Sometimes it bugs me that there are only 365 days in the year. And then those days repeat and events start to converge on the “same” day in different years. After enough years, each day develops multiple overlapping meanings, such as when a national event like 9/11 falls on my goddaughter’s birthday. Which it does. Who gets the day?
We have several instances of calendar collision in our blended family. Tim’s first wife and my sister share the same birthday; Sam’s deathaversary falls on the same date as one of my now niece’s birthday; one of my cousins died on Tim and Debbie’s wedding anniversary. In one of the twists of the calendar, Sam and I were married on the same day as Tim’s parents. Well, not exactly. Same day, different years. We were married on their 28th anniversary. But of course we didn’t know that at the time.
Sam and I had been married for just over 15 years when he died, and the date that would have been our 16th wedding anniversary was a remarkably difficult day. One of those days that arrived, despite my best efforts. I closed my eyes and held my breath, but the clock kept ticking and the calendar page turned. Of the days during that first year as a widow that took my breath away, my wedding anniversary was one of the hardest. Only the parties to a marriage can know the significance and intimacy of that day. After Sam’s death, it was a harsh reminder that I was single. He was gone. The anniversary that would-have-been, wasn’t.
It is hard to say goodbye.
I was surrounded by Sam’s family on a summer trip to the Sierras for that first anniversary that wasn’t. I don’t know whether that made it better or worse. On the one hand, there were aunts and uncles and cousins available to entertain and safeguard my boys while I melted down. On the other hand, an argument with an in-law sent me — literally — running for the hills. I ran farther than I had planned (farther, in fact, than I had ever run at all) at altitude, listening to an album by Jason Mraz. “Details in the Fabric” still makes me think of that tearful, miserable, intensely therapeutic run. Good for the heart, I suppose. And good for the broken heart as well.
In all fairness, it would not have taken much to spark my emotions into orbit that particular day. My head and my heart were at odds with each other, trying to reconcile the fact of Sam’s love with the matter of his death. It should have been our anniversary; we were supposed to be together, celebrating. But he was dead. And by his own hand. It was all so wrong. I faced into the ugly, messy reality that now comprised my life, I reached a place where the impossible had happened and somehow I was still moving. Through the heat and steep terrain, through the beauty and the pain and the sweat and the tears, the broken heart beats. It is no small miracle. With family by my side (for better and for worse), I was embraced by their love. As were my children. As was Sam. Unbelievably, our hearts hold on.
I honestly didn’t want or expect to find love again. I had been married to a man who loved me for who I was, and I was grateful for what we had. Truly. Some people live their whole lives without experiencing a love like that. It ended too soon, but I had it.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I felt better after my run.
Even better after my cousin made me an omelette. Because snacks are key to the process.
But while we’re on the subject of sparks… On the opposite end of the spectrum that day, was a phone call toward the end of the day from a man I had met recently. The cell service in the mountains was spotty at best, so the fact that his call came through at a time I happened to have reception must have been the work of divine providence. Tim had also been widowed, and I was calmed by the sound of his voice and the fact that he cared. He knew exactly what day it was.
I had met Tim a few weeks prior. Mostly because my friend Susan thought I could benefit from talking to someone who was in the same leaky boat. I never imagined that the love of my life would be waiting for me there.
Meanwhile Susan kept telling me “Tim’s just a nice guy.”
Every time she said that I wanted to meet him less.
As it turns out, Susan was right about having somebody to talk to. Tim and I spent two plus hours chatting at lunch. She failed to mention, however, that he was also nice-looking, which sort of distracted me from my intention never to fall in love again. After Tim and I had been dating for a couple years, one of my nephews was reading the morning Los Angeles Times, and says, “Hey Dad — George Clooney looks like Tim!” Tim would like me to point out that while he and George share the same color gray hair, Tim is taller.
Also, as Susan told me, Tim is in fact a nice guy.
By my second would-have-been anniversary, I had fallen in love with this wonderful man. Even so, I spent the afternoon in bed (alone) with a migraine.
I can’t recall the details of subsequent years, which is as it should be, I suppose. I observed several would-have-been-but-wasn’t anniversaries by taking my headache and a book to bed. But time and healing (which are two separate things) do their work, and ultimately it made no sense to me to count up all the anniversaries I didn’t have. This year, for example, it would have been… let me calculate… 22 years, but the “would-have-beens” don’t count. Sam and I were married for 15 years. On the timeline of my life, our marriage shaped who I am and the lens through which I experience my world, but I don’t wish for a past that was not or a future that is not to be. It makes more sense to me to think of it like this: Sam and I were married on this day 22 years ago. A joyous day, to be sure. Like many other beautiful days we spent together.
As painful as it was to say goodbye to Sam and our life together, it was crucial, because that process opened my eyes and my calendar to present possibilities. I would not be here now if my heart and head had been stuck tallying anniversaries that weren’t. The anniversary headache has been gone for years.
In fact, this year the date nearly slipped my mind completely, because we were focused on a momentous celebration: Tim’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
That’s. Just. Wow.
The day has transitioned from “our” day to “my” day to “their” day. I no longer feel the desperate need to cling to that day as my anniversary, although I do think of that happy wedding day. On our family calendar, the day belongs primarily to my in-laws.
Naturally, Tim and I have our own day. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. We have some happy calendar crossover as well. For example, Tim proposed to me on my parents’ wedding anniversary. I am grateful. And head over heels for my Tim. With a little luck and exceptionally good health, we hope to reach our own 50 year milestone.
While my history continues to have relevance, I have learned to put the past in perspective. There are not enough days in the year for every significant happening to claim its own exclusive square on the calendar. Which now I (mostly) consider a positive. The overlapping events point toward the heart’s capacity to hold the full range of our days.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And days enough to share.