No matter how well I think I’m doing and how much of a new normal I feel I’ve come to know, I cannot avoid those Winnie the Pooh “Oh, bother!” moments or days. I read so many comments from people expressing anxiety and/or confusion about how they are handling grief or the many conflicting emotions involved in caregiving. I relate to that self-judgment but I have also come to realize that it is just a part of the grief with which I have come to co-exist.
August 26 was five years since Ben left this world. Five years seemed a milestone period of time to me and the date weighed on me. As always, days come and go, sadness ebbs and flows. The fact that the anniversary also is so close to the beginning of the school year adds anxiety to this time. I know and understand all those emotions, so I just accept the imbalance in my feelings and moods. As I’ve written, the pandemic and quarantine have also brought memories and thoughts of how worried I would be if Ben were here and I had to worry about bringing COVID19 to him, or what we would do if I became ill. Caregiving may no longer be my responsibility, but those thoughts never seem to go away. On the plus side, I think it’s a good thing that I am very sensitive to the concerns of others.
I have received many signs and messages from Ben over the years and I know that he is with me. Although I often feel his presence, lately, I have been more aware of his absence, and it bothers me. I’ve looked for signs that are not there. I am terrified of birds, but have had cardinals show up literally in my path staring at me. I’ve read that they carry spiritual messages, so although Ben knew how terrified I am of birds, I can’t help but believe that they were messages from me.
Fall was always Ben’s and my favorite time of year. We loved Halloween. For a while, it was too difficult to face Halloween without Ben, but I’ve slowly embraced it. In fact, last year at this time I was in Walt Disney World enjoying Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party with my friend and her daughters and although it was bittersweet and there were tears, I enjoyed it and also enjoyed watching it through Ben’s eyes. At home, we always decorated, but for a while the decorations were too hard to have around. I would go to storage, look in the box, see if anything felt okay and take those things. I was surprised that the Disney Halloween countdown calendar actually proved a comfort to me but most things still remain in storage. Last year, I bought a few new things that remind me of Ben but also allow Halloween to look a little different. Yesterday, I went to storage and again looked at our Halloween collection. Again, I left most things except for the things I know that I have enjoyed displaying. At the last minute, I decided to take the banner that hung in our Walt Disney World hotel room during our last visit in 2014, when I had the room decorated for Halloween as a surprise for Ben- a very big surprise, particularly since it was July! I had tried to display the banner once before and found it upsetting, but something told me to try again. I do push myself, but also don’t judge myself about these kinds of things. As it turned out, I put up the banner and it bothered me. It started to unnerve and upset me. I took it down, apologized aloud to Ben, and put it away. I will never know why things affect me so differently. They just do. I felt better without the banner, so I know it was right to put it away. Maybe I’ll try again next year. Maybe not. Although it’s emotional, I still feel compelled to decorate and it still gives me a feeling of connection to Ben. The good memories still make me smile despite the sadness.
This morning, I took a long walk through Central Park. I have been able to take more walks through Central Park now that the weather has cooled a bit. With my Halloween sadness looming, I found myself tearing up as I walked around, missing being with Ben and together enjoying the arrival of fall. I know he would have enjoyed feeding the squirrels with me. I stopped at the Hans Christian Andersen statue and thought about how we originally developed a connection because we loved the film Hans Christian Andersen as kids and he surprised me with the DVD when we had just begun dating. I started today’s walk feeling glad to be getting back in shape on walks that I enjoy so much and returned home in a mood of melancholy.
I understand it. I can reason it. Still, as I walked home, I couldn’t help but feel exhausted at not being able to prepare for these unexpected triggers. I have learned to expect the unexpected, but it does not mean it doesn’t upset me. In a way, I think that these moments cause me to be aware of how I balance my emotions. Since I do think a lot about honoring Ben in all that I do, these setbacks during which I acknowledge how much I miss him and give me a time to spiritually and quietly send that message to him. I wanted to write down these thoughts for those readers who feel the frustration of how and if one really emerges from grief. I know that I have steadily gotten better. I believe that it’s normal and actually, okay, that I have those kinds of Eeyore-ish days, since I know that indeed, I have carved out a life for myself, even though I am sure of exactly where I want to be. As much as I remind myself of this new normal status, still, the bottom line on days like yesterday and today is “Oh, bother!”