Make Your Past

What do I think about on these Tuesday mornings, 3 ½ years after Megan died?  It’s a question that I generally ask myself on the way into work, in preparation for publishing some kind of anecdote, observation, or predicament here on Soaring Spirits, in the hopes that a person will read and experience a “me too” or “oh wow, I never thought of it that way”.  

I will go in circles in my head sometimes, trying to figure out if I can spin the daily reminders of Megan into something more meaningful.  We’ve got a daughter that looks very much like her mother. We live in the same home that Megan and I shared for 10 years. Hell, her ashes are in our dining room.  There is no escaping reminders of Megan.

I don’t know if it’s acclimatization, acceptance, or just plain old time, but none of it really triggers any strong emotions anymore.  Birthdays, anniversaries, and death dates, sure, those bring a heightened awareness of her being gone, but day-to-day routines are just that...routine.  Memories are still shared amongst those of us who knew her, but they don’t cause that awkward welling up most of the time. We’ve all moved forward with life in this third of a decade.  New spouses, new partners, new children, new jobs, and most of all, new memories.

I believe, deeply, in the importance of new memories.  While they don’t diminish the importance of our past, they “dilute the concentrations”, so to speak.  When Megan first died, almost ALL of my memories were of her. It was overwhelming, to think of all the good times we had together, knowing that we would never experience them again.  Even more difficult was the fact that I knew Shelby had even less memories, and would never form a new one with her mother.

But then life started gaining some steam again.  I started peeking out a bit from the armored shell that was my safe place during the first few months of being a widower.  I started accepting that she was gone, and that, being only 34 at the time, there was no sense shielding myself from making new memories.  

3 ½ years later, and I can say that while I still remember the details of Megan and I’s wedding day, I also remember Shelby and I’s first trip to Texas.  I can recall Shelby bounding down the stairs, 5 years old, on Christmas morning, and Megan’s face lighting up, and I can remember her making “confetti eggs” for Easter with Sarah.  I think of the bar where Megan and I used to go dance (well, me mostly) when we were in our early twenties, and I think of how it’s just as equally fun to go to the country bar with Sarah.  When Shelby was born, we were the young parents in the family.  Now Shelby is the “elder stateswoman”, and there are three cousins running around less than 4 years old.  

The most efficient way to turn “old” memories into something joyous again is to form new memories.  It doesn’t have to be with a new partner or relationship. It doesn’t have to be forced. It doesn’t bring your old partner back into the present, and it doesn’t have to.  Simply put, if they were still here, those memories wouldn’t make you well up, so (and I’m gonna catch some flak for this, I’m sure) just accept them and let them be what they are...good memories.  Make some new ones. Do something you never got to do, late partner or not.  I don't know, go frigging skydiving or something.

This may be hard to even think about, especially if the death is very recent.  I was there too. I told myself I would never ever ever ever ever date again. I was ready to sell it all and move to Montana, where I could isolate from the world.  There were times when I even considered homeschooling Shelby, buying a camper, and living on the road. But even if I had done all of it. Even if I had turned life as we knew it upside down, there would have been new memories. The end result as it pertains to "healing" (god I hate that word) would have been the same. 

They take some time to “spin up” and accumulate.  The first time I dipped my toes into the water...going back to crossfit...took a hell of a lot of gumption.  It felt as if my brain was short-circuited. I can’t even remember when i decided to do it...I just know that I went back, had some accomplishments, and now I had some memories that didn’t involve Megan.  It felt weird.  I almost crawled back into my bunker and began isolating again.   

Then I went to Camp Widow, met Sarah, Shelby made the honor roll for what seems like the 40th time, took some hikes, took a vacation, and so on and so forth.  Megan wasn’t physically present for any of it. Over time, there have been more and more occurrences that have absolutely nothing to do with her, unless one thinks about it in the abstract.  

None of it means I don’t miss her.  Nothing from the past few years was any BETTER because she was gone (although Sarah and I might be in an awkward position if that wasn’t the case).  Likewise, most experiences don't’ feel compromised anymore because she’s not here.

It’s a constant state of acceptance, with perhaps several significant occurrences a year where I think “damn, I wish Megan was here for this”.

In my own opinion, “moving forward” or even the dreaded “moving on” is simply a concise way of stating that we’ve made new memories, without destroying our past.  It's honoring those we've lost by not letting their death ruin our lives.  

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  • April
    commented 2018-04-18 10:31:03 -0700
    Mike, thank you so much for this. I really really needed this today. It sums up what I have been needing and wanting to hear for so long, from someone who is ahead of the curve, of me (I am 18 months post-loss of my soulmate-husband). I feel I have been stuck at a crossroads for some time, for a long time. But I love that line where you pretty much say, ‘moving forward (love that, not moving on) is a way of saying we’ve made new memories, without destroying our past, it’s honoring those we’ve lost by not letting their loss ruin the rest of our lives without them’. I think I’ve been sort of frozen, afraid to move at all, period, for what it might do to me, or to the past, or some other scary unknown that I can’t identify. I want to try to be ready to move forward, with new memories, it’s scary though, the emotion of it. But there are lots of people ahead of me, to tell me what it’s like. That it’s OK, it will be OK. That it won’t make our time with our loved ones disappear, or become insignificant, or forgotten, or make it ‘OK’ they’re gone (though I do ultimately want acceptance of it), or any one of many unknowns in my head. Hopefully, I will someday feel it will even honor them in a way, in a certain light, though I have a ways to go with that. Thank you again.
  • Gayle Goldberg
    commented 2018-04-18 07:29:57 -0700
    This is such an interesting way to think of “moving forward”. Thank you.