For many who are widowed and many who suffer extreme loss and grief, the start back to “normal” is a long and winding road. Even tasks that we consider “everyday automatics” can be pushed aside or delayed. Some days it’s hard to just get out of bed let alone brush your teeth. Each thing you do after your person dies is highlighted as “the first time I’ve (blank) without them”. We don’t think about our teeth because we stop talking, eating and we certainly don’t smile so it’s “out of sight, out of mind”.
There were plenty of days just after Clayton passed where I would sleep in until the afternoon, get up, go the bathroom and go back to bed. Why bother brushing my teeth? You don’t really care about cavities when there is a huge one in your heart.
This April will mark the 5th year Clayton and I would have been here. Just before we left Atlanta, I went to the dentist for my regular cleaning and had to find a new one once we settled. Year one passed and I hadn’t made it a priority. Year two was other things on my mind. My mother had beaten breast cancer but my father passed away. Four months after my father passed, Clayton received his diagnosis that we would only have 8 months more so I poured everything I could into him and nothing into me. You guessed it – no dentist.
Year one without Tin and there were days I forgot to brush my teeth. Year two and I honestly didn’t care what my health was like. It’s now year three of widowed winter and I’ve started to stir from the hibernation. I began to eat better, exercise more, drink less alcohol, go to doctor checkups and allow myself to start feeling less guilty that I’m here and Clayton isn’t. I’m learning it’s ok for me to go on living and it doesn’t mean I’m leaving him behind. That right there is a profound statement for me to say and, although sad in it’s inception, brings me lost comfort.
So this week, after 5 years, I went to the dentist. I knew of the potential consequences and the fact that flossing and I do not get along well. The hygienist asked me when was my last cleaning. She asked why and, as always, I was very honest and shared my loss. She shared her condolences. As the x-rays began and the cleaning commenced, I couldn’t help but go back to feeling firsts. This was the first dental visit post Clayton. As the hygienist scraped away, she had no idea that she was helping me clean the slate. Lying there, I realized my appointment was taking away actual and symbolic buildup from the past few years.
Cleaned and polished, the dentist came in to inform me that after 5 years of being at the bottom of the priority list, I had excellent teeth. After all that they had been through and the little care showed towards them, they stayed strong. Seems to be a theme in my journey and that (along with a good cleaning) makes me proud to start smiling again…