Another “First” Behind Me

I’m still having trouble with what to call my wedding anniversary now that my husband is dead. In the week leading up to the day, I called it “my anniversary” a few times in conversation, which led to some confusion. One person replied, “Has it been a year already?” thinking it was the anniversary of his death. Another responded, “Why are you so sad about it?” not realizing my husband had died.

When I called it “my wedding anniversary,” someone said, “I didn’t know you were married!” which led to my awkwardly explaining that I was but now I’m widowed.

Calling it my “anniversary with my dead husband” includes enough information to head off the most common areas of confusion but sounds weirdly necromantic.

“The day that would be my wedding anniversary if my husband hadn’t died” avoids necromancy but is wordy.

The day was tough, although punctuated with thoughtful gestures by friends and family, who acknowledged the challenge of the day with grace and generosity. Several friends texted or called. One friend brought me flowers and another delivered pastries. A widowed friend met me at the bench commemorating Tom to listen to me tell stories about him.

I had hoped to get a memorial tattoo that day but could not get an appointment with the artist I want (I did have a consultation with her and am booked to get the tattoo in June). I had also planned to go through Tom’s T-shirts to pick some out for a friend who is going to make a memory quilt out of them, but I curled up on the couch with the dogs instead.

There were some particularly tough moments:

  • While walking one of the dogs, I suddenly burst into sobs, surprising myself, the dog, and the neighbor who was in the yard we were walking past. Nearly nine months into grieving, it doesn’t rattle me much when this happens but I still prefer to keep my loud sobbing out of the streets. I worry that someone will ask me if I’m ok and I’ll feel obligated to explain my situation. One benefit of living in the city is that it’s not that unusual for someone to have an outburst in public, so no one has actually said anything to me when I’ve made a bit of a scene, but I worry a bit about it nonetheless.  
  • I attended two Buddhist meetings via Zoom, which is something Tom and I did together during the last year of his life. Although I attend at least one Buddhist meeting every Sunday morning via Zoom, doing so on our anniversary made seeing myself in a little box on the screen without Tom feel particularly lonely. When he was alive, I loved seeing the two of us next to each other on the screen. I always sat on his right because of his left neglect. I liked being able to feel him next to me and see him on the screen at the same time. He actively participated in the discussion portion of our meetings and I loved hearing what he had to say. I miss it and felt the longing to have that again intensely on our anniversary.

I had foolishly thought that once the day itself was behind me, I would feel fine, but I slept horribly Sunday night and woke up Monday morning feeling wrecked and even more emotional than I had on Sunday. I sobbed my way through work, kept my camera off for remote meetings, and avoided people when possible. Things turned around a bit Monday afternoon, and after getting a good night’s sleep (thank you, Tylenol PM), I woke up feeling optimistic and happy on Tuesday.

Tuesday brought some laughter related to Tom, too. A former employer of his emailed to say they had discovered a paycheck of his from 2019 had never been cashed and they wanted to send me a replacement check. Tom was infamous for losing money, so I had a good laugh about this windfall. I split the money with our kids, which is exactly what Tom would have done. (Actually, Tom would have spent the money multiple times, probably buying a motorcycle, taking me out to dinner, and then giving a bunch to the kids. It would have ended up costing us.)

Lessons learned:

  1. I am proactively going to block out the few days leading up to and after the anniversary on my calendar for next year. I now know that trying to work on those days is probably silly, and luckily, my job affords me the option of taking personal days.
  2. I need to either figure out how to refer to this day or be ok with not having a graceful way to refer to it.
  3. I knew I would want support on this day, so I started letting close friends know in the weeks before it that the day was coming up. They came through with those messages and acts of kindness that I mentioned.

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