Today marks what would have been the 7th wedding anniversary for Isaac and me. I had actually forgotten our exact wedding date, but as this day approached I noticed this brewing sadness within me. While I was driving one day and feeling particularly tender, I thought, “Why am I so emotional? Oh! Our wedding anniversary is coming up.” It is so interesting to see how much my body reveals to me about my grief. Even though life gets busy, the memories whether conscious or under the surface always return to both afflict and comfort me.
Most recently, we moved from Lubbock, the city where Isaac and I met and began our family. Lubbock, in many ways represented my life with Isaac. It was strange that although we have moved and live much closer to Isaac’s family that in a way, leaving Lubbock was another step in letting go of my life with Isaac. I probably never would have stayed in a place like Lubbock had it not been for Isaac’s deep love for West Texas. The move was quick and in some ways that was good for me, like ripping off a bandaid.
It was difficult to leave Lubbock. So many significant things happened for me in that city. That’s where I became a therapist. Anyone who is a therapist knows the intensity of the emotional process in becoming a therapist. When you step into a position where you will help people, it is also a call to examine your motivations and your unresolved conflicts with others and with yourself. That was a time of tremendous growth for me. Lubbock was also where I had both of my children. It is a place where I built the many friendships that carried me through my darkest hours. Lubbock is also the place where I rebuilt my life when the life I had designed was destroyed. Lubbock is where I found my calling to teach and pursue a career that I might have otherwise hesitated to pursue. Being able to return to Texas Tech was such a blessing for me. I remember when I interviewed at Texas Tech for their master’s program and thinking, “This feels like home.” I couldn’t have known then how important that choice would be for when I returned to pursue my doctorate degree. That familiarity and professional support made it possible for me to grow at a time when it was tempting to give up. Lubbock also gave me Adam. Lubbock is such a small place. Most people cringe when they think about dating in Lubbock but somehow I won the lottery, TWICE! Who could have predicted that someone like Adam would show up in Lubbock and make loving again so easy? In so many ways I feel that Lubbock is the city that made me. I realize that it wasn’t the city that made me but the many associations that I had in that city that forever changed me. I’m so grateful for the many people that took a chance by moving to Lubbock or staying in Lubbock so that I could know them.
Now that we are in a new city, I’m noticing new challenges. It is interesting for Adam and I to meet people who don’t know our history. In Lubbock, most of our associates knew me before they knew Adam and me as a couple. However, everyone we meet in our new city knows nothing about us. Some people assume we are a typical family that married and then had kids. It has been interesting when it comes out that we are technically newlyweds. When we told someone about our history, someone mentioned that they had thought the kids were adopted. That made me sad. Mostly because, apparently, my kids don’t look like me! I’m only mildly offended by that because I know where they get their good looks from. ;) In all seriousness, it is a weird feeling to realize that people could never guess our reality. I’m stilling thinking about this and trying to process why it feels so strange. In some ways it is nice to have a fresh start. I’m sure it was strange for Adam to always meet people after they had known me. It’s nice to have the opportunity to meet people as a couple. However, I am finding that often we have to explain our family. In some ways it’s nice to share about our experiences and in other ways it can be frustrating. I think the part that is frustrating for me is that Isaac’s death feels so vulnerable for me and while I want to be understood and known, I have a hard time responding to empathy that is expressed when the conversation leads me to talk about his death. When I say my first husband died and people often say “I’m sorry.” It is kind and I’m grateful for their acknowledgement, but I always feel so awkward. Most of the time I smile and say, “thank you,” but each time I say it, it feels ingenuine. It doesn’t feel like the right response. Maybe is there no correct response. What response could possibly do justice to express the loss of a husband and father? If there is one thing that grief has taught me it is that words are not enough, but words are what we have. So although the “I’m sorry”/”Thank you” can seem awkward or formulaic, it’s the words we have to show that we hear and care about another person’s suffering and one’s effort to show concern. And for that concern, I am always grateful.