The day after this posts, February 17th 2017, will be four years since my husband Mike died, suddenly, from a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 59. I've been watching that date approach for too long this year. Dreading it. Not just for the pain of the day, but because four years sounds so awfully long to have been without him. I am four years older, and he is four years away from me. And that damn clock never stops. I'm going to keep getting older, and he is going to keep getting farther and farther away from me in time, and I can't stop any of it.
To top if off I'm writing this on Valentine's day, which is another tough one. I hate that those dates will always and forever be three days apart. I cried hard today. Four years ago Mike surprised me with flowers, a card, a lovely box of chocolates from our local Big Island chocolatier, and a certain garden hose I had been wanting. Three days later he was dead. I never watered my garden again after that. It died too, and I didn't care.
Back in Kona that box of chocolates still exists. But I'm not there to eat the last few pieces of freezer-burned candy this year. I'm still in Virginia for another week with my mom. I'm still in Virginia to share this painful pseudo-holiday with her because dad is now in a nursing home...a transition we were forced to make a few months ago due to his rapidly worsening state we simply couldn't handle at home - believe me, we tried. And it is a fate almost worse than death. Or maybe his pseudo-life in that dementia-riddled world is actually more horrible than death. I don't know. All I do know is that no matter how death and disease knocks on our doors, all widowed people share a very similar grief, and mom is right there beside me with a lot of that even though dad is still breathing. So make of that what you will.
For me, this particular Hallmark holiday is hard, and his death day, Friday, will be hard. This whole week is hard. Like a weight is pushing down on my chest. Like I won't be able to breathe again until the 18th when I can start moving through the fifth year without Mike.
Crap. I just realized that is not true. It will still suck.
Life without Mike only gets easier - or seems to get easier - because of compartmentalization. I don't know if that is the right way, it's just how I have ended up handling it, after a year and a half of grief counseling and my life moving forward in rapid time. I can only tell you that four years later I have learned to survive by wrapping up that part of my heart very tightly, whether that is healthy or not. I just don't let it bleed out very often anymore because it hurts too much. But some days, like today, and Friday, and his birthday, and Christmas, and the girls' birthdays, and other special days, it seeps out. I find myself standing over the open box gazing down at the shredded gore of my past life, wondering how I got here. Wondering how I have survived, wishing I could go back for just one more day with him.
Four years later I have learned how to navigate around that box of hurt pretty well, on most un-notable days. I talk around it, I step over it, I push it back into the far reaches of my soul. Once in awhile, usually when I'm talking to other widowed friends or family members, we carefully unwrap one or another of the memories, and laugh and cry together. But with non-widowed friends that isn't really possible. Those people don't want to hear that something triggered a memory. They are uncomfortable going into that dark, spooky box full of monsters they hope never to meet. They don't know what to say. So to survive, I have learned to keep it wrapped up pretty darn tight most of the time. I mean let's face it. I can't sob all day every day for the rest of my life. It's exhausting. And other people I love and who need me will suffer too much as a result. I had to find a way to contain it. It's called surviving.
Life continues to happen. I can't stop it. Babies are born, children have birthdays, vacations are planned, people get married, new friends appear, outings are scheduled. People, like me maybe, move, get new jobs, change their life, whether on purpose, or because the old ways are simply unsustainable. How many times have I wished to tell Mike what my day was like, what happened to whom, how I was feeling, or ask for his advice? There have been literally thousands of moments. He may be there, vibrationally, the way my widowed friend Renee described to me recently. And yes, I do sense that, often, actually. But he can't ooh and aah over the beautiful grandchildren in ways I can hear, he can't laugh with his daughters in ways they can see, or bring me flowers in ways I can touch or smell.
It won't matter who I'm with in this life, what I do, or where I go. That box of hurt will always be there. I can try and hide it behind all the other stacks of memories, but it won't go away. Sometimes it may feel like it is molding and rotting into pieces, and then when it opens - something I cannot control on days like this - I realize it is as new and raw and brightly horrifying as the day I boxed it up, the pain as fresh as the day he died.
And the panic. Have I mentioned the panic? That I have to live without him. That he's not here to tell me everything is going to be ok. To catch me if I fall. To be my best friend on top of everything else. I could talk to him about everything. He got me. I miss that. He protected me; I trusted him. There was such a profound sense of comfort and peace when he was here. I try to be strong, to move forward, to make big adult decisions and do the right things. I try to be positive in the wake of my personal disaster. To find comfort in other relationships, and security in my future. But no matter where I go or who I'm with or how much time has passed, that box of pain will always be there, rattling around in my heart. And then it occurs to me, with a pang, that without him and his magic ways, maybe it's not all going to be ok.
And that is one of the scariest thoughts ever.