When this publishes, it will be four and a half months since my husband Jeff died of a heart attack. It will also be my first birthday in a decade that he wasn’t a part of.
I’m not saying that to garner sympathy. It’s more of a statement of fact. I’m still adjusting to things.
When he died, the world did end. The world I knew and lived in ended. This is a new world for me and I’m not used it yet. I had to run an errand the Wednesday after he died. I still needed to get my time sheet signed so I could get my next paycheck. As I drove to the office, I actually found myself surprised to see so many people acting normally, like reality hadn’t just shifted. Didn’t they realize what had happened? It took a while for that feeling to go away. In some ways, this world still doesn’t feel real to me. It can’t without him in it.
When someone who is a part of your daily life, who is the center of your world and has become a part of who you are, dies… there aren’t actually words to describe.
Part of me left the day he died. Yes, he will always be a part of me, but not in the day to day, daily routine, constant checking in with each other way we had for so long. Other than the websites like this one, Jeff was the only thing in this world that I gave all of myself to. The only thing.
When we got together in 2007, we said we didn’t complete each other. We complimented each other. One of us would be strong where the other was weak. We grounded each other. We kept each other in check, but we were both fully distinct individuals. After 10 years, that changes. You become, in a very real way, a single unit. While we never thought of ourselves as joined at the hip, I’ve realized how much we were connected. And thinking about that loss of connection can still bring me to tears. It will for a very long time.
I have been lucky in not feeling alone. We were poly and had others that were part of our lives and an absolutely incredible chosen family. My own family stepped up as well. I really wouldn’t have gotten through the first week without my pup Bayard, Jeff’s title son Shadi and our chosen sister Sarah along with so many others. But I have struggled to know who I am again. I’m not the person I was 10 years ago. The person who had the largest role in who I am now isn’t there to be the anchor. For the first time in at least half my life, it feels like I’m going through life without adult supervision. It’s fucking scary.
You get used to the loss. You don’t really recover or heal. You just learn what the new normal is. Things that didn’t stress you out before do now. Things that did stress you before double in strength. You learn to deal with it, or not. I know there’s been a couple of bridges that are at least scorched if not burned because of me not handling it. I cry more easily and almost randomly sometimes. I broke into tears making a meal the other day, simply because it had been Jeff’s favorite and I hadn’t had it in a while. I can’t handle ambulances coming down the street I live on anymore, because the last time I saw him, he was being loaded into an ambulance that was parked out front.
Then there’s all the firsts. The first Valentine’s Day without Jeff came just four days after he died. The first wedding anniversary a week later. Just piled all the fun into the first two weeks. The first Illinois Leather Contest, where Jeff was music director, was just a month and a half later. The first IML, and fifth anniversary of our civil union, was just two more months after that. I’ve wound up having very quiet and intense freak outs at each one of those. I’ve also managed to seem almost normal, usually. I really have no idea when things will hit or how. I have no idea how my birthday will be.
Grief comes in waves. I call the times the grief is strong “high tide.” It doesn’t go away. It may lessen for a bit, but it’s always there. I’ll be enjoying myself with something and I’ll have my impulse to tell Jeff about it… and I can’t, not directly. And my stomach twists again. The twists aren’t as strong or as often as they were the first month, but they still happen. And they will. I don’t even try to fight them anymore. You can’t fight the tide.
There really isn’t anything anyone can say that helps. I did notice the people who lost spouses didn’t even try. They just hugged me. Because they knew.
However, there are some things that shouldn’t be said, generally. If I hear “Just take it one day at a time,” I will grab a two-by-four and start swinging. I know it’s meant well, but after 30 times, it gets just a little irritating. Same with “Call me if you need anything.” Especially the first week and month, I was barely sane much less up for reaching out to others. Give specifics of what you can do and, to a degree, just do what will help. Don’t worry about asking. Odds are good there will be a couple of people who are managing things who can tell you what’s needed. Those closest, they are in shock. They are barely aware of themselves much less anything else. Plan accordingly.
I also simply don’t have the bandwidth I used too. I don’t engage like I used to, in many of the debates and issues. I… can’t. There are days when I’m doing pretty good to pretend like I’m a whole person. I simply can’t manage the emotions and anger that come up. The last time it happened was two weeks ago and I’m still clawing back from the hole it put me into. That’s not even including the damage I did to others. It hurts not to help more. But right now, the costs are far too high.
It won’t always be like this. But there is also no schedule to get through all of this. I also won’t completely heal from it either. Some things you don’t heal from. You just get used to the scars and the aches.
Daddy Tom is the publisher and founder of Great Lakes Den. He lives in Chicago with his pup. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.