Five years ago today we were preparing for renewing our wedding vows with friends in the evening while making the rounds of doctors to recreate care after hospice kicked us out. Six weeks later, Larry took his last breath A heartbeat ago and an eternity.
There’s something about five years that carries significance in a way that four or six doesn’t, with no reasonable explanation. It’s just what I feel and if there is one thing I’ve learned these last five years it’s that feelings matter and you can’t just push them away.
In some ways I’ve come full circle this last year. Mostly since Larry died I’ve been grieving him, intensely at first, then learning to live with it as an ache that comes and goes, sort of like an old injury that hurts when it rains.
This year I’ve found enough stability and equanimity to be able to finally allow myself to fully feel the crushing blows of caregiving. I spent months “oozing” the trauma. It wasn’t like there were flashback memories, it was all physical. I called them dread attacks and they came during the nights and early mornings, sometimes one at a time, sometimes like endless waves crashing over me. I fought them, looking for how to “fix” them with things like journaling, meditation, drugs, and therapy, It was only in accepting and allowing them that they started to abate.
Next came grief for me, for the years of regular life I’d lost, for the career I gave up at its high point, for the hopes I lost.
This Valentine’s Day I’m back to grieving for Larry. I feel like I’m losing him, losing memories. A friend suggested maybe I’m not losing him, I’m letting him go. When we celebrated five years ago, we included a sand ceremony, taking it from ancient traditions where parties would each mix sand to seal a contract – once the sand was mixed it could never be separated. Larry (with my help) and I each poured sand from our favorite local beach in a turquoise decanter, added sand our kids had mailed from their home beaches, and invited our neighbors who’d been so supportive to us to each add a small cup of sand. I’ve moved that sand in that decanter from Florida to California, and from houseboat to houseboat to houseboat.
I’ve been thinking about loss and letting go all week. I decided it was time to let go of that sand, let go of holding onto the pain, the grief and yes, even some of the love. There’s plenty of love still to keep but I don’t want to keep the rest of the pain and grief that got so tied up in it.
Yesterday I separated out a small amount of sand to take with me to Florida next week when I make my first visit back to the area where we used to live, where we celebrated that last Valentine’s Day. I’ll leave it there on the beach it came from, perhaps at sunset because Larry loved the beach at sunset.
Today I took the decanter out on my deck and slowly scattered the sand into the water below, to the sounds of James Taylor (his favorite) in the background playing “You’ve Got a Friend.” The past life scattered at the base of my present life. I’ve washed the decanter and will give it away. The sand, the decanter, they’ve served their purpose. I don’t need them anymore. I remember saying at his funeral that Larry taught me how to let go of people I loved. I meant the kids, but I think it applies now.
I like the person I’ve become over these last five years. I’m strong, I’m happy. I’ve made lots of friends of all ages. I like the people around me and I know they like me. I’m enjoying life.
There’s lots of kinds of love and today I feel well-loved, by those alive and those who’ve left me. By Larry, by my parents and my stepdad, by my kids, by my grandkids, siblings, dear friends. I’m so fortunate! I know how to live open-heartedly and I know how to give love and receive love. I’m not afraid of what will come because I know whatever it is, I’ll figure out how to manage. Not just manage – I’ll figure out how to thrive. You can do that when you know about love.