“Shawn used to order the craziest pizza toppings,” someone said with a smile.
“He loved the ‘meat classic’ and anything else that had meat on top of meat,” I said, and everyone laughed.
I was smiling remembering his ridiculous pizza orders for our group of friends.
And then I was crying. Sobbing, really. “I miss him so much,” I kept saying as I continued to cry for what felt like a really long time. Everyone was comforting. I was beside myself.
I don’t know how to fully put this down on paper, but at that moment I felt just as sad as I had in the weeks immediately after Shawn died. Yes, it’s been over a year. But somehow, I’ve been backsliding with my emotions. In fact, I’ve felt more grief-filled lately than I’ve felt in months. Even now, as I’m writing this post, I am not totally sure why I’ve spiraled so badly in the past few weeks.
But what I do know is this: I feel like I’ve been re-living my loss every day lately. I wake up every morning and cry (something I haven’t done in months) and everything throughout the day can set me off.
For example, last week I had a guest speaker in my class who used to work with Shawn. He came to talk to my class about China and he was really thoughtful and engaging. If I closed my eyes, I could hear Shawn’s voice in the way that my guest speaker answered my students’ questions and talked about high-level policy challenges. Afterwards, a number of students told me that he was the best guest speaker we’d had in our class.
After the guest speaker left, I went and had lunch with my friends Emily and Julie. I barely closed the door to Emily’s office before I started sobbing. “I just had a guest speaker,” I said through tears, “and he reminded me about how Shawn used to be – so smart and humble and thoughtful. Sometimes I just remember what Shawn was like at home but this guest speaker reminded me that he had so many other great parts to him. He was funny and warm with me at home. But he was brilliant too.”
Shawn was the best. I swear, this isn’t revisionist history. I like all my friends’ husbands, but I used to look around the room at a party and think, “I am totally married to the best guy here.” I knew what I had.
And I know what I’ve lost.
It should have been Shawn talking to my class about China. It should have been Shawn ordering bad pizza for all of our friends. And it should have been Shawn next to me in bed this morning rather than my 5-year-old.
But all of those things have been true for the past 14 months. I’ve missed Shawn every day in the big and little things. So it might seem surprising that I’m so grief-filled now. But I am. Maybe it’s because I’m in year 2 now, and so I’m moving from shock and survival to the reality of the rest of my life without Shawn. Maybe it’s because I had a number of significant life distractions over the past few months that enabled me to push my grief aside, and now that normal life is returning, I feel the pain even more. Maybe it’s because I tried to move forward too quickly with work and parenting and men, and now all of the grief is catching up with me.
I honestly don’t know what the cause is for this new cycle of grief. I only know that almost anything can set off a wave of crying for me. In those moments, it feels like no time has passed at all, and that I’m in the early days after losing Shawn.
The grief was never gone. But it had become smooth around the edges, encapsulated in a vessel that I could hold and manage. Somehow, a series of events over the past few weeks has broken that vessel and the grief has spilled out everywhere.
All I want to do is get back to where I was a few months ago. I want the grief to be manageable again so I can go back to living my life. I want to be able to find joy in my kids’ antics, and I want to be able to come alive in the classroom. I want to sleep through the night again and I want to make pancakes on a Saturday morning without tears. I want to be able to try again with men.
But I am stuck in this grief and it is robbing me of this new sense of self that I had cultivated over the past 14 months. I thought I was figuring out who I was going to be. But right now, I feel like I’m back to defining myself in terms of who I no longer am: Shawn’s wife.
And I’m back to missing him with such deep grief that I can’t quite manage to find happiness in the everyday. I had gotten to a good place at the beginning of 2019, I thought, and now it feels like I’m back to square one.
I thought this blog post was going to end there. I typed it up on a Saturday morning as Tommy played Minecraft in the bed next to me. But then Tommy interrupted my thoughts. “Mama!” he yelled as I was reading over what I’d written, “I have something to say to you.”
“Yes, baby?” I said.
“I love you,” he said.
“Oh, Tommy, I love you too,” I said, and hugged him. And in that moment – just for a moment – I felt a bit of happiness again.