In the year since I lost Anne-Marie, I've heard the words of many grief counselors that say that the loss of a spouse is the most traumatic form of grief that a human being can experience. I'm not sure if that's true in every case, but their reasoning is that the loss is one that forever impacts your past, present and future. I understand what they mean now more than I did a year ago.
We had years of memory and inside jokes. Entire conversations communicated with just a tilt of the head or a tone of voice. The biological world calls it "symbiosis." Two completely different beings living in mutually-beneficial relationship, each supplying the unique needs of the other.
We weren't even close to it in those early years, but all those individual moments strung together like a chain became something more lovely than any one of those unique memories could be if left standing alone. The 24th of January didn't just cause a single break in that chain, it shattered all of the links.
In my present: to be left at 41 years of age as a widower was a mess. I didn't have any idea what I was doing. My experience was one of starting over as if I was a first-time parent, but not with newborns. Newborns don't know you're clueless; 12-year-olds do.
People in my community tried to understand, but I'm sure they wondered what was wrong with me so many times. There's this whole other person that I wanted to be--and maybe even feel like I *used* to be--that went missing on January 24. It's not fair to you that you lost him. He's not the guy you befriended, promoted, hired to work at your company.
The days of future in front of me are longer pacing themselves along the map we unfolded years ago.
The map has been respectfully folded up and put away. The map was run through the shredder. They told me I could keep the confetti from the waste catcher so I could throw it up in the air at every pity party I have for the rest of my life. And because I don't want to be unthankful, I've taken their advice just about every month or so. I wish I was more than half kidding.
I throw the shreds by the fistful, then stand alone as fragments of street names, date nights and kids' firsts rain over my head and fall back down on the floor as I descend into hurt, brokenness and regret. (Regret for what? I don't know. You'll understand better when you get here.)
To say I don't feel cheated some days would be a lie. But is there any cheating going on? Is mortality a celestial game to be won by the lucky few who are spared more tragedy than less?
I can't believe it.
Anne-Marie was everything to me and it was never going to be any other way. If I believed in the stars, I would say that they all aligned for me on day one. On day seven thousand and seventy-eight, they all fell from the sky.
I don't put my trust in the stars.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me to believe that any man in my position would feel cheated, whether right or wrong. If you knew Anne-Marie, you may know at least a little of what I mean. You reading this that were close to her. You that were her family or friends.
Really, the whole world was cheated when we lost Anne-Marie. That is, in the sense that it's not fair. The ledger doesn't balance. The whys can never outweigh the why nots. All of that belongs to God and I'm learning to leave it there.
In the three hundred and sixty-five days that have elapsed since the seven thousand and seventy-eight ended, I've spoken to hundreds of people that have repeatedly ripped me out of the cocoon of my own crippling grief and forced me to realize that my precious and beautiful redheaded introvert impacted lives everywhere she went. The loss is enormous. It is complete. It is final.
And it is in the past.
That past is full of the sweetest recollections. Of inside jokes. Of entire conversations communicated with just a tilt of the head or a tone of voice. Individual moments strung together like a chain that is now mine to care for and to pass down to our children.
In my present: I cannot ever express my gratefulness (or my apologies) to all the people God has placed in my life. I know I'm not the same person I was before this happened. You see, my identity has been stolen. I'll probably never be quite the same. Thank you for keeping me around.
That thanks extends especially to my kids. Starting over with these two has been an incredible and enlightening. I'm pretty sure by now they know that I don't know what I'm doing because they're not newborns, they're teenagers now. Jesus help me.
As for the future? The day I started running out of confetti was hard. Days started coming around where I actually felt good about myself and my life. That last strong emotion of all those feelings that she made me feel is slowly fading. I want to hold on so bad, but I can't. It doesn't work like that. To heal means to have that grief calm itself into a resolute peace that it was a life well lived. One that is in the past, but what an extraordinary past it was.
And I think I'll get a new map. One to collect pencil marks and stickpens, highlighter ink and coffee stains. If that one gets shredded, I'll get another and another one after that. I promise not to hold on to the remains of what's lost for quite so long because there's always a road ahead.
I've crossed over from being your caregiver to being the caretaker of your legacy and I want to thank you for everything, Anne-Marie. You changed my past, my present and my future. I love you.