Two years ago, on November 17th, my husband and I were getting married. It was a chilly autumn day, and the rain paused long enough for us to gather at the registry office in New Mills for our simple, beautiful ceremony. Later, we brought close friends and family to our local pub, The Beehive, for a reception and delicious dinner.
No one from America was with me at my wedding, and Stan knew I would be missing their presence, so he put together a slideshow with pictures of them and played it on a screen at the party we held later in the evening. It was a sweet and thoughtful gesture, his attempt to bring my old world into our new, shared life.
Eighteen months later, we gathered at The Beehive, again, to mourn my husband’s passing.
All of Stan’s family and friends were there. But my son and his girlfriend were the only ones who could come, on such short notice, from America, to be with me.
Our second anniversary falls on a Monday, this year, and, though I knew others would remember it, I didn’t feel I could ask them to take time away from their working lives to sit with me on that day, to help me commemorate it, and I did not want to face it on my own.
So I decided to come ‘home,’ to rest, to be surrounded by the people with whom I was raised, and to try to heal a little bit. I’ll be here for Thanksgiving, too, that distinctly American holiday, a day I don’t even pay attention to, when I am in England.
I am here in Indiana, at my brother’s house, who lives on the street where we grew up. Yesterday I walked down that street and recalled the names of each of our neighbours as I strolled past their homes. I walked through the subdivision where my childhood home once stood, and looked up at the pine trees that I used to climb when I was little. I walked down the hill to my muddy creek, a creek I spent a lot of time with, as a child, skipping rocks across its waters.
The world I inhabit, when I come to America, is so much different than the world I have in England. It is a known world, with wide, spacious streets, giant yards and houses, chain stores and franchise restaurants, the familiarity of fifty-two years of living. And though I love the life I have in England, and I cherished my life with Stan, I settle into the rhythms and ways of America very easily when I am here, and there is a certain comfort in it.
It is a world that, aside from two, steaming weeks in May of 2011, my husband never knew.
Sitting here, on this cold, snowy, Indiana morning, I wonder if I did the right thing, coming here to spend our second anniversary. I can’t feel his presence here. Stan and England feel so very far away.
I feel like I have left him behind.
Six months ago, in May, I was back in America for my son’s graduation from a Master’s Program in Music. Stan had not been well, having only been in the hospital a few weeks before my scheduled trip, but he was well enough to return to work, and so I decided to go ahead with my plans to be there for my son. I kissed my husband goodbye at the Manchester airport on May the 2nd.
My days in New York were filled with activity. We hiked around the falls and gorges there, I attended my son’s graduate recital, beamed with pride at his many accomplishments, met up with some old friends who lived nearby.
Through the wonder of technology, I was able to connect, often, with Stan via FaceTime. But the difference in time zones made planning for those connections difficult, and we did not always get to chat. I was immersed in the American world I knew so well, and did not always find time for my husband. I knew we would be together soon, when I returned to him in England, and my focus was on my son.
When I returned to England, Stan told me he had felt left behind. He could not share in my world and he missed me sharing in his. I guess I became a bit defensive, upon hearing this, and I was not as kind to him as I should have been in response. I told him I had so little time with my son, and that sometimes I felt torn between the two worlds. I did not want to have to choose one over the other. Both worlds were important to me.
Three weeks after I returned home from America, my husband was dead.
Inevitably, when someone dies so suddenly, loved ones pour over missed opportunities, experience longings and regrets.
I cannot put into words how much I regret those last few weeks. I feel terrible that I spent two weeks away from him when he was not completely well. I wish I had taken time to connect with him, on those days we did not talk, that I had been more mindful of his need to hear from me. I wish I had known how short our time would be.
If only I had known.
But I didn’t. I thought we would have many more years together. I planned to work harder to integrate my two worlds in the future, and we talked of taking the next trip to America, together. I hoped that my husband would come to understand my American life, eventually, and come to share it, with me.
There wasn’t time for all of that. And sitting here, amongst the familiar voices and sounds and surroundings of my childhood, I must try to forgive myself. It is not easy to live between two worlds. I had only lived my life in England, with my husband, for a few short years. I got swept up in America every time I came here.
It was only natural that I would.
Today, the 17th of November, two years after we married, I will try to bring my husband’s memory here with me. I will look over our wedding photos, light a candle for him, help those here to know him a little bit.
I know Stan would be telling me, in his kind, gentle, way, to forgive myself, to let go of regrets. He knew that I loved him, and that I would never, truly, leave him behind.
And I have to hold onto that.