I looked at the date and saw it was his birthday, again. I smiled at my dear ghost and wrote him a little poem about remembering his eyes — his eyes which I always likened to the summer ocean. He was all sun, it seemed to me: light and warmth, shining. Yet in truth he had little warmth or light in his young life, my 24-year-old love who did not live to be 25, choosing to leave eight days earlier.
That was in 1982. This year, 2010, was the first of all the years since then that I missed noticing the anniversary of his death. But my body remembered and gave me a cold. My psyche remembered and gave me a sudden loss of delight. From one moment to the next, the world was drained of all colour, all meaning. I should have remembered then.
After he died I got my ears pierced. Before, I had always thought of that as self-mutilation; afterwards I wanted some visible, permanent sign that everything was irrevocably changed. This time, not consciously, not on purpose, I got my hair cut very short — too short. It will grow again, of course. As for the earrings, they long ago became personal adornment, not a symbol of grief.
On Friday I saw the psychologist. I told her about my present love, my 81-year-old love, coming close to death in the last two months and slowly recovering. I relived my distress and fear. It seemed more than enough to account for my symptoms. I cried in her office for most of the hour and walked out with a new lightness.
Then I was able to recall the recent anniversary: the death that did happen, after which nothing was ever the same again. I was able to see that these two occasions of pain, these two far-apart winters, had become emotionally entwined.
He came to me several times after he died. At first he contacted a psychic friend who would get in touch and tell me the messages; then I began using this friend as a medium, asking questions over a cuppa and receiving what answers there were. Finally I could see and hear him myself, without needing a third party. I was not reconciled to what had happened, but I understood it better. I still took many months to move through the stages of grief, even though I set out to experience them fully. I thought that plunging right in would get me out the other side quicker, and I’m still certain I was right. But it wasn't very quick.
I went for long walks alone, talking to him in my head. My psychic friend told me that our grief keeps the souls of the dead from moving on immediately. ‘Too bad,’ I told my dead love, talking to him in my head as I walked. ‘You chose to go; you owe me my grief.’ I walked through one of the longest, hottest summers on record. I barely noticed the heat.
One day, next autumn, the world regained its radiance. I saw life shining in grass and leaf; the sun and sky had colour. Not that I didn’t still mourn, but I could be in life again; I was back.
For many years it was as others too have described their own situations: not a day went by that I didn’t think of him. Even now, it still happens often. The emotion accompanying the thoughts gradually changed. It’s always love, that doesn’t change; but now I can think of him with happiness. My husband’s recent danger brought back the old pain; I know too well already what it’s like to lose the most important person in my life. Perhaps it’s good that I’ve had a little preview. Last time the death was a shock as well as a sorrow. I sat down with a cup of coffee one Saturday afternoon and opened a newspaper, and there was the headline. (No-one knew that I was someone who might need to have it broken to me ... but there, how do you break such news anyway?) Next time — if I don‘t go first — well, I have been prepared.
Meanwhile, about to go to bed just after midnight last night, I noticed today’s date: his birthday. I’ve come out the other side of grief yet again. I smiled at my dear ghost and wrote him a loving poem, a birthday gift. Did my thoughts call him to me this time too, or was it simply a memory? No matter. Love never dies.