If there is one thing I have learned in the 4 years of being widowed, it is this: Pain and joy can and do exist in the same breath. Excruciating sadness and ecstatic happiness can be felt in the same exact moment. Inhale joy, exhale pain. That’s just how it works when you’ve lost your whole world in 2 seconds flat. Nothing is simple anymore. Everything has layers.
Two weeks ago, I attended and gave a comedic presentation at my seventh Camp Widow. Seven. My five days in San Diego were relaxing, beautiful, friend-filled, and healing. And for the first time ever, when I came back home, I didnt have “camp crash.” (Camp Crash is our term for that feeling you get when you come home from camp widow, and you feel down and depressed and find it hard to return back to your regular life, no longer in the bubble of understanding and compassionate widowed community.) I was jetlagged and exhausted, but no camp crash. No emotional hardships. None. I felt really good about this in my mind and heart, because it’s just another example of many lately that I am healing. And really, I have done more healing in this past year than ever before. It feels good. I felt slightly victorious.
And then I went to a wedding ……
It was a wedding in New Jersey, and it was the wedding of a dear widower friend. A few of us locals in the widowed community were honored to be invited, and so about 4 of us stayed at a mutual widow friend’s house in Jersey for the weekend so we could all drive to the wedding together. Just for privacy sake and in case my friends don’t want their names or emotions publicly posted, Im going to leave out those details. It’s not important. What is important is that we were all SO excited to attend this wedding, which was, for most of us, our first “widowed person” wedding. This was a wedding where one of our own has found love again, and was happy. This gives us hope that it is indeed possible, even if I may be nowhere near ready for it right now or able to see it. It’s possible. I have been to 2 other weddings since Don’s death, and so I wasnt really expecting this one to be hard or too sad for me. Lesson learned. Never go in with expectations when it comes to grief.
The triggers for me began early. On the drive there, when we were going from one part of New Jersey to another part, and suddenly I realized we were getting closer and closer to Route 17, Route 46, Hasbrook Heights, Hackensack, and the surrounding area where my husband used to work EMS, where I used to pick him up in our shared car from work, where we adopted our kitties, and where his funeral was. Fourteen months after Don died, I moved out of our New Jersey apartment and moved to New York. I havent been back since. As we passed exists for all things familiar to my old life, my heart started to silently break in the back seat. I was in panic mode, massive anxiety, just trying to breathe through it. I was in a car full of widows, so I could have said something, but I was too emotionally shaky to speak about it. So I breathed through it.
Then the ceremony started. It was outdoors, and an absolutely perfect sunny, breezy day. The bride was gorgeous beyond words, and my friend, the groom, had this look on his face of intense and beautiful love. It was like the only thing he could see was her, and nothing else mattered. And I was so happy for him, knowing what he has been through, knowing the pain of him losing his first wife to death, and now to find love a second time, a second chance. How amazing. She walked toward him, and the music played, and suddenly, her face became mine and his face became my husband’s, and I kept saying to myself, begging with myself: “No. No. Dont do that. Stop doing that. Stop putting yourself in their place. Make it stop. Make it stop. Focus on them. ” But it was too late and I couldnt control it. I was back inside my own wedding day – back inside October of 2006, when all was right with the world, and when all I could see was my future husband’s welled up eyes at the end of that aisle. That’s when the sobbing started.
The rest of the night was touch and go. There were so many moments of pure joy for my friend, where I was in tears of pure happiness FOR him, just so damn happy for him and his second chance at love and life. And then seconds later, something would happen or the air would change, and suddenly I was right back with the wound in my heart again. Their first dance made my heart drop and made me sob uncontrollably. They did a lovely choreographed dance together, and it was sweet and fun and cute, just like ours. Just like the foxtrot we put together and spent 8 weeks of dance lessons to learn. My heart went right back to that moment, and the pain was so deep.
And it wasn’t just me. During the reception, there were many moments where all of my widowed friends that had come with me, had their own grief triggers. A particular slow song was played, and one of my widow friends started crying immediately. Like, really crying hard. I went over to her and held her a little bit, and said: “Its going to be okay.” She said through her deep tears: “No it isn’t. This was our wedding song.” And then I started crying too. And then my other friends were crying. And then the servers came over and asked if we would like more wine, and then more crying. I said: “Its not you guys. We are just very emotional, and we’re gonna need a whole lot of that wine. Keep it comin.'” We toasted to our loves and we cried together and we laughed at how much we were all crying and we became frustrated with the hold that grief has over us, that we could literally be INSANELY happy for our friend who got married, and in the same breath of air, be in deep and horrible pain. We became silently thankful for each other and that we were there together instead of just one of us being invited solo. This grief stuff is NOT easy, whether you are 2 years from your loss or 4 or 8 or 15. It really doesnt matter. Triggers are triggers, and weddings are really really hard. Apparently.
When we got back to my friends house in Jersey, we all just sat around the kitchen table, eating late-night snacks and drinking more wine and water and tea, and being exhausted emotionally from simply attending a wedding. I am so happy that I went, and so happy to be invited, and so happy for my wonderful friend and his happiness. And I am grateful to have learned yet another lesson from grief. Never think you’re “over it.” There is no such thing. Not that I would ever think Im “over” Don – I know there is no such thing as that. But lately, I have been feeling a bit cocky about my own grief process, like Im “over ” the hard parts and I am now okay until the end of time. Yeah. Not so much. It doesnt work that way. There will always be triggers. Death is hard. Life is harder. And I hope it’s a little while longer before the next wedding ….