(Don and me- April 2019)
In two months, I’m getting married for the second time. This means my household will be growing by two on October 5th— my new husband, and my bonus preteen daughter. In order to make room for them I’ve been cleaning, organizing, and purging unnecessary things. Many of the things I’ve been finding have been belongings of my late husband Chris’s that I haven’t laid eyes on (or at least touched) in a few years. Some were ridiculous things to have and easy to get rid of, such as his FAFSA paperwork from 2004.
Other things held more emotional value to me. Even the thought of moving them from my office to the basement or giving them to another close family member was difficult. A bookshelf in my office held a plastic tote of belongings that had been cleaned out of his work van & given to me after he died. There was a sun-faded photo booth strip of us, a first aid kid, and an old melted tube of Burt’s bees chapstick. There was a professional photo of our infant daughter, slightly bent from being hung from the visor...
Then there was an object that I instinctively knew it was time to let go of. Against my better judgment, I placed the cherrywood box in my lap and opened it. This had lived on his nightstand and was the place he emptied his pockets each night before bed. Loose change, chapstick, his moleskin notebook of ideas… The box wasn’t anything special in and of itself but it was something associated with us going to bed at night; with our marriage, with a time when life was normal… With my life in the “before” when things were intact. Inside was an ink pen, some sample size “manly” bath & body works lotion, and some coral he’d picked up on a trip to Haiti the summer before he died. I closed my eyes and sucked in some deep breaths. Here was the searing pain. This was a remembrance of our last two years together, definitely the most beautiful years we had spent side by side. In those years we had bought a home and welcomed our first child. In addition, those last couple years had contained the best versions of us and the healthiest part of our marriage. (Not to say we ever had a “bad” marriage per se, but seeing as we got married at 20, there was a lot of maturing to do early on. The first few years were more stressful interpersonally than the last 2-3).
My fiancé Don walked into the room and could tell something wasn’t right with me. He asked about it. I admitted I wasn’t quite okay, but wasn’t very forthcoming. He was in and out of the room a few times. At one point when I was alone again, I opened a box of baby things from my girls. There was a little keepsake box I had labeled “umbilical cords”. They were dehydrated by my doulas and thus preserved. I took them out one at a time. These had been my children’s lifelines in the womb. I held Abbi’s first, forever shaped into a heart. I remembered her birth. Then I placed hers back in the tissue paper and gingerly picked up Aurora’s, made into an infinity symbol. I heard steps on the stairs. I carefully but quickly rewrapped the delicate cords and placed them back in the box.
Don walked back in and asked me again if I was okay. I admitted that I wasn’t, not really. When he asked why and I still wasn’t talkative, he asked again, “It’s hard going through Chris’ stuff, isn’t it?”
Bingo. Nail on the head, honey. The tears welled up in my eyes and Don told me to come over to where he was sitting. He wrapped his arms around me. I explained that I’d been trying not to talk to him about this… He reminded me that he wanted me to be able to talk to him about anything and everything— and that it did not bother him to hear about me missing Chris. Now my tears really started to fall because of the relief. “He was your husband. This has to be hard. I know that you’re always going to love him. But I also know that you love me. And I’m so excited to marry you.”
Now I spoke freely through my tears. I cried over the solid black twin size comforter that I didn’t need. It shouldn’t seem like anything to cry over, but it’s what Chris had on his bed in his room when we started dating. Black was his favorite color. We watched lots of movies on that thing. Lots of long conversations happened there. And yes, my first kiss— as in ever— happened on that stupid black comforter at age 17. Don just held me in his arms and let me weep over my dead.
Later that evening, the little girls were in bed and I was still struggling emotionally. This isn’t terribly uncommon— I suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and when I’m triggered, sometimes it takes a few days to shake something off. Don caught me in the hall upstairs and asked me to sit and talk for a bit. We sat in my room. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that just because he and I were getting married, DID NOT MEAN he expected me to remove Chris from my life.
I began to sob uncontrollably. How had he read my mind? I’d suddenly had this fear for the last few days that in order to create my new marriage, I had to somehow “turn off” widowhood or have less Chris in my life. Because yes, Chris is dead. And no, Chris does not need my devotion any more, this is true.
But here was Don, giving me permission to continue. To continue to love both my men, living and dead. To grieve when I needed to grieve, to rejoice when I needed to rejoice, to have photos up and to keep my blog active, and to never give up my “widow card”. We both acknowledged that grief would not always be as present in my life as it had been in recent years, but also that it would not simply disappear. He specifically made sure I knew that it did not bother him for me to talk about Chris any time I needed to.
Last night on our way home from (church) small group, I asked Don if he would take us by Chris’ grave. I hadn’t been there in a few months but with all the things I’d been feeling over the last couple days I wanted to go. He took us, no questions asked. I directed him to the cemetery and then to the graves of my husband and my dad, two of the four plots on a headstone. My daughters climbed on top of the gravestone like always, admired fake flowers, and ran around. Between having been there many times and trusting that Daddy Chris is in heaven, they don’t ever seem sad visiting the grave. I’m not sure what I needed from visiting the grave last night, except perhaps to go there with Don. It was a huge show of his character to take us there; to the place where we buried (the body of) my first love.
Up until this past week, the thought of marriage to Don had only brought me joy— no mixed emotions at all. That is the tricky thing about grief, though. It wears many faces and loves to sneak up on you when you least expect it. Each step of moving forward in my life, of moving on, is essentially also another step of letting go. This is important and good. It’s growth and it is necessary. Growth, however, does not come without its aches and pains. The precious thing I hang on to is that in this growth process— as evidenced by all the above— I have been given the absolute perfect man to stand by my side through it all. He refuses to watch me drown when my life seems overwhelming.
I am so loved, sacrificially and selflessly. I am so blessed. I thank God every day for putting this amazing man in my life. I can hardly wait to meet him at the altar.