Marking Time on the Journey

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I made the right choice for me. I spent the week that included Valentine’s Day and the first anniversary date of Dave’s death, February 15, in Costa Rica.

Yep. I boarded a plane, actually two, to literally leave the country and my growing anticipated angst behind. Promises of sunshine and no pressure to do anything but act spontaneously, and spend time with a good (therapist) friend, was too much to resist.

When I attended Harmony Hill in December I had declared a desire to travel, something Dave and I couldn’t do together due to his health and choice. I’ve doubted my own current physical ability to travel because my previous plane trip two weeks after Dave died had horrible consequences on my inner ear. Whether it was circumstantial or coincidental, I’m not sure. I just knew at the time that my symptoms were worsening rapidly. Nonetheless, I have wondered if I could fly again, even with great improvements since surgery. So when my friend Gina said she was spending her first week unescorted in Costa Rica for elective dental work (medical tourism is big in San Jose), I thought this was a great opportunity to bravely travel and test out my ears; to bravely step out of my comfort zone by exploring a new world to me; and to bravely follow up with myself by turning a dream into action.

It didn’t initially occur to me that the travel dates fell during this anniversary week. When Gina pointed it out and Leah unhesitatingly said “go” I embraced the chance. I also felt greatly relieved of responsibility to be anything for anyone else in their grief. (That’s a rather significant insight, actually. How many times is grief thwarted or magnified by our own or someone else’s usually unstated expectations?) I knew that Gina would be lying low because of the dental work and that I would have both support and space in any form I might need.

With retrospection, the week in Costa Rica represents many aspects of my recent changed life. I dared, I wrote, I looked to find myself. I spent time and shared deep conversations with a friend. I laughed. I bathed in the sun. I exposed my senses for a foreign land and people. I rested my mind and my body. I met people from around the world and touched lives with strangers who also touched mine. I stumbled upon synchronicity and serendipity. There were things left unfinished and unfulfilled, giving meaning and desire to “next time.”

I reflected only briefly on Dave’s death and only pondered his life and our lives in small doses. I booked a day-long tour by myself on the fifteenth. I diverted any energy that might be spent on his death onto an adventure into nature.  And for me, it was the right thing to do.

When I stepped back on U.S. ground to change planes in Phoenix, it hit me: You can’t deny grief. It awaits you regardless of where you’ve been. I welled up in a momentary memory of the pain of loss. Vacation only postpones reality. Like any vacation I had to return home. To an empty house.

Surprisingly, I don’t have a tale of how awful it was to be home. In fact the cats were welcoming and I was happily anticipating the familiarity and comfort of my own bed. I didn’t think or flash a thought that Dave would be waiting or calling out hello when I entered the threshold. (That came fleetingly through me the first night in Costa Rica in my room when I was settling in and thinking I needed to call him.) I was simply home again.

Shifting the sands of time

This year marker is a definite shift for me. As I came into my journal to catch up on thoughts, it’s given me the perspective only writing in the moment and reading later is meant to do. My perspective from writing over the past couple of years shows how grief really has transformed me from the inside out — the deep pain, the old, growing and emerging types of love, the emotions of giving and receiving, all the alone-ness and all the community. There has been a shift from us to me in this span of journals.

I’ve had many conversations with family and professional caregivers about the analogous thread between death and birth. Both are profoundly difficult to articulate if you ask me. I have felt yet one more parallel in the journey of intersecting birth, life and death with this anniversary of the first year. It is an ironic liberation.

When our daughter Leah turned 18 years old I was happy for her, but I still felt very much an active parent. I could see her adulthood and that she could be responsible but I continued to feel responsible in many ways. However at her 21st birthday, I felt joy! I was liberated! I was confident that she was truly her own person. It was just a date, but something significant had changed inside me about how I felt. Perhaps the difference was as much a societal expectation as was my personal sense of duty. Giving birth to her and learning love though her eyes shifted. It was time for me to send her out to make an impact on her world. And I was free to impact my own in new ways. I will always be her parent, her mom, and I will always do everything in my power to support her happy, healthy life. Yet we are separate and truly independent. I had longed to be a mom from an early age, yet when this moment of separation appeared I could let it go. When she turned 21, I felt that both she and I were liberated to our own beings even as we will always remain connected.

This year anniversary of Dave’s death marks a similar liberation. In a mixture of societal and personal expectation, I breathe a real sense of freedom. Inside me I will always identify with being Dave’s wife and friend. I will always have a part of me missing his ways and quirks and love. I will continue to yearn for our conversations and observations of life together. The symbolic ring of eternity stays on my left hand for now. But, now that I am through the year of firsts and the first year of loss, I am liberated from not knowing what grief may (or may not) be like. It’s just a date, but it’s significant. I acknowledged Dave’s death on February 15, but I observe the life changing nature of the passing of my loved one. I honor the lives that go on in front of me. He gave all he knew the best way possible. I gave all I could the best way possible. I am liberated to go forth alone, while knowing that he and I will always remain connected.


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