In the beginning, this is so easy to distinguish. Each time you go somewhere- the grocery store, the zoo, a restaurant, you are aware that the last time you came was with him.
You know that the roll of paper towels that you’re using were purchased by him when he ran into Target and you sat in the car with your child, the very day before the last day you would ever see him or hold him. You know and so you put that last roll away before it is finished- up in the linen closet- because you cannot bear to watch the last towel – the one that kind of sticks to the cardboard roll- come off.
You know that the sneakers your twenty one month old is wearing were purchased together with him. “Should I get her the pink or the blue?” you’d asked. (Only now do you realize consistently how much you relied on him and his opinion- meanwhile, all the time you thought of yourself as the decision maker). You know when she’s outgrown them a few months later and you put them away that those were the last shoes that had anything to do with him. That everything else now will be new.
You follow the dates and feel them in your bones- the anniversary date approaching each month.
You look through your pantry one day and have no idea what items were bought “before” and which ones were purchased “after.” You wonder if there is even anything left from “before.”
You realize most of the places you visit and even the people you know – your daughter’s preschool, moms of her classmates, your grief counselor, a new church- are places he has not gone to and people he does not know and never saw his smile when he greeted them or heard him tell a corny joke or were moved by his cello playing.
You look down at your own outfit one day and realize he has not seen any of the things you are wearing. But you are still wearing a pair of his socks. That comforts you.
And then one day you find a half used roll of paper towels in the linen closet and can’t remember why it’s there or why you didn’t use it up. And then you do.
And you realize one day- that you are quite accustomed to saying, “My husband was…” or “Dan used to do that,” when in the early weeks those sentences sounded absolutely ridiculous and false to you. “Why am I using past tense?” you would ask yourself, because you do the very day you receive the news…but you can’t understand why. “I spoke to him yesterday?” why am I telling everyone, “He was…” It kills your heart to use those words. But now you do. And it is rather matter of fact. But still, in all honesty, kind of ridiculous- it’s just that now you haven’t seen him in so…very…long.
And then another day, like today, you realize that yesterday was the sixth of the month, and you repeated that date to numerous people as you had appointments in the city and paperwork to be signed, but it never occurred to you that this was the date- the anniversary until … today.
This is what time does. And this is what is presupposed as “healing” by those who do not know better. Time blurs. It is quite sad in itself and not healing at all. It is ruthless really because it is just another aspect of which you have no choice or control. It just happens. Perhaps this is soothing to some people. It means you let go, whether you want to, or not.
Any true healing is worked for- for me that means talking and therapy, processing, and writing and crying- taking painful “steps,” like packing up clothes or giving things away. It means closing bank accounts and going to the DMV to change titles.
But, even if you did none of this towards healing, or moving forward as they call it, time would do something else for you. It would give you practice. Each morning when you get up and think the first thing, “This is true – Dan is dead,” while you still lay in your bed…you get a little more practice at the sick feeling in your gut. You get a little more practice of putting your feet on the floor. You get a little better at the inhibitory control it takes to go against everything in you and start the day- do it all again. It is a little like practicing a piece of music on the violin or piano over and over again. Your fingers finally surrendering to where they’re supposed to go. Except that that has the reward of beauty and satisfaction. This does not.