In the past 3 weeks, I’ve endured Father’s Day, Shawn’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. Today, it’s the 6 month marker since his death.
I woke up nervous, though I’m not sure why. It’s not like anything has changed today, and the specific time period of six months is a made-up marker anyway. But I’ve now lived a half of a year without Shawn, and that is something that gives me pause.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would be able to handle six entire months without my husband, I would definitely have said “no.”
And yet, here I am. I am not whole anymore, but I am not entirely broken. I am somewhere in the middle, I guess.
When I meet new people, or interact with people I haven’t seen since the funeral, many of them seem to expect me to behave in one of two ways. Some of them are surprised that I am able to move through life so easily, as they thought I would be totally despondent. They say things like, “I don’t think I’d be able to survive what you’re going through,” or something similar. I’m sure they mean it as a compliment, and I take it as such. But sometimes, when I hear that a lot, I feel as though I’m not being the “right” kind of widow.
Then there are other people who see me move through the world without crying every moment and think that I am much removed from the grief I felt six months ago. They say things like, “I’m so glad you are making new memories and enjoying your children!” I know they mean it to be encouraging, and again, I take it as such. But sometimes when I hear that a lot, I feel as though they don’t want to hear that I remain deeply unhappy in many ways.
The reality is this – I am not completely despondent and I am not completely recovered. I live in the space between.
Usually, I move through the world with a low-grade sadness. It is a sadness that I am able to live with, and it means that I am no longer crying when I take in my dry cleaning. But sometimes the intense sadness is still there. I don’t talk often about it on this blog, but I still have a really hard time when I think back on Shawn’s illness and death. It is something that I don’t carry with me moment to moment, but in the quiet hours of the night, memories of how he suffered stay with me.
Shawn was stoic and completely aware until the day he died, and for that I am truly grateful. But it meant he understood what was happening to him. He endured pain that I only felt three times in my life during the births of my children, and he did it almost every single day of his illness. Watching someone die is horrible, but watching someone suffer is far worse. Especially if it’s someone that you love. Especially if it’s your spouse.
He was still Shawn through it all, joking with his tearful family, “I’m not dead yet!” mere hours before he died. He squeezed my hands when he couldn’t respond at the end and he knew we were there and he was loved. But it is horrible to watch someone who was in perfect shape decline to his state. One of the doctors who operated on him in early December commented that he was really impressed with what thick stomach muscles Shawn had! Five weeks after that, Shawn insisted on walking to our car when we headed back to the hospital. His feet had swollen so badly they couldn’t fit into his Converse. But he wouldn’t let us carry him. He just put his feet partway in his shoes and gritted his teeth and got to the car. He died less than 24 hours later.
I think about that moment with the Converse often. I think about it every day when I tie Austin’s Converse that he wears because his dad loved them so much. I think about Shawn’s suffering and his intense ability to soldier on through it all. It is one of the hardest things about moving through grief for me. I remember his suffering, and that haunts me, even if there is nothing else I could have done when he was dying.
And so, at six months, I am better able to do the little things that others are so impressed with – I can travel with my kids and make dinner and go to Target to get new socks. But I still sit with terrible sadness when I think of how Shawn had to suffer. This type of grief does not keep me in bed, maybe because there is no other option. But it can keep me awake at 2 am.
I am moving forward in some parts of my life. In other ways, I am still stuck in a place that feels impossible to navigate. I want to take away Shawn’s suffering, but he is already gone, and so my horror over his pain has nowhere to go.
Last night, I was bathing Tommy and he was jumping up in down as he got out of the tub. He made a face at me that looked just like Shawn’s, and then he laughed. It was a perfect, joyful laugh of a 4-year-old, and I swear it was the best thing I’d ever heard. I tickled him a bit and he laughed and said, “again!” and so I did it again and again.
By the end, we were both laughing, and I covered him with an enormous towel and hugged him close. I felt joy – true joy – with my baby in my arms. I actually took a moment as we rocked there on the bathroom floor to feel a bit of bliss run through my body.
I do not know how to ease the grief I still carry for the suffering Shawn endured. But I do know that the moment with Tommy after his bath gave me real and true happiness. My hope for the next six months is that I can let the grief of Shawn’s suffering ease from my body somewhat. And that I can feel those bits of bliss just a little more frequently.