How has it been 5 years?
It’s what I keep thinking lately. For some reason, this anniversary of Shawn’s death feels different. More significant, maybe, but also just strangely unsettling. You see, the first anniversary was one of deep grief, one that was overpowered by any other emotion. But as the anniversaries continued, I found that I could more easily face them, and sometimes even find meaning in them. My anxiety was – and is – still significant around January 9th. But I’ve learned to cope with it. I’ve learned to focus on my children and lean on Chris. And yet, I keep asking the same question:
How has it been 5 years?
Shawn seems so far away sometimes. I can’t remember so many details I thought I’d never forget, and even the kids and I don’t talk about him like we once did. Yes, of course, we remember him in those in-between moments, and Chris is good about helping us all reminisce. And yet, 5 years is a lot of time, and so much is different. The kids are older, and college seems much closer than preschool (because it is). My daily life is calmer. The future seems full of promise.
Shawn seems so far away sometimes.
But right now, I am thinking about him. It’s not just that today is the 5-year anniversary of his death. It’s also because of where I am: Costa Rica.
I don’t think it was a conscious decision that we made to come here for the anniversary. We had been in DC for Christmas, and afterwards we had an extra week off school and work. We could stop over in Costa Rica on our way back to Colombia for no extra cost. Claire has gotten really into surfing and we figured it could be fun to spend a few days on the coast. It made all the sense in the world, and I never once (consciously) thought about the fact that I’d be there on January 9th.
But this is where I am.
We are not near the town where Shawn and I lived, which is beautiful, but it is in the mountains far from the coast. In fact, we are on the opposite coast from the one where Shawn proposed. Because yes, Shawn and I lived here for about 6 months, and he proposed to me at sunrise on the Caribbean coast in the fall of 2003. The day before he did it, he called my dad from a pay phone in town and then he bought a coconut ring for $1.25 on the side of the road and slipped it on my finger the next morning. I still have it, that coconut ring, though it’s not with me on this trip.
Instead, I am here with a different ring on my finger and a different man by my side and a whole set of kids I couldn’t have even imagined back then. It was almost two decades ago that we lived here, which seems like a lifetime ago.
In a way, it was.
I’ve been watching the kids play in the surf all morning. Claire got up with the sunrise, eager to hone her skills and Austin followed her out there. Tommy has been burying Chris and me in the sand. Claire looks much more like a woman with every passing day, and I watch as she pushes herself to the limit. She’s always welcomed risk more than me. Over and over, she falls and comes up laughing – always laughing. Austin is more cautious, more reflective. At dinner the other night, Tommy said he wanted to be an astronaut, and Austin responded, “I want Tommy to do what he wants, but I don’t want him to be an astronaut because then he could die.” He is methodical in the way he approaches surfing, so different from his sister, and he checks on me and his brother and his dad as much as he can. Tommy is joyful, even without much to do on this beach, but if I cough he puts his hand on my leg, as though to say, “I’m here.” When the big kids get out of the water, he runs to them and hugs them, gripping his arms around Austin’s legs.
Chris is calm on the beach, watching them, watching me. Asking Claire and Austin if they need water, getting Tommy a snack, rubbing my back. I think, This is everything I ever dreamed of.
And it is not what I dreamed about at all, two decades ago.
How could I have imagined this moment in time? If 23-year-old Marjorie had suddenly been transported here, what would she have said? What would she have felt?
And what would she have thought if she learned the truth…and then learned that not every waking moment was filled with Shawn anymore?
She might be horrified. “Don’t forget him!” she’d scream, maybe while backing away from the beach.
I understand those imagined sentiments. I’ve worried about it too, many times. But I know this: I haven’t forgotten him. I don’t want to. How could I, even if I wanted to?
Right in front of me are three living-and-breathing reasons that Shawn is still here, though they are different from the children he once knew. They aren’t perfect, but they are happy and they are loving and they know who they are. They are Chris’s kids and they are my kids, of course, but they will always be Shawn’s kids, too. Even if I wanted to leave Shawn’s memory behind, it would be impossible to look into their eyes and not see him in them.
But it’s not just the kids.
This place, these memories, this time – it all reminds me of him. And yet, I would remember him even if I wasn’t back here, on my first trip to Costa Rica since Shawn and I were here as a couple. I have that coconut ring back home, and though I don’t ever wear it, I think about it now. I think about how he died today, because that is what I remember on this day, but it is not the only thing I think about today. I also think about how he helped me become who I was back then, and who I am now.
Shawn remains a part of me, a part of my memories and a part of my life now. He is in the way I think about the world and he is in the way I reach out to others when I am hurting and he is in the way I can keep loving, even after he is gone. He remains in this world, even though he is not in it anymore.
Being here has reminded me of that, though I knew it before. I do not need to re-live our engagement two decades ago or his death 5 years ago to remember him.
He is still here, with me. With us.