My husband of five years and partner of 16 years died on April 20 of this year. That is still, 8 months later, a very difficult sentence to write. The flat, blunt reality of the sentence makes me angry. And, as I am a writer, I'm writing some essays about his experience, and mine. My experience, our experience, offers one more view into one of the human experiences we both fear and loathe. And our experience, although crowded with pain and hurt and anger and loathing for cells that refused to die, was also filled with some of the better parts of what it means to be human and alive and connected to other people. That surprise, that gift, is longer than a blog post.
But while I am reclaiming my writing table and time, while I am finding my voice and embracing the new gravelly notes in that voice, the planet continues to spin. Life continues.
I've recently read, slowwwwwly, Joan Didion's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. It is the memoir of the year after her husband died unexpectedly. Near the end of the book, Joan Didion writes:
"...I think about people I know who have lost a husband or wife or child. I think particularly about how they looked when I saw them unexpectedly--on the street, say, or entering a room--during the year or so after the death. What struck me in each instance was how exposed they seemed, how raw.
How fragile, I understand now.
And that is, quite simply, how it is.
In July of this year I went home to Michigan to be with my family for a visit. Readers of this post may already know that my sister also lost her husband, Jan, this year. Nine days before Jeff died. It is impossible, and yet it happened just that way. Photographs of me on that July trip showed up recently. I was struck by two things - how much weight I had gained (again) and how much I looked like a survivor of a tragedy. My face in those photos did not, does not, look to me like my own face. I hate these photographs. But in my belly I know that they are simply accurate.
So- more truth. In July, I was more fragile than I am now. I was more unstable, and still so raw that air sometimes hurt. And yet, I put clothing into a suitcase and flew to Michigan so that I could be with people I love at a time that we needed one another. When I feel as though I'm taking too long to regain my footing, I remind myself of this.
It has been a year of change. My family has had losses and new babies and children becoming amazing people and a thousand smaller changes - and we are blessed. Acceptance is an amazing gift, and it makes me take a deep breath and throw open my arms to change, knowing that joy and hope coexist with pain and loss.
In acceptance, that photo with the fragile and unstable survivor's face, my face, is simply the before picture in the story of the life I'm going to build next. It is all a gift, all part of the tapestry. All of it.
My best to all who happen this way.