The Firsts

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A few years ago after my father had passed away, I bumped into a couple I knew. It was nearing the Thanksgiving holiday, and I mentioned to them that my father had passed away that past summer. They said,“Oh you’re about to experience the Firsts. You know, the First Thanksgiving, the First Christmas without your dad.” Now I had been thinking about how this was going to be the first Thanksgiving without my father, but it was surprising to hear somebody else actually refer to these milestones as the Firsts.
As the year progressed and each new First approached, I would feel my father’s absence and long to see him again. After my husband Chuck passed away in 2009, I was rather anxious about the Firsts. I’d be experiencing the First Valentine’s Day, birthdays – his and mine, and numerous other holidays. Throughout that first year, however,I had a few,shall we say,experiences that let me know my husband Chuck was near. That first Valentine’s Day in 2009, I was looking in a box and right there in the box was a little teddy bear and a sweet Valentine’s card from Chuck. Apparently it was one he had never given to me, so it was an unexpected gift that first Valentine’s Day. A few months later, as I was looking through a box of greeting cards that I keep on hand for birthdays and special occasions, I found a Mother’s Day card from Chuck to me. He’d written, “To My Sugars (which was his pet name for me), Love, Love, Love, Chuck.” I couldn’t believe it, and I took it to be a sign from him that he was watching over me. I cried and cried bittersweet tears. This all occurred on the day before Mother’s Day of 2009.
The rest of 2009 I would experience many Firsts. Chuck’s first birthday, my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and many other holidays and events that normally he and I would have noted or celebrated. There were even some holidays that we might not have ordinarily made a big deal over, but his absence made those days even more glaring.
On Christmas Eve of that year, in 2009,I had gone to Magnolia Bakery (yes,of Sex and the City fame, but the one closer to me) to purchase Christmas desserts. This had become our tradition over the past several years. I always phoned in the order early so I could beat the line and get in and out, and then I would come home and Chuck and I would put the finishing touches on Christmas dinner. This particular day in 2009, was a very cold,frigid day, and it was beginning to snow. I love snow, and my husband and I loved to venture out in the first snow of each winter season together.
So here I was, in the season of Christ’s birth, and in the year of my husband’s death, all alone for the first time in many years. I was waiting for someone to pick me up. I sat on the bench outside the bakery and tears rolled down my face. I couldn’t believe that the next day, Jesus’ Birthday, my husband was no longer alive to experience it with me. My grief was still fresh, and everything seemed like it had just happened yesterday. As everyone hustled and bustled around me, with shopping bags, running last-minute errands, I couldn’t understand how life still went on and my husband was no longer a part of it. That was my First Christmas Eve experience without my husband.
In 2010 I would no longer be experiencing The Firsts. Now I would no longer be able to say, “Chuck just said that a few weeks ago”, or “Chuck told me that a few months ago”. Now,the first year’s time-frame had been blurred by the passage of time, which included all those Firsts.
Mourning the loss of a spouse consists of many layers. It’s like peeling away at an onion;sometimes you feel as if you’ve gotten a handle on your feelings and then out of the blue you’re hit with a memory that throws you off.
Dealing with The Firsts was very challenging for me, and it’s probably one of the few times that a little distraction by family or friends was a good idea.My family and friends always came through.They sensed or just knew that I might need them and came up with ideas and things for me to be a part of.I,who had been the planner and organizer for so many years was now the recipient of so many who wanted to do for me.I accepted these gifts of distraction gratefully. Whatever the occasion,once it passed, the sadness and anxiety eventually faded.As time wore on and months and years changed ,I would never look at subsequent years’ special occasions, that Chuck and I had celebrated and experienced together,the same as The Firsts. This is not to say that those special occasions of the second year that Chuck was gone, weren’t painful, but the pain began to slowly subside with time.It was a slow and gradual progression. The key was that I grieved and didn’t hold it in. I felt great sadness for the loss of the life that once was, and the loss of the person I had been partnered with. I felt it, and in time I was able to let the pain go. I did not beat myself up if I faltered, and today although some things still hurt, I can truly say I’m in the midst of my new beginning. It was a slow journey,but one day I noticed that I was feeling a bit better about my new life, and that was truly a First.

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