I've had little time to think in the past few days. I came down for the weekend to the beach a few hours south of where I live, with a bunch of friends. Like everything in this After Life, even the most ordinary stuff - like a beach trip - has significance and can feel heavy.
I woke this morning early to write this - all my friends still dozing away from a late night of fun. As I brew up a pot of coffee in the morning quiet, I am able to finally think things over.
It's been a great trip, but I have found myself having to really try hard to put on a smile. I am just having a diffiult time getting excited about things...
This morning, it hits me: All these friends who came down for the weekend... They are new friends. Friends I have met in the past year. Friends who never knew Drew. Even after almost 3 years, that can still be hard. It can still be hard to not wish he were here, and remember what it felt like when my partner was there on these kinds of trips with me... Where we could enjoy being that beautiful extension of one another in the company of others.
This was compounded by the fact that the new guy I am dating was not able to be here, and I was simultaneously wishing to share that with him too. And then finally, further compounded by the fact that we are staying at my in-laws' beach condo. The place where Drew and I had so many memories. And the forever strange reminder that his family is not only still in my life, but IS my family now too... Only he isn't here to get to enjoy that.
Anytime there is a coming together of my new and old world like this - it stirs up the grief. He wanted so badly for us to be married and share a life together... And we just didn't get there, and while I may someday go on to have that with someone else... I will always be sad that it was a funeral - not a wedding - that united his life and mine forever.
Grief: it's like a pack I've been carrying these years. At first it was too heavy to even walk with - for a long, long time. At first I could not fathom how I would ever be strong enough to carry it onto any forward path. And while I did become stronger, I'm discovering a lot of the forward movement has had more to do with lightening the load I carry.
I have been opening up this pack, day by day, taking things out of it - pieces of my grief. I've turned them over in my hands and heart. I've cried for them, held them, felt them, and then.... Finally, kneeled down to leave them on the ground as I walk ahead.
The good news is that, after a few years of pairing things down, my pack IS getting lighter. And I AM stronger than when I started out. Even with a lighter load and a stronger back though, carrying the grief on the new legs of this journey is still exhausting. Sometimes the inclines get too steep and I have to slow down, or the storms of life cause me to have to hunker down a while. I am okay with that most of the time. He was worth it, IS worth it. But some of the time, I wish I could just leave the whole pack behind... Only I know there are vital tools for navigating in there that I must take with me.
Last night I ended up staying in while all my friends went out to the bar. I hesitated, almost forced myself to go out when I wasn't up for it. At the last minute though, I bailed and let them go out while I went to bed. Today I am already feeling a bit better overall.
I am reminding myself this morning that this journey is still challenging and there will be times when I need to take my pack off and rest a while. It may even happen in the middle of a social gathering or another inconvenient time... But the most important thing is to put that pack - and myself - first. To make room in my life to stop and open up my grief, and also to stop and look back over all the distance I've traveled so far... and be proud.