Confession: I visited Steve’s grave last week for the first time. I don’t know why I put off going, but I know I did. It wasn’t an accident or an oversight or, “Wow, look how time has gotten away from me.” It was intentional avoidance of what I thought would be painful, though I wasn’t sure why. I know that’s not the real him. I know it’s just a little plot of land that marks his earthly life while his eternal life is vibrantly strong and whole. But still I waited.
I went on his birthday. We had put off ordering a head stone as we debated what we wanted to write on it – turns out, it’s a lot of pressure to pick the words that will literally be written in stone to mark someone’s life for the rest of all time. I was under the impression the cemetery would put a temporary marker at the site, so we hadn’t rushed our decision, but I was wrong about that. My first feeling upon arrival was disappointment and guilt that my husband was in an unmarked grave, with weeds growing around it. I don’t love flowers – especially silk and/or dead flowers – so we brought golf tees with little tags tied around them to put by the grave. It seemed like a perfect idea at home, but they ended up looking tiny and inadequate. It was a disappointing and difficult experience. And it didn’t dawn on me right away, but in the days that followed, as I sifted through some of the emotional fallout, I think I figured out what was so hard and it’s this:
Visiting Steve’s grave doesn’t reconnect me to the real him, but to the old me; the Wife part of me.
That grave is my responsibility. It is, in fact, my only remaining responsibility from my 30-year run as Steve Stern’s wife.
The day before the visit, I shared some concerns with a friend of mine who then wished me “closure.” I’m not actually sure closure is possible or necessary in regard to the sorrow of losing Steve. That seems like it will be a lifelong journey with different levels of angst or pain along the way. However, my friend was right. After I ordered the headstone, I felt it. Weighty. Crushing. Closure. The wrapping up of my Wife Life. These past few days have been like emptying out the house that had contained my hardest, happiest work and handing the keys back to Jesus. And it has been really hard.
I know it might be tempting at this point to jump in here and tell me I’m still a wife and I’ll always be Steve’s wife and I still have all my memories and other things that I know are meant to comfort, but please resist. This is a road I need to walk and words like that tend to minimize what’s been lost and aren’t actually helpful. I loved being Steve Stern’s wife. I loved cooking for him. I loved hearing his theories on life and golf and friends. I loved encouraging him when things got rough. I loved taking long walks on summer nights. I loved being someone’s very best friend. I loved knowing there was a good chance that, at any given moment, he was thinking about me. I loved knowing that if I disappeared, Steve Stern would search for me til his very last breath. I loved sharing Saturday mornings with him. I loved going to Costco and weddings with him. I loved sitting with him in church. I loved the way he let me read in bed instead of making me go to another room. I loved opening a bottle of wine before we paid bills together. I loved sharing a home and children and a whole, big, wonderful, difficult life with him. These are the things that made a we out of Steve and me and these things cannot be replaced.
Closure. This season is over so much sooner than I wanted it to be. And, yes, the memories remain and I’m grateful for them. But the memories don’t make me feel like a wife any more than photos of vacation make me feel like I’m still in Mexico. Grief, I’m convinced, has no closure. But seasons do. Seasons begin and seasons end. I thought closure would look like comforting resolution, but for me it’s been a sort of painful, gasping resolution. Both work, I suppose.
What happens next? I guess the same thing that happens when you hand the keys of a house over to a new owner. You move into the next one. And even if the next one is a grass hut with a mud floor, you’re still going to hang a few pictures on the walls and find a nice throw rug, you know? I might not get to choose the house, but I think I do get to choose what I make of the place. I want to make this new, single life a good place to call home. I am, in fact, quite determined to do exactly that.
I argued with myself (as I often do) about publishing this one. It feels a little raw to share openly. In the end, I decided that I wanted to put it out there for those of you navigating the shadowlands or the pain of divorce, but also for those of you who are married. I harbor the hope that you might take the chance today to love your sweetheart a little deeper, give grace a little longer and work a little harder to care for the gift you’ve been given. Maybe take a walk or pay some bills together or go on a fancy date to Costco just because you can. That’s my hope, because I love you and I love love.
P.S. One note: I understand that I’m still in process here and that where I land today may not be where I land tomorrow. My feelings will change, but I think there’s beauty in chronicling the way things unfold in real time. I also certainly know that my journey is not universal. The details will be different for everyone; I can only write about mine. Hopefully they will be helpful for some.