The other day I was filling out a workbook that I have done several times in January… called Unraveling the Year Ahead. It’s a wonderful workbook created by author, photographer and teacher Susannah Conway. This little booklet is filled with solid questions to get you to write down your reflections on the past year - release what you want to, keep what you like, and then write down your goals and aspirations for the year ahead.
It is the first year I have done this since Drew died. The first year I have felt like caring about a new year. After his death, New Year’s never really felt like New Year’s anymore. For these last three years, June 12th has been my year marker. I have measured every bit of progress, every moment of growth, and ounce of healing all based on the day he died. Dec 31st was no longer the end of my year, June 11th was.
Last night, as I finished up the part of the workbook about looking back on the past year, I realized that January - for the first time in 4 years - felt like a new year again. I am back to being able to measure my own growth as a person by looking back all the way to the previous January. And somehow… it just happened. All on it’s own… naturally. It isn’t something I forced, or something I tried to make happen. It isn’t even something I noticed that happened until weeks later.
And that’s how most of this stuff in dealing with grief goes. You count time by the amount of months since your partner died, until one day, you don’t anymore… and you count by years. You remember the day of the month it was that they died, every month, with acute awareness… until one day, it passes without you remembering and you realize it’s okay. You replay everything in your mind on the death anniversary each year, until one year, you just feel your love for them and you no longer replay it all.
I remember reading articles after he first died that it takes somewhere between 5-7 years to truly begin to feel established in life again after losing a partner. Some people don’t like predefined timeframes like that, but I did. Back in those early months, I wanted to know just what I was in for. It was daunting to say the least… the idea that the entire first half of my thirties would be spent “in grief”. But as these years have unfolded, I found that wasn’t the whole story. The entire first-half of my thirties were not only spent on grief like I thought they would be. They were also spent doing new things, meeting new friends, having new laughs and making new memories. They were not only spent in sadness and anger and pain, but also in the deeper appreciation of the present moment, and in taking new chances and surprising myself with things I never imagined I could do. These years in grief have ironically also been some of the richest years I have ever lived… because I have done just that, truly lived.
So. It has taken me 4 years to begin to settle back to “normal year” timelines. That certainly doesn’t mean that I am done grieving, or that I don’t still miss him, or that June 12th will ever go by without my realizing and feeling it. Still 25 years later I am feeling and remembering Oct 30th, the day my mom died. The grief and certain dates will always be there. But what it does mean is that I am letting go of some of the other dates and timelines naturally… and that, as I process the pain, I no longer have the same need to hold on to ALL of them. And this process of letting go leaves room for new life to emerge and new dates and timelines to remember. And the best thing is that Drew is still a part of everything.
Letting go of some of the old bits we no longer need doesn’t mean letting go of the people we love… in fact the opposite. The further I get into building a new life that he is not in, the stronger and more secure my bond with him feels… and the more deeply I feel his joy for my life today. Letting go of things, it seems, isn’t letting go of the person… it’s letting go of the pain. As we continue along the arduous and exhausting journey of letting go of the pain, one small bit at a time, we unknowingly are making more room to let their love settle into our hearts in a beautiful new way.