This Friday will be 730 days without Kenneth. His deathaversary. Thursday night will mark the last time, two years ago, that I had a conversation with him. The last time he tucked his three children into bed and kissed their foreheads goodnight before turning off their bedroom lights. The last time we were a family of five.
Two years ago on Friday, we became a family of four.
Two years feels as fast as the blink of an eye and as slow as an eternity all at the same time.
There’s not much to say at this point. The sadness has lessened and most of my fears have become manageable, but the missing is as intense as ever, and the void he left in our lives has given no indication of shrinking.
I am prepared, however, to spend the rest of my life feeling this way. These are all livable problems in the grand scheme of life, and I don’t believe you can get through this kind of loss without being forever changed anyway. There is no baseline for me to return to, so I’ll just accept what I have and count my blessings that the damage wasn’t worse. It could always be worse.
It has taken two years to feel the numbness of grief subside, and for the signs of new life to poke through a thawing winter ground like tender seedlings stretching toward a life-giving sun. There is hope for new beginnings. Life continues to march on, with or without us. I choose to be a part of the procession.
I set my children up with projects to do with their classmates this Friday as a way for them to honor the day of their father’s death. I realized that I planned nothing for myself.
Last year I wrote a “2nd Year Ass-Kicking Plan” in a desperate attempt to make the next year better than the first. There were parts of that first year that I don’t remember, as if I suffered from on-again, off-again amnesia in the fog of grief. The first year of gnarled, thorny grief was messy and almost unbearable. That’s why I decided to write a detailed bucket list of sorts to embrace the promise of the second year. It was my way of being more intentional about not drowning in my pain.
As I am about to enter the third year, I don’t feel the need to make a plan. I don’t feel like I need motivation to get past an insurmountable challenge. I’m already desensitized to the flames of hell, obviously, since I survived raising toddlers as a single mother. (By the way, I currently have no toddlers living under my roof. Hallelujah!)
In my mind, if I could make it through two years of raising three young children on my own in one (tattered) piece, then surely I can survive anything–even a zombie apocalypse should there be a need. ANYTHING. After repeating to myself “only up from here” over and over again, I’ve started to feel like one of those survivalists who can get dropped in the middle of an inhospitable terrain and somehow I will be able to survive–anywhere–even if it requires drinking my own pee and licking a yak carcass for protein. I can handle it.
Last year on the anniversary of Kenneth’s death, I wrote him a letter. I planned a butterfly release and a gathering at my house. We did an American Heart Association fundraiser. I felt the urge to do something big. One year felt momentous. One year still stung with the lingering rawness of new grief.
This year I don’t feel that urge, and I’m not in pain. That feels amazing to me.
We will do a quiet trip to the cemetery with Kenneth’s family. Not quite swept under the rug, but not quite celebrated. Something small, just between us.
After two years, it just is.
I’m not sad or happy or angry or content about any of it. I’m just working with what I have, doing the next best thing I need to do.
Devoid of emotion: yay!
A lot better than writhing on the ground in agony. I’ll take it.
Kenneth missed turning 53 and 54. This October he would have turned 55. To us he will always be 52 years old with a head full of thick jet-black hair and wearing his True Religion jeans. Ripped at the knees, of course. Forever young.
In the past two years, Kenneth missed Ethan’s 7th and 8th birthdays.
Eloise’s 4th and 5th.
Peter Jack’s 2nd and 3rd.
Kenneth will never know what I will look like past the age of 34. He won’t ever know the person I have evolved into, or the person I will continue to become with each passing year. Our relationship and identity as a couple will forever stay frozen in the year 2016.
He has missed our annual camping trips with our friends. Christmas and the 4th of July, weekend excursions to Costco, annual family photos, and the lazy days at home doing laundry and pulling weeds in the garden. He has missed putting out the trash cans on Sunday nights, our Tuesday morning staff meetings, and watching our children learn to swim.
He never heard Peter Jack talk, and he never saw our youngest child climb or jump or run. He died when Petey had just barely learned how to toddle.
He never saw our kids graduate from kindergarten. He will never see them graduate from college or get married.
He never even saw our children learn to read a book.
Kenneth has missed almost all of the micro moments of the childhoods that will shape our children’s identities.
And yet somehow he was always there too.
He’s there in the way Ethan gets excited by something new, and in Ethan’s expression of outrage after discovering that Flint’s water supply is contaminated. Kenneth is in the quirky self-determination of Ellie and in her sweet tenderness toward others. He’s in Petey’s eyes, the way they share the same shoulders and scowl, and how Peter marches to the beat of his own drum. It feels like Kenneth is always around and never around. It’s an unexplainable phenomenon–carrying someone inside of you, with no tangible signs of their existence.
Kenneth died 15 days before our 7th wedding anniversary. In a few weeks we would have celebrated our 9th year of marriage. Instead, the children and I will have dinner together and acknowledge the beginning of our family. Not very romantic, but still a reason to commemorate.
I miss Kenneth terribly. His presence. His brain. His ideas, his passion, his heart. The way he told me how beautiful I was, and how he made sure I regularly got flowers and little treats and how he emailed or texted articles for me to read and we would talk about politics. I miss the weird things he would say, like the time I frustrated him and he said, “You’re just like Gary Mitchell! You weren’t like this when I married you.” I had no clue what he meant nor did I know who Gary was until he explained the Star Trek reference, and that the character kept getting smarter and unmanageable to be around. Kenneth was the eternal nerd.
Sure, there are things I don’t miss. Things that are better left unsaid. But despite those things, I still mostly miss him and the life that we used to have together.
It’s more complicated than that, though.
You see, although I wouldn’t have chosen this life, I don’t exactly hate it anymore. I feel like I’m a better version of myself, and I wouldn’t want to go back to that person I used to be. Maybe it’s the Gary Mitchell thing. I enjoy certain things about life with more depth than I used to appreciate. My priorities have shifted. My perspective has been completely altered, and I really like all of these changes about myself. I wish it didn’t take my husband’s aorta to explode to get to this point, but such is the nature of life.
I came across this quote by Shraddha, and I thought it was perfectly true: your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.
A thousand times, YES!
I take that responsibility quite seriously. As such, I do have a personal goal as I enter my 3rd year of grief.
I want to be more intentional about the kind of mother my children will remember.
At Ethan’s Open House last week, I read a poem that he wrote. Part of it said:
I worry about my family.
I cry about my mom.
When I read it, I was both touched and sad. Touched that he thinks of me often and that his love for me is endless. Sad that he gets sad about me. Sad that my little boy has to worry about the family. While I think a certain degree of consciousness about real life is important for children, I don’t want the heaviness of the world to rest on his shoulders just yet. More importantly, I care a lot about their childhood experiences and the role that I play in it.
I want my kids to have creative, idyllic childhoods with healthy doses of reality and responsibility.
I don’t want them to remember a sad and angry mom. I want them to remember how happy I was being a part of their lives and watching them grow, and how happy I was to live my own life too. I want them to remember a mom who laughed a lot, said yes to new adventures, pursued her own passions, was patient, loving and kind.
I want my kids to remember me and think, “Wow, Mom should have been a wreck when we were little, but she was nothing but fun and loving to us.” I want to leave that kind of legacy behind.
Here’s to Year 3: loving life, loving my family and friends, loving the ones who have already departed, loving the ones who have yet to come into our lives, loving the knowledge that there is so much more to do and experience in our precious lives. Loving the ability to continue making choices. We have choices about how we respond in even the worst of times.
It goes without saying how much we love and miss Kenneth. I’ve done the best I could have in these circumstances, in his absence. I will strive to do better and improve as a person: for myself, the kids, and of course always for him.