Phil died a violent death. Though my brain acknowledges this fact, I have tried to shield my heart from the reality of his final moments. I am not a person who ever felt compelled to explore the details of the exact location of his body on the pavement, or the number of seconds it took the driver to pull over after the accident. My imagination tends to run wild with very few details; I feared a minute to minute account would only lead to an ever playing mental video that I might not be able to turn off.
For many years I have been able to live in a sort of insulated fog of ignorance regarding the what, when and where of Phil's death. But last year our court case was finally heard by a jury, and I was no longer able to ignore the painful details of Phil's last moments. There were times when I sat in the courtroom with tears streaming down my face wishing I could plug my ears like a willful child. At other stages of the testimony I was overcome with a desire to rewind the clock to those last moments. Maybe I would have said something different to him as he lay quietly on the grass if I'd known I was speaking the final words he'd ever hear from me. Of course I don't know, but it took months after the trial to stop having flashbacks of his death with the aid of the new images dancing menacingly in my head.
Yesterday I headed out for a long run, and the course I wanted to take passed the accident site. I have been there on foot only one other time. The last visit to this location resulted in me sobbing, and heaving huge gulps of air as I attempted to run past the same grass on which I last kissed my husband. That day I ran/cried all the way home. So I was reluctant to take the route again, and also afraid of what my newly powerful flashback ability might do with the exact patch of grass where Phil laid almost five years ago.
But I try not to let fear make decisions for me. I have committed to walking through my grief, and not giving it a wide berth...only to have to revisit the pain in a few weeks, months, or years time. When I recognize something as a hot button, I (some may say foolishly) usually choose to push it. In the early months after Phil's death I think I pushed the button to test the reality of my situation, was he really dead? Later I pushed the button to be sure I still HAD a reaction, thereby proving my love for him was still in tact. Yesterday I wasn't able to identify my motive at first. Was I trying to prove something to myself? Did I still have a need to proclaim my love by purposefully diving into painful memories? Or was I thinking that my response might be altered by my new found happiness, and feeling drawn to test this theory to be sure?
As I ran up the road my mind recreated the scene of August 31, 2005. I could visualize the cars lined up on the street. There were ghost like spectators pacing back and forth along the sidewalk. I could feel the stares of everyone at the scene, as they wondered if I was his wife. Each tree I ran past reminded me of the way I tried not to screech dangerously up the road that day in my haste to get to his side. As I approached the spot on the grass where I kneeled beside him to whisper that last, "I love you," my heart rate acclerated, and I steeled myself for what was to come. But as I cleared the curve in the road and conjured up the image of a man lying still on the grass with his head turned toward a woman leaning over him whispering in his ear, I was surprised to discover a beautiful feeling of radiating love.
Then I knew why I felt compelled to pass this spot again; now that I knew the details of that fateful day I needed to decide whether I had done enough on that August evening. Did I care for him well? Was he aware that I was beside him? If I could do it again would I do anything differently? In his final moments did he feel alone?
And as the love that was vividly present at 5:45PM on August 31, 2005 swept over me on a quiet Sunday afternoon five whole years later, I knew that what I have learned since losing Phil is true...love really is stronger than death. The deep sense of sorrow over what was lost that day was still present, but no longer an overwhelmingly powerful feeling that shut down all of my senses. The love that accompanied Phil to his next life has sprung up and taken residence right next to the sadness. And that love is bigger, and more beautiful, than I ever knew.
The memory I have of yesterday's run is a flashback that I hope lasts a lifetime.