I’ve spent the holiday week in Copenhagen at my sister, Mal’s, house. “You don’t have to try to smile,” she tells me, “It looks like it’s hard today, and you don’t have to do that with me.” She watches my gaze slide to the floor when a room’s silent and I think she sees I’m scrolling through the memories that got me here. He bought our tickets. I cancelled his. I came alone.
There's a difference between being a tourist and traveling to visit family. It means we go to the grocery store. We pick up my little nephew from school. I eat lots I shouldn’t. I ask about my brother-in-law’s job, and he listens to me talk about Jim. We watch movies and drink tea. The time here isn’t the go-see or find-trinkets kind, and while I can’t help but laugh with any of my sisters, I often find that laughter can’t get to my eyes. But they are my family and they’re patient with me. They wish he was here too. Last year Jim and I met Nick and Mal in Milan so the guys could go ski the Matterhorn. While I’m glad they got to do that before he died, it isn’t comforting.
|Venice last year after Nick and Jim crushed the Alps.|
My version of the denial piece of grieving seems to look a lot like incredulity. Wait. It’s real? . . . What about now? Is it still real now? And now? Seriously? Still? I smell Jim’s cologne on his t-shirt that I keep tucked in my bed, and at the inhale I remember smelling it on him after a shower and saying, “You smell like my husband,” and I with that I recall what his back felt like under my hands while he fell asleep. I linger in a remembering space longer than a wife of the living would. Yes, Megan, it’s real. You can’t make a new memory. No more slipping into the laundry room to make out when company’s over or thanking him for vacuuming cobwebs on the porch. What you have is all there is.
My version of the anger stage isn’t anger with Jim for getting on the plane or for the pilot for crashing it. It’s at the exhausting business of death and the insensitivity surrounding the stuff that has to happen after your someone croaks. So what he made you feel pretty and took comfort that you drive the safest car? His death is just a death. Sign these papers and go cancel his gym memberships.
And Depression isn’t a stage of grieving. It’s the norm. The shifts come by way of how the depression shows up. Today it feels like sandbags on my shoulders. Today it feels like boards over the doors. And today it feels like why-can’t-I-just-take-another-Ambien-and-pass-the-hell-out-to-just-skip-this-day. After he died a few friends asked if I was going to see about upping my antidepressant dose. No. While I am on board with knocking myself out at night so I don’t spend eight hours stretching my arm into his side of the bed to feel that it’s still tight and cold, you can’t medicate away sadness. And Jim’s memory warrants feeling it all. I want to feel the tonnage of disconsolation because to do otherwise makes less of what he was.
But it makes me tiresome. I dwell. I make death-related jokes that turn conversation awkward. I fixate on memories. The number of Jim-stories I’ve got is finite, so I tell the same ones a lot. The reverence surrounding a death and the tiptoeing around a new widow means that no one tells me to stop. “We’ve heard this story before. Ten times.” “Stop saying that he ‘does’ things. Present tense doesn’t belong to you anymore.” No one can tell me to shut up without immediately becoming a colossal jackass. I’m a 34-year-old widow. The dead guy’s deified, but I’m the one they fear.
When I make comments about wishing to die, my people get uneasy. “You’re not going to, like, hurt yourself,” some say, some ask. No. I’m not that girl. But, man, I wish I was dead. It’s not that I want to bail on those here or cause myself more pain. I just want to be with my person. As that’s not an option, I’d prefer not to be here at all. The death-wish is hollow though; instead of taking action I'll just wish and waste.
Because of this: I’m still Jim’s wife. While wasting and pretty damn worthless, I still have somewhere a spark of what my husband loved. Jim was likable on sight, good at everything, and generous with all. It made him something special, and I was worthy of him. I’ve been dynamic and determined. I’ve dug out from ashes. I’ve accomplished hard things. His death is the hardest to get through, and I know that the me on the other side will be changed. My grief is about waiting. I wait for the tears and wait for them to stop. I wait to accept the void of my new normal. And I wait for pieces of the old me to find their way forward. I’ve got a feeling that the parts that made me Jim's are the parts that will pull me to my feet when I’ve waited long enough.