Before the fourth anniversary of my wife’s passing March 26, 2013, I reached out to my children and family on her side to see how everyone was doing. The fact that four years had passed struck me somehow differently than in previous years. I thought about what four years of time had meant in other stages of life. High school. College. All so significant.
Ad it felt like I was “graduating” in some way from the grief experience as well. So I began writing the following essay but did not get to publish it before the date of her passing. So I held onto it for a week. And during that time my son Evan, who has been through quite a bit of challenging grief scenarios, expressed some confidence that he was built back up in some ways. I discussed things with my daughter and sister-in-law, who both process grief in their own way as well. And my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. And through these discussions the conclusion of this essay was drawn. And here it is.
Some periods of life seem so much more important than others. It’s tempting to think about life in chunks.. Those elementary years making friends for the first time. The middle school years overcoming awkward physical and social changes. High school with its epic call to become someone liked and respected..Then college comes along, quickly followed by the climactic launch into real life.
What is it about a four year periods that that seem to change us so much? Freshman. Sophomore. Junior. Senior. We even assign names to each stage.
Four years is a long time. That’s 1,460 days. 35,040 hours. 2,102,400 minutes. Depending on how one’s brain tends to process time against other factors such as stress and other emotions from pain or joy, every second can feel like an eternity in some stages of life.
This is especially true when a period of four years marks a rite of passage for someone you love. That’s why people hold graduation ceremonies. One is a graduate because the process has been gradual.
We tend to remember the passage of years whem someone familiar to us dies or “graduates from life,” we might say. My own mother died in 2005. Twelve years ago. My father passed away ten years later, in 2015. I was his caregiver all those years he lived on as a stroke victim. During a significant portion of that time I was also caregiver to a wife who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2013. That was four years ago. March 26.
I’ve written at length about our lives together. Published a book chronicling our journey. Those who knew her still share fond memories. She is not forgotten. Her memory is cherished by many.
Our family reeled, of course, from her loss. During the last four years the healing process for me has involved a number of changes. I worked for myself a good portion of that time because it was one of her wishes for me. It also turned out to be a time for healing. When I needed relief from work, I took it. Unconventional at that stage in life perhaps. But necessary.
And in the process of self-employment I learned a lot about what like I do and where my strengths and weaknesses really are.
For my children, the past four years has been an entirely different experience in grief. My son lived in New York for most of that time. Losing his mother gutted the young man in many ways. We’ve talked about the things he did to compensate. Some of them healthy. Some of them not so much. It has been a wrenching process in any case.
My daughter was in the early part of her 20s when her mother died. Now she’s turning 27 years old. Some of the big events in life for a young woman are coming up. Thus she misses her mother in distinctive ways from the two “guys” in the family.
We’re all likely familiar with the stages of grief in life. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. And acceptance. I would argue that the first four are stages from which we seek to successively graduate, and not always in neat categories or specific order. And people graduate from some things in life at different times.
It’s the acceptance that constitutes our graduate degree when it comes to getting through and over a big loss in life. It’s a difficult subject to master. Acceptance is just one of the many degrees we earn in life.