Happy Anniversary to Us

Dear Ben,

Happy Anniversary.  Twenty three years.

In hindsight we probably should have invested some money in a proper videographer.

That day was definitely not the wedding we had planned, was it?  It was hot, we were sweaty, the limo broke down on the side of the road, my hair wasn’t looking it’s best and the DJ at the reception (aka: our limo driver) used records instead of cd’s.  Records, Ben. It was like we were back in the late 80’s again!  Do you remember what you said?  You said, “It can only get better from here.”  You were right.

We had a lot of change between September 24, 1994 and September 24, 1995, didn’t we?  That may have been the most change crammed into one year that we ever experienced over the twenty to follow.  Do you remember how we planned and built our first home together?  How we stayed up late and drew it out on graph paper so we could plan out where to put the furniture we couldn’t afford.  I remember you made little couches out of graph paper so we could move them around.  Do you remember how we carved our initials in the sidewalk when it was finally finished?

Do you remember how, shortly after our house was built and we moved in, that we discovered we were having a baby?  In fact we found out the day before our first anniversary.  We had a secret as you went off to work that afternoon.

The 20 years between that video and this picture were quite the ride, weren’t they?

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That was us on the plane in 2015, on September 23rd, on our way to LA to spend our 21st anniversary watching Doyle Bramhall jam on his guitar.  Your dream.  I am so fucking glad you got to experience that.  I am so fucking glad we had that time.  And I’m sorry for using the word “fucking” so emphatically, but it’s appropriate, don’t you think?  I also miss you so fucking badly.

Here you are, on our 21st anniversary:

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Here you are, on our 22nd anniversary:

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I am tempted to dig that up so I can refill your bottle of Kracken.  I feel like you need a fresh bottle so you can raise a glass with me, but then again, I suspect you probably have full access to all the Kracken you want up there in Heaven.  Or at least all the wine you want, for sure.

Here’s the link (click here) to some of the video from our anniversary last year, in case you want to revisit how we all finished off that bottle in your honour.  Even Dad, who was sick.

Ben, I miss you terribly.  I think you know that though.  I feel you around a lot, so I think you must know.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of our lives together.  None of it.  We didn’t really have the easiest twenty one years, but the challenges we faced certainly made us a stronger couple and I’m really grateful to have known that kind of love.  The honest kind.  The kind where we could admit that there were times we couldn’t stand each other but we pushed through and came out the other side stronger and happier.  I think we set a good example for the kids, with our marriage.  I didn’t always think that, but now I do.  They have now been taught what real love looks like in real life, not on Face Book.  And they have seen the most honest, true and profound love they ever could as they watched us navigate the last months of your life here on earth.

Thanks for being my partner.  I wish I had thirty more anniversaries with you here together, but I am grateful for the twenty one we had.  I know that’s more than most.

I know that anniversary gifts weren’t really our thing, but if you’re feeling extra generous this year then there is one thing I would really love and it won’t cost you a dime.  I want to see you in my dreams tonight.  Please.  I want to talk to you again for five minutes.  I want to see you when I tell you I love you, and I want to hear you say, “And ‘oo”.  Please.  Please.  

Happy anniversary Ben, as they say.  I will search for you today.

With everlasting, eternal love and gratitude for the time I had with you,

Your bride.

 

 

It Must Have Super Powers

On the post I wrote for Soaring Spirits this week, I put forth this question to all the widows reading that blog:

Did you ever feel so consumed by your own grief that you have forgotten that others grieve too?  That they grieve not only for the loss of your spouse, who may have been a friend to them, but possibly they grieve also for other people that you may know absolutely nothing about?  Do you find that during this time of all consuming grief, you have forgotten that other people have suffered loss too?

My reason for proposing that question was because recently, the realization that others grieve too has hit me hard.

For the last 19 months I have been consumed by my own grief and I didn’t have room to consider the possibility that anyone else in my life could be carrying around a similar, agonizing grief from their own past.  That wasn’t on my radar at all.  Lately though … lately my eyes have opened a bit to the world around me as I have slowly started to awaken from my drugged slumber (figuratively drugged, not literally), and I have been surprised to discover that others – not random strangers but actual people who are a part of my life – have suffered their own agonizing losses that I knew nothing about.  How could I have not known??

Years ago I had a colleague who became a friend.  We worked together for a brief period of time before I was transferred, and although we didn’t work together for long, she was one of those people I have always considered a friend regardless of time and distance.  She’s someone you don’t forget.

The day after Ben died I had to go into my office building to meet with the Chaplain and I walked right into her for the first time in years.  I recall that she called out my name, burst into tears and hugged me long and hard.  I was moved by how much compassion she had for my situation, although I was far too deep into my own devastation to give it much more than a passing thought.  On some vague level I recall being a little surprised by how upset she was on my behalf, but we are about the same age and have kids the same age so I guess I assumed that she could imagine on some level the difficulties I was about to face.  It never occurred to me to consider that the reason she was able to feel my pain so deeply could be due to a past significant loss of her own.  After all, her husband was alive and well, and although I knew her dad had passed away she was a middle aged adult by the time it happened and (although terribly sad and not something I want to even think about happening for many many years) it is just not quite the same thing.  Anyway, I went on to my meeting with the Chaplain and pushed the thoughts of her and everyone else out of my mind.

Fast forward 19 months and this old friend contacted me recently to see if I wanted to have coffee with her and catch up.  She came over and we visited for a couple of hours, and she let me ramble on endlessly about Ben.  Fresh ears, you know?  It was nice to talk about Ben to someone who hadn’t already heard all the stories about the nightmare we lived.  I like to tell those stories because talking about it takes away some of the power that those memories have to hurt me, and of course I just like to discuss Ben in any way, shape or form.  She was very compassionate and she was visibly moved by my loss, and I found that so touching.  I mean, naturally I think there is no greater loss in the world than that of losing Ben, but to see someone else who never met him be so touched made me feel like she cares about living in a world where Ben does not exist.  She made me feel as though she wished she knew him, and that made me feel good.

After having an emotional conversation for a couple of hours she eventually needed to leave (or escape), and as she was leaving she mentioned that her brother had been killed in an accident when they were teens.  Just like that. She said she thinks about him every day.  And in that instant I realized that not only had she lived a terrible, aching loss of her own, but she relived it through me because our conversation brought back memories of all that pain.  For the first time in a long time I was overcome with an emotion that was not my own grief.  I’m not even sure what it was.  Compassion?  Understanding? Guilt, shame or embarrassment over not having known and never having asked?  Probably a bit of all of those.  I recognized that she had lived through pain that was similar to my own.  A terrible, life altering loss.  The kind from which one never fully recovers.  A kind of loss like mine.  And although I had clearly understood on some subconscious level that there was more going on for her than just consoling an old, casual friend from the past, I had never stopped to ask her.  I had never asked her why she seemed to understand so well, or why she clearly felt my pain so deeply.  I should have asked.  It never occurred to me that she could have ever had reason to grieve like I do.

Over the last 19 months I have never paused to ask her, or any of the other unexpected and random people who showed up to help for reasons unknown, why they seemed to understand just a little bit more than everyone else.  I know why most people showed up.  It was because they loved Ben, or they love me, or both, and we have close, ongoing relationships.  But why had certain people, some almost strangers, shown up unexpectedly and knowing exactly how to help or exactly what to say?  After all, these people didn’t know me well and couldn’t possibly know a pain like mine, right?

Clearly, I was wrong.

With regards to my friend who disclosed that her brother had been killed, I could probably use the excuse that we had never had the opportunity to develop and nurture a close relationship, so how could I have been expected to ask her if she had reason to know my pain?  But the thing is … on some level I did know.  I knew because her overt sadness on my behalf was more than most others felt.  I could inherently feel that it was different, and I have felt that difference on a couple of other occasions.  I’ve felt the difference from people who were merely acquaintances in my ‘real life’ but who felt compelled to reach out to me in a way that was subtly different from the rest.  One of them, I later learned, had lost her sister when she was a teen.  Three others had lost their fathers when they were kids, and therefore knew the pain that my children would be enduring.  I had not known, but I feel like I should have.  I feel like I should have asked.

So basically, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.  I’ve been acknowledging that my pain is great, but there are others out there who experience it also.  (Although, as I’ve mentioned before, my pain is most certainly greater than those who lost a pet.  I will stand behind that statement forever.)  There are hurting hearts out there all over the place, and I never knew it.  Somehow, all these people managed pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward, and then use what they learned to be able to help people in need, like myself.  They understand how much it hurts to have your heart broken, but they demonstrate how to be brave enough to allow it to break all over again for someone else, just so they can help that person.

A local Mountie was killed in an accident within the last couple of weeks, and he left behind his wife and two young boys. My heart hurts because I know what is in store for her.  A mutual friend sent me a text assuring me that he and several other coworkers will take care of that family always.  When I read those words I couldn’t help but think, “I know you mean it.  I know you really, really mean it.  I believe you mean it.  But unfortunately, it’s just not true.  It’s not true because all of your lives will go on, just as they should, yet her husband will remain dead.  You may help her with the insurance paperwork, you may collect her husband’s uniform, and you may text or call her or drop in once in awhile.  And all those things are nice and so well intentioned, but every Christmas you will be with your own family.  You will not be with her on her wedding anniversary.  You will not be waking up beside her in the morning.  She has to do all those things and more on her own. ”

I sent the member’s wife a message and let her know that I know.  She has, most unfortunately, just become an unwilling member of the exclusive club that no one wants to join.  So if she needs me, if she needs someone who really knows, I will try to be the person for her that other ‘almost strangers’ have been for me.  Because they knew.  And I know too.

Recently I was reading through my blog and I came across a comment that was written by my friend two years ago in response to the pain I was suffering.  She wrote, “Oh my woman … how can a heart break so many times and still we live?  It must have superpowers.”  How true those words ring to me now, as I recognize all those hearts out there that have been shattered in the past, and still they put themselves back out there to help the next one.  To be able to not only live after heartbreak but to use that pain to help ease the suffering of others is indeed a great, great superpower.  I will not close my eyes to the pain of others any more.  I choose that superpower.