Author’s Note: Thank you to my Facebook friend, Jen Wen of Taiwan, for sharing what inspired me to write this piece from my own life.
The anniversary of my husband’s former wife’s death from a chest wall tumor is approaching.
I don’t remember the exact date myself—but it was 10 days before I met him. I suppose I could count back, but I don’t really need to. I can feel the date approaching through him.
The other day, when we were having lunch together I saw a meme on Facebook and pointed it out to him. It said something like, “Losing Someone You Love Hurts Every day.”
“Would that be true of you?” I asked him, pointing to my Kindle.
He practically stopped mid-fork, leaned over and, putting his head on my shoulder, said hoarsely,
“Let me just say this. How would you feel if you lost me?”
It would hurt every day.
When he and I first met he went to the Benedictine Chapel on M’s weekly anniversary to recollect her, to remember her, to honor her. I’d suggested the chapel to him. It’s actually called the Benedictine Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. I liked the “perpetual” part of the name and told him that it being perpetual more or less assured M’s place in his life and in his memory.
The thought was comforting to him.
After a while, he spaced his visits to the Chapel out and then, after we had known each other for about three or four months, asked me to go with him.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that—go and sit with him while he remembered somebody else. In my selfishness, my self-centeredness, my one-and-only-ness, I just didn’t think it was something that I was generous enough to do.
In the end, I did go though, and I did sit next to him while he silently did whatever it was he had to do in his mind and in his heart.
It was a typically brilliant blue sky, sunny Arizona day. The chapel itself was quiet in the way that only places that are soaked in prayer are quiet. And as he sat there, breathing evenly, his hand quietly on my knee, I had an awakening that allowed me to be there with him openly.
It was one of those pretty basic “this-is-not-about-you-babe” kinds of awakenings but however basic it was, it led me to continue going with him to the chapel any time he wanted go to thereafter.
From when I had first met him, I had struggled to find my place in his heart—in his life; so much of it had been spent with someone else, a someone else that he had loved deeply and had lost. Losing somebody you love trumps everything doesn’t it?
Where did I fit in?
I don’t think I have entirely answered that question even today, after three years of marriage.
One question I have answered though is that when he asked me to go to the Benedictine Chapel with him it was because he wanted to bring his two lives together. He didn’t want to sit in memory of his first love without his second love being there as well.
He wanted seamlessness.
There are many ways to grieve. As many ways as there are people. My husband’s way has been what others describe as “moving on.”
“If you refer to my response to M’s death as moving on,” he’d told me once, “that wouldn’t be right.”
“What would be right?” I asked him.
“Moving on sounds like you’re leaving something behind. I’m not leaving something behind. I’m taking something with me and building on it.”
I loved that. It helped me to see where I could fit in.
As the anniversary of M’s death approaches this year, I understand that on the outside, it looks like my husband has indeed managed to not leave something behind while building something new.
It takes enormous emotional strength to do both of those things at the same time.
But I also understand something else. I understand that on the inside, he still hurts every day. Exactly like that Facebook meme said. Anytime I forget, all I have to do is ask myself what he asked me when he leaned over and put his head on my shoulder.
“How would I feel if he were gone?”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Nicholas Gercken/Unsplash