Posted by: shelliejelly | November 5, 2008

Dear K.

O. once told me, as we negotiated our way toward separation and, now, divorce, that he thought there were always three people in our relationship: “You, me, and K.,” is what he said. Standing over O. as he sat, I can remember feeling puzzled, but also recall thinking that maybe he was right.

The difficult thing about grief is that you work really hard to get it right, even when you know the chances of misstepping are huge. There was a time after losing you that I smoked and drank way too much, until one day my counselor looked at me and said very plainly: “You have a choice to make, Michelle. You can either slowly kill yourself, which you’re doing, or you can try to make this better.” I made my choice instantly; I knew you wanted better for me and that making any other decision except to work to make things good would dishonor your memory, and our love.

I committed myself to counseling. I drilled down into the darkest of my thoughts and said them out loud, working through them and creating a new space where our relationship was necessarily different, but existent. I re-envisioned our lives — my life — so that I could adequately let you go without completely forgetting how we loved one another.

This task of letting go without forgetting is the Achilles heel of everyone who grieves, I think. How do you acknowledge and reconcile the physical absence without compromising the very real presence the person you lost will always have in your heart’s memory? In my experience, people closest to those who grieve want them to tuck away those memories, only pulling them out when absolutely necessary. Deeply loving someone you can no longer see makes most everyone uncomfortable, or so it seems.

So, O. making the accusation he did struck deep, and, without thinking, I immediately took blame. Losing someone already knocks you off center, making you unsure of yourself, and this feeling is only made worse when other people need to be assured you are better, doing okay, beyond the grief.

But I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely beyond the grief, and I am done apologizing for this part of myself. You have been gone for 11 years, and I’ve worked hard to rebuild my life. Who is to say, though, that adjusting to your loss isn’t done until I’ve completely removed you from my life? Only those who have never lost big can make such sweeping generalizations, such gargantuan requests.

O.’s understanding of what I’d been through seemed so genuine when we first started dating. He didn’t mind the stories. He never mentioned the burden of knowing that my life, his life, would be very different if you hadn’t died. Underneath, though, there must have been some bitterness, some bottled up resentment that took shape in his suggestion that day.

If he were truly honest with himself, he’d admit that he told only part of the truth while looking up at me from the edge of the bath tub. There were three people in our marriage at this point, but one of them wasn’t you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: