The first year or two after losing Rick, every memory that popped into my mind was an emotional trigger that sometimes made me sob, and other times just brought on some quiet tears. The trick was learning to handle these moments because you never knew where or when they were going to hit. It wasn’t just seeing a picture of him or going to a place we used to go. It was a random song lyric, or a shirt that reminded me of the kind he used to wear. It could be anything really, and it could happen when you least expected it. When you’ve spent all of your time with someone for 20 some years, you create a lot of memories in a lot of places. Scenarios, sounds, smells… everything reminded me of him.
And depending where I was, I’d either give in and remember or I’d fight the memory so I could return my attention to the meeting at work or the social gathering I was a part of. I’ll store it away for later, I’d think… later when I can mull it over, relish the moments, and cry my heart out in privacy.
But I’m noticing that it’s different now – four years since his death. At this stage, you have a lot more control over your mind. The memories don’t come as frequently, although they do come. And every once in a while, there is a doozy. One that you possibly haven’t thought about in years. One that just tears your heart out because you wish those days were here again.
But in my case at least, I’m happy to say there are some like I experienced the other day. In fact, most of them are like this now. I was scrolling through my phone and a memory popped into my mind. It was only a moment – and it was a fleeting glimpse of a place we used to go. It had absolutely nothing to do with what I was looking at or listening to. I have no idea where it came from. But for a millisecond, I pictured Rick and me at the all-you-can-eat buffet that he took me to every couple of months. We didn’t go to it much more than that. But Rick loved the buffet. He was a big man with huge appetites and there was nothing better to him than piling his plate high with chicken, ribs, potatoes, corn (you know, the staples you’re not supposed to eat when you’re a type two diabetic).
He really was pretty good about his eating most days, but every once in a while, he just wanted that treat: to binge at a buffet. He usually went on his own after a long bicycle ride while I was at work, but every now and then, he came by to pick me up for lunch and took me along. So as I say, I have no idea why this memory popped into my head, but there it was: a quick vision of the two of us in his favorite buffet, sitting and talking in one of the booths along the window. I can still picture the Diet Cokes and the plates in front of us on the table, and us just gabbing away.
So I had this little glimpse of the past – and no more – and I started to set it aside in my mind and go back to what I was doing. But suddenly, I changed my mind. I stopped myself from filing the memory away, and I decided to go back. To let my mind continue with this little scene. To take a little trip back to that moment in time.
This is a rare thing for me to do. Usually I stop the memory, because there’s always that fear that you’re going to feel too much. But this time, I thought, just go with it. Just close your eyes and rest your head on the back of the chair and remember. Remember this inane little scene that the two of you played out in the life you made together so long ago.
And that’s exactly what I did. Not sure how long I was back there… visiting the two of us in the past. Maybe 15 minutes? But I let the scene play out. In fact, I backtracked to the beginning of the scene…to us walking in and paying, getting our plates, doing our silly ritual where we had to fast-walk to the table. We raced each other to be the first to tap the table before we set off to fill our plates. I saw us taking off our jackets, putting them in the corner of the booth, and going up to the buffet. I could hear the plates and the glasses clinking and I could feel the people milling around us. I saw us sitting across from each other chatting. Me working on my crossword puzzle and him reading his newspaper online. Me stopping to ask him to help with a puzzle answer. Him stopping to point out something he read – or to editorialize about the political concern of the day. A simple little lunch. Our life. And then I stopped the scene in my head and returned to the present.
And I realized something when I returned to reality. I was smiling. I was serene. I enjoyed my little visit to the past.
And after experiencing that safe little getaway, there were no sobs, no tears… of course there was a little longing to be back there, again. But I realized so much time has gone by that the memories don’t really hurt me anymore. The memories make me feel blessed for having had that time with Rick at all.
I know if you’re a new widow you’ll never believe this is possible. You couldn’t have convinced me it was even something to hope for in the early years after he died. But there will come a time when the memories don’t hurt. There will come a time when you’ll simply relish them, just like remembering your baby’s first steps or a wonderful Christmas morning, or a fun time with your family at the beach years ago – or any other memorable experience you shared with a loved one.
But, most of the time, these little glimpses into your past life will be simple things, not holidays or special days, but a simple thread that made up the fabric of your life with your husband.
And hopefully, as I did, you’ll enjoy this little remembrance of things past. And maybe instead of crying your eyes out, or wailing in pain, you’ll smile wistfully and say, Thank you, honey. Thanks for all those wonderful memories.