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The Reality of Time: 27 Years Into This Journey of Loss and Grief

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I am approaching the 27-year anniversary of Dana’s death. I was 23 then; now I am 50. Often I wonder how I made it all these years. Looking forward in that amount of time, I will be 77 in 27 years. That truly boggles my mind! But it also gives me comfort in realizing how far I have made it. I look at it as me having made it approximately halfway through my journey of loss here on earth.

I have a lot of memories of how I was told time would go. I remember so well many different older people telling me I would be fine. They would speak to me as if they had the answers since they had lived longer than me. It was a consistent narrative that went something like this: “In time you will look back fondly at your first love, but a new life will begin and take the place of that.” Several people told me the story of their “first love” and how they still sometimes happily thought about him/her. It was so frustrating to me at the time. I knew the loss of my fiancée, the one I had such a unique and special connection with, could not compare to a break-up. A break-up and a death should never be compared to each other. But in my experience, people do make that comparison often. We were going to live until old age together. In death she did not become my “ex.” If people could understand the way our heart really reacts, it would ease a lot of pain and misunderstanding.

I married Shelly and am deeply in love with her. I am so thankful for that. But the two relationships are mutually exclusive of each other. People struggle to understand that. It seems to me like society believes that once you fall in love again, you have replaced the one who has died. This is such a fallacy. What actually happens is the heart opens up to love two people. The love for the person lost does not diminish. But the ability to deeply love and have a great relationship with the new love can flourish in an amazing way. I consider myself very fortunate that this is what has happened for me.

I moved forward; I did not move on. There is such a big difference between these two terms. We have no choice but to move forward. The challenge is how to do it most productively. For me, moving logistically was the key to moving forward. The rest of it started to fall into place once I moved 2,000 miles away. I can’t imagine how time would have played out if I did not fall in love with Shelly. I certainly don’t think I could have made it to today alone. It was also important that I was able to find those handful of things I loved and was passionate about. I put my head and heart into these things. This seems to help with the tendencies of both anger and depression. Both those ugly demons really take work in fighting. I have gotten good at not worrying about things that aren’t really important. When you go through the tragedy of loss, perspective certainly is gained on what really matters. But that takes many years to sort through.

I have also noticed that I love change. Without change, I become stagnant. That enables the demons of the pain to steadily take a bigger toll on me, whereas change occupies and distracts my mind. The need for change has probably hurt my career and financial situation. But I am at a point where I am OK with that. Change has become a friend that has enabled me to better deal with time and pain.

I love music. I am a fanatic for alternative music and punk rock. My oldest son shares this passion. I stay up on new bands and new music. We have gone to the Coachella Music Festival together nine times. We had a weekly radio show together for almost five years. There are so many ways music brings me comfort. I both connect and escape through music. There is a saying, “Music is my therapy.” This is so true for me. It enables me to cope like nothing else. By finding these joys in life (whatever they may be), the days, months and years start to pass in a more manageable way.

The significant dates all remain significant. Some years, they hit me harder than other years. The memories are still there. I still think about Dana every single day. Most days it’s with smiles and happy thoughts. Some days it’s with tears. Then there are days where it’s with anger. Thankfully those days are not as often for me anymore. The anger can be so destructive, but it also is an agent to help with the passing of time. As weird as it sounds, in the years I had such anger, it became a distraction that got me through the years. But thankfully I realize now that time is much better passed with positive distractions rather than the hateful, negative stuff.

I hate the term “time heals all wounds.” Sure it heals and numbs many of the open, gaping wounds. But the constant of pain is there no matter how much time has passed. It’s just there, a part of me. Being almost 27 years into this journey of loss, I guess I can say I have become OK with not being OK. The grief of such a loss is a life sentence. My wish is that society could accept and embrace that with the empathy it deserves.

Follow this journey on Ten Thousand Days.

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Originally published: October 11, 2017
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