Once upon a time, there was a girl who met a boy. They got married and had a child and lived happily, give or take, for a long time. Then one day, in the middle of May, he went to the hospital for a simple procedure, and never came home again.
And she was left to pick up the pieces.
But there was no fairytale to help her understand what had happened, and what it would look like, so she would have to figure it out for herself.
I am here, four years later, looking back at the rest of that story. I could never have told you then how that road would unfold. I could never have guessed how long and how deeply I would hurt. I could never have known, even when we were married, how much I loved him and how much I would miss him. And what a strange comfort that brought, that I loved him so very much I hurt.
Looking back, it is a wonder I got through it, but somehow, I did. Though that term, ‘getting through it is not right. As though it is an exam to be passed or a rough day at work. It is more we keep moving into the future, shedding skin, evolving, continually evolving, until it no longer hurts quite so much, and we find that somehow, we have indeed stepped ourselves into a different life.
When we are in the depths of it, the grief, the destination is a moving target. In the beginning it is simply the next breath, the next meal, the next morning, the next night. It is somehow letting friends and family know what happened. Listening to calls, reading texts and cards full of condolences that really do nothing to ease the pain, but are appreciated.
There are the logistics to be dealt with, the funeral arrangements, the memorial, the obituary, the financials. Calling social security, pension funds, life insurance. Because even as the grief tears us apart, another part of us is freaking out because we no longer know how we will pay the bills. And in all of that, is the wish upon a star, the prayer, the begging, that somehow, just on the other side of this, somehow, it won’t hurt so damn much.
It’s a bit like climbing a mountain. Each time we come around a bend we think we will be a little further along, a little closer to the top, only to look down and find ourselves in the exact same place.
Eventually, and not in a straight line, in a fast forward, time-warp kind of way, we make our way to some facsimile of ‘normal.’ But it is all so very strange. Going out with friends, the obvious missing piece to the puzzle. Going back to work, the stares and looks that leave us feeling exposed and raw. Even going to the market and having the vendor ask where the husband is and breaking down in tears and answering, ‘He’s gone.’
And in all of that, there is also the surprise that is laughter at a story. Going to a show and discovering that for 90 minutes we were not consumed by loss. Waking up one day and putting on our slippers and thinking, “Oh. He is not the very first thing I thought about this morning.”
With that comes the inevitable guilt. How can I laugh, how can I find pleasure, how can I have satisfaction and even contentment without him?
But maybe that is not your story at all. Maybe your experience was not that at all. I found when my mother passed away at 91, after a long illness, where my sister and I had cared for her 24/7, during the pandemic, that was a very different grieving process altogether.
And none of it is wrong, none of it is too slow or too fast. It is your timeline, your journey, your unfolding.
Today I stand on the mountain, and the view is different, the perspective is different. Many times we can’t see the distance we’ve come when we’re in it, foot stumbling over foot. But at some point, in some strange distant future, when we look up, we will discover that we are no longer where we were before.
Along the way, somehow, we figured some things out, we found a path. If we give ourselves the time and space to listen to our own intuition, to surrender to our own deepest needs, we find a way.
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To your journey.
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