Tomorrow will mark five years since my life irrevocably changed. At the time, and for a long time afterwards, I saw nothing but dark skies ahead. I struggled through each day, staggering through from pre-dawn to post-dusk, sleeping erratically and merely existing. I knew little beyond the world A and I had created together, holding fast to one another on a journey neither one of us knew would end so soon. As social media memories pop up, I am naturally reminded daily of moments and emotions of both my time with him and the early days, months, and years without him.
Yesterday, S and I spent the afternoon at the beach with his oldest son, who is home from college on Spring Break. The weather was perfect – sunny, warm, and breezy – and the beach uncrowded. The three of us chatted a bit here and there, but for the most part we simply enjoyed the day and each other. I took a break from my own studies and read for pleasure, something I don’t get to do enough of while I pursue my Master’s Degree (which, thankfully, is nearing completion). All in all, it was exactly what we all needed.
At one point, I wandered into the water on my own. Standing there savoring the moment, I pondered on the looming date of April 17th, and the changes in my life since A died. The beach was his thing. Man, was it his thing! I always surmised that it was because of his Mediterranean roots , and that needing the ocean was simply in his DNA. He never lived to see Disney’s Moana, but I think of him whenever I hear the song “How Far I’ll Go“. The lyrics “the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me. It’s like the tide, always falling and rising” certainly could have been written about him. Naturally, we were there as often as we could, and it is the reason we honeymooned in Hawaii and even moved to the islands for awhile.
Yesterday was different, though. Although it’s unfair and simply not right to compare, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Where A wanted to always be by my side whenever possible, S encourages me to be on my own. So as I braced against the waves and dragged my fingertips through the salt water, it felt unfamiliar to be there by myself. S had stayed on the sand with his oldest, the two of them enjoying some father/son time. At first, it struck me as peculiar and somewhat eerie, and brought back the feelings of loneliness and isolation I had felt early in my grief. Then, I realized that it felt empowering and liberating to experience the simultaneous feelings of serenity and intensity of the ocean in solitude.
It also occurred to me that, much like the pull of the ocean for A, perhaps he knew on some deeper level that his time with me was limited. Maybe he was subconsciously trying to squeeze 50 years of togetherness into the 32 years we shared. Thinking back, it was if he knew that there would come a time when he couldn’t be with me, so he was making sure that I would have enough memories to carry me through. What I admittedly saw then as sometimes smothering – A wouldn’t even let me go to the grocery store on my own most of the time – I can look back on and see as ensuring that I never had to wonder if he wanted to be with me.
Now, however, I am blooming in a way that wasn’t possible with A. With A, I was a carefully tended garden. He lovingly hovered to ensure that I got enough water and sunlight, and protected me from pests or blight. By doing so, however, he also kept me walled off from the world to some degree. He didn’t want to share. With S, the fence has fallen and the garden has begun to grow wild and free. He still watches over me and takes care of my wants and needs, but he does so in a way that simply allows me to roam unrestrained by borders. Neither way is wrong, but they are certainly different. I will admit that at times it is difficult to completely grasp that I’m able to wander past my former boundaries. It feels wrong. And frightening. And impossible. But I am learning that although S’s gardening approach is not the same as A’s, it is still nurturing.
As I turned back toward the shore and slowly walked from the water, a little girl of about 4 or 5 watched me. As I got closer, she raised her hand and shyly waved. I smiled and waved back, saying “hi”. A grin broke across her face and she ran back to her mom a short distance away. A few steps further, I spotted a tiny, white “angel wings” seashell and picked it up. I saw both signs as A waving his hello, too.