"You don't move on, you simply move forward."
I saw this quote in one of my widow support groups on Facebook. Let me begin by admitting that I hate clichés, mainly because of my ego (a rash that can be managed but never healed). My ego tells me I'm special. Different. That a cliché can't possibly apply to me, because I'm better, smarter, more e-v-o-l-v-e-d than the average person.
Hahahahaha. Silly ego and its delusions of grandeur.
Another quote comes to mind, this from a man who (when I knew him) had been sober longer than God: "We're only half as smart as we think we are and twice as dumb." Granted, he probably heard it from someone else, who heard it from someone who read a more eloquent version somewhere and bastardized it. But it remains a powerful, if over-simplified, statement about the power of our own egos.
The point, if I have one at all, is that I've spent years developing a meditation practice for the sole purpose of silencing my ego and amplifying my intuition. Of managing my impulse to separate myself from - instead of connecting with - others. I don't expect my efforts will ever stop. After all, I'm not here to be Buddha; I'm just a regular ol' human trying to be the best version of myself.
Still with me? Okay. Circling back to the quote from the widow's group. It's true. (Another annoying fact about clichés is they usually are). And this is how I know:
For six months, I couldn't bring myself to move Donnie's clothes from our closet. I couldn't wash the dirty clothes in his overflowing hamper. I couldn't take the pillowcase off the pillow that his head rested against on his final night on earth. His socks - still in the drawer. His wedding suit - hanging in the same place. Oh, there were times I made progress (if I can even call it that). Early on, I boxed most of his shirts and pants because the sight of them was physically painful. But those boxes stayed in the closet as a daily reminder of his absence. They were a burden I carried willingly. And every time I considered sorting, folding, packing, et cetera, the thoughts that tumbled forward were as follows:
"How dare I do anything to erase his presence?"
"How dare I prioritize myself over my grief?"
"How dare I dishonor his memory by moving his clothes?"
If you winced reading those, or they made you mildly uncomfortable, then you've tasted the insanely complex emotional process of losing your spouse.
The reality, of course, is that none of those thoughts are true. They can't be - not if I want my daughter to believe (as I do) that her daddy lives on in our hearts. That his presence is a vital, still-living construct that breathes as we do, always. Another truth, uncomfortable as it is: it's not our closet anymore. It's my closet. I am the only adult living in this house. I pay the mortgage, the bills. I take out the trash. Make repairs. Mow the grass. Cook. Clean. Get up at three a.m. when the smoke detector batteries die...
It's my closet.
We don't move on. But we can move forward. For me, the most important decision I've made for myself is to take each step, each day, mindfully. Wholly. Honestly. I have not rushed. I do not wince, flinch, or deny. I will always - always - miss him, regardless of circumstance, optics, or whether or not his clothes occupy space in my life.
Until two days ago, the closet was ours. Now, his clothes have been lovingly folded and separated into boxes for his daughter and family members. For some widows, it takes years and years to do what I did. For others, mere weeks. But the timeframe is irrelevant. Grief doesn't give a shit about clocks. And healing? The same. Some wounds never close fully. Never completely heal. But we move forward anyway. And eventually the pain integrates with our every breath and movement. Becomes a part of us, forever felt in how deeply we embrace the life that continues.
And we carry them forward with us.