Each year since my husband’s death in 2016, when August rolls around I dread it. It is creepy, and while it is getting better, it is still something I am dealing with. Earlier this month I posted on my Instagram account. When I saw this shot it gave me the creeps. I have been in this creepy, stormy place in my mind. Having to go in once again didn’t thrill me. Then something happened.
When I showed this photo to a friend, he exclaimed: “I’ve stood in this very place!” He proceeded to tell me about this spot, which was in Maine, where the villagers watch the storms that come in. As he talked about his childhood, and what that place meant to him, I began to see life and love in the photo.
Maybe it was time for me to attempt a rethink of August. In having these thoughts, I wondered how that could happen. When I think about August now, the rush of memories of where we were and what was happening during those weeks leading up to his death assaults me every time I open the calendar on my desktop. Was it even possible to consider a rethink as an option?
In my personal work around his death, I’ve reached the place where the good days far outweigh the bad days. My appointment book and calendar are filled with things that make me happy and inspire me.
So, I got thinking that this round of August was going to be so much better. It was—until my individual appointment with the person I work with on a spiritual level. She took me into this familiar place. As the tears came, I realized what I’d been fighting and I talked through it. Several hours later as I sat at my computer, the depression crept up strongly, and the urge to shut it all down was great. But I didn’t.
As I sat on my bed dripping soothing eye drops into both eyes, it hit me: This is not where I want to be now! My calendar and appointment schedule are doing what I hoped they’d do when I returned to work. I’m happy about where I am and the work I’m doing. Four years later I can accept the awful that I’m feeling in the here and now, but it doesn’t have to stay around. While I know what that dark, stormy place looks and feels like, I’m not in that place anymore. I’m seeing things in new ways!
I can’t tell you when the shift happened. I can’t tell you how it happened. What I can tell you is that it was slow and gentle, and it involved my willingness to stay on this path that I’m walking on. It involved confronting the old self, being willing to engage with questions, and visiting change. Some things weren’t new to me, and others were.
Grief and loss call us to an encounter with ourselves that can be rather revolting at times. As we look in the mirror, we are asked to converse with the person staring back at us. Sometimes we must admit that what we are seeing is not something we like. At other times the image we see is one that we accept with surprise and amazement. Is this really the real me? In the moments of amazement, we are greeted with the realization that yes, I’m really doing this! Yes, what I thought would never change is changing. Then we’re taken to that place where we ask the “how” question: How did this come into being?
I believe it is a combination of both actions and events that propels us into these new spaces. Small successes that build self-esteem and allow us to reconstruct what might have been damaged by death or loss, or in other ways. The courage to dare to stick the toe into the water and test it to see if the water will tolerate the tiny toe. When we discover that first level of safety, we can progress. The testing of the waters is a small event. It is one that signals safety and that it might be OK to consider a tiny action. For some people the tiny action might be making a meal, going out to lunch, or picking up a book to read. It really depends on our personalities. My first foray back into the land of the living was a three-week trip to visit the U.S. and it was huge in so many ways. I returned knowing I could navigate places that were foreign to me: new public transit systems and other new places. Just shy of the month of August 2017, I realized that Jon would say I’m “rockin’ this!” To tell you the truth, I was terrified! It was a huge first, and it would take another year before I’d do it again. But this time, much closer to home. The second trip was a journey to Glasgow and Wales. It was all new and, once again, with the support of new friends, I made it—and I did well.
The landscape I called life changed with that trip. I wouldn’t trade it for anything! It opened up my mind and heart to new experiences, and as the next year unfolded and 2019 rolled around, the tears lessened, the new friendships began to take root, and now my legs were immersed in that water. It would really take all of 2019 for me to fully begin to swim in life’s waters again.
Now, as I write this with August in full swing, and 11 days left in the month, I stop, take a breath, and rethink the photo I posted earlier in the month. Yes, my life has really changed. Yes, Jon would love that I’m “rockin’ it.” Yes, the tiny events turned into larger actions. Yes, it has been hard. Yes, I’ve found ways to move on. Yes, I’ve met the old me and have kept much of her. She is new in many ways. I choose to stand tall and strong in this new place I call life.