Today is the third year anniversary of Jim’s passing. Three years seems to be a significant marker in terms of grieving the passing of a spouse. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Maybe the books say the same thing. I don’t know. I rely more on what my experienced friends tell me. At any rate here’s what I’m experiencing.
Last night it was dark and cold when I left work. The stars weren’t out yet and the temperature was in the 40s. I made a plan to take a different route home in order to stop by the store to pick up a few things – soup for dinner, lemon biscotti for an appetizer and for dessert, and a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The drive home is about 50 minutes. Knowing this I settled in with the radio on my favorite station and I ease my way along.
Before I knew it I had passed the turn that would take me to the store so I had to circle back. Just as well because I spotted an accident up ahead and would’ve needed to find a way around it. Now I’m heading to the shopping center from a different direction. As I pull up to the intersection leading to the store memories start to surface.
To my left is the Jiffy lube. A few nights prior to Jim’s surgery as I was driving away from the hospital I noticed a strange smell from my car. The dashboard had a small glowing red triangle that I hadn’t paid attention to but now the thought occurred to me that these two things could be connected. Jim’s sister was with me. She had flown in to see him. I told her about the warning light and she scrambled through the car’s manual and found what it referred to. I can’t remember what it was but I think it had something to do with the tires. We were on our way to a furniture store when I saw the Jiffy Lube.
They were getting ready to close and I wasn’t sure Jiffy Lube worked on tires. Isn’t this where you get your oil changed? But I pulled in and frantically explained my situation – husband in the hospital, warning light, strange smell – could you please check my tires? The man graciously helped at no charge, but I wanted to give him a tip. All I had was something like $3. I gave it to him and said it wasn’t much but he might be able to get an ice cream cone. Yes, I really said that because there was a Baskin Robbins nearby. My sister-in-law laughed and suggested that wasn’t the best thing to say to a man who was obviously over weight.
As I mentioned we were on our way to a furniture store. At the time Jim was in the hospital getting ready for open-heart surgery we had very little furniture. Most of our belongings were in storage in California. I was shopping for a reclining sofa or chair to make Jim’s recovery easier. We picked a sofa and purchased it. Days later I cancelled the order.
I pull into the shopping center and I see the furniture store. Getting out of my car and walking through the parking lot in the cold and starless night, just like the night three years ago, I start to feel the memories. They embrace me.
The first year of my grief was a storm of emotions and memories. You know the phrase about seeing your life pass before your eyes? That’s what it was like only it didn’t happen in a moment. It happened in months. My life with Jim would play vividly in my mind like a movie, like a living photo album. I thought about things I hadn’t thought about in years – us dating, our wedding, our honeymoon, our first apartment, our babies, etc. All my feelings were so intense. There’s a reason you’re told not to make any major decisions in the first year. You’re not living in the present. You’re living your whole life at once. It’s hard to explain.
The second year of my grief was a storm of a different kind. It included a financial crisis. What made this particularly difficult was going through it alone. I didn’t have Jim by my side. I had to figure this out on my own. This was another layer of grief. Who could I talk to? Who could I trust? Who would understand? My life had already drastically changed. Was it going to drastically change again? I had already lost much. Was I going to lose more? Thank God, I made it through. Truly, I thank God.
This third year has been about taking care of business and getting ready for the future. This year has been about moving forward, letting go of some of the current grief and cutting the cord on old grief. (I spent the summer sorting through Brandon’s things. I will tell you about that in another essay.)
Coming into the third year I had hopeful expectations of being lifted above the deep sorrow and painful aloneness. I’ve been keenly aware of my progress being careful not to move too slow or too fast. I check myself by asking God to lead me. He has given me direction as I spend time in prayer and meditate on His Scripture. He has created circumstances and brought people my way to help me navigate through these difficult years. Again, I truly thank God.
This year I felt compelled to push myself through the grieving a little faster. I don’t know why except that I was starting to get worried about keeping Jim’s clothes in the closet and his toiletries in the bathroom. Three years in and it seemed a little scary like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
In the first year I tried sorting through Jim’s clothes I put his picture on the dresser to talk to him as I did so. I could clearly imagine him telling me to get rid of it all, but I countered with couldn’t I just pack him a bag in case he came back? I ended up keeping almost half of his clothes and I didn’t take anything off the door rack for nearly two years so I could bury my face and hug the hanging shirts and pants when needed.
Going through Jim’s clothes and toiletries this time around was much easier. Their grip on me had changed to a light hold. I did keep a few things that I’ll wear myself and I threw or gave away the rest. I did it and patted myself on my back – good job done.
Even as I write this it seems ridiculous that I had such a struggle with clothes. They weren’t even good clothes. Jim was never a dapper dresser. This makes me laugh. Now that’s some progress!
Heaviness settles over me beginning in October on Jim’s birthday and with the oncoming of fall and the holidays. I become sensitive to the fact he won’t be around for the season. There are all kinds of memory triggers. I’ve become quite adept to managing triggers and surrounding myself with what is hopeful and helpful.
The leading up to the anniversary of Jim’s passing gives me a foreboding sense like I might fall apart on that day, or I should do something significant to honor him. This year I honored him by sharing his music on Facebook. It was a powerful experience for me and so much better than keeping old clothes.
Now the day has come and I’m not about to fall apart!