This week marked another anniversary in the long and winding journey without my husband—his 65th birthday, on July the 2nd. Last year, his birthday came less than a month after he died, and I can’t say I even remember it. I had returned to work the day before, and I must have walked through my day in that office like a zombie on auto-pilot, still numb from the shock of his sudden passing.
An entire year has ensued, without him in it.
When I think of the cruel twist of fate that brought us together for such a short time, then swept him away from me in an instant, my anger rises, and sometimes I let it carry me away. I get lost in the injustice of it. I shake my fist at the skies. If I believed that there was a God with a plan, I would be cursing him. Instead I cry out to Stan, asking him why he left us in the way that he did—as if he deliberately chose to wreak this havoc on all of our lives.
Sometimes grief does not conform to our sense of propriety. Sometimes there is no logic in it. Sometimes we have to let it erupt, so that we can move through it.
Yet I know that I am not the only one who has loved and lost. All of our stories are tragic. Those who spent a lifetime with their partners feel cheated, too. Those who watched their partners wither away with a terminal illness must feel angry, too, having to witness their loved one’s pain, helpless to ease their suffering.
Our grief journeys are so personal and intimate that it is tempting, sometimes, to compare the depth of our grief and the tragedy of our loss to that of others. But there is no hierarchy to this grief. Our loved ones have vanished, and we are without them, and there is no easy way to cut through this pain. We have to live it, and share it, and remember we are not alone in it.
On the day he died, Stan stood at the altar of the chapel and read a moving tribute he had written for his beloved son, Gavin. He talked about his charm and wit, and about the struggles he had weathered in his short life. Then, he stopped, and gathered himself. He told us that he knew he was not the only one who had faced a loss. He asked us all to pause for a moment, in silence, and remember the people we knew who may be grieving the death of someone they loved.
When I want to turn inward in my sorrow, and nurture my sense of injustice, I remember him, standing there, in his darkest hour, reaching out to the people around him. In the midst of his deepest pain, my husband showed compassion.
It has been more than a year since he left us. We have spent two of his birthdays without him. To mark his day, I hiked to the top of the hill where we spread his ashes. I planted a buddleia there, on the 9th of June, the anniversary of his death. But it is cold and windy on the summit, not a nurturing environment for new growth, and I was afraid the plant might have perished.
The day before his birthday was the hottest July day on record, here in England, but this day was cool and breezy, with a light cloud cover. My path to his spot on the hill was lined with the vibrant colour of wildflowers, glowing in purples, yellows, and reds. As I rounded the path to the top, I prepared for the fact that the buddleia I planted may not have survived, and I told myself it would be alright if it hadn’t. Still I searched for some sign of it as soon as I reached the summit.
The buddleia is still there. It is a bit scraggly, but it has taken root, and its buds will soon bloom into delicate, cone shaped flowers. I was so happy to see it, its hardy leaves waving in the winds, its roots nestled in amongst the heather.
That scraggly plant reminds me of myself. I have weathered the storms and sorrows of an entire year without the man with whom I had planned to grow old. I have taken root in a place that is foreign to me, a place that did not feel like much of a home, initially, without him in it.
I hope I can continue to grow and flourish in this place that he loved, and that I can reach out to others in the way that he did, even when it is difficult and dark and I want to turn inward.
I try to keep his memory alive with plants, and hikes, and words on the page.
But I know that it is through sharing the depth and the breadth of his kindness that I can truly honour his spirit.