How did I remember my husband on the third anniversary of his death? While my daughter was at daycare, I set up a shrine with my favorite picture of him, candles scented like his favorite plants, cooked his signature Thai chicken red curry, and cracked open a Rolling Rock to toast him. It was a sacred ritual of remembrance of which I will be forever proud and I felt his spirit was truly present.
How did I make time for my precious self on this date? I took a hike in the foothills of the Sierras, received a luscious spa treatment, and reread old journals, remembering how far I've come. I ate bon-bons and watched gardening shows. Then I had my Broadway debut. The crowd showered me with roses, from which they had considerately removed every last thorn.
Yeah, right. That was total bullshit. IRL, I had lunch with a girlfriend, went to the post office to ship off a $350 book of his that I’d sold, and bought two white shirts at Target and two pink ones for my girl. I mentioned the anniversary in simplest terms to my Facebook friends and Twitterverses. Those 24 hours were nothing special.
But during the two weeks surrounding the anniversary I also: imagined that Mr. Fresh was due for a heart attack, took to my bed for 3 hour naps, and believed I needed a CT scan to detect a fantasy brain tumor. I had several major headaches, the usual fatigue, and miscellaneous cramps and aches.
Sad anniversaries, for me, are marked by murkiness, muddy thinking, and emotions that lie in ambush behind fog. Around the time of the anniversary of my husband’s death or diagnosis, his birthday, and sometimes around my father’s birthday or death anniversary, I take special care to drive carefully and avoid making decisions. I want to stave off any disaster that is cruising for me. But I’m always surprised when I can’t think well or when an emotion leaps out and grabs me.
I think I need to hear to my own advice: “Listen to your body. Grieving is physical and inevitable. The body knows.”
This muddy feeling and lack of articulation about everything (which led me to not be able to write anything more than 140 characters) must be my brain, unable to read the feelings. The body goes on, processes, moves, and grows, and my heart is healing, but my brain can’t deal with it.
But grieving isn’t rational. It’s not just intellectual or emotional learning -- it uses everything, just like life does. And it’s not a weakness, you can build your strength to any degree and it will still be there. If you don’t want it, it’s happy to hide for a while. It’s not penance, you can’t pay it off with 72 Hail Mary’s or a novena.
Grieving becomes you. It changes as you do, but it never leaves. Several times a year I forget this, and sublimate, and stay safe. I might pray or pick flowers or apply special ritual band-aids. But each anniversary is still real -- the shadow of something that sucks but isn’t happening now.
Maybe it will look at me straight if I invite it out from behind the curtain. Perhaps, like the Little Prince’s fox, it can be tamed. I’m not sure. If I'm smart, next time I’ll be looking for something dark gray, not a warning sign. But I’ll still stick to the speed limit.
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