Four Years Later

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I came across these yellow poppies today, bright and full, a reminder of this time four years ago and every year in between. Yellow poppies were blooming everywhere the week that Michael died and when I see them now they still trigger the reminder of everything we experienced that spring. Yet they also now hold promise of something more, a way of noticing how each spring feels different, lighter in some way as I move into new horizons of my life. This year seeing them reminded me that not only is this weekend in May the anniversary of Michael’s death, but also the publication date of my book about journeying through the grief that followed. The book has touched so many. It also impacted my life in ways that I never could have imagined a year ago when I sent it off into the world with the acceptance that if it touched just one person it was worth the effort of publication.

The book both ended and began on Memorial Day. It marked a year of chronicling the days of grief that followed Michael’s death. And now here we are, with the poppies blooming again and circling round to four years later. It is different now, the writing about grief. It’s still very present, very close to my heart and yet the entries are fewer and farther between. It is like the journaling after I had my son, when I would write each day, each moment, of motherhood and chart the new discoveries, growth, and challenges in the early days. And then over time it became every month, until now it is just every year that I write to him on his birthday – highlighting the changes and shifts in both of our lives that have taken place.

My writing is like that now with grief, and Memorial Day weekend seems like a fitting day to come back around to what it is like to be living this day four years later.

It’s still hard at times. It’s different but still hard. It’s especially poignant this year with the death of a dear friend now mingling in with the grief from losing Michael that still echoes through our days. I live and function for the most part without the weight of grief causing me to stumble. More now the challenge comes from all of the changes that his death created in our lives. I still feel the indecision of wondering where to live long-term and often ponder the impact of working on single parenthood. The awareness and effect of his death is still here but it’s a relief to say that a large portion of our lives is now independent of grief. We are closing more loops, moving on to new adventures, new phases of life, new transitions that don’t have as much memory – either of the bright brilliance of his life or the sadness of his death.

In full transparency, I can say there is part of me that wants to hold on to the grief, to have it continue to be my story because letting go seems like releasing him in a way that I’m not quite ready for yet. What I’m aware of though is that I don’t have to let go of grief so grandly or publicly but instead I can make choices each and every day to engage in the life that is here and that alone takes grief to the periphery.

I also know there are people who think I have grieved too long and others who think that grieving forever would not be long enough. So I’ll just tell it like it is for me, which is the only opinion on my personal grief that I’m choosing to trust. I don’t have to know exactly what is coming next or how to shape my life to fit what I thought we would be experiencing four years later. What I can do is notice the poppies on my walk up the long steep hill out of the park and become aware that my steps are lighter, my legs are stronger, my lungs are clearer, and my thoughts are open to the future that I am only now feeling the freedom to imagine.

I don’t have to have the answers. I didn’t have them four years ago when I wrote this piece from the book attached below about yellow poppies, and I still don’t have the clarity of what to do now except live into each day. The continued journey is to live into each and every exceptional day, to notice the blossoms that brighten the landscape, and to keep believing in what it means to be alive. For today, it’s enough.

From Singing Beyond Sorrow – A Year of Grief, Gratitude and Grace
July 8th, 2012
Tonight I’m grateful for yellow poppies and loving neighbors.

Earlier today, my next-door neighbors invited Lucas over to play. I didn’t want to just head back home to the silence of the house, so I decided to go for a drive. In the car, I’m able to remember Michael more clearly and there are fewer memories of all the suffering of his last days. Listening to his music in the car helps me connect to him, and the open sky a few minutes away from the city allows space in my head for memories of our amazing road trips.

At first, when I started to drive, it was excruciating to be alone in the car, headed out to nowhere without Michael. The music didn’t help; it just made me sad. But then I drove out by the horse barn where I used to volunteer, and as I turned a corner, the whole roadside came ablaze with blooming yellow poppies. Both sides of the road were full of the bright flowers with the road just a narrow strip of blacktop between the swaths of yellow. I stopped to pick a handful, remembering how I brought some home for Michael after my walks when he was so sick that he couldn’t get out of bed. I remembered how happy they made him.

It’s the little things that make me smile these days, like believing those yellow poppies were some kind of sign. A sign that in some impossible-to-know way, he’s still here, creating roadside displays of blossoming wild- flowers. I know that the flowers probably bloom there every spring. I might have even driven past them before, but I noticed them tonight when I needed something to hold onto.

The poppies gave me something real, right here in my life, more than a memory; a tangible thing to link me to his life. I miss him terribly, and there are times when I can’t believe he is gone.

After driving up to the top of the hill, I was able to quiet my mind enough to talk with him out there. I stood alone up on the ridge, the warm fleece of his jacket pulled up to my chin against the scattered drops of rain. I asked him how to move forward, how I would know what to do from here. I was quiet enough to ask, but I guess not quiet enough to hear the answer. Perhaps that will come later, or maybe not at all. But with a vase full of poppies by my bedside, I will be happier in the morning. They will be the first thing I see. They will be something to hold onto in this living, something to help me to remember the preciousness of what I once held in my hands, and the preciousness of what remains to believe in.

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