I can say with certainty that, since childhood, I have been both fascinated and terrified of the concept of death. My morbid curiosity around this inevitable truth often left me feeling haunted by it. I was afraid of death, yet I couldn't stop thinking about it. The questions mostly were about what happened after death: Where will I go? Who will I be when I die? Will I just disappear? What's going to happen to my family?
The answer to all of these questions is, at best, a mystery.
As I grew into an adult and eventually experienced the death of loved ones in my life, I recognized, thankfully, that it wasn't the final death, the one that marked the end of our lives, that frightened me so. It was actually the profound pain I felt in the aftermath of the loss of my beloved friends and family. Often times, there was no warning; I would receive news from shocked family members passing on information of someone's sudden passing. I remember fumbling through the experience, not even understanding that it was grief that I was feeling. Other times, I knew it was coming, and had enough time to complete and say my goodbyes. It didn't make it any less painful, but there was definitely a sense of peace throughout the process.
Later on, I noticed that the same ache would fill my heart at times that had nothing to do with death. But I did notice that these experiences had their roots in endings and partings: the loss of job, relocating to a new place, the end of a relationship. I eventually came to know them as smaller "deaths," if you will. You see, throughout my journey on this planet, I have had the blessed opportunity to love and learn from the many people I've met along the way. They created space for themselves in my heart, and I in theirs. They left their mark on me; I did the same for them. But almost always, there came a time to say goodbye, in some way, shape, or form.
I've learned a thing or two from my experiences with endings and saying goodbye. When I was younger and didn't know any better, many of them were steeped in drama. Blame, anger, guilt. Avoidance, judgment, pain. It felt awful. The shame practically ate me alive. I'm certainly not proud of those choices, but, in hindsight, I know that it was the best I could do at the time. Fortunately for me, I caught on pretty quickly that in the end, what mattered the most was how I decided to show up when it was time let go. How I handled saying goodbye was where the real essence of the experience lied.
Most recently, my life has been marked with a series of goodbyes -- the most significant one being the end of my marriage. As a self-proclaimed "good girl" who literally did everything by the book, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be getting a divorce. Yet, here I am. Here we are.
I've known my husband since I was five years old and he was seven. We fell in love when I was seventeen and got married when I was twenty-six. I married him because I truly believed I couldn't survive without him; I needed him like the air I breathe. Well, that, and I was desperate for acceptance, stability, and while I'm being so honest, I wanted the cushy life that was promised to me for being so straight-laced for so long. But the stark reality of marriage and living together after the surreal experience of a long-distance relationship that spanned nine years proved to be a shock for both of us. Even though we each had unshakeable faith in the depth of our love for one another, we were becoming aware that our differences were just as great -- something neither of us was prepared for or willing to confront at the time.
I think we played our roles well, our love constantly bringing us back to one another, no matter how lost we felt. Well, actually, he was always solid, stable, and at times, unmoving. My mountain, as I liked to call him. I was the one whose disposition often reflected our local weather here in the tropics: hot, humid, with random torrential downpours and violent thunderstorms. I couldn't even recognize myself during those times.
I don't quite understand myself why it was so painful, but eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer swallow my profound desire for learning, travel, space, autonomy, growth, and most importantly, authenticity. I couldn't continue smiling through the anguish in my heart.
So, I dropped a bomb in the middle of our world.
And he graciously helped me set up my new life without him, even though it broke his heart into a million pieces. It broke mine, too.
On a more subtle, more spiritual level, I think both of us knew deep down that our relationship had run its course. We found our way to each other as children, and experienced the joys of loving and learning from one another as we grew into adults. You see, marriage is beautiful, not just when it works, but when it doesn't, too. Because whether we want it to or not, it opens our eyes. It wakes us up.
As I am faced with yet another goodbye, to probably the most significant person in my life thus far, I have decided to make it a beautiful one. One that honors the agony of the parting and the splendor of the experience. I have chosen to say farewell with my heart wide open, and my head bowed in deep gratitude to him, for the opportunity to love so fiercely and so vulnerably, and for all that I've learned from allowing myself to do so.
Where there is loss, there is always an even greater presence of love. Grieving with an open heart is messy, and it just plain old hurts. But simply put, it's evidence of the depth of my love. And I am willing to wrap my own arms around myself and grieve until it doesn't hurt anymore.
Because when I've finally said my beautiful goodbye, when I've finally let go, I'll meet the person who's been waiting for me all along. Someone willing to love me exactly as I am, always, and no matter what.
It will be me.
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