As I sat down to write this morning, as I usually do, I read a few of this previous week’s posts. On a day like today, where my mind is somewhat blank, it often helps me to zero in on a subject. Once I have that nugget of inspiration, I can usually let it flow.
This week, I’ve been inspired to write about something from a different side of the same coin. Olivia and Staci had spoken about the triggers of lack of contact with a loved one, and the desire and intricacies of revisiting places and events they once shared with their person.
Perhaps its the different circumstances...long-term illness versus sudden, surprising loss, but I don’t feel the same way as they do.
Through my twenties and early thirties, with Megan, there were countless times that I couldn’t get in touch with her. Her phone would be off or otherwise unanswered. She wasn’t online or available via the myriad of ways we have to stay in touch with each other nowadays. I quickly learned that when I couldn’t reach her, that meant she was asleep and content in her hospital bed more often than not, or that a friend was visiting her and she was happy at that moment. If there was ever the slightest hint at a problem, my phone would ring immediately. Being almost always “on-call” for work, I was available via phone 24/7, so there were never any doubts or questions about just why I couldn’t reach her.
I was physically present the first time she was intubated and placed on a ventilator. I was beside her bed when her doctor arrived (at 2:00 AM no less) to inform us they had found a viable organ donor. 48 hours before her death, the doctor asked ME eye-to-eye...not her...to make the decision to remove her from life support. I carried her to the car, and transported her to the hospital at least half a dozen times, and I am the person who called 911 on the evening that her lung collapsed.
My point is, I never had to wonder about her health and well-being, because good or bad, I was always the first person to know...sometimes even before she herself knew.
In these four years since her death, I’ve realized that now, when I can’t reach Sarah, I don’t have this subconscious fear of her being dead. I’ve heard so many widows express this feeling, that I can clearly know that it, well, doesn’t affect me. I don’t involuntarily spiral into “she’s dead” just because her voicemail picks up or a text is not responded to for awhile.
But I completely understand why this is a thing for Sarah, and so many other widows.
Then, there's the visiting of places and the reliving of events, rituals, or traditions that Staci touched on. Again, it’s different for me. So much of Megan and I’s life was spent shared in places like hospital rooms. For the better part of a decade, traditions like going to fall and winter festivals, days at the beach, vacations, or even just going to our favorite restaurant were peppered with coughs, pleurisy, oxygen tanks, altitude sickness, the inability to walk further than 100 yards and/or unplanned emergency room visits.
I have never felt the need to specifically re-live a tradition or ritual in order to feel closer to Megan, because many of them are remembered not because of the fun times we shared, but more because of whatever malady affected her during said event. Or first Myrtle Beach trip with Shelby? Emergency room with pleurisy. Our big California vacation to San Francisco and Yosemite? ER with altitude sickness. At least three thanksgivings? Trips to the ER after coughing blood. Cutting our own Christmas trees? Rushed every year because the cold air set her lungs afire. Hiking 500 feet to the top of Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains (my favorite place on earth)? No less than 20 ten-minute breaks for her to catch her breath.
That’s what I remember about many of our memories. It likely has a lot to do with my pessimistic tendencies, but regardless, it’s what is there.
So when Sarah, Shelby and I now go to the beach, or our favorite restaurant, or a fall festival, the silver linings are what comes out. I feel both closer AND farther from Megan, but for the very reason that she doesn’t have to suffer through the bad parts. Since I truly believe she follows us around (like she promised to do numerous times), she is finally getting to experience these things without having cystic fibrosis. She’s getting to see Shelby laugh and have fun without having to worry about her next hospital stay. I’m not constantly on watch for low temperatures, high humidity, coughing, or someone pushing themselves too physically hard just to make us happy.
My point in all of this is that I’m the only one doing grief the correct way.
Which is a ridiculous statement to make. None of us is grieving in the correct way, and all of us are. There IS no “correct” way. Our human brains can and will process unanswered phone calls or recurrences of past events in whatever way they damn well please. This will evolve with time, and these reactions may or may not change. They don’t get better, and they don’t get worse. They just become...different.
Which, as the new partner to a widow that just happens to be a widower himself, I have to understand. Sarah telling me “don’t die” when I walk out the door to work in the morning is her natural reaction to seeing me leave the safety of our home. Ensuring that I answer each and every text or call in a timely manner is something ingrained in me, but I realize that it is important to Sarah because of her own circumstances with loss. Sharing moments together in places that we shared with either Drew or Megan can be triggers, they can be reliefs, or they can be both.
Nobody is doing it wrong.
We’re all just doing it.