So it's been 7 years since my beautiful husband left for work one morning, and never came home. Seven years since his shocking and sudden death. Seven years of living this life in the "after" of painful and life-changing loss. It's a long time, and it isn't. It's forever, and it's also ten seconds. In all of this time living with the death of my husband, I do get asked one question quite frequently. People often ask me if I feel guilty for being happy. Do I feel guilt when I experience joy or joyful moments? Do I feel guilty for falling in love again?
The answer is no.
Guilt has certainly been a big part of my grieving and healing process. I felt guilty on my first two birthdays after Don died, because he would never get to see another year or enjoy another birthday or another year older. I felt guilty on New Year's Eve for years, and I refused to do the countdown to midnight, because it felt like a countdown to more time without him on earth, and another year that he won't ever get to be part of. I felt guilty for being asleep in our bed, while my husband was collapsing on a hard floor in a Petsmart, and going into cardiac arrest. These are the types of things I felt guilt about, and the types of things I worked on for years with my grief counselor, and came to better terms with.
I have never felt guilty for feeling joy. I have never felt guilty for falling in love again. I have never felt guilty for laughing so hard my sides hurt, or for feeling euphoric about something incredibly awesome or awe-inspiring. Maybe it's because I know for a fact that the most important thing to my husband, was my joy and happiness, so I know that me being happy would give him incredible peace. Maybe it's because I so fiercely want to LIVE, because my husband does not have that choice, so I look for and cling to moments of euphoria wherever I can find them. Maybe it's because it took me FIVE years and a hell of a lot of processing and therapy, to get to a place where I was even able to find love again, so why spend one second feeling guilty about it? I don't know what the reason is, but I have never felt guilt for feelings of joy or love.
What I HAVE felt is this:
Sadness. Unbelievable, intense, all-consuming sadness. It happens the same way each time. It happens right smack in the middle of the unbelievable, intense, all-consuming joy. It happens when I am right in the middle of living. At a Yankees game, during a concert, celebrating an event, laughing with good friends, anything at all. My heart suddenly drops and actually hurts. My heart starts hurting, and feeling this overwhelming sadness for the fact that my Don will never get to experience this incredible thing. My heart hurts for him that he is dead forever, and won't hear music or see extra inning baseball games or have a perfectly grilled ribeye or see our niece's very first dance recital. Sometimes the heart-hurt is in the background, and I can continue on with the joyous moment, and reflect quietly and silently about my sadness for Don missing it. But other times, it comes on like a tsunami and the force of it takes over and attacks and steals the joyous moment, and suddenly I'm in a puddle of tears because my dead husband just missed this amazing thing and it's just not fair.
It's happened a lot lately. That sadness taking over the joy. I'm guessing it will always be this way. I'm guessing that with each ridiculously happy milestone, comes that sadness lurking in the background. I feel as if every emotion since his death, is turned up in volume to it's highest level. I feel things so much deeper, and with more intensity.
The other day, we were showing my nephew and niece my new book. They were looking at the cover, which is a drawing / artwork of my husband, and some of our cats. My nephew, who was two and a half when Don died, said "that's Uncle Don." My niece, Jillian, who my sister in law was pregnant with the week of the funeral, said matter of factly: "Who's Don?" To describe how sad that made me - it is impossible. That he will never know this hilarious and lovely little girl, and that she will never know him - sometimes the reality of that is too much to handle. Last night, I attended a political Question and Answer Forum with Senator Elizabeth Warren. I got to meet her and have my picture taken. That intense sadness filled my heart as I hugged her and thought about the days of me and my husband being politically active together. Tonight, I am seeing Billy Joel in concert with my boyfriend, at Fenway Park. I hope that the sadness doesn't overtake our evening. I hope the joy of the moment is able to stay in my focus, and that I am able to feel every note of music that is happening right that very second, instead of getting stuck inside the idea that it's just one more awesome thing he is missing.
Death tries to steal away life, piece by tiny piece.
Each day, I fight for that not to happen.
Sometimes I lose that fight.