Before you lose someone close to you, there’s a common misconception that one day you will “move on” from the loss. Even in the early part of my grief journey, I was chasing the day that my broken heart would heal and I would move on from John’s death. That was survival mode talking. 3.5 years after his death, I’m not moved on and never will be. I don’t want to be. The thought of moving on feels violent and weird, locking the complicated feelings of grief and loss and love up into a nice little box to toss in the corner of the attic to ignore for the rest of forever. I am not defined by John’s death, but moving on would be a gross denial of a very important and large part of who I am. It would be an abandonment of everything John knew me to be when he was alive and everything I grew to be after he died.
On the other hand, there is peace and power in moving forward. Allowing my grief to pull up a chair and make herself at home was very uncomfortable at first. I did everything I could to kick grief to the curb, but she’s a stubborn tenant. Every time I thought I’d finally gotten rid of her, a familiar song would play at a restaurant or I’d spot someone drinking Vita Coco coconut water or Bill Burr would suddenly appear in a movie, and there she was again, bursting through the door with a cup of coffee and a box of tissues. I’ve since befriended my once-unwelcomed guest, instating an open-door policy of sorts. She comes and goes as she pleases, and I make sure to leave a space for her so I’m not caught off-guard when she reappears. These days, rather than trying to shut out my grief and move on, I try let her in and move forward.
Moving forward with grief looks different for everyone, but one thing remains constant: nobody’s grief ever goes away. Even those who have lived with grief for 10, 20, 50 years will experience the triggers and shock of that deep, raw, gasping-for-air pain from time to time. I have my own triggering moments. Yesterday, for example, was John’s 29th birthday. On Sunday, I brought it up with Eli and asked him if I could start sharing more things about John with him. At the risk of sounding insane, I’ll just tell you that John lives on in my head. I still chat with and consult him about things, and as far as I’m concerned, he knows and loves Eli. I realized on Sunday that I wanted Eli to know John better, so I asked him if it would be okay that I start to share more things about John with him. Eli has been nothing but kind and loving and accepting about my grief and the importance of John in my life, but truthfully, I’ve been afraid to talk about John too much. Not because of how Eli might react, but because I never ever want Eli to doubt my feelings for him. I put myself in his shoes and wonder if the roles were reversed, how I might feel if Eli brought up his dead girlfriend a lot. I think I would be understanding, but I also know it’s a complicated set of emotions for everyone involved. It’s not black and white in the slightest. It’s the biggest, murkiest grey area you can imagine. So, on Sunday, I asked Eli if I could start sharing more things about John with him and if we could celebrate John’s birthday with a Greek dinner and some PBR. Because Eli is Eli, he welcomed the idea.
Fast forward to Tuesday, August 4, John’s birthday. I had just started dinner and Eli asked if I wanted to talk about John. I did, but I wasn’t sure where to start, so Eli started asking questions. I told him about how John and I met and about the party where we went from friends to more-than-friends and about the time we tried to go on a date, but never actually went on it because we talked in the car for an hour and a half instead. I told him about how at first I was hesitant to date him because of my own issues, but that my mom urged me to give him a chance, and I’m grateful every damn day that I did. Eli shared some stories about dating in college that I hadn’t heard before either, and it all felt so good. It felt so good to talk about John freely, until all of the sudden it didn’t. My mood shifted at some point and I blamed it on how hot it was in the kitchen, but when Eli asked if John’s birthday was getting to me, I completely lost it. Without warning, I was transported to February 2017 and completely shattered. I’m definitely a crier, but not often do I sob. Trust when I say I sobbed. Like, watching-John-die-in-a-hospital-bed sobbed. Grief had waltzed on in, flipped the lights on, kicked her feet up, and cracked open a beer.
While I could barely get a full sentence out, she made herself comfortable and stuck around for a while. As much as it sucked, I’m glad she did because it was a good reminder that moving forward does not mean that your grief is gone. It means you have made the choice to put one foot in front of the other and welcome good things into your life again, despite the pain you carry with you. It means that even though you know how much it hurts to lose, you have made yourself open to the risk of love again. And most importantly, it means that you are responsible for inviting those who love you to walk alongside you and your grief.
John’s love, life, and death is a part of me. And now, Eli’s love and life is a part of me. I cannot believe that at 28, I have found selfless, hilarious, true love twice. Different love of course, but true and right all the same. This morning I woke up with Eli’s arms around me and gave my grief a friendly nod as she closed the door behind her. She’ll be back again, I know. I’m not sure when and I’m not sure why, but whenever she comes knocking, I’ll let her in because I’ll never actually move on. But I will move forward.