How on earth am I supposed to do this?
How do I say goodbye to the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with? How do I close the book on our story and move on with my story while our story seems so heartbreakingly incomplete? How do I stay strong when the task before me is letting go of the person who taught me to recognize my own inner strength? How do I act at all, when every action I take moves my life towards being more about me, and less about us?
How do I provide our daughter with the wholeness and completeness she needs so badly right now, especially now, when there’s nothing inside me but an emptiness, a sense of something missing?
And how do I do all of these things now, at what is rapidly becoming the most painful and frustrating point of this never-ending deadly pandemic? How do I deal with the challenges that come with watching the death toll begin to sharply climb, largely the result of ignorance and campaigns of misinformation? There had been this one bright spot in our world after Dove’s sudden death – the future held an opportunity to go to more places and see more people in a healing, post-vaccination world. Playdates, classes, meetups. All were being penciled in on our calendar. How do I look into the face of my grieving child and explain to her that even that is now being torn away? How?!?
I have done hard things before. Most of the time, the process is familiar. I see the challenge before me. I look inside and find the strength and courage I need. And then I grit my teeth and do the hard thing. But the circumstances that life has thrown at me in this moment present a different challenge entirely. I look at the agony and heartbreak involved in moving on with my life without Dove’s strength, support, and love, and I realize that I can’t do this. I know deep down that this time I can’t do the hard thing. I cannot step willingly into that pain, any more than I could knowingly place my hand in the center of a raging inferno. There are limits to the emotional capacity that I possess. So, I sit with the alternative. I don’t move on. I don’t focus my attention on my life today. Instead, I dwell on the life I was living before he died, trying to preserve everything internally and externally, in a crystalized, unchanging state. That was the time when things were good. Everything will be fine if I can just go back to that. And there I sit – unmoving, unchanging. And it seems comfortable at first – safe, familiar, and painless. But eventually I begin to realize the horrible truth. I gradually realize that the world I’m living in is frozen and lifeless. Dove is gone, no matter where I am, no matter what I do. And then – slowly, slowly – the ice starts to burn more fiercely than the fire.
I find myself facing a terrible choice. I can step into the fire. I can accept the searing pain of Dove’s death. I can grieve for him. I can let him go and figure out how to put together a life without him. Or I can stay frozen in the past, never acknowledging that the life I had been living is irretrievable. I can choose life and growth, or I can choose stagnation and death. It’s a choice we all face time and time again, in one way or another. I’m coming to believe that in the end, it’s the only choice any of us actually make. Choosing the fire feels like death, but it’s the only path that allows me to continue to live. Choosing the ice feels like I’m holding on to life, but something that is frozen can never really live.
And so, I do the hard thing. The thing my brain is telling me quite clearly that I certainly cannot do. I embrace the stabbing pain that overwhelms me when I’m overcome by waves of grief. It is so much more than grieving for the loss of my husband. I’m grieving for the wonderful ways we worked together as a family. I’m grieving for Cat’s loss of her adoring and devoted father. I’m just starting to realize exactly how much of my own identity was connected with the man that I loved, because that identity is lost to me too, now. I have to let all of that go. And then the time will come to begin the painful process of sorting through the wreckage and rebuilding myself from the broken pieces of my soul.