MAKING LIMONCELLO :: Cheers to you, McCue—Grief at One Year
Looking at young widow grief one year in. What does that look like?
So it’s been 365 days since the worst day of my life. I sat on a train from Prague to Munich for 6 hours yesterday as I crept up on yet another milestone I didn’t really want to face. I had a lot of time to think about this as I watched the countryside zoom by. Fortunately, the train was so damn hot that no one could tell if I was sweating profusely or crying. It was literally sweat and tears. Seems about right…
The year marker is a mixed bag of shock at how time has passed as well a sense of accomplishment for making it this far without losing my goddamnmind. What is the significance of marking this dark day? I’m not really sure. It’s something we are expected to do. It’s in the handbook of grief (which I’ve been committed to throwing out the window—I never did like being told what to do). There’s a judgement that if we don’t mark this day, we are forgetting our loved ones. Well, here’s the truth bomb of the day…today doesn’t feel worse to me to me than any other day I lived the past year. There, I said it. You see, I’ve been experiencing this grief every second of every day for 365 days. Even in the moments of joy and laughter, it can creep in for a split second when I realize that I don’t hear Jeff’s ridiculous cackle laughing behind me or poking at me for making a fool of myself (again).
That being said, I completely understand others’ need to recognize these markers for their own reasons, but for me, it was a pleasant surprise to wake up this morning and have it feel like another day along my path. And that feels like progress to me. For the past year, the 22nd of the month has been a bit devastating. It feels like the movie Groundhog Day, in an I-should-probably-clear-the-calendar-kind-of-way. It was a painful dagger in my heart. And then May 22, I made it through most of the day without even realizing it was the that day of the month. So today, I woke up recognizing that it’s THAT day, but it didn’t feel as terrifying as I had expected it to. Maybe I had built it up so much that my brain had more space to process it before it even happened. It’s not a coincidence that I’m halfway around the world on THAT day. But in reality, it seems to be no more terrible than any other day I’ve survived this past year.
Time is a strange notion that toys with my mind, constantly. There have been so many points during this past year when it seems like Jeff has been gone for a million years. Then there are days it seems like it’s just been a few days. Then there are the REALLY fucked up days when part of me still expects him to walk in the room. Here’s some real talk for you…there was a solid week in of November when my brain played tricks on me, suspending reality and making me believe that Jeff was alive and had gotten up out of bed before me to make us coffee. Then I had to say to myself out loud on repeat, “Jeff is dead. You have to make the coffee.” Those are some of the days that it was almost impossible to put one foot on the floor and then the other. Surreal. Delusional. Downright painful.
There isn’t a day that passes when I don’t miss him, and yes, even his jokes which usually usually elicited a major eye roll from me. He’s everywhere and in everything I do somehow. Yet I have to turn his absence and the loss of him in my life into a meaningful, cherished memory, appreciating how that chapter helped shape the person I am. I can take these moments and use them to help build me up instead of tear me down. I will always honor that part of my heart that was carved out just for Jeff. And when my heart broke into a million pieces, somehow it grew bigger as I’ve been putting it back together. There is a lot of space in there that I need to exercise in order to keep that muscle thriving and growing. I feel that over the past year, I have learned a lot about love, happiness, and giving in all of my relationships. I have a lot to pay forward. The heart is just like any other muscle you have to exercise and push to condition. I know I can be better and grow from this shitty experience and loss of my everything.
La Vita é Bella—Life is beautiful. This state of beauty accepts and folds in the most tragic experiences of life with the most beautiful moments and feelings. You have to accept and cherish both the good and the bad.
So what do you do to recognize the one year marker? There are plenty of important dates in our lives that I choose to celebrate in a special way. Our wedding anniversary. Our dating anniversary. Jeff’s birthday. His death??? Um, yeah, not so much. I have decided that this particular date is really more about me than him. Sorry if that sounds bitchy or narcissistic. Actually, no, I’m not sorry. Really. You see I live in a world where his absence is present every single second of every day. That’s just the way it is. It does get a little easier each day that I choose to live. Each new memory or experience I build in my new world helps push out a little bit more of that pain each day.
For the one year marker, I planned a trip to Munich to hang out with old friends of ours who I expected would be just the right combination of hanging out, drinking (Oh, the Irish!!), laughing, being inappropriate and crass (my favorite), while also giving me a safe place to have a really raw moment if things hit me that way. I arranged this before I left home for my sabbatical. I had a genuine fear of burdening new friends of 2–3 weeks with heavy widow shit and I was way overdue to see these friends who had also been through some painful loss this past year with the unexpected death of friends, Frankie and Alex. And, of course, I also love that they possess one of my favorite characteristics—a twisted sense of humor. An absolute must in my book
We have already had some great talks over beers about finding humor in the darkest moments and how much we need that. I really want to rewrite the handbook for myself because it feels like this kind of behavior usually warrants a side glance or at least a gasp that resembles, “Why, I never!!”. Yeah, fuck that noise.
So today, I did what I usually do for these milestones. I woke up. I acknowledged the day. I thought about journaling, but wrote a blog post instead. I said hi to Jeff up in the universe somewhere (like a crazy person). And then I put one foot on the floor and then the other. I’m planning for a fun, celebratory cheers later on today in a biergarten with good people. We’ll probably tell some ridiculously embarrassing stories of good times in Munich.
You see, this way I have a modicum of control that saves me from spiraling out of control and going down the rabbit hole of deep, debilitating grief that won’t allow me to keep moving forward. Because, friends, that can EASILY happen. I know people who suffer this way. It can be crippling. It makes your world stand still. I want to point this out because a lot of people have called me strong, brave, and courageous. There are many times I am just fumbling my way through the emotions and processing involved in this process. A lot of this process has been raw and quite ugly. Although I have been fortunate enough to be capable of making a choice, I want to recognize that some people really don’t have a way of finding their way out because grief is ugly, rotten, and cruel. It can be a prison.
But it doesn’t matter what I do to recognize the passage of time or ‘publicly’ grieve. I’m not interested in putting on a show for anyone else. I do what feels good and I know reflects what Jeff and I were and who I am now. Do what seems right for me in this moment and Carpe Fucking Diem. That is the best thing I can do to honor Jeff’s memory.
It will be good to spend the weekend with old friends in a Bavarian Biergarten (and shhhhh…leave a little bit of Jeff there too). I also know that I have a network of people around the world today, some old friends and some brand new friendships, supporting me and thinking of Jeff, and probably us. We will all get through this. Because this is life and it’s worth living. And we will raise a glass and Prost!
La Vita é Bella
Carpe fucking Diem
And Cheers to You, McCue