It was my birthday yesterday. My third since Dan died. Next Sunday will be his third anniversary. This period from our wedding anniversary five weeks ago to his death anniversary is my hardest time of the year.
This birthday felt a bit different. My last two were very difficult, over-shadowed by the looming death anniversary and full of memories of the last birthday I had with Dan. His depression was bad, much worse than I saw at the time. I didn't know how much he was struggling and had no idea what was about to come. The frustration at how naive I was on my birthday three years ago haunts me.
I can't tell you the number of times I have wished and prayed I could turn back the clock to that birthday in 2013 so I could grab hold of him, really look into his eyes and see the darkness he was hiding. I'd get him help, I'd change his course, I'd grip him tight and stop him from moving forward towards that horrible day where he'd felt all his options had abandoned him. I've hated my birthday because I've been unable to escape what I know is coming.
This year was easier. I was able to see more than just the sadness. My new boyfriend went out of his way to make it a happy occasion for me, it felt so wonderful to have someone care that much.
The contrast between this birthday and my past two has really surprised me. Not to mention the feelings of relief. The shift in my grief within the past five or six months has been something I could never imagine in the darkness after Dan's death. I couldn't see a life without him.
There was no hope, no light, no joy. I hated hearing that 'time would heal' - I didn't believe it was possible. But I have.
Despite this relief I still find myself thinking about his anniversary next weekend and what was happening to him this time three years ago. The pain is still there, and there are moments where it comes to the surface which are sometimes harder to process because of the contrast with the happiness. It's as if the people around me look at my new relationship and the other changes I've made (like a new home) and expect the sadness to be left in the past however it's never that black and white.
In fact, these expectations can make it harder to let the sadness out when it bubbles up. I know the risks that come with bottling up my emotions, it leads to prolonged pain and more complicated grief. It's important that I still process continue to process grief despite the progress, so I've made another appointment with my counsellor for this week to help further develop these skills.
I'm learning. It's new territory but it's a good place to be and I'm so thankful for the progress.