This weekend I celebrated my third birthday without Mike. He died just over two years ago, but this is the third time I have had a birthday without him beside me. The first year, my birthday happened two weeks after he died. That birthday; and, most of the first year without him is a blur to me. When I look back I don't remember much of anything about the initial year which is likely not a coincidence. I think when we are in deep grief we are shocked and numb by design.
I can not recall the events of that first year, but I can easily remember the feelings of my first year without Mike. My feelings were gutting. I was completely disorientated and sad to the depths of my Soul; and, quite honestly, sometimes I still feel this way. But, thankfully, now there is more good stuff between these moments of awful aching and relentless yearning for him.
Mike died suddenly; and, because of this I think I was in complete shock for months and months and months after we buried him. In the early days I would go to his grave a lot. Looking back, these visits to the cemetery were necessary for me because being there helped make me know that his death was real. I had to force myself to see his headstone again and again because my brain simply could not process Mike's death. I needed to read his name on the stone to make myself believe that Mike had actually died. I needed to feel the realness of his death on my fingertips so I knelt at his grave and traced the letters of his name over and over again. For me, it was necessary to allowed the roughness of the letters to rub the reality of his deadness into me. These repeated rituals helped me to accept that Mike really died.
For a long, long time no matter what I did, I just could not seem to grasp that Mike was gone forever. And, maybe a part of me still can't. To those outside of the grief world, it is probably not understandable that I could not and did not understand the "realness" of his death. To most people it was obvious that Mike was dead and they knew he was going to stay that way. It was just me who was unable to accept the permanence of the situation. In the early months, I remember looking at doors and thinking that Mike was going to walk through - any moment. I recall drifting aimlessly through the house and mumbling over and over again "Is this real?" I desperately needed someone to answer me. But, no one did. Or, if they did answer, I didn't hear them.
Photo: My Birthday December 1, 2018
Now, going into my third year without him, I feel that the initial shock has been almost completely absorbed. Cognitively, now, I understand that Mike's death is real; but, I still have not accepted his death at the heart level. But, I am working on it.
This year, for my birthday, I chose to go for dinner at our favorite winery. And, it did not bother me to be there, in the same place I remember going with him. Instead, of feeling sad because Mike wasn't there, I felt good because I was there with people I love. This is way different than the way I have felt in the past when I returned here. The first year, I had dinner at the winery with Mike's daughter to celebrate his birthday; and, as expected, it was hard for both of us to not feel his absence that first birthday without him. But, last night it was different. My thoughts did not drift from the table. Much to my surprise, I was able to remain present and enjoy the moment. We all laughed a little too loudly, there were smiles all round and we genuinely enjoyed each other's company.
We LIVED, LOVED and LAUGHED.
All the very same things Mike and I did together.
And, it felt so good to feel alive again, even if it was just a few hours.
This year, my birthday was everything a birthday should be.
With time, and practice, going to "our" places is finally bringing me joy again. As I sat in the dining room of the winery, I saw "our table" and it did not cruelly pull at my heartstrings and bring tears to my eyes. I glanced at our table and I remembered. I remembered with gratitude. And, without much effort, I turned my attention back to my table of friends and I carried on with my night. I glanced at the past, but I choice to LIVE in the present moment. Last night, I LIVED for me. I celebrated myself - without him. And, in truth, I felt his presence, more than his absence.
When I am able to be present. When I can enjoy the moment. When I can fill my heart with gratitude for what is, rather than becoming consumed with sadness for what is not, this is when I feel closest to Mike. This is when my heart is speaking his language. When I am being my truest self I feel Mike's presence. When I am smiling and "being" the woman who he loved, this is when I can connect with him. When I am joyful and living I am closest to him. When I am LOVE I feel his arms around my life. And, last night I was able to be all those things. What better gift girl could a girl receive on her birthday?
Thankfully, with time, attention and lots of purposeful work, my grief is changing. It is no longer wild and raw. Now, my grief is softer and "easier" to live with. Over the last two years, I have worked to accept that Mike's death is real. And, with practice and a ton of hard work I am learning how to live on my own without the man I love so very much.
My Life Force is getting stronger than my grief and this is making all the difference.
When life gets louder, grief loses it's strength.
This third year of widowhood I have decided that I am going to work on "accepting" Mike's death at the Heart level. I am not sure how to do this. I don't even know if I can, but I am going to attempt to soften the edges of my grief - even more. I know that I need to find a way to make my grief "quieter", so that my LIFE can grow louder. I am determined to focus on LIVING again because this is the only way I know how to survive his death. With two years of widowhood completed, my grief has changed in many significant ways and I feel even more change coming my way. And, this excites me more than it scares me now. I am ready for change because I think this is the beginning of something that will lead me back to life.
Best to you, me and to us all as we continue to find our way,