Today is Halloween, and other than a few light-hearted traditions, such as our annual watching of one of our favorites: "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!", this holiday never really had much significance for us as a couple. Except that it did. It does. But not because of Halloween. Halloween just happens to fall right in the center of the happiest week of our short time together. Wedding, honeymoon, his birthday. In that order.
Monday, October 27th, was my wedding anniversary. It would have been 8 years for us, but instead, he died suddenly just 2 months before our 5 year anniversary, and so I still feel very robbed. For me, the wedding anniversary day is even harder than the death day. It is sadder. Don't get me wrong. The death day sucks big time and it's incredibly hard, but at least on that day, I usually feel like I can honor him somehow, plus I do my "Pay it Forward for Don Shepherd Day" each year on that day, and so tons of people are performing acts of kindness in his honor all week long. It is awesome. It helps. The wedding anniversary is way different. Unless I post publically about it on Facebook or somewhere, nobody really knows about it or acknowledges the day. Other than my parents, nobody in my family called or texted or left a message on my Facebook page or anything. Nobody said "this day must be so hard for you", or "I just want you to know that your love will never die and that I'm thinking of you today", or something like that. You know who acknowledged my wedding day? Other widowed people. And yes, a few close friends and acquaintances also said something. But the day just feels intensely private to me, like it's between me and my husband, and since my husband is no longer here, nothing that I end up doing with that day ever feels like enough. It all just makes me very sad.
Since the day fell on a Monday this year, I chose to honor it the day before, on Sunday. I did what I have been doing each year since his death - get a rental car and drive out to Sea Cliff, Long Island, where we got married, and sit on the rocks and the benches at the bay where some of his ashes are scattered, and go inside our wedding venue and have a cup of tea with the owner and look through my wedding album. Then I have a nice quiet gourmet dinner, at one of my husband's favorite restaurants, which just happens to be a place owned and head-cheffed by my best friend's husband. So my best friend Sarah and me have dinner together. I told her that she should feel honored, because she is pretty much the only human that is allowed to be around me on my wedding anniversary. It is a day where I normally don't much feel like dealing with other people. I only want to feel close to Don.
On Monday, I was supposed to teach a weekly stand-up comedy workshop that I teach in NYC, but I literally felt like I couldn't function on that day. I was so damn sad, and just kept crying and feeling pretty awful. So I asked my 7 students, who are all adults of various ages, if we could move the class to Wednesday this week instead so I could continue to be an emotional basket-case. They were so understanding and great, and said "of course. Take care of yourself." So I went into the city anyway and went to my weekly grief-therapist meetup. She knew it was my wedding anniversary, and she has been holding onto the DVD of my wedding day for months now. I had asked her to hold onto it, and when I thought I was ready to watch, we would watch together during session. So that is what we did on Monday. I finally watched some of my wedding day video, 3 plus years after his death.
As she put the DVD into the player, I felt so nervous. I said to her, in a voice that was barely audible, "Are you going to sit with me?" (because there are 2 chairs and a couch, and she normally sits in one of the big chairs across from me, while I’m on the couch) She said: "Of course I'll sit with you." I was expecting to shed massive tears and cry so hard and so much that I couldn't breathe. I was expecting to perhaps explode from the sadness and shock of it all, and not be able to deal with the real world any longer, after having seen my own husband alive again - and knowing he is still dead. I don't really know what I was expecting, but the reaction I had was much different than the reaction I thought I would have.
As we watched the wedding ceremony, the first thing that struck me slowly were all the people sitting in the crowd that were no longer in my life today. All the friendships that were so strong on that day, that don't even exist now. Then I saw my Nana walking down the aisle, being escorted by my brother. At that point, my Nana already had cancer, but she was still well enough to come to New York for my wedding. She looked so tired and withdrawn on the video, like it was the beginning of the end of her lively spirit. Her light would slowly dim out after that day, and about 3 years later, she would die while living in my parent's home, from complications of cancer. As the ceremony continued, and we got to the vows we had written, my eyes fixated on Don as he spoke his beautiful words of: "I want you to know that my greatest joy in life, is watching you succeed, and watching you chase after your dreams and catch them." He teared up when he said that, and he looked right into my eyes and soul. Watching him, sitting there with my therapist, it felt like an out-of-body experience. It felt like a different version of me was watching another version of me , and another version of him. God, his eyes were so blue. He loved me, and loves me, so much. I was shaking and nervous and strange while watching, and I was tearing up, but not sobbing.
Watching my husband on video, alive, with the knowledge that he is dead, was beyond weird. However, the thing that surprised me most, and that I didn't really expect, was the strangeness and surreal-ness of being a different version of myself, watching myself getting married. I sat there, in my sweatpants and t-shirt and no makeup - a face and body that has been through hell for 3 plus years now - that has survived grief and pain and hurt every single day and been beaten by life - watching this girl on that video. This girl that had bright, big beautiful eyes, and who was smiling and laughing and giddy in every moment of this video. This girl who looked up at her new husband and said with great enthusiasm and meaning: "I do." This girl that clapped with excitement when the minister announced "you are husband and wife." To be this version of me, watching that version of me, was perhaps one of the saddest things I have witnessed. It was my own insane joy reflected on the TV screen, that made my heart hurt. Because since the day he died, I have not felt joy like that again. Not even close. Sure, I have moments of joy and happy. I laugh. I enjoy my life, in parts, now. But that joy that comes from deep love and future and possibility and hope and the naive wonder that all things last forever - that girl is gone. And that made me sad. Watching my husband alive and knowing he is dead, was very hard. But watching me and realizing that I am dead too - that version of me is dead - that was pretty devastating. Yes, I already knew that my old-self no longer existed, and that since he died, I have been re-creating a "next life" for myself. But knowing that and seeing it on video are two different things.
This new version of me is still a work in progress, but she feels so very far removed from that girl with the sparkling eyes and giddy smile. Like a separate universe, watching another galaxy with old, tired eyes.