The fourth anniversary of my husband's death is coming up in March this year. It seems like such a long time when it's written down like that, but really they're the fastest years I've ever lived through. I can just barely remember a few things from the first year after he died, like when I watched the entirety of the Sopranos in three days with the curtains shut, smoking in the dark. Otherwise there's just blankness, like someone else took my body to work and to the grocery store and all those things that bodies do while my mind slept.
And now I find that I've been dating someone for two years and that I love him. This isn't a huge shock to me; it's been coming for awhile. But it's hard to reconcile that with the fact that I'm still grieving and that I still miss my husband, that sometimes I can miss him so much I feel like my heart will fall straight out of my body, but that I can love this new person too. It's like a betrayal to both of them, never being fully present for either.
And often I realise that I'm grieving more for myself, for my old life and my old brain. I still feel broken in ways I never expected. I thought that I would become a stronger person, more independent (we married so young that I had never lived on my own) and with a deeper sense of identity. I thought that my loss would teach me to appreciate everything more deeply. I thought there might be a silver fucking lining somewhere, some deep life lesson that would make me a better person like in the movies - but instead I'm less than I was, more anxious and fearful and lonely. I grasp too hard at the things I'm afraid of losing now that I see they can be truly lost. I've seen that I'm not infallible and that all those things that I believed happened only to other people - sometimes they happen to you too.
I never imagined that grief could last this long. I thought I would be my old self by now, that I'd snap out of it and return to the land of the living. But it's impossible to ever return in that way. Things are getting better, I am healing and I can become stronger, but I can never be the person that I was. Early on, when I read on forums that some people felt their third, or fourth, or fifth year was the hardest I refused to believe it because I couldn't imagine it getting any harder than it was in those dark early days. And I can see now that part of what's harder is that, over time, more and more of the people around you expect you to be fine again. And when they see that you're no longer weeping on the bus or during lunch or at any other inconvenient time or location that presents itself to you, they think that means you're back to normal. But grieving isn't just being sad, it's also about that process of becoming a new you, of finding your place in the world without the person who is no longer with you. It doesn't end when you turn back into your old self, it's a continuous metamorphosis. And while transformation carries with it tremendous possibility, it is often also horribly scary and painful.