Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I love the fall so much, and it is always much too short and goes away much too fast. But for so many reasons, the fall is just filled with awesomeness and beauty for me. It’s why I chose to get married in October. My birthday is in late September, and then my husband’s birthday follows in November.
I love the colors of the fall. The smell in the air. The crisp breeze around every corner. The way you don’t have to think about what to wear. It’s not ungodly hot anymore and it’s not yet really cold. (Well, to me, nothing is really cold, because I don’t mind the cold at all. ) All the best baseball is in the fall. I love the beginning of things that autumn brings – everything from the start of school again to the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving. I have always been a Christmas freak, so much so that my wedding’s theme was “Christmas in October.” I love the whole season. Every single part of it.
Then my husband died in a micro-second, on a brutally hot day in July 2011. And like Michele Neff Hernandez talked about in her brilliant Key Note Address in San Diego a few weeks ago, my entire world went dark. There was no color. Everything went black. And then fall came. All the beautiful leaves and the orchards of pumpkins and the crisp air and the many, many things that always brought me so much joy – they were black. I would go outside to look at the fall foliage, but all I could see was grey. It wasn’t even a color, really, Every single thing was just bleak and hopeless looking and void of brightness. Colorless.
It took me 3 years, until the 3rd fall cycle to come around, before I saw the color again. Three years. One day I just walked outside, and the color was back. And I felt joy. But it was a new joy. It was a joy that carried inside of it, death and grief and pain. And because this new joy carried those things and so many other things, I was able to feel that joy bigger and more intensely than ever before. It was almost as if I was seeing colored leaves for the first time. Like I was seeing yellow and orange and red for the very first time. And really, I was. Because joy after tremendous pain is a color so bright and so vivid and so poignant, it is hard to describe in words.
On Friday, I went to see a play in the city that an old college friend is directing. The play is set on Thanksgiving Day, and so the stage was set up with lots of autumn colors and flowers/leaves. I turned to my friend, who was sitting beside me, and I kept telling her how happy those leaves were making me, because it meant fall was coming, and just the idea of fall coming made me so happy. She probably thought I was some kind of lunatic, because I must have mentioned the stupid leaves about 3 times in a row. She must have been thinking: “Dude, relax. They aren’t even real leaves. It’s a set on a stage. Calm down.” But my heart was beating out of my chest with excitement. That same excitement I used to get as a kid on Christmas morning, the excitement I still got when I was an adult, the excitement that my husband Don told me multiple times to never lose, because he found it so endearing about me.
But I did lose it for awhile. I had to. Because Don was dead, and I was stuck here, forced to live in the reality of that horror. I had to move through the hurt and the grief first, before I could see Christmas again. Before yellow looked like yellow again. At the time, I was so impatient with myself, and so damn tired of being in pain. My therapist told me: “Christmas and autumn aren’t going anywhere. They will come every single year. Trust me on this. They will be there for you, whenever you can handle them again. Right now, you are exactly where you need to be.”
And now, here I am, today, getting excited about the fall just from looking at a stage that is set during autumn. I never thought that I would love Christmas or fall again, in those early days of grief. I thought that kind of joy was over for me. Honestly. Truly. That is what I thought.
So for those of you who are reading this that are still stuck inside the blackness – know this. One day you will see color. One day you will FEEL all those things that made you feel joy again. The joy will be new and different, and so much more profound than old joy. Please trust me. It is going to take awhile, and for some, longer than others. And you are going to feel like things are hopeless, and like you cannot possibly get through this kind of horrific pain and emptiness. You will feel like a shell of yourself, like everything that you once were, has been replaced with nothingness.
Know this. Wherever you are now, that is where you are supposed to be. You are there because you still need to work through whatever it is that is holding you there. And when you do, you will move to somewhere else. And then there will be more to work through. And you will keep chopping at the grief, until you break that smog open. And slowly, the person that you were will start emerging into a new person. A person changed by loss. A person who is working through and moving with loss. And then one day, on a completely random and ordinary day, you will wake up to a brightness that blinds you with its color. A world filled with reds and yellows and greens and shades of color you have never seen or felt before. A world that you probably could have never imagined. Until, of course, you could.