Early this morning, I woke up to the bed being empty next to me. It’s an ordinary Saturday, and I can hear Mike downstairs, tinkering around, packing up for a short backpacking trip. Eventually, I hear the stairs creak as he comes back up to the bedroom kiss me goodbye. These moments are always sensitive for me, since Drew left on a trip and never came back. But this isn’t some 3 month long work trip like Drew’s… Mike will be back tomorrow. Or will he? Because of course, now, I never really know that anymore.
All morning now, the thought of him not coming back has been with me. I’ve not cried or even been upset over it… it’s just…. There. Haunting me at low volume. As I make my morning coffee, I have to go through three cups before I can drink it. The first is one of my favorite mugs, with skulls on it. I decide not to drink from a skull cup while he is out. “If he dies and you drank out of a skull cup that day, it will feel like a creepy omen”. So I pour my joe into his favorite coffee cup, one with a woodland scene that says “The Good Life” on it. I decide that one makes for an equally bad omen – as I never use his favorite coffee cup, and it’d be horribly ironic if he died while I was drinking from the “Good Life” cup. I finally settle on a random cup with no irony apparent and am able to let it go for a moment.
There were half a dozen other situations just like this for the next hour. Putting on his hoodie – which I wear around the house almost daily… “What if he dies today and I am wearing his hoodie?!”. The little surprise love note he tucked into my laptop, so that I would find it after he left “Oh my God, what if he dies today and this is the LAST LOVE NOTE I EVER GET?!” Worrying about ice on the roads, cars flipping, him slipping on ice with a heavy pack on his back in the woods alone… it goes on and on of course. Even writing these words, sends chillful thoughts of “What if he dies and THAT is what my post next week is about?!” It’s scary. And tiring. All of this because of “the knowing”…
That’s one of the hardest parts as the years go on… I could spend my entire day making different decisions to try and avoid omens of my person dying. I could lie in bed all day making no decisions at all, and still the potential for something to happen is exactly the same. There’s simply nothing more I can do but keep stepping into life and deciding to live it despite all the many inherent risks.
It’s harder to step into life now in some ways, after having experienced a sudden and traumatic loss. It doesn’t stop me from living, or getting out there, or supporting those I love to do the same, but it’s harder internally. It’s harder in quiet ways that really no one else sees.
It’s harder because I’m always aware of how fragile life is now. It’s harder because almost every day, at some random point, I think “today could be the day”. It’s harder because I now share my mind with this whole new subset of thoughts… and I have to make the conscious choice not to let them run my life or overtake my mind. I have to be the one that turns the volume down on that station, so that I can hear the music of life coming through loud and clear. Most days I am strong enough now to do pretty well at that – but it still takes energy to keep the volume down. There are still days or moments though, when I feel more vulnerable. When I want to unknow what I know, so that I can just exist in that blissfully unaware place that I used to have.
I suppose it’s really not as much about what I know about life, as it is what I don’t know about what’s coming. That’s the part that creates fear. It’s not knowing that people will die that gets me. Its NOT knowing WHEN they will die… and at the same time knowing in a much more real way that it could happen right now.
So this morning, as I go through my weird coffee cup ritual in some attempt to appease the universe and my own superstitiousness, I suppose I’m trying to make peace with the unknowns. This life after loss requires so much more acceptance and faith in the unknowns than I ever knew would be required of me. Because now I know just how much I don’t know about what lies ahead. It never stops being scary. I am finding though, in the past year or so, that I just have to choose to accept what I cannot know. To remind myself that I cannot control where life goes. And to have faith and trust that I will just have to handle whatever lies ahead when it gets here. It is no small feat to decide to keep living on these terms after you have been through a traumatic loss. What helps me to let go of the fear on the tough days, is to remind myself that I will find meaning in whatever comes ahead, just as I have found meaning today, in something as simple as my morning coffee.