Marking Time

Welcome to 2020 – both a new year and a new decade, and my favorite time of year. Twenty years ago I was an IBM executive, on watch that New Year’s Eve as we anticipated catastrophe during Y2K. We spent New Year’s Eve with friends and for the first time let all of our kids join in the celebration. Ten years I celebrated New Year’s Eve by preparing an extravagant ten-course dinner for friends. The meal lasted so long we nearly missed the ball drop. Five years ago, I prepared a classic Italian Feast of Seven Fishes for our New Year’s Eve dinner with friends.

Then, everything changed. Three years ago, New Year’s Eve was a non-event as Greg struggled to survive. Two years ago, I was still so broken, and my friends gathered me into a protective bear hug when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. I was stronger last year, and made it through the celebration without tears, but still unclear about where my life was heading.

We all mark time like this, reflecting on our memories, remembering the past and anticipating the future. But for those suffering from loss, marking time takes on a very different tone.

“I can’t believe it’s been eight months since we lost him,” her email shared. She has two grade school aged children and she’s young – far too young to be widowed. I empathized with her immediately, fully understanding that need that comes after loss, that need to recall each painful memory. I was there myself not that long ago, unable to stop reliving the events that had happened.

October 21, his collapse in the Madrid airport
November 24, Thanksgiving, without my kids
December 14, the long, surreal flight home from Spain
December 25, that painful first Christmas alone
January 1, New Year’s Eve, without my annual party or him
February 14, the day they removed his trach,
a Valentine’s gift, the nurse said
April 20, alone on our anniversary
April 22, sitting in my hot tub and seeking clarity
April 24, the bitterly sad, painful day he died
June 21, the celebration of his life
September 30, my first birthday without him

I made my way through that cycle twice, from his initial collapse in October of 2016 until the second anniversary of his death in April of 2019, reliving each painful date as they approached and passed. But then, a subtle shift happened. Once I had passed that second anniversary, I no longer seemed to have the need to recall the dates. When I met a man this past summer, my world changed, and I realized I wanted to focus on happiness and the future, not sadness and the past. And so, I no longer fixated on marking time with each anniversary of a milestone. Progress I thought, healing of sorts. And relief that I could make it through these dates now without the fear that a massive wave of grief would once again knock me to my knees.

My new outlook continued until December 14th.

Number Four’s kids and grandkids were coming to our house for dinner for the first time. It would be a chance for me to get to know his family better, a fun night of making pasta, drinking wine, and sharing an evening together. When I mentioned to Number Four that it happened to be the anniversary of the date Greg and I had flown home from Spain, he offered to cancel, concerned the day was going to be too tough for me. “No, I’m looking forward to the evening with all of the kids,” I countered. “No, really, I’m fine.”

And I was fine. Until late that evening after everyone had gone home and suddenly, without warning, I began to cry. Not because of the memory of the surreal flight home from Spain three years earlier. Not even specifically because I had lost Greg. It was just that seeing all of Number Four’s kids with their Dad, hearing them say “love you dad” as they hugged him goodbye, forced me to remember what my family lost – and it broke my heart all over again. My kids no longer have their dad in their lives, I was reminded so vividly that night, and they’ll never be able to hug him again.

Fortunately, I passed through that wave of grief quickly. Christmas and New Year’s came and went in a blur, full of family, parties, friends, and celebrations, full of joy and notably without tears. While I’m grateful to have made it this far in my journey, grateful that the milestones and anniversaries don’t have the power to crush me like they once did, I’m even more grateful that I have someone who will hold me, listen, and let me cry when they do.

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