The person I was before my loss is gone. I lost track of myself. I felt like I was playing a part. It wasn’t until I decided to go back to work that that started to change. Work brought structure, forced me to be around people and made me use my brain for something other than grieving. I struggled to be productive for the first few months but eventually regained the ability to concentrate and my memory started to improve. I am finally regaining a sense of self and the confidence that comes with knowing who I am. I am a different person now but not so different that I can’t recognize myself. I am grateful for the progress. I think I am ready to start rebuilding.
My goals for the next year are to start looking after my neglected health, spend more time around people and try to rekindle an interest in hobbies. If I can generate some energy and enthusiasm I will start to hope for more.
It is the second anniversary of the boy’s death. I have spent two full years in this void. It seems like an eternity. It seems like a blink. I still miss him constantly. I am still broken. I still don’t fully understand how the world goes on without him. I am still angry that he’s been taken from me. If I had someone to blame I would feel rage. I still feel all the anguish of loss – all the misery of a future without him. I still leak tears every single day. And I am still tempted to crawl into a hole and give up – to just accept that happiness is gone. And I am still in motion and trying to move forward, because I still don’t want to disappoint him.
I know the bleakness I am feeling today is at least in part an artifact of the calendar. I know where I was on this day, and at this time, two years ago. I know what was still to come. I remember in vivid detail how the day would end in disaster. I remember spending the night alone for the first time – shocked, confused, and numb.
I used to be half of a couple. I barely thought of myself as a separate entity after so many years together. I loved being half of our whole.
I plan to get drunk tonight. It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve already had my first glass of wine. I picked a bottle we had been saving for an occasion that never came. There are no occasions now.
I know my life is in a better place – better than it has been, at least. I recognize it intellectually. But today it’s hard to believe. Today I will give myself permission to wallow in misery. I will look through my pictures and remember how happy we were. I will remember how wonderful he was and how lucky I was to have him. I will feel pathetically sorry for myself. I will anesthetize myself with alcohol and I will hide from the world because I don’t want my friends and family to see my anguish in it’s rawest form.
Tomorrow I will begin the process of wrapping the wounds and moving forward again.
It’s 1:30 in the morning as I start to write this. I can’t sleep. Again. The cycles of sleeplessness haven’t changed much other than becoming less frequent. I still have nights when it feels like the world has ended and my tears won’t stop. This has been one of them.
I recently heard someone describing the first year of her loss as “it’s like you are lying broken and bleeding in a ditch while at the same time, a part of you is going through the motions of life”. It’s the most accurate metaphor I’ve heard. I would never share it with friends and family. I’d rather they are free to believe I’ve been OK – that my grief is a quiet peaceful thing with a few tears leaking out after a sad thought or memory. I don’t want them to know that the reverse is true, and every now and then I have a moment when I’m not actively sad. I don’t want them to know how many nights I’ve spent sleepless and sobbing. I don’t want them to know how empty and rudderless I still feel. I understand why so many elderly people don’t survive long after losing a spouse. Who would choose to live like this?
While that first year was hard, what I’ve experienced of the second has been just as bad in some ways. At the end of the first year I was forced to acknowledge that this is it. This is my world now. To borrow another grieving widow’s words, “I know I will never know uncomplicated joy again”.
Still, time has brought and continues to bring progress. My head is clear most days and I’m starting to take an interest in the world. I’ve been connecting more with the people in my life and starting to go out because I want to, not because I think I should or can’t stand to be alone with myself. I’m dabbling in activities that interest me. I can picture what a brighter future might look like. I’m not happy, but I don’t hurt with every breath. Bed time is the one lingering window when I consistently struggle. I resist going to bed because I know that when all the distractions are gone I have no choice but to confront the reality that I am alone.
I’ve made it through my first year alone and the last painful ‘first’ anniversary: the boy’s death. It’s time acknowledge the progress I’ve made and give some thought to the future.
My life is still defined by my grief but no longer controlled by it. The sadness is ever-present but for the most part I am able to set it aside when I want to and enjoy activities and the company of friends. My mind has a tendency to wander still and recent memories are often fuzzier than they should be – possibly because I am less present in those moments. I still need distractions to get a break from the grief and I need time alone to focus on the grief to relieve the emotional pressure. So I monitor and manage my emotional health to maintain the fragile balance I have achieved.
I haven’t made peace with my loss yet. I still want to rage at the gods for taking him from this world. I still crave him intensely. I fantasize about the life we would have had if he hadn’t become sick – or the extra time we could have had, if he’d made it past that last crisis. I desperately miss the happiness and security I had from knowing he would always look out for me. I can’t imagine a future where I feel that way again because those things came from having him in my life. My focus is still too much in the past. I don’t want to leave my life with him behind.
But I do feel more confident and I am taking some interest in life. I am starting to want other people in my life again. I’ve progressed from forcing myself to accept invitations to looking forward to them. It’s time to start looking at the future.
So what does that mean?
My focus over the past year has been on healing – avoiding stress and responsibility and taking time to recover and come terms with my loss. I think the next step will be to focus on who I want to become now that I am forced to redefine myself. It’s time to start getting serious about my physical health, strengthen my connections with friends and family, and try to identify interests that will pull me forward.
I measure my progress by productivity and activity and the past month has been good, by that measure. I have spent more time with people, kept my house and garden in order, and taken care of a couple things that had been waiting for attention for a very long time. The long, warm summer days have helped, I think, to keep my mood from crashing as often but the tears still escape off and on through the day and bed time continues to be a trial.
I can feel the season beginning to change. The days are getting shorter, evenings are cooler, and the rains have started to return. I am afraid of what the change of season will bring, especially with the most painful milestone – the anniversary of his death – on the horizon.
I have visitors coming soon. I’m hoping they will keep me occupied and distracted over the the next few weeks. But once they are gone, and the cold, dark days move in, I get to face that painful day and another winter without him. Will the fabric of my new routines hold? Or will I retreat into depression?
I may need to thaw somewhere warm for a while. Or maybe I should hunker down and ride it out. A decision for another day.
I have seen a number of milestones in recent months: our anniversary, my birthday, scattering the ashes, his birthday… I didn’t realize there would be so many significant dates to wrestle with. As each one looms I tell myself it is a day like any other – no need to get emotional around an arbitrary mark on the calendar. But these dates take on a life of their own. I can feel the stress rising as each one approaches. No matter what I do to prepare myself the days surrounding them are rough and I go through an emotional crash each time.
Looking back I can see how far I’ve come. I have begun to reestablish a rhythm to my life. I can enjoy activities and time spent with friends now without making such a conscious effort to control my emotions. I don’t experience the same level of exhaustion and craving for isolation I needed before to recover from that effort. My mind is getting sharper and I am starting to feel engaged. If I am not happy or energetic, I am closer, at least, than I was.
But the milestones aren’t getting easier yet – I think because they freshen the loss each time. They trigger memories and remind me of everything I am missing. The enormity of my loss has not diminished. It’s just become more familiar.
I have so much to be grateful for. I have good friends, a comfortable home, my time is my own, and I don’t have money worries. I would give it all up and start again, if I could have him back whole and healthy.
I brought the boy’s ashes home at last, and scattered them with his family in a beautiful spot I’m sure he would have loved. I said goodbye in quiet words intended just for him: “I couldn’t have imagined anyone more perfect to go through life with. You were my hero. I hope you knew how much you meant to me”.
He has been on my mind constantly lately, while this milestone was approaching. I have been afraid for so long that he would fade from my memory and I would lose what little I have left of him. I am beginning to trust that won’t happen now. He continues to be a constant presence – tied to all the day to day moments we normally shared together. I think of him when I wake up, eat a meal, spend time at home alone or out with our friends, and when I go to bed at night. I think of him whenever I have a question he could have answered, in moments where we would have shared an inside joke, and when I come across an interesting article I would have liked to share with him.
I miss my kind, brilliant, good-humored boy. I miss the sense of absolute security I had from knowing he looked out for me. I miss the comfort of his hugs. I miss his contagious enthusiasm and the never ending flow of thought and information he couldn’t help but share. And missing him is a good thing, because it keeps him close.
I dreamed of him this morning and for the first time since I lost him, was able to hold him close and tell him how much I loved him. I’m feeling better today than I have in a long while.
The boy has been on my mind more and more over the past week with our anniversary approaching – my first without him. It would have been our 25th. When the day finally came it was almost a relief. I spent it with a couple of our oldest friends – tiptoeing around the elephant in the room for most of the day and finally bringing the boy with us over dinner and drinks, sharing thoughts and stories.
I want to tell him:
You were my hero. I admired your effortless integrity. Your passion for life and learning inspired me. Your ever-present humor made me smile. Your generous heart, respect for others, and fearless spirit made me proud. You were implausibly perfect – playful, kind, brilliant, patient and supportive.
You delighted me.
I found the boy in my dreams again this morning and this time I got it right.
I knew when I saw him that it was a dream. Desperate to keep him there I dashed in for a hug. I was in his arms before the spell broke and held him as tight as I could. The contact felt so real. It anchored us I think, and for the first time I was able to hold onto him without that first hint of memory chasing him away. We held each other and smiled and I started to relax as I realized he wasn’t going to evaporate this time. We talked a little. I don’t remember what about – just small, normal stuff. I was afraid from past experiences that anything else would be breaking the rules.
I’m not sure how long we had together but it was enough. His dream hug was every bit as healing as the real ones always had been. This time when I woke up I had a sense of hope. If I can visit him in my dreams he’s still with me in a small way. I feel a tiny bit less alone.
Maybe I am going to be okay.
I remember how hard it was in the early years to let go of the lives we had before. It was an obsessive craving. I wanted desperately to return to the world that was, helplessly hoping that it was a bad dream or a terrible mistake. It took years to get to a place where I accepted where we were and stopped willing time to run backwards.
And when the clock stopped for the boy, all those years of acceptance helped me believe it had happened, even before they shock wore off. It didn’t stop me from craving him but I had no hope of a miracle, or that I would wake from the nightmare.
And this morning I did exactly that. The boy came back. It had all been a mistake. He came back and my heart was light and my cares rolled away and for a moment I was genuinely happy. And then my treacherous brain asked the question: “how can this be?” and the illusion was lost. I was ejected from the dream to discover I was living the nightmare. It took a few heart beats for the cobwebs to clear enough to understand and then the grief crashed down again and broke me.
I’ve been in a daze all day trying to recover from the crushing weight of it. Even the temporary release crying normally brings hasn’t been available. My gut is cold and tight again and I’m afraid of the hurt that comes letting my thoughts reach for him. The sense of loss is devastating again – almost unbearable. I retreated to distractions as much as I could to give myself a break.
And then I did something dangerous. I opened a box. I still haven’t made a dent in the ‘grand cleanup’ and I’m not entirely sure why I tried today. Was I searching for distraction or an excuse to wallow deeper? I found both. I discovered a wallet of old letters dating back to our second month together. The boy had to return home while he was renewing his visa just weeks after falling in love. They were my letters to him – carefully numbered and preserved. I was amused by them at first. I sounded like a giddy teenager – frustrated by the separation but so excited to know I’d found love. The reminder was quickly more painful than pleasant. I put the letters in my box of keepsakes as soon as I had read them and retreated back to my depression.
This has been one of the roughest days I’ve had for a while. My eyes are puffy and sore. My gut still hurts. I’ve been on the edge of tears or actively crying all day and I’m exhausted. It’s late and I know I should go to bed but I’m afraid I’ll dream. And while I’ve wanted nothing more than to dream of him for so long now, I can’t face a second night of having hope come and go again.