It’s coming up on five years since Jack died—five years? how can that possibly be?—and while I can confidently say that the grieving process has become more tolerable, I don’t know that it’s become easier in any of the traditional ways people define easy:
eas·y ˈēzē/ adjective
1. achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties.
synonyms: uncomplicated, undemanding, unchallenging, effortless, painless, trouble-free, facile, simple, straightforward, elementary
2. (of a period of time or way of life) free from worries or problems.
synonyms: calm, tranquil, serene, quiet, peaceful, untroubled, contented, relaxed, comfortable, secure, safe
Instead, I’d say the grief has become things like manageable, predictable, reliable, familiar. Familiar most of all. It’s almost like getting a migraine in some ways: I have an aura of sorts—something that stirs up memories or feelings or just something about or related to or tangentially tangential to Jack—and I start to feel a quite familiar tug in the back of my brain and the sides of my heart: the stirrings of grief.
Most times these days, I can meditate or just be aware of the feelings or talk to Uncle Eddie and that’s enough to keep the worst sadness and emptiness at bay, the thoughts that I shouldn’t even try to date anyone because I already found and lost my one true love, and who really ever gets a second chance? But then there are the other times, maybe 5-7% of the instances in which I feel those grief auras, when I know things are going to get rough and I need to get to a safe place where no one will see me crying my eyes out and snot filling up half a pack of Kleenex and my sobs echoing throughout my apartment. Those are the real times when I think I’m an idiot for dating anyone, for even sleeping with anyone, because why should I enter into a relationship with someone when I haven’t come to terms with the fact that Jack is dead?
The problem is—and I know this from talking to other widows, both married and unmarried—that I’ll likely never reach a point at which the grief auras will result in a 0% reaction rate. Maybe it will get down to 1%, if I’m lucky, after a couple more years, or so I’m told. I’ve also been told I’m making good progress, being able to remember mostly all the good things and not so much how horrible it was at the end to watch him killing himself. Because that was painful, too, maybe just as painful as his death itself, though of course his death as an instance was and is peanuts compared to the finality and totality of the loss of Jack, the person, my lover and best friend and the man I truly thought would be with me until the day I died.
All this is stirred up as of late by the dozens of people I know from early sobriety (who have, more or less, the same amount of sober time I do) who are getting engaged and married. They’re posting wedding photos on Facebook, and honestly I couldn’t be happier for them. Honestly. Frankly, I’m not sure I even want to get married again at this point. Probably I would, but I’ve also grown very used to my independence and freedom, and it would take a very special man for me to give that up; i met that man in Jack, but no one since has even come remotely close, not by a mile.
Nonetheless, seeing all these weddings—which I saw very few of in the first four years since Jack died—is bringing to light one thing I haven’t really processed and mourned: the loss of a married life with Jack. We were supposed to be one of those couples posting photos on Facebook and going on a honeymoon and telling our engagement story in some cutesy way. The most I got was a ring that was never really The Ring because Jack relapsed between the time he ordered it and the time he gave it to me; he felt that spoiled it somehow, so even though we both knew what its original purpose was, when he gave it to me on a quick half-hour pass out from the halfway house… it just wasn’t the same. I still wear it from time to time and think of it as my engagement ring, just because that’s all I really have to hang on to, a half-truth, but deep down I know what’s real. And that’s that we never had a chance for the Facebook photos or the honeymoon or the cute story.
Everyone else seems to be able to get that. I want that, maybe. Maybe I just want Jack back to have that with him and my jealousy is more that other people picked sober partners who didn’t continually relapse until they died. Maybe it’s not jealousy but anger that things seem so easy for them but have been so difficult for me. Maybe it’s frustration that if I hadn’t taken so much time for myself to heal and grieve—almost four years without dating—I, too, would be further along the path to a long-term relationship at this point. Maybe I need to be kinder to myself and realize this stuff all works itself out. Maybe (probably) all of the above.
So I just keep doing what I’m doing: dating the men who cross my path. Some work out for a little while, some don’t. I try to keep my expectations low and my self-esteem high. I maintain an active social life, generally going out 4-5 nights a week (plus 3-4 meetings a week). I go to the gym, see movies (usually matinees and usually alone, as I have always preferred), put aside “me” time, and try to enjoy whatever life puts in front of me. Sometimes this pattern works better than others, but it’s the best I can do. Generally I’m happy, although I’m almost always aware that Jack is missing from my life, even if it’s only a subconscious thought.
And that’s why I said, early on, that grief hasn’t become easier but it has become familiar. It’s something I carry with me that I’ve learned to manage, much like my migraines. I go on with my life. There isn’t really any other option. Still, I can’t say it’s going to get any easier to read all the Facebook engagement announcements or see all the wedding photos. The best I can do is try to be as happy as possible for my friends while remembering that I haven’t come this far for the universe to abandon me. I am loved already, and even more love is on its way. It won’t be Jack’s love, but it will come from the same sort of place, and I know it will be the kind he would want me to have, and that’s good enough for me.