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.
I overdid some chores the other day and did something painful to my back. Not a new problem – and usually one that clears up on it’s own. In the past I would prevail on the boy to help nudge the process along when needed, with some enthusiastic pressure on the offending muscles. A couple of days in I gave up on the wait-and-see approach and scheduled a massage.
I was completely unprepared for how emotionally jarring the experience would be. I wouldn’t normally think of a professional massage as an ‘intimate’ experience but it’s nothing like the physical contact we have with friends. It snapped me back to memories of the boy without warning. I have been without him so long now that physical contact had become unfamiliar.
I wonder how many more of these land mines I will stumble across?
I thought things would be easier by now but I continue to drift between distraction and sadness. I want to move away from the pain but at the same time, I can’t stand the thought of letting his memory fade. I’ve heard from others that at some point I will find new, different ways to be happy and move forward into a new life. I recognize the truth there. I know I can’t get my old life back by clinging to it. There’s only one direction left to move in. I’m just not ready to let go.
Sometimes I think I will never be done crying.
It feels like I’ve been trapped in this new place for an age – and that the wound is still fresh. I cry as much now as I ever did. I still miss him intensely and constantly. But I am moving through life more easily. I feel less fragile and fractured. My heart is as tied to him as ever – in that sense I haven’t moved forward. But I have made peace with some of the peripheral struggles. I’ve stopped trying to replay those last days into a new shape with a happy ending; I have forgiven myself for failing to save him. I still hate the waste of all that talent and potential but it’s a smaller part of my grief.
Mostly, I just miss him. I miss his company, and his humor. I miss our conversations. I miss his cooking. I miss hanging out with him in pajamas, sipping cappucino’s, and reading on a lazy Saturday morning. I miss the interest and enthusiasm he brought to each new topic. I miss leaning on him for knowledge and advice. I miss his voice. I miss his silent chuckle. I miss how we played off of each other in conversations with others.
I’ve picked up most of the responsibilities he used to handle now, including some of the most intimidating ones like filing taxes and managing paperwork and repairs at our rental property. I’m starting to get a handle on our home network and am picking up skills that will allow me to finish some home projects. My anxieties around these unknowns are gone and some of the background stress is fading.
My next challenge will be going through his things and starting to find homes for them. I will probably bring in some of my helper ‘elves’ to get that moving since I’m having so much trouble getting started. It’s definitely the largest practical boogeyman left to conquer. On the emotional front there are a couple of big challenges coming up soon, our anniversary, and my trip home to his family, to scatter his ashes.
The year I have taken off should be about right to finish getting my new world in order. There are still a lot of tasks to accomplish but I should be done by then. It’s the emotional recovery that I can’t put a timeline on. I don’t see a whole person in my future – or at least not a happy one. I feel like my best years are gone. I don’t expect to experience real happiness again.
I had some more good days recently, in the sense of being productive and active, and then spent several days curled up on the couch. Sometimes I wonder if I am really improving or the cycles are just moving slower.
Movies are still a problem. I went to see one last night with a friend. I made it most of the way through this time before I started to lose it but barely managed to keep it together on the way out and had a cry in the car before heading home. And cried some more on the way home. Then cried some more at home – the bad kind, that feels like throwing up. Going with a friend is a little better than going alone but not by much.
In some ways I am OK with being on my own but the the loss still feels enormous and ever-present. There’s a part of my brain that always knows he should be there, even when I’m not consciously thinking of him.
I made a slide show as part of a grief group exercise of sharing our lost love one with the others. It is shorter than the one friends made for the send off but the photo choices are more personal. The exercise was both helpful and painful. It brought back happy memories and it felt good to be able to tell people about the boy, but reliving the memories freshened up the pain. I play it once or twice most days. It makes me cry every time, but there’s an emotional draw to those memories. It’s as close as I can get to him now.
My grief group wrapped up last week and I finally signed on with an individual counsellor. I’ve had two sessions so far. I’m not sure if it’s helping but it gives me someone I can talk to honestly, which is important since I can’t seem to do this with my family and friends.
I feel like my progress has plateaued. I’m not moving backward but if I’m still improving, it’s not obvious. The only change I see is that I am pushing myself to get things done more.
I can’t picture what the next stage looks like. Happiness seems like a distant dream. It’s hard to picture a future with joy and purpose, in a life that doesn’t include the boy.
So much for my productive phase. I’ve been hiding out most of the past week, skipping out on social plans and watching tv or reading books instead. I find I am seeking out romantic shows lately, which is probably counterproductive. Like so many of my coping mechanisms it’s an attempt to catch an echo of what I’ve lost. I doubt it’s a healthy behavior – too much like a junkie looking for a fix. My brain and heart have different ideas about how to deal.
When I’m at home the tears come off and on all day. I’ve been neglecting the dog again, leaving him alone too much and not giving him enough exercise. I feel guilty.
I’m not sure how I feel about the new support group yet. I think I’d prefer to get together without the facilitators and just talk with the others. It’s been a while since I’ve let go with someone and I’d thought the group would give me that but there’s not a lot of conversation. The stuff that gets said is real but we tend to communicate in short monologues – sharing a thought or two and creeping back into our holes.
I’m starting to think about getting a one on one counselor again. I can tell I need a real heart to heart with someone but I don’t have a friendship I want to take in that direction.