There was a time when I never thought I’d be doing what I was doing. Ever. But it was happening, and I didn’t have any emotional reaction to it. It was time. Five-and-half years later, I’d reached a new place in my life. As I packed up the remaining photos of my late husband, Ken, and I and placed them into a box I had emphatically and impulsively scrawled “RELICS” on I felt nothing extraordinary. It just felt right. Why was I putting them all away? Because they had become emotional wind drag–keeping me attached to a life that was over. I needed to stop being Ron, the widower, and start being just Ron. Again.
I was surprised by this new phase in my life. I guess I thought I was already there. But the funny thing about grief is because you’re “in” it, you can’t always accurately gauge where you are on the journey. So, I greeted this new phase eagerly and gratefully. But also with the slightest mistrust. Perhaps this was some kind of false sense of…something…that I would inevitably fall through like a rotted hole in the floor. (It’s happened before.)
2016 held some weighty milestones for me: March marked the 15-year anniversary of when I met Ken and June marked 5 years since he died, and that he’d been gone for half the amount of time we’d been together. I didn’t relish the thought of thinking at some point he’d be gone for as long as we’d been together. Or gone twice as long as we’d been together.
I’d lived in my condo–two blocks away from the apartment where Ken and I lived…and where he drew his last breaths–for two years. I’d fostered long time friendships and built new ones. I’d become engaged in my work and led a rich, textured life both personally and professionally.
The phases of grief landed on me in odd order. I didn’t get angry until after he died–so as not to waste any of the time we had left together in the spring in 2011. I’d skipped denial and bargaining altogether. It had been sadness and anger that spun around me for a few years, though I thought I’d long ago negotiated an armistice.
There was a time–even after I started dating again in 2013–where it was important for me that people know I’d lost my husband; that he’d existed. It was somehow a continued validation for a life that had occurred. It was important for people to know it was my story. It was a compulsion to tell anyone and everyone. They had to know.
Upon reflection of my latest revelation and turning point, I realized there have even been tiny lucid moments when I found myself understanding that a huge part of me expected Ken to come back…somehow. I wasn’t talking about a resurrection or reincarnation or even a ghost. It was just a feeling. Maybe it was the feeling that I hadn’t let go of him. Some part of me was waiting for him. I know it doesn’t make sense. On a conscious level it doesn’t make sense to me either. But it was something my subconscious created maybe to help me in the early days following his death. And in the years following I never saw fit to readjust that thinking as I thought I was progressing forward.
What’d I’d expected when I fell in love with him, I expected him to be a huge part of my life story. It’s only since entering my new phase that I acknowledge that the longer I live, the smaller the part he’ll have played in my life. It doesn’t diminish the importance of the role he played, but it frees me to move forward in a way I wasn’t moving. Understanding–and saying aloud–that Ken is part of my past was all at once decimating and illuminating.
I used to feel compelled to “us” “we” “our” when I talked about a time in my life where I was with Ken. Of course, this makes sense to friends who knew me then, but now–with people who didn’t–I don’t. And, yes, it feels a little odd. A tiny bit disrespectful. But it also feels bold and it feels right.
It’s “I” “me” and “my” these days, and it doesn’t hurt. Yes, I still share Ken with people who I want to know, but it isn’t the necessity it used to be. I don’t need to validate his life. He had a wonderful one–filled with love, laughter and a strength that still inspires me today.
Someday, in the next iteration of my life I’ll unpack that box of “Relics” and put the photos and mementos of my life with Ken in their proper places among the contemporary sentiments. But until then, I’ll enjoy the freedom of being a widower no more.
Also published on Medium.