This coming Friday will be the second anniversary of my husband's suicide. Two years. I can't believe I made it this far. I can't believe it's been so long since I've kissed his sweet face and felt his hand in mine.
I can't believe a whole 24 months of my life has passed since that day I lost my innocence and saw first-hand that the world can be a very lonely and terrifying place.
I've lost a lot of time in that two years. When I look back at other periods of my life, they feel full and rich, however there are large gaps of nothing in this latest phase - sections of time that were spent surviving rather than living. I feel like I've only really 'lived' maybe seven or eight months in the past two years, but when I start feeling down about that, I remind myself that two years ago, I couldn't even see a life where I left alive again. Yet here I am. Rebuilding. Actually embracing and rejoicing in the fact that I am alive and trying to appreciate every day for what it brings me.
The Wednesday just gone was my 35th birthday (I lost my husband nine days after my birthday which was very difficult to accept at the time). I was sure I would have had a family by now and the media keeps reminding me that 35 is the age that our fertility starts to decline and the ticking of my biological clock will surely louden. I admit, that really sucks but I'm trying not to panic too much about the future and just appreciate what I have.
This time last year, I couldn't face either of these milestones and ran away to the USA for a few weeks (I ran to Camp Widow, which ended up being the best possible place for me to be!). I spent my birthday in Las Vegas with a good friend and arrived back in Australia the day before Dan's first anniversary.
I sought some comfort in the knowledge that I'd made it through my year of 'firsts' and found a small sense of achievement amidst the sadness and pain. Then, I heard that terrifying warning: 'the second year is harder than the first'.
Um, WHAT!? I felt like I was just starting to get some momentum and then BANG, hit a brick wall. I've heard this warning bandied about often in the widow community and now it actually makes me a pretty annoyed. Because for me, the second year WASN'T harder than the first, in fact, it was remarkably easier.
I understand that for many, it is - and that can be for a range of reasons. Maybe the shock of losing their partner carried them through a lot of the painful realities of that first year; maybe they had children or other responsibilities that gave them an alternative focus or distraction; maybe the tasks that come with death - like processing wills and estates - provides a sense of purpose that delays that immense loss that sets in when we're faced with the hole they've left behind.
My experience was different, in my first year Dan's death was impossible to escape. We'd just married six weeks earlier and the life that I was about to start as his wife was ripped away, forcing me instead to learn how to be his widow. I felt so lost and abandoned, I had no life raft to cling to so I had to start swimming.
I found myself a good grief counsellor (I went through four before I found one I connected with). I signed up for a suicide bereavement course so I can start to process the trauma around how Dan died. I connected with my widow community, both here in Australia and through Soaring Spirits. I learnt how to read my body and understand when to pull back and recharge my batteries by practicing self care, with yoga and meditation, gardening, cooking or just going for a walk around my neighbourhood
Most helpfully, I learnt about 'mindfulness' and the importance of staying in the moment. It was so easy to follow that urge to distract myself. Either with social media or watching tv or just keeping busy. And I totally did that too, I NEEDED to, to give my brain a break from the grief and escape every now and then. But I also realised that sometimes, I also needed to sit with the pain and just let myself experience the emotion in order to process it.
If my first year was about surviving and healing, then my second year was about learning again how to be happy - what made me happy, what did I want my new life too look like, who was I now and how could I grow to not only appreciate this new version of myself but also actually like her. This focus slowly started replacing the constant need to look back at what I'd lost, and instead I've found myself looking forward so much more.
So at this moment, five days out from the two-year goal post, I can honestly say that I'm a world away from where I was last year. I have my dark days and cry for him regularly but the pain is softer.
On my birthday on Wednesday, I described it to my friends as though Dan's death is still here - but rather than sitting heavy on my lap, making it difficult and awkward to function and navigate around, it's now sitting softly behind me, in the corner of the room. Still always-present but quieter and not right in front of my face.
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