Well, I made it through that dreaded date -- January 17. The one year anniversary of my husband's death. In some ways, it seems like time has flown; at the same time, this has been the longest year of my life. In a sense, it also feels like time has stood still, even though a lot has changed in my life beyond the obvious.
I'm finally in Austin for good and am able to focus on setting my new life. The last couple of months I've been shuttling back and forth between here and Iowa, tying up loose ends with the house, traveling for family holiday celebrations and weddings, and visiting family.
I spent the weekend leading up to the 17th at home (when I say "home" now, I mean my place in Austin), doing more unpacking and organizing. That Sunday, I went for a run in the rain, I watched the Bears trounce the Seahawks to secure a spot in the NFC Championship game, and I played in my skeeball league. That night, I started completing tasks from my to-do list and packing for a 4 day trip to visit my grandparents.
On the 17th, I woke up and started taking care of more errands -- sign and return a document necessary for the closing of my house, catch up on a few e-mails, etc. In the midst of preparing for my trip, I found that one of my cats had taken it upon herself to use the bed in the guest bedroom as a personal litter box. Sigh. Just what I needed to start an already crummy day off. I stripped the bed, threw out a bunch of bedding (I didn't think it matched that room anyway, and wasn't going to take the chance by keeping anything with that smell, even after washing), and used a generous amount of "Dumb Cat" treatment/cleaner on the mattress to eliminate the scent and presence of any enzymes that might have been left behind.
Of course, finding this on the morning that I was taking off for the week was very stressful. I worried about what was wrong -- was one of them sick? Feeling neglected? Stressed out? Had I just not kept the litter box clean enough? So I spent a couple hours making things less disorganized -- I put a book shelf that had been sitting in the middle of the living/dining room area in my bedroom, against the wall. I stacked up totes and took things off the floor that I was in the middle of sorting. I cleaned the litter boxes thoroughly. I made a point of having solo time with each cat before I left. I made arrangements for some friends to check on the cats two times in four days. (I don't know what specifically caused this issue, but my response seems to have quelled the problem.)
After doing all this, I got in the car and drove 5 hours south to Donna, Texas, where my grandparents live for the winter. My grandpa ("Poppo") had a stroke a couple weeks ago and is spending a couple weeks in a rehab facility while he undergoes several types of therapy to regain his strength, coordination, balance, speech, and cognitive abilities. My mom, aunts, and I are sort of taking "shifts" to make sure they have the help and company they need. I left about 11:15 a.m. and got to my destination at about 4:15. Having a long drive gave me a little time to think, but I was really focused on my grandparents, my cats, the upcoming closing on my house, and my to-do list. I really didn't have much capacity or time to think about the significance of the date, which I think was a good thing. Those things -- although all stressors -- helped me get through the day, which is all I could hope for. One day at a time, right? That's been my mantra to this point, and I had plenty of distractions to get me through the day. In addition, I had a wonderful outpouring of love and support from friends and family -- calls, e-mails, Facebook messages and wall posts, and texts from so many people poured in, and that was a nice thing. I really appreciated knowing that so many people remembered the date, were remembering Brian, and were thinking about and praying for me. It really lifted my spirits.
In Donna, I stayed with my grandma ("Mommo") and would keep her company every day until it was time to go visit Poppo (he is in therapy all day so can't really receive visitors until 3:30 or so), at which point we'd drive to the rehab facility to visit. We'd spend a few hours there every day, visiting before, during, and after supper. It was great to see them, and to be able to get down there on such short notice. I feel lucky that the timing worked out that I could just drive down and be there when needed without worrying about missing work and making flight arrangements.
Poppo is doing much better. When I walked in on Monday, he waved with his right hand and arm (it was his right side that was affected). He was using his right hand to eat, drink, use the remote control, and to get in and out of bed. He also progressed in his therapy to the point that he was walking with a cane before I left. Just in the few days I was there, I saw him make great progress in every area -- how much he was talking, the way he put sentences together and joined in conversations, getting in and out of bed, eating, walking, etc. It's always worrisome when something like this happens to someone you love, but it's worse when you're far away and you can't get a good sense of how things are going. It was very much a relief to see him with my own eyes, to be able to drive Mommo around and keep her company, to know I was able to actually lend a helping hand, etc.
So, that is how I made it through that difficult one-year mark. I am told that getting through the first year is the hardest, and that makes sense. Once you've been through everything once, you know you can face it again. In a year, I've been through all the holidays, anniversaries, and seasons. I've gone to weddings alone, I've gone on vacations alone, I've run my first half marathon without him at the finish line, I've gone to dinner parties and house parties alone, I've been the odd one out with other couples, and then I've made huge changes in my own life -- giving up the practice of law (for now, anyway), moving, and making some new friends. I know I can keep doing this.
On the other hand, I have also read that sometimes a date or holiday after the first year will hit unexpectedly hard, and I'm trying to ready myself for that. More than one book has warned that it might be the second, third, or some other Christmas/anniversary/etc. that might be the hardest, or where you might miss your loved one the most. I know that grief is like that -- just when you think you're doing good, something totally random comes along, or something that didn't seem to be such a big deal completely knocks you on your ass and beats you while you're down. Because this year was so personally chaotic and I had other things to focus on, it's possible that some of those dates and occasions will be harder next year when I don't have those distractions. Also, the weddings I've been to haven't been formal, sit-down affairs where I would feel the most alone at a round table of other singles, or with couples. I haven't been to another funeral or visitation since Brian's. I know eventually there will be a day when I'll have to do that, though that's a terrifying thought for me. And there will be something unexpected -- a song that comes on in a bar, catching a glance of big redheaded guy who looks just a bit too much like Brian, hearing a voice that is too much like his, etc. I know the road ahead is long -- really, it's one I'll travel the rest of my life -- and I know there will still be more bumps ahead, but I also sincerely hope that it gets smoother from here.