In just another four days, it will be eight months since I last saw Erika. The last time I spoke to her. The last time I heard her voice. The last time I saw her smile. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I’m really happy that on my last visit to see Erika, I brought her an early birthday present, which was a stuffed animal replica of our dog, Jaro. In spite of how bad she was feeling at the time, it did make her smile. Also, in spite of how terrible she felt and being in and out of sleep when I had to leave the visit, her final words to me were “I love you” which I also said back to her. To me, there are no better final words that a couple could say to each other. And I do mean literally those were the last words we heard from each other.
Since then, I’ve been going to counseling and learning about grief. Let’s just say in the beginning, I knew nothing about it. I’m still learning more about grief as I go and learning a lot more about myself. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to meet and talk with other widows and widowers, and share stories of our experiences. It really helps me to hear the similarities. I have one such friend where every time one of us messages with something like “I’ve been feeling like this lately”, nearly 100% of the time, the other says “Me too!” But I also remember very on in the process, one person who has experienced this kind of loss said to me, “Your life has changed forever. You a different person now. You’ll live with this for the rest of your life.” Honestly, I thought they were just being dramatic or trying to make me feel better in the moment. I thought nahh, this will be a few months and I won’t feel the same way anymore. Which has also led me to one understanding of grief. (Again, I’m not claiming to know all there is, just that I’m learning.) It’s that everyone has experienced grief in some way. Everyone has lost a person that is important to them. Everyone has lost a pet, or a grandparent, or a distant cousin, or maybe even a celebrity that meant something to them. And they grieved, they were sad for a period of time, but then we “get over it.” We “feel better” and we’re “doing ok now.” My realization is that there are different levels of grief. This isn’t to minimize those but I do think that when someone loses a child or a spouse/life partner, it’s stronger, it’s deeper, it’s life changing.
There are good days and bad days. I’ve referred to them as waves. You can feel the tide go up and and down. Over time, the amplitude of the waves is less, and the bad days are less frequent, but they do still happen. I might go a week or two of all good days and I start to think that I’m doing ok. Or at least that’s how I used to think, but then I’d have a bad or sad day out of the blue, and realize that this is with me. This isn’t leaving me, and I’m not asking for it to leave me. It’s just the realization that this is a part of me, including the occasional down day and the occasional really down day.
It’s also led me to think about all the things I miss about Erika. Every day, I process memories in my head, replaying them over and over. Sometimes it’s even from before our first date, like the day I first saw her whisk into the Statehouse press conference. Or the coy, nervous smile she gave me while driving home from our first date. Or seeing her on her bicycle, riding past my office window, waving to me even when she couldn’t see inside. Or seeing her on the ice, playing hockey. Or our Friday nights, sitting in either her apartment kitchen or our house kitchen, working on a bottle of wine together. Unfortunately, the final days often seep into my head and I hate that. I hate having those memories of her, which is a big reason I keep replaying the older, happy memories. To see her happy, healthy, enjoying life. Doing things she should still be doing today. There are so many days like today, a rainy Saturday afternoon when I don’t have too much to do and I meander around the house a little bit, missing her. Knowing she would be taking her mid-afternoon nap. I miss the comfort of us together.
It’s one of those things you don’t really know the depth of what you have until it’s gone. I always knew I could fully trust her, and I always knew that we were a true partnership together. A great couple. It’s when it’s gone that you miss it so much. I think what also makes it hard is that it was ripped away so quickly. I just miss everything about her.
As always, ending with photos of happier times.