When people find out about my loss, they invariably end up waiving claim to sorrow of their own, surrendering to what I’ve come to call the Hierarchy of Sadness. Everyone has misfortune and when friends tell me about what’s hard for them they qualify it by saying something like, “I mean, it’s nothing like what you’re dealing with . . . ” They don’t want me to think they compare their grandma’s death or rear-ending a car to losing my person and our future.
It’s unavoidable though.
We do our best to relate, dusting off our saddest thing and using it to find our way to comprehension of some kind. It’s good. It’s kindness. But also people feel like they can’t tell me their woes because I might assume they find their stuff equal to what I’m dealing with. Here’s the deal: you don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how you feel either. It’s why we talk—or write—about stuff, to reach something like understanding. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent. I don’t know what it’s like for my parents to get divorced. To lose a sibling. To lose a child. I know what having a cheating spouse felt like. I know what my own divorce felt like. I know what it feels like to become a widow.
My horrible thing that I think about all the time and weighs me down and makes me pitiful doesn’t make your problems any smaller. I don’t want people to feel like they’re not entitled to their emotions because my misfortune seems bigger. And okay, maybe it is bigger, but really it’s just different. I’m in a different place of sadness than someone separating a family or struggling with a disabled child. My sadness might debilitate or visibly alter me more, but it doesn’t nullify how your sadness affects you.
I spent the last few years breathtakingly happy. I had an incredible man, I told people about him, and I know that my story made some people wish their lives were different, maybe even more like mine. I feel like people forget—no, that they don't know—that the mass and style of how happy I got to be shouldn’t have rendered anyone else’s joy insignificant. While it’s natural for us to compare happenings and feelings, letting our judgement of the comparison invalidate how our own life experiences affect us bums me out.
That was me being nice for a minute. And I do feel like that. But generally I need to avoid looking at other people’s lives because when I slip into the inevitable comparing I usually end up invalidating people’s experiences for them. Oh, but is your partner still alive? Oh he is? How nice for you. Shut your mouth.
Random old people get under my skin. Because they’re alive. They get to be 80 and my Jim got 30 years less. I hate that I’ll probably be one of those old people some day, healthy and stuck staying alive. Come 80 I’ll have been widowed for 46 years.
It’s not uncommon for people to suggest that I’ll get married again someday. You’re kidding, right? He died. We didn’t get divorced. I’m married. The difference between my marriage and others is that I wear both our wedding rings. I didn’t marry Jim because I wasn’t good at or fine with being alone. I married Jim because he was Jim.
|Our wedding ceremony. Gay, Jim's mom, giving me his dad's ring. Though blacked from the fire, that ring survived Jim's plane crash. Now it's fixed and shiny and part of a bracelet on my wrist.|
With the right components in place, suffering can morph into healing. Admittedly I don’t want that, to heal, so whatever improvement occurs is pretty much against my will. Yet whether I want to be or not (not) I am one of those right components.
When I got divorced I was crushed with the feeling of failure. So I became an expert in redefining the win and spun losing the marriage into a victory because I lost a loser. After Jim’s death though I decided that redefining the win was stupid and quit that shit. There was no spin there that was going to make my husband getting killed a good thing. We were already each other’s great success. Alas, as I’ve said too many times to count after this tragedy, I am not stupid. And while the small boosts I can identify don’t fill the pit in my soul even a little bit, I can’t help but see them and they give me pause enough to acknowledge that everything doesn’t absolutely suck.
That acknowledging isn’t something I do enough publicly. Mostly I just bump around downcast and come off as hating everything everywhere, which, yeah, might be my most-of-the-time take, but I keep coming back to the concept that I’m not dumb. I would be dumb not to see what’s great, and there is a boatload. You’ve read that here more often than I say it aloud because I write it for the reminder to myself and because I want to holler that I’m not the most depressing, negative, unfortunate person ever. I’m just a girl who was so happy and then suddenly so not. But it has to be separate from the good things, because the not-Jim good things didn't go away. In fact, they enhanced.
The relationships that were already in place strengthened. I've been able to enjoy the Victory crew personally. It’s been a gift getting to know my sisters-in-law more. The relationship I have with the kids couldn’t be better; we are a team. I already loved Traci and her kids, but now she’s my sixth sister. We all had the saddest, most sentimental Christmas, but we did it together. And we have a wedding coming up. Dustin and his doll got engaged.
As a grief exercise I bought a fill-in-the-blanks book called 642 Things About You (That I Love). While Jim will never receive it, at least I’ve got stuff written down and I have direction for that time I hover in memory space. One of the early questions is “If our relationship had a mascot, what would it be?” Not each answer comes immediately, but that one did and came with a groan. A damned phoenix. My sweetheart and I came together from the ashes of destroyed marriages, the both of us, and now I’m left to rise again, this time from for-real plane-crash ashes. A phoenix. Shit. Of late the rising looks more like hovering and then diving into ash again and again, but I’m Jim’s wife—against my will there’s moments of rise. I pretty much hate being so freaking awesome.