Deathiversery. That’s a fun new word I learned in widow world. It’s the anniversary of your loved one’s death. Ok, so it’s not actually a fun word. But what else do you call it? This is the day everything changed. A life was ended. It should have a name. Deathiversery.
It feels almost cliché to say two years ago everything changed. Because on the one hand it’s not technically true. Everything didn’t change. I still go to work, I still live in the same house, I still have the greatest dog in the entire world. And yet, everything was different. There were shoes by the door that would never be worn again. A wallet that will never again make its way into a pocket. A watch sits waiting on the nightstand but the person who wore it is gone.
One the one year deathiversary I wrote a Facebook post about how my life had become Option B. Option A died on June 6, 2019. The post was loosely inspired by this book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. (It is a great read, I would recommend it.) But my one year reflection really looked at how my world had changed. Now, at year two, I am struck by how I have changed. In some ways I haven’t changed at all. I am still a teacher, I still love reading and yet in all the ways that matter I am a completely different person.
Who am I now? Well, like the title of this blog suggests I am a widow who writes. I have always been a person who enjoys writing but writing so openly about my life is new. My previous blog (that’s kids stuff) was all about books-nice neutral topics where I don’t need to reveal too much about myself. To write about my feelings still makes me a little squeamish but we’re gonna call it growth.
Speaking of feelings, I am now a person who goes to therapy. As in, I pay money to talk about my feelings. What!!?? One of the greatest gifts of therapy is that it helped me decide who I wanted to be. Early in my grief journey I read about the concept of Post Traumatic Growth (I don’t remember where I read about it but there is a nice summary here). If you don’t have time to read the whole article here’s the gist: “People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.” As soon as I read about it I went to therapy and said, “This. I choose this. How do I get to this?” Now I’m not quite vain enough to claim that I am now some enlightened, transcendent being but setting this goal did let my therapist ask different questions.
The questions started with, “how are you…really?” and worked up to “who would you like to be?” I decided that, while I didn’t want to lose my intensity, I could stand to be a little softer, a little more compassionate, a little more understanding. I don’t think I’ll ever have the unassuming warmth and kindness that radiated off of my late husband. He had a gift of making people feel comfortable and he always made me feel calm, but I like to think I’m a little less…we’ll go with unapproachable (but you could honestly substitute bitchy and get an accurate picture). I feel things more deeply and have more empathy for the hurts of others. I am kinder and more generous with my students. Having my world shattered reminded me how earth shattering things can feel in adolescence so I hold space for that.
Now, I am a grown up grown up. Mine is the only name on the bank account and the mortgage. I cook all the food (except for Friday’s when my friends cook for me…and Wednesday’s when friends and I order in…and the random days, like today, when I don’t feel like cooking so door dash brings food to my door). I remember to get the car inspected, I do my own taxes and I take solo trips. At the end of year one I was still floundering and now I feel capable. I can host gatherings and make beautiful charcuterie boards paired with delicious cocktails. I can manage my household and take on new responsibilities at work. As the popular quote goes, “She believed she could and so she did.” That’s become true in my life and so has the spinoff, “She believed she could but she was really tired so she didn’t.”
That balance is part of the wisdom I have earned. There are days when I absolutely crush it (I can’t stand false modesty. I do absolutely crush it some days and I’m gonna claim that proudly) and there are days when I come home, turn on the TV and sit in the chair until it is time for bed. There are days where my dog and I hike 10 miles and days where we door dash frozen yogurt. And, as therapy is teaching me, those days are not better or worse, I am not better or worse on those days, they are simply days and I am simply human. I do not need to judge everything. I can be a compassionate observer and respond accordingly.
My faith has changed dramatically. If you asked me to sum up my theology in two words prior to the death of my husband (and I don’t know why you would it’s a very weird question to ask) I would’ve said something like joy and love. I still find joy in living a life of faith and on my best days my thoughts, words, and deeds are grounded in love. But now if I had to sum up my theology in two words they would be suffering and liberation (more on that in another post). I also have a deeper understanding and appreciation for a community of faith. As much as I hate to admit it, we are not called to do faith alone-which is a real bummer for an introverted, enneagram 8. On a recent podcast (shout out Cafeteria Christian) one of the hosts said something like, “The bold words are the ones we say together because they are too heavy to carry alone.” There are days when I say the words that are too heavy for others to carry and days when others say those words for me. But there is something truly profound in doing it together.
Kate Bowler is a delightful theologian I discovered over the past two years (I am now a person who has favorite theologians-modern and historical). Kate has a lovely podcast and wrote the wonderful book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. It is this line from her Ted Talk that especially struck me, “I am asked all the time to say that I would never go back, or that I’ve gained so much in perspective. And I tell them no, before was better. “
As I sit here two years after my husband’s death I am, overall, happy. I am proud of how I have rebuilt my life and grateful for the grace that helped me move forward. I have gained so much in perspective. I can acknowledge my growth and I have even started to dream new dreams for a new, different, future. But before was better.
P.S. You may have noticed I don’t say many specifics about my husband on this blog. That’s because, frankly, this blog is not about him. It’s about me and how my life has continued after his ended. But as we observe the two year anniversary of his death, his deathiversery if you will, I will be sharing some of my favorite memories on my Instagram. Think of it as reclaiming “funeral pictures” or giving you a glimpse into the before.