It's that time of the year when I look back to see where I've been, what I've accomplished, and where I want to head in the coming year. I've done this every year for the past 35 years except last year. John had died in November and the best I could do was hope that I'd endure the grief and mourning that overwhelmed me - and I wasn't so sure about that.
So, this year I dared to pull out my private journals from 2018 and 2019 (six in all) and began to read, hesitantly, a few pages at a time. Knowing I would dredge up painful memories, bittersweet memories, but also, hopefully, memories that could sustain me and buoy up my tentative optimism for the coming year.
I had so many questions:
- Had I been the compassionate companion I wanted to be? Did I do enough?
- What help and support meant the most to John, to me, to us?
- What help could I or should I have asked for sooner?
- Why was this past autumn so challenging? Why am I optimistic, even if cautiously, now?
- What have I learned from these past two years? How have they shaped me?
- What could I accomplish or contribute as a result? What calls to me?
I've started at both ends of those 26 months, the early months after the diagnosis and the last months immediately preceding and succeeding his death. And the months of this previous autumn. It's glaringly obvious that this will take me more than a couple weeks to accomplish, as I write a minimum of two college-lined 8 1/2 x 11 pages every day and many of them are challenging to read. I've taken on a project that could well take a few months.
But this much I have learned already:
- This past autumn was so challenging, in part, because the summer flew by with relative ease, and I became complacent. I was stunned by the impact of darker mornings and earlier dusks and much more anxious than I had anticipated for the impending anniversary of John's death as well as the holidays. My private journal pages contain more grief and anxiety than is my intention to share here. Not that I didn't share that with close friends and a counselor, but my intention here is to be helpful and as positive as possible.
- Speaking of intention, I was reminded that we promised each other from the very first week that, whatever came our way, we would handle it together with as much grace and dignity as we could muster. And my reading to date reaffirms that we did, some days better than others, of course, but we clung to that promise especially in the final weeks of his life.
- In the weeks following John's death, I was overcome with regrets. Normal, I'm told, but so very painful. It was, therefore, a gift, and an affirmation of the value of all that journal writing, to come across the passage where I captured one of the last things he said to me - "How was I ever so lucky to have found you?" He thought I did enough, more than enough. And today, that's good enough for me.
- Regarding support, I learned so much about support - especially about needing it, asking for it and accepting it willingly and graciously when offered. So much that it will be the topic of my next post(s), maybe eventually, a book. For me, looking back is helping me to rebuild a bruised sense of self-confidence, to reassure me that I will be ok, maybe stronger than ok, and to point optimistically to a future that holds purpose and satisfaction.
- I'm back.