend my time with someone who loves me as much as Rick did, who is as good to me as he was, to be with a man I enjoy doing everything and nothing with. But I certainly don’t want to have to give up my life for it!
However, to be honest, it occurred to me that I DID give up part of my life after Rick died. I grieved for two years – or more. I didn’t exactly put my life on hold, but that pall of grief hung over everything for a long, long time. In the beginning, in the first days, weeks, months after his death, it took great effort to live. It took great effort to get out of bed! I’m glad those days are over.
Now that four years have elapsed (how is this possible?!), that horrible fog of constant grief is over, and I’ve embraced my new normal. I live alone, I travel alone, I’m as independent as they come – and I am happy, once again. The grief has changed as time has gone on… now, it’s this kind of “small sadness” that creeps in when I revisit places where we shared so much happiness. Places that elicit a storm of memories. One trip to these falls created a cascading series of memories of him by my side and the many, many experiences, road trips, and life adventures we shared so long ago.
Yes, four years later, it’s a different kind of grief. It’s an incredible sadness at all he’s missed, at all the experiences I’m enjoying without him. It’s sorrow that our life together is receding so far into the past that he’s almost become part of another era. It’s an ache in my heart at not having seen him in so long. Four years without my life partner seems like eons.
But, at this stage, I’m no longer giving up my life to grief. In fact, Rick’s death at age 63 often makes me cognizant of how short our time is on earth, and I’m driven to experience things I may have taken a pass on without the reminder. So, as the kids helped me climb down the treacherous path to jump in the falls (small as they are – lol), I embraced life whole-heartedly for both of us.