That first year without him, on the occasion of what should have been our 22nd year of marriage, I wept. Not the Hallmark Movie kind of pretty weeping — it was ugly crying with deep guttural sounds I didn’t realize were coming from the depths of my aching, broken heart.
On what would be our 23rd, I posted pictures and wrote pretty words; a shaky facade of bravery over a still-jagged heart.
Fast-forward to our 25th ... I was resentful and jealous of my friends posting their mile-marker anniversaries as still intact, living and breathing couples.
This is the part where I dearly wish I could tell you I finally came to terms with one-sided wedding anniversaries. But I’d be lying.
I will never come to terms with one-person wedding anniversaries, even if I live long enough to carry our torch to our 50th.
And this is why: We had something significant. Honest. Gritty at times, messy always, with intervals of stony silence between us.
Still, it was a rare blend of stubborn love, failing, trying again, loving under the protection of a sacred promise and showing up every day.
We had planned to grow old together.
Instead, I was left to soldier on without my 6-foot-4 German policeman-farmer. Left to raise two daughters, find jobs, lose them, quit them, start over again.
Move away. Move back.
Sell the farm. Endure what would become a family rift over a piece of acreage.
Live to tell about it, but never quite recover from family rejection.
Eventually, the anniversaries sort of tiptoed in cautiously, unsure of my response. My friend and fellow sojourner had reminded me of the necessity of putting a vacation or some kind of special occasion on the calendar, in place of the abyss of an important yawning date. Like an anniversary. Or his birthday.
Eventually, I made a truce: celebrate the happiness of others instead of lingering over my loss. That simple, small act of the will has resulted, over the years, in a genuine, deep sense of joy over my friends’ anniversaries.
Because each and every arrival at another year is an affirmation of the vows; a collection of timeless memories; a demonstration to the young people that they can stay together, if they’d just slog through the hard parts.
And so on this, my 32nd remembrance, I am flying over my beloved Rockies and coming in for a landing in the very place we kept our promises and raised our daughters and went to work and found lifelong friends.
On this flight my heart swells with gratitude at the sweet sight of an elderly couple grasping for each other’s hands during liftoff. “Hello, Gorgeous!” He says, as though they’ve just met.
Upon touchdown I notice the same couple instinctively reach across the aisle again to clasp weathered, wrinkled hands in a grip of graceful knowing.
At the gate my heart is warmed by the sudden glimpse of a young man holding a large bouquet of roses, scanning the travelers for his beloved. I like to think they are anniversary roses.
So, dear Reader, I have not lost love; I have sustained a love that mattered. I have carried my memories into a treasure vault of love I can experience again and again, because what we had was enduring.
And in that moment of knowing, I can look around and be exquisitely happy for the couples still within physical reach of each other; still slogging through, still showing up, still growing old together.
On this, my 32nd, I have quietly realized this one thing: my story is bearable if I tell it.
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