Today is my late husband’s birthday, and as it has for 24 years, that familiar sadness has moved in, unpacked and comfortable in my space. I don’t sleep well, can’t concentrate, can’t walk from one room to another without just missing him.
He’d be 48 today, but he died half his life ago at age 24. Our daughter celebrated her 24th birthday last Sunday and will be older than her father on March 18. Still, in my mind he is five years older than me and always will be.
Since 1983 I’ve not needed a calendar to know it’s March. I can smell it in the air. I can feel it in my bones and resistant muscles. I want to lay in bed and think. I want to sit on a chair on the porch watching the bare trees bend in the wind.
I don’t want to write about happy things.
I don’t like sunshine. Not this week or the next or the next. I want snow and cold and a gray sky to match my mood. It will pass after April 3, our wedding anniversary, but until then I sigh and wander. I sometimes cry, but not like I did years ago. I find solace in quiet and in the scruffs of my dogs who crawl next to me and bury their noses in the crook of my arms.
It’s not depression. It’s more like daylight savings – predictable – the turning of winter into spring that reminds me he’s gone, so far away gone. So many years gone.
Some years I do this whole grief thing alone. Sometimes I let people in. On the tenth year of his death, a friend took me deep into the country and fed me chocolate milk and chocolate donuts and listened to my ritual of regret and sadness and missing him. The last few years I’ve written about it, realizing it’s better to share it concretely with words instead of letting it sit there like a rock in my head.
He pops up in my dreams two or three times a year to let me know he’s OK. I appreciate it most of the time, but there are times, like this week, when I wish he’d just let me be. Psychologist say it’s because I never saw him dead that I dream of him like I do, but I think it’s because he’s still a part of me. I can’t believe God creates love to let it be forgotten in heaven.
I’ll never believe in the notion that time heals because it implies that what is broken and hurting can be mended, and in the end, when it heals, there will be no more pain. Yes, I’m happy most of the time now, but I’m allowed to feel sad when I want to, and when I do I know there’s that part of my heart that will never heal. And I don’t want it to. It’s what reminds me of what was, what I had, and what I lost. I owe him that much.
I spent too many years trying to figure out the social norm for grief until it occurred to me that I can establish my own norm for grief. I can’t do it the way other people do it or expect me to do it. Nor should anyone.
The fog will lift and there will be better times ahead. In the meantime, hang in there with me. That familiar sadness will pack its bags and move on for another year. Until then, I’ll feed it room service.