11 Years Later

It has not missed my attention that April 14th—the anniversary of my first husband’s death–was this past weekend.

It’s so easy to forget sometimes that I had this other life. The tears are dry. The grief has subsided. The anger is gone. Mostly. I remember things we did together, places we went, things we said. But sadly, those memories are almost as fogged over as the ones I have of being in high school—just distant remembrances that float to the top of my memory from time to time when something familiar triggers it. Despite how much I do bring up Mike in conversation with people, my memory of him has turned to a shadow, frozen forever in time at the age of 32. This is exactly what I was afraid would happen. I suppose it’s just natural to forget the details in time. Normal. Healthy. But I still feel a little guilty.

I will never forget April 14th, though. The shock and horror will remain etched in my mind’s eye as a reminder of how quickly everything can go so wrong. I think that watching someone you love die is probably the hardest experience a person can have. It has an effect on you that can’t be erased. But it taught me something too. Every second in life counts. Live each one of them to the fullest. And I feel in these past eleven years–at least in the last five years–I’ve adopted this philosophy as I’ve let nothing stop me from going to the places I’ve wanted to go, doing the things I’ve wanted to do.

Sudden change is not always bad. Eight months ago, I fell in love with a friend–a guy I’d known for 3 or 4 years, with whom I’d ridden on club rides. When I gave him a chance, we both learned we were very compatible. Last month, we decided to get married. We’ve started that process of making financial decisions, looking for our together house, planning a wedding. Things are happening so fast. Like they did that first time. What a ride. In the blink of an eye–from good to bad, to better, to good again. Life’s a constantly moving wheel of fortune.

How does it feel going through the motions a second time around? I have to admit it’s a little strange. I try to suppress the waves of deju vu that surface on occasion. Didn’t I do this before? Didn’t I think this would be the last time, just as I’m thinking this is the last time as we make our plans? The relationship is different, the person I’m with is different; hell, I’m even different. But some parts of it are similar enough to remind me of the first time.

I’ve been struggling to adjust my verbiage after I referred to “my husband” in a conversation with Crow. He rightfully pointed out that soon he would to be my husband. It was like stating the obvious, but I needed that jolt of reality because it hadn’t even occurred to me that when I am married again, I can’t use the term “husband” to refer to both Mike and Crow. So my brain has to learn a new term. I never liked the term “late husband”–just what is he late for? If you’re waiting for him to come, he’ll always be late!—so I’ve always referred to Mike as simply my husband in conversation. It sometimes caused people to ask questions, assuming that my husband was alive, but I preferred it to the plea of sympathy that referring to a late husband seemed to provoke. I’m now teaching myself to call him my first husband. Because that’s what he was. Alive or dead.

I hope that Crow is my last and final husband. In that case, he will always be “my husband.” Trying that term on a new face feels a little strange. But yet, no stranger that it felt the first time I ever got to use it in a sentence to describe my relationship to someone I loved. I’m adjusting to “fiance.” It makes me giggle the way it did the first time. I’m engaged. Again.

I always thought that when I got married again, I’d do something so utterly different that it would not even look the least bit similar to the first wedding. I think this was mostly a grief-driven reaction. I was afraid of a second wedding eclipsing the first, erasing that part of my history. Not only did I fear that people would compare a second wedding to the first—perhaps liking it better—but I was afraid I would. I didn’t know then how to separate one from the other because, frankly, I couldn’t even anticipate that I would or could love someone as much as I loved Mike.

It’s a cliché, but time heals all wounds. It leaves scars. But it heals. And as time anesthetized my pain, my heart grew larger and new chambers opened up to receive new possibilities. And there he was. And now I can see what I couldn’t see before: Love does not compare! Mike and Crow are two completely different people and, while my capacity to love them is similar, there is no way, ever, that I could or would even think to compare one to other. If I have a grand ceremony with Crow (as we are currently planning), it will not lessen one bit the wedding or marriage I had with Mike. They are two completely different events in my life. I can separate and compartmentalize. It’s not even a chore, it just happens.

I hope other people who have been in my life have the same capacity to separate me with Mike from me with Crow. Sometimes when planning aspects of our wedding, I worry that someone in my audience—who will have witnessed both weddings—will compare and find they prefer the first wedding. Or they prefer the first groom. I’m afraid they will think, “Well, that was nice. But not as nice as her wedding to Mike.” As if other people’s judgement of my love for someone has any reflection on our feelings for each other. Why should I even care what other people think? Maybe I’m afraid they won’t give Crow a chance. I feel enormous pressure to impress upon my audience that this love is just as important as the first. I don’t know why I feel I have to prove anything. But I do.

I regret that my grandma H is no longer alive to meet Crow. Some part of me wishes for her approval too. I want her to meet my love, the way I wanted her to meet and approve of Mike so long ago. I’m sad that neither grandma E or grandma H are alive to witness my wedding as as they were present the first time. I want them there to see me happy again (though Grandma E died two months before Mike so she never knew what I went through).

I won’t lie, I’m a little scared. When I let go, I feel again those glimmers of hope and excitement for the future that is not yet written—trips we plan to take, the house we plan to buy, the life we want to build together. I remember feeling this way before and I’ll never forget how that ended. There’s trepidation, for sure. As I’ve said here on this blog a hundred times, life does not always work out the way you planned it. But do I have any regrets about the past? Not when it comes to having loved Mike. We made the most of the time we had together. I know this is all any of us can do. And I will make the most of the time Crow and I have together. I pray that this time Fate won’t let me down.