Tomorrow is John's birthday. Forty years ago tomorrow, his mom, as he would say, "dropped the bomb." (Get it? Pearl Harbor day? Get it? That joke got me every time.)
As my sporadic postings here document, I've been overwhelmed and overwraught these past few weeks. An email today reminded me of tomorrow's significance, and suddenly, things came into focus. John's birthday has always been a big grief trigger for me, the biggest one of them all, actually, much bigger than the day he died. Thanksgiving is also charged, both because we got engaged the day after Thanksgiving and because of the emotions and stress that can come from the travel and visit with his family. And the holidays are the holidays: there's just more to do in a life that's already bursting.
No wonder I've been a bit of a mess.
I've spent a lifetime learning how to be true to myself rather than doing what I think is expected of me. It's a huge challenge for me to tune out expectations and "shoulds." When it comes to grief, that means that it can be hard for me to ignore the (loud, insistent, pervasive) societal belief that nearly six years after John died, I should have moved on, or gotten over it, meaning that sadness, anger, and the other unpleasantries of the grieving process should be a thing of the past.
Ha, ha, HA!
Yeah, sure, I've "moved on." I physically moved across the country, I have a new job, the kids are in first grade, I don't cry every day (although I never did), I stopped wearing my wedding rings, I'm in a serious relationship, many people in my life never even knew John or don't know that I'm a widow, my widowed status is not the primary criteria by which I define myself.
But I still miss John. And certain events and times of year and turns of phrase and songs and looks on my children's faces make that missing more acute, and in turn that missing comes out as sadness or anger or crankiness or a lack of empathy about a something seemingly unrelated. The correlation can be so loose as to be lost on me, as it was over these past few weeks. If I can't recognize it, it's highly likely that others don't see it either, especially if they don't think of me as a widow or if they never knew John.
I don't get angry at people who want me to have moved on. Who can blame them? It would be so much simpler and happier if there were a timetable for this, or for other difficult life events. I think that people who are grieving are pushed to "move on" for two main reasons: 1. A genuine desire for the grief-stricken to be happy and unburdened with the mostly negative grief experience, and 2. the well-wisher's inability or lack of desire to deal with unpleasant emotions.
Were such an emotional utopia possible! But it's not. And when I end up feeling addled by grief that "should" be over, it's not always at a time that's convenient for me or Maddie and Riley or my job or anything else. There are plenty of times when I ignore those feelings or take them out on unsuspecting or undeserving folk. In moments more aware, I can acknowledge the feelings, put them someplace appropriate, and move on. Then there are the times like these where I don't even realize what's going on until something makes me smack myself on the head in disbelief.
Tonight I'm going to Maddie and Riley's first Suzuki violin concert. Saturday Riley will play in his first chess tournament. We're reading the final book in the Harry Potter series together. We've moved on because kids grow up and you get out of bed every day and things change whether you want them to or not. I've wanted them to change, I don't resist that. But this kind of change is not the same as an end to grief. It's just life.