I’ve done really well I think, these past eleven months. I’ve grieved, for sure, but I’ve survived. I’ve anticipated, planned and conquered many “firsts” and I’ve done okay. I’ve been honest about my feelings; I’ve been intentional about searching for joy despite my sorrow. I’ve accomplished a lot both emotionally and pragmatically. I’ve allowed myself to be sad, but also have not allowed myself to get stuck there.
However, I’m now learning that how and when I feel grief isn’t really much of a choice. I don’t have as much control over it as I thought. I’m NOT any better at grief than anybody else. And I’m guessing neither are you. I’m learning that sometimes, grief is just the boss of us. And I think this is the case not because it’s mean (although it sure feels like that), but because without it, we just suppress things, even if subconsciously, and that isn’t healthy or healing. It once again proves it’s necessary. And I hate that.
I’m going to admit to you today how grief snuck up on me the last couple weeks and how it is still trying to choke hold me into dealing with it. It hit me with an unsuspecting powerful blow straight to the kneecaps and it took me down. It took me down HARD.
A couple weeks ago, B started receiving acceptance letters to law schools. One of the acceptance letters and follow-up phone call in particular was so wonderful that I could do nothing but cry. Pride and love and accomplishment bubbled up to the surface of my eyes and poured down my cheeks. I was sooooo proud of my girl! When your kid achieves something so awesome, sure, you can tell your friends and extended family, but who can you REALLY share that obnoxious and gross level of pride with usually? For me, it would’ve been Mark. Oh, how proud he would’ve been! We would’ve talked for hours about how awesome this news was. We would’ve beamed with pride and bragged and bragged to each other. It’s not so gross to be two parents talking about how awesome your kid is. It IS kind of gross to brag to other people about it. I mean, it didn’t stop me (ha!) but I did feel I was crossing the line of acceptable behavior. I did feel unsatisfied sharing it with anyone that wasn’t him. The void was so apparent and so vast I really couldn’t bear it. He should be here! We should be sharing this remarkable moment!
So that’s the single moment that sparked what is currently a full-out emotional forest fire that’s happening inside me right now.
Following the good news that strangely spiraled me into depression, I started receiving appointment reminders and other dates to put on my calendar. No big deal, right? Except the appointments and events I’m putting on my calendar are for March. And suddenly I realized March is next month. Lent begins next month with Ash Wednesday. And my husband died in March. His birthday was in March. Thank God Easter isn’t until April this year, but ALL THE OTHER THINGS ARE IN MARCH! And just like that, I realized next month is the 1-year month. And what ensued was what felt like eleven months worth of grief poured on top of me all at once. An entire year without him? How is it possible? We will have overcome all the “firsts” in 365 days – but then what?!!
It isn’t like I thought I’d get him back after a year, but the realization that so much time has passed was overwhelming to me. Getting through the firsts, one day at a time, has been my focus. I hadn’t thought about anything beyond the firsts. I didn’t realize how it would feel coming up on one year. I mean, I don’t want to get one more hour farther away from him, let alone begin an entire new year without him.
The permanency of his absence hit me in a new and profound way. It’s like I’ve been so busy just getting through each day, realizing my grief is fresh, that I didn’t see year two lurking around the corner. And what about year two? I don’t foresee it better or nicer or kinder than year one. I’m sort of seeing it as another 365 days I’ll have to get through one day at a time. Except it feels even lonelier, even though I didn’t think that was going to be possible. I’m suddenly hyper aware that getting through one whole year without my husband doesn’t come with any sort of reward or payoff. The prize at the end appears to be more grief. I guess deep down I hoped it would feel differently…better.
I remember people talking about the one-year mark. I always thought about how a person’s life should be so much more than the single day they died…I basically thought a person should remember it’s about ALL the days they lived! I encouraged people to not get hung up on the anniversary of a person’s death. Boy, was I an idiot. I need you all to forgive me for being insensitive and ignorant. Now I understand. Now I know. Now I am crippled by that looming date just like you were. Please forgive me. Now I understand the date isn’t you dwelling in sorrow, it’s a date that reinitiates the trauma. You can’t just choose to not feel it. It mandates your emotions. And so, we don’t really have much else we can do besides submit. Ride it out, I guess.
For me, it’s not just the month or the day my husband died. It’s a series of monumental things that happened the days before and after his death that will likely gnaw at me forever. Exactly one year ago we were getting oh so close to finishing our basement. This project was a long, collective effort by so many loving and generous people. This basement finish was going to rescue my husband from his bedroom and allow him some independence. It was going to offer our family togetherness again. He wasn’t going to be trapped upstairs any longer. It was the hope that carried us through each day. Facebook reminded me of the hope we had one year ago this week:
And this is Mark’s status update nearly one year ago: “Praise God! I’m nearly liberated from what has been a prison cell. I’m moving downstairs later today! I can’t wait to visit with friends and family somewhere other than my bedroom…”
This was the miracle we prayed for. This is what we’d been waiting for. It was our ray of hope!
The basement was finished by Good Friday 2016. That evening my family – including my husband, enjoyed pizza and a college basketball game together. There was JOY in our home again. The next morning Mark was so excited. He kept saying over and over how happy he was to be with his family. He was enjoying the freedom of being in his powered wheelchair, moving freely between our main level and the basement. He had breakfast with us at the table instead of on his lap in a chair in the dark bedroom. This was answered prayers and joy for my entire family.
We were busy moving his clothes downstairs to his new bedroom, and preparing for the family that would arrive later that day to celebrate the Easter weekend with us. Everything was finally ok.
And then the accident happened.
Just one day – not even 24 hours after finishing the basement, a freak accident occurred. That night, just minutes before the clock struck Easter Sunday, and just a couple days before his birthday, Mark died. My life as I knew it ended.
Now hope and joy seemed like a joke. They mock me. I felt like a fool for putting every ounce of faith I had into the hope and promise the basement would bring. Or should’ve brought.
And so, this upcoming one-year anniversary of his death is more than just that for me. It’s a traumatic, faith-testing, new injury to my barely scabbed-over heart. I can’t think about March and Easter in the same way right now. Instead I remember the extreme joy/high it brought, followed by the shocking and unexpected low. I remember how just a week or so prior my kids took their very first communion, with their Dad, who would be taking his very last. There’s so much beauty, mercy, symbolism and promise in all of it. And yet, there is so much pain. There’s so much grief and loss and trauma mixed in with the goodness in those last days. It’s confusing and it’s almost unbearable.
I can’t deal with this on my own now. I’m resuming counseling and I’m relying on friends and the power of the Holy Spirit. I have a couple friends who truly understand and reach out to me with compassion and comfort. I appreciate them so much. In the beginning, when death is new, there’s an overwhelming outpouring of love and support. I liken it to when you dump a pot of boiling water and pasta into a colander. After that initial outpouring, most of the pot’s contents (the friends and support) are gone. But what/who you’re left with – those still in the grief colander with you – they are the blessings that remain. They have loved me and cared for my heart. They have understood it doesn’t end in a week, a month, or a year. I don’t even have words to describe how grateful I am for these friends. They are few, but they are mighty.
I know this has been an all over the place, rambling mess of a post. It’s reflective of where I am right now. I am an all over the place, rambling mess of a person right now. I pray it subsides. I don’t want to be a sad, bitter, negative, depressed widow. I promise you, I don’t. I want to be a light. I want to be an example of hope and faith. But today, I guess I’m just an example of reality.
I’m wearing my new shirt right now. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” It’s a reminder for me to keep going. One day at a time, keep going. Whether it’s one year, two years, or ten…I’m going to keep going. When life is hard – keep going. When grief delivers the powerful blow to the kneecaps – keep going. Persist. Perservere.
I’m also looking for comfort and reassurance from God’s word and this is where I was led:
Colossians 1:11-12 (NIV)
being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[a] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:12 (NIV)
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Revelation 3:10 (NIV)
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
Thanks for sticking with me even when it’s messy and ugly. Thanks for reading even when my light is dim.
- T-shirt available at www.raygunsite.com