It seems like there is always something in grief you are experiencing for the first time. After seven years as a widow, I would have thought that I had already gone through almost every “first”. This week though, I discovered another first I had yet to go through, and it’s had my emotions all over the place.
Tomorrow, my new partner Mike will be flying out to Chicago for a few days for a work trip. This might not initially seem like a big deal - Chicago isn’t even an hour away by plane. And at first I didn’t really think of it as a big deal. He has left to go backpacking for a weekend several times, and that was fine. But this is something different. It is the first time since we met that he is traveling for work specifically. Which initially didn’t feel like a big deal… Until the other part of me remembered…
Seven years ago, someone else left for a work trip, and never came home. Someone else traveled for a job and died far away from me, in a horrific crash. It always feels like that part of me still doesn’t really understand what happened, where he went, or why I am now in an entirely different life. And I’ve accepted the fact that this part of me will just never understand - I suppose you could call it the trauma part. So I guess it makes sense that when Mike was telling me about this work trip over the phone last week, that trauma part of me suddenly woke up and began so sound alarm bells.
Over the last few days, those alarm bells have been louder and louder. I’ve had a level of anxiety I haven’t experienced in years. I did everything I could to distract my mind and talk myself down. I told myself all the rational things, but nothing seemed to help. That one part of me is still very scared of my person dying on a work trip, even though I didn’t realize it until now.
To make things worse, before Drew died, I had already lost both of my parents and I used to tell myself “Oh, what are the odds that HE would die too?” in order to rationalize his job as a pilot. Well, obviously that rationale didn’t work so well when he actually did die too. Now I just have a haunting feeling that just because death has already happened so many times in my life does NOT mean I am safe from it happening again.
By Thursday last week I was exhausted from the anxiety. I broke down and shared all this with my best friend - who was there for me daily when Drew died. She is one of the few people that I always feel remembers every little detail of what I went through, because she and I talked daily, and at nauseum, about whatever I needed to. She was kind of a sponge for all my excess emotion - which I realize was a hard job in itself. So oddly, even though she never lost a partner like I have, I feel like she understands certain things about my specific story more than anyone else.
I’m not sure whether unloading it all with her or just having a few days to calm myself down helped the most - but probably a combination of the two. I do know that after she and I talked and I was just able to share with someone who totally gets why I would be struggling so much with this - the fears quieted down. The racing thoughts seemed to slow, and now a few days later, my nerves feel ok again. Despite the fact that I also frequently have thoughts of how unfathomable it would be for this best friend to die also, just knowing that she is there, that she knows every detail of the past and is still by my side now… it helps so much.
I know the worst still isn’t over. I’ve done grief long enough to know that when he flies out tomorrow evening, I will be a mess inside. And I know that by day two I will be losing my shit. And while he is flying on the plane, I will be holding my breath, counting the minutes.
I guess no matter how long it’s been since you lost someone, things will always grab you with fear, and wake up the trauma all over again. It sucks, and there is no way around how difficult it is to navigate your fear about more loss and more grief. Even with as many people as I have lost in my life, I have no way of not feeling those fears. What I do have, is the ability to share those fears - because airing them out does help. Speaking them out loud does lighten the load… and I guess if there is one thing that’s good to remember in times of grief, it’s that we always have the ability to share our fear and our pain and lighten the load.
Still, I have no doubt that tomorrow afternoon, when he leaves on a jet plane, I will be asking him to please not die, and holding my breath those few long days until he returns.