Where is the Damn Guidebook for Death

Life has a funny way of reminding you that there’s no guidebook. People are quick to say, oh, the (fill in the blank with your religious text of choice) is my handbook. Yeah, but it doesn’t answer all those practical questions that pop up after your spouse dies. How soon do you get rid of their clothes? There is such a thing as too soon as I found out when preparing for the funeral, by the way. How long do you wear the wedding ring? When do you go back to work? When do you date again? This isn’t the 19th century where age-old customs dictate your life. Back then, you wore black for a year and attending social events was taboo. But this is the 21st century. This is the world of easily accessible technology where all answers can be found on Google, a world where rules are made to be broken, and the social etiquette lines are blurry as hell.

Bryan’s marker came in last week. I expected a phone call or email from the funeral home. There was none. His marker showed up like a divine thief in the night, tucked in at the head of his grave, next to his grandparents. I finally got up the courage to visit it a couple of days after I found out it was there. My friends and I had planned this group outing to visit the marker. In the end, I decided to go alone. I expected tears and tortured memories. Instead, I found myself gazing at the marker as if it belonged to someone else. At first, I thought it was because I was still in denial. I realized later that it wasn’t that I was in denial. I have grieved heavily over the last few months. I cried in the hospital when Bryan wasn’t looking. I’ve cried in the grocery store, at work, at church, in the kitchen when I’m making coffee. I’ve cried myself to sleep. I’ve cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I’ve blogged. I’ve journaled. I’ve kept the wounds of my grief open, observing them, poking at them, letting them air out for all to see. As a result of that, I feel I have been able to heal better. But grief isn’t something that goes away. It’s not a stage of life that ends neatly where you can begin the next stage as if you were in a play and were simply beginning the next act. It overlaps into your life. It leaves a scar, a reminder that for a period of time in my life, someone loved me unconditionally, someone whose company I enjoyed, someone whose quirks drove me delightfully mad, and someone who was taken from me way too soon.

How do you recover from that? What is the time period for grief? When do you stop wearing the ring, when do you put away the clothes, when do you start dating again? When is a good time to move on? Where is that damn mysterious, non-existent, standardized guidebook that no one has yet to find? For me, I write my own guidebook. I start with acknowledging the scar that I will have for the rest of my life. I will always have a husband who is buried. I will always have a place in my heart for the man who loved me as much as I love him. I have my memories, both physical and mental. I have his family. I have the knowledge that it’s possible to grieve someone and love someone else at the same time. Because Bryan would have wanted that and I would have wanted that for Bryan. So, when do you move on?

Whenever the hell you feel ready.

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