Before I knew they were called hidden losses, I made my own list.
I carried my husband’s office whiteboard upstairs, and wrote down some of the many things that vanished the day he died. I simply called it “things we did together.”
- Pup walks on the beach
- Loving phone calls and text messages
- Taking care of the yard
- Making travel memories
I would stare at the list – much, much longer than this one — and mourn all the ways his absence reached and erased all the other joyful areas of our life.
His death took everything that made up a life I cherished.
Because what I really meant was:
- Pup walks on the beach…with him.
- Loving phone calls and text messages….with him.
- Taking care of the yard….with him.
- Making travel memories….with him.
The magnitude of losses seemed too big to comprehend.
I still had to wake up each day inside the nothingness left behind in their wake.
Somehow I kept breathing, and somehow still rising.
One night I got brave and learned to sleep with the light off.
One day I got bold and reclaimed the kitchen, which had always been my husband’s domain. I couldn’t recreate anything he ever cooked for me, and it was hard to cook for one, but I attempted a few new recipes.
Lemon gelato. Clam chowder. Cornmeal blueberry pancakes.
I discovered I could freeze the pancakes, and just pop one in the toaster whenever I was hungry. Especially at three o’clock in the morning, when I would wake up in the silent void, missing him.
I tried to fill the vast empty space with other small, new experiences.
Swing dancing lessons. A travel writing class. Volunteering with youth.
I kept walking our pup on the same beach, and met two other solo humans with their dogs. We all started having coffee together. And helping each other out with dog-sitting. In time, we became a regular posse.
The walks no longer seemed lost anymore.
And then, in the slow reinvention of myself, some lost things actually returned from even farther away: my childhood.
Singing. Riding a bicycle again. Laughing hard from my belly.
I’d forgotten those things had been missing. And it felt so good to have them back.
Some months later, maybe after a year or more, I decided it was time to erase the whiteboard and donate my all husband’s office contents to charity.
I stared at my original list of things we did together, and a smile came over my face.
Some lost things had returned, but in an altered, different, partial but still beautiful way.
- Pup walks on the beach…now with two new friends.
- Loving phone calls and text messages…now with my son.
- Making travel memories…on my first brave solo trip.
Some lost things never returned. They vanished into the void. But their absence helped make space for something new.
I no longer have a house, yard or garden to manage. But I do have a light-filled apartment with a sunny deck, and just a few container plants. This means I have a more time for beach walks, and connecting with family, and traveling.
In fact, I am writing these words sitting on an airplane, about to see and experience another part of the world for the first time.
It wasn’t that long ago, I experienced the pain of grief for the first time.
My husband’s death was shocking and heartbreaking and unimaginably hard. It was the sudden irrevocable end of two lives.
His life on earth, plus the one I shared with him.
But I am still here. Alive.
Very much alive, and breathing, and living forward, because of all these lost, and partially returned, and completely brand new things.
Some I chose for myself, and some that life chose for me.
All of these things, always changing, in my whole life still becoming.
This post was originally published as my guest author contribution on SecondFirsts.com, a website and community devoted to inspiring people after loss. Christina Rasmussen’s book, Second Firsts, helped me immensely.