Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Jamey’s death.
It also marked the last of “The Firsts” for me and Cael.
“The Firsts” can be ominous milestones in the infant phases of grief.
We often ask ourselves how, as a widower, we’ll manage an anniversary dinner with only one place-setting.
We ponder how a child will respond to Christmas gifts with only one parent’s name listed on the “From” gift tag.
There is simply no way to predict our feelings during these events.
We have no precedent set for “The Firsts”; all we know is that life will be different.
We know that someone will be missing.
We know that that absence; that permanent loss of normalcy, will be recognized and felt.
We simply can’t predict the depth or enormity of that absence.
Looking back at Cael and my “First Year Firsts”, I see a definite pattern.
To her credit, this pattern was established by Cael.
It’s been a pattern of change, yet sustained engagement:
We flew to San Diego a few weeks after our birthdays and wedding anniversary(all three events are a mere three days apart).
We flew to Ohio on Christmas morning to be with Jamey’s family.
We jetted down to DC on Easter to catch the cherry blossoms mid-bloom.
We both cut school, went to the cemetery, then hung on the beach yesterday–the anniversary of Jamey’s death.
For the most part, these weren’t events that had been months in the planning.
San Diego materialized less than a week before we flew out; our DC trip was decided about noon on Easter itself.
The therapist in me is cautious that this pattern of “escapism” when faced with potentially painful days is unhealthy; a stereotypical avoidance behavior.
The mom in me is wary that this pattern is establishing unrealistic expectations(….”but we celebrated our birthdays in San Diego last year…why can’t we go to Hawaii this year!?!?!”…)
The human in me says, “screw it”!(well, I’m actually thinking of a harsher term, but am trying to sound all dignified and such).
What we’ve done on ALL of our Firsts is create new memories.
And although Caeley and I carried the memory of Jamey around in our backpockets with our sunglasses and cellphones, he wasn’t a part of the new memories we created with one another and other important people in our lives.
And that’s ok.
One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced this past year hasn’t been experiencing happiness-it’s been admitting to myself and others that I actually am happy.
For some twisted reason, I often find myself falling into the trap of equating martyrdom with true love and devotion.
If I can experience life; if I can live and laugh and love in Jamey’s absence, what kind of person does that make me?
It’s as if my current measure of happiness completely cancels out any feelings of joy, contentment or love I felt when Jamey was alive.
And that–frankly–is just bullshit(ok, no longer concerned with sounding all dignified and such).
Sadly, though, it’s not just me who’s inherited the “Mark of the Martyr”.
On more than one occasion, Caeley has shared similar concerns, especially relating to (International) Mystery Dude.
To paraphrase—“I find myself laughing with him and having fun, then I catch myself and get quiet. It doesn’t feel fair to daddy that I’m happy”
So we’re both kind of torn.
And, I think, umm, we’re both pretty…. human.
It’s hard to hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time.
The technical term for that occurrence is cognitive dissonance.
And when you’re grieving, cognitive dissonance can be a bitch.
It can cause you to question how it’s possible to feel sad for your past but happy for your present and future at the same time.
And it makes you question your current relationships and emotions.
Even worse, however, it can make you fearful about the authenticity of your past relationships.
And it makes both Caeley and I feel guilty.
At the same time, I also selfishly feel we’ve both earned our current states of contentment.
At least I know I ain’t handing mine over anytime soon.
On the topic of current relationships, I got a text from (International) Mystery Dude this morning that read, “Happy New Year!”
I hesitated about putting that into this message for a number of reasons.
In the end, his text made the cut for two reasons:
The Final Firsts are over!
Every annual milestone from here out will have a mixture of two memory sources:
–the tender, poignant memories of life with Jamey
–and the new, but equally meaningful memories of life without him.
I just really like using the term (International) Mystery Dude!
I’m thinking the kid and I are facing a happy new year of Seconds.