I love running in the pre-dawn hours.
Yes, it’s dark. And yes, it’s often cold. But it’s the time when I’ve done some of my best thinking. For a long time, I thought through my blog posts on those solitary runs. Once Chris started joining me, we would sometimes talk about my blog and I would think out loud about what was coming up next.
Last week, as I set out on a run with Chris, I told him I was struggling with what to write. This happens sometimes. I mean, it didn’t happen at all for the first 18 months of widowhood because things were so chaotic and hard. But as the intense pain subsided, and as I learned how to move through life as a single woman and mother, I found that sometimes I didn’t know what to write about. When I found myself in that space, I’d talk to my widow friends or ask my readers on social media, and usually I’d quickly have a half-dozen new topics that I just hadn’t thought of quite yet.
Back then, in 2019 and part of 2020, I was still so close to Shawn’s death. I could still recall the specific details of each day in the hospital with him, and I still had moments where I would cry sitting on the bathroom floor. So if someone suggested a topic, it was easy to think about how to incorporate that idea into my life. I was living with so much grief that it was easy to write about it.
But time passed. And the grief changed.
It didn’t go away at some specific point in 2020, but as I got into my third year of widowhood, it was just so much easier to manage the emotions surrounding losing Shawn. I also started dating Chris, and that changed my daily experience in the world.
And yet, there was still so much to write about, because falling in love again was something that brought up a whole new batch of emotions. As did figuring out how to navigate our new family of five.
But now, it’s the spring of 2022. And I’ve started to find it’s not so easy to think up blog posts anymore. Even when I ask around, I realize that some of the intense early experiences (dealing with the death certificates that are needed everywhere, realizing that the smell of Shawn has faded from the closet, waking up and remembering that I’m a widow), well, they have faded. Instead, much of my life is wrapped up in more mundane thoughts, like whether Claire will make the track team or if Tommy is having too much screen time.
And this is what I was thinking about as I began that run with Chris last week. He asked about the blog, as he often does, and I admitted that I didn’t know what to write about. I knew there were topics out there I hadn’t covered yet, but I wasn’t quite sure how I’d connect them to my daily life. It made me think.
What if my grief is over?
I pondered this for a minute. I don’t actually think that grief ever fully goes away, but I also know that it can fade. That’s a good thing, in a way, but there’s a loss there too. And I don’t just mean with my blog writing, of course.
Chris let me think through this for a minute, and then asked me if I remembered waking him up the night before. “You had a bad dream about Shawn,” he said, and though I’d forgotten, it came to me in an instant.
I’d had a dream – or maybe a nightmare – that Shawn had come to me and asked to see the kids. In it, I was confused as to why he couldn’t just go to them himself. I seemed to understand that we weren’t married anymore, though he was warm as he talked to me. “Sure,” I told him, “I’ll go get the kids and then you can all chat.” I left the room and when I came back, Shawn was there. But he was dead, laying in a coffin.
I woke up with a start, and Chris woke up too. I told him a bit about what had happened in my dream, but I was so tired and I fell back asleep. In the morning, I had mostly forgotten about it.
And yet, I hadn’t forgotten about it. The rest of the day I was really tired, even though I’d technically gotten enough sleep. I wasn’t actively thinking about the dream, or the blog, or anything related to widowhood. But I snapped at Claire in the morning when she was running late, even though she’s always running late. I packed the boys something unforgettable for lunch and I taught my classes, realizing only part-way through that I photocopied the wrong handouts. I was tired, that much was clear. I knew I had to go to bed early.
As I relaxed that night, I kept thinking back on the dream. It made me start thinking about grief, and how it changes. I was thinking about what the pain of loss can look like years down the road.
No longer is my grief the “crying-on-the-bathroom-floor” kind of grief. I’m not debilitated by my emotions surrounding Shawn’s death anymore. I don’t spend every moment thinking of him.
But it is not gone. Instead, it looks different. Sometimes it’s a soft kind of sadness, or a strange detachment from my daily life. Other times it looks like exhaustion or irritability or even confusion. Sometimes it shows up in my dreams or in the moments when I’m riding in the car with the kids. Sometimes there is even gratitude, or joy. It is not the grief of 2018.
But grief does not leave, or at least it has not left me.
I realized, as I thought through the day, that I knew what I was going to write about. And so, I sat down and wrote this post, one that’s not really about anything to do with widowhood but is also somehow about everything to do with widowhood. Yes, the daily terrible things that characterized all of 2018 and much of 2019 have faded. And yet, losing Shawn didn’t just alter my life back then.
That change is still with me now.