If I'm being 100% honest, which I always am in my writing about loss, there are actually two of me. Version One of me was born on September 26, 1971, and she died on July 13, 2011. Version Two of me was born on the same day, within seconds even, of version one's tragic death. Version One never saw it coming. A massive heart-attack took her husband away forever, and in that same instant, Version One of me ceased to exist. A new me was born, and, like an infant, I had to start life all over again.
Everything was different. Every. single. thing. The world smelled and looked and felt different. Inhaling and exhaling had an unfamiliar, labored feeling to it. Speaking a sentence felt like a chore, and I wasn't sure what words to use or where they were coming from. When my husband's heart stopped beating, my new one started it's frightening and insecure rhythm. From that day forward, it would be up to me to figure out this new life without Don, and this new version of myself. Yes, there are still pieces of the old me that remain inside the new me - things that are part of the core of who I am. But even those pieces of me changed - some drastically, and some slightly. But they changed. They had to.
Now, just one week away from being 4 years into this new life, I am still taking baby steps everyday, still navigating the terrain to find my way through the thick and humid mud. I'm getting there, but I probably won't ever really arrive. The death of a spouse or partner literally affects every single part of your life. It does. There is no part of your life that this loss does not touch, from finances to jobs to friendships to living situations to parenting (if you have kids) to dreams of parenting (if you didnt get to have kids) to what you eat to how you shop to what kind of health insurance you have (or the fact that you lose it because you were on your husband's plan and now he's dead) to where you go on a typical Friday night - on and on and on. In this way, the death of a spouse is very different than other kinds of death. It leaves no stone un-turned. Every part of your life is now changed, and you are left starting over, alone, in the middle of a field, standing on a landmine, with nothing but endless terror and a blank canvas. And you don't even know how to paint.
I had a dialogue through emails with my best friend since childhood, Sarah, today, that made me laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of how much both our lives have changed, and that perfectly showcased the extreme differences that the same conversation can have when going from old life to new life (FYI: Sarah is a childless not by choice infertility survivor).....
Old Life "Making Plans for 4th of July" Conversation:
Sarah: Hey Kelley, Julio and I are having a cookout for the 4th. You and Don wanna come?
Kelley: Hell yeah! I'll make some macaroni salad and we'll see you this weekend! Thanks!
New Life "Making Plans for 4th of July" Conversation:
Kelley: Hey. You doin' anything for the stupid holiday or are you hiding from the world?
Sarah: Not sure. My plans are up in the air. Trying to avoid my neighbors who are really nice but have kids and will ask me to join them in their yard but I dont want to go to any functions with kids, which is pretty much everywhere on the 4th.
Kelley: Same here. Id rather not be around happy families and fireworks and kids and picnics, yet part of me wishes like hell I could just be normal and do something normal again like go to a goddamn BBQ without freaking out about how it's going to fuck with me or what grief-triggers it might bring up. Plus Im a week away from the 4 year death anniversary so the 4th sucks for me anyway. I'm pretty useless right now.
Sarah: Alright. Lets just hang out and be useless together.
Old Life "Making Plans" with a friend:
Friend: Hey lets go see a movie this weekend.
Me: Cool. I'll pick you up at 6.
New Life "Making Plans" with another Widowed Friend:
Friend: Wanna do something this weekend? Maybe get lunch?
Me: Okay, yeah. But you have to pick me up. Remember I don't have a car anymore since I had to sell Don's when he died.
Friend: I can pick you up, but can we go somewhere in Bayside? Somewhere new maybe? Those other restaurants Ive been to with my husband too many times. I dont like going back there.
Me: No problem I get it. Maybe we can see a movie afterwards?
Friend: Oh I dunno about that. I havent been to the movies since he died. We used to go together all the time. I think Id just cry the whole time. I dont know. Maybe we could rent one instead and go back to your place?
Me: Oh, I dunno. Im more comfortable going to the movie theatre, since I used to go alone all the time anyway while I was married. It doesnt bother me. But watching at home , Don and I did that together all the time. Cuddle up in bed or on the couch and rent a movie. I dont really watch movies much at home anymore ....
Friend: Okay. Lets just do lunch again and then maybe we can go for a walk at the park or something.
Me: That sounds good. Lets look online and find some place both of us have never been, so it wont be "triggery" for either one of us.
Friend: Good. I like this.
These are just two tiny examples of typical dialogue, and Ive been living inside this version of my life for almost 4 years now, so these conversations are completely normal to me. I dont even think of them as strange anymore, until I take a step back and see it from the outside, and I have to laugh. It is pretty ridiculous. But this is the reality of things. This is what it is. This loss changes everything.
Old life: I went to the grocery store and shopped for food. New Life: Grocery stores depress me, too many bags to carry by myself, and I no longer have a car. I shop online now, home delivery through Peapod. No having to go up and down aisles and seeing item after item that I would have been buying for my husband. No more seeing husbands helping their wives carrying bags to the car, or co-parenting their beautiful families. Just click a a few buttons and wait for the bags to come.
Old Life: Get sick? Go to my regular doctor. New Life: Get sick? Suck it up and hope to get better fast. If not, go to ER and pay off the bill $10 per month because that is all I can afford. Pray and hope nothing is really wrong with me, like, ever.
Old Life: Make yummy dinner for me and my husband and chat at the kitchen table about our days. Put on music while we eat and laugh and have awesome conversations. New Life: Eat leftover lo mein or make a turkey sandwich and eat at my computer desk while going through Facebook, because sitting at a kitchen table all alone and eating is extremely sad and depressing. Also, cooking for nobody except yourself is extremely depressing.
I guess that's it for now. Honestly, I could do a hundred more of these "oldlife/new life" comparisons, but I think you get the idea. Actually, no you don't. Until it happens to you. Until your very self is broken open in that instant when your partner dies, and you are split into two, forced to be born again and create your new life - you probably don't really get any of this. And you should thank the universe for that, because I would give just about anything to be you again. I would give just about anything to make macaroni salad for a 4th of July cookout again. I would give just about anything to read this and not understand a goddamn word of it.