Brandon wasn’t one to talk about his feelings often or make grand, romantic gestures. He thought all that lovey-dovey stuff was cliche, silly, and embarrassing. There were a few times that I wished he’d do more romantic stuff in our relationship, but for the majority of the time, I was completely okay with how things were.
Though he didn’t do it often, he did do sweet, thoughtful, and kind things. Sitting here, just a couple of short months away from it being 5 years since his death, I think that because romantic gestures weren’t his “thing”, that’s exactly what makes the ones he did do that much more special.
In the early days and months, I couldn’t look at pictures, cards, little notes – anything that either had him in them or was from him – without suffocating and crippling pain. As I would run across these sentimental mementos of our life together, each one would send me into a downward spiral of despair and agony, a constant shining reminder that the man I was going to spend my life with was now dead and I would never again see his smile or hear his voice. So I did the only thing I knew how to do back then; I put all these painful reminders of what used to be into a box and I didn’t open it, not for years.
That’s how long it took me. It will be different for every widow or widower, but for me, it took years to be able to look at pictures, cards, little notes, and other sentimental items without excruciating pain. In the early days, I kept hearing people say that one day, looking at pictures would bring me smiles instead of tears. I thought they were insane. I hated the Hallmark way they said it, like a fortune cookie they found one day and decided that this cliche saying would somehow help a young widow.
But one day, about a year and a half ago, I don’t know why, but I suddenly WANTED to see all those sentimental things I shut away in the box. So I opened it. I would be a liar if I said it was a purely joyous event. It wasn’t. I cried some. It hurt some. But the hurt wasn’t all consuming like it once was. With the hurt, there was something new there…I felt glad. I felt happy. I felt relief. These things, these cards and notes that used to be unbearable to look at, suddenly brought back so many sweet memories that I just haven’t allowed myself to think about for all these years. I think that sometimes, when you’re trying to survive the death of your spouse, you lock away all these happy memories the two of you shared, because when they’re suddenly gone, these memories are just painful reminders of all you’ve lost, of all you’ll never have ever again. It gets to be so overwhelming and adds so much more weight to the pain that is already there from their death, that some of us just lock that all away and try our best to survive the coming days and months.
Since Brandon wasn’t big on the cliche romantic things, I don’t have too many things in this box. But the few things I do have there, mean the world to me.
This was the card he gave me on our first Valentine’s day together, in 2008. Not only is this the first card he ever got me, but he made this. Brandon, the man who thought all this lovey stuff was stupid, MADE this. He borrowed his mother’s crafting supplies and actually made this card, from cutting out the cardboard, to printing out the adorable cat picture he knew I’d love, to hot gluing the little heart charm. Not only that, but he wrote those words for me, too. I loved this present. It was the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me.
At the time, 18 year old Valerie had no idea how special this truly was, didn’t realize just how far out of his comfort zone Brandon went to make this. Today, this is one of my most prized possessions. And because death made me a neurotic mess when it comes to certain things, not only do I have the original put away safely in a box that’s in a waterproof bin, I took pictures of this card and have those pictures backed up on my phone, SD card, computer, Google drive, had physical prints made, and also sent them in an email to myself (you know, just in case the other backup methods fail one day). I know, slightly insane and redundant, but these are the lengths one goes to in order to preserve something one of a kind from a dead loved one.
Holding this card and looking at it brings me tears, yes, but the tears are not just sadness, they are gratitude because I had a chance to know such a wonderful and kind man. They are the feeling of luck, because this complicated, closed off, thoughtful, and generous man chose to spend the rest of his life with me. They are happiness because for as long as I live, I will always remember this day, remember how nervous he looked when he gave this card to me, remember his smile and the warmth in his eyes. This memory is forever mine, and his death did not take it away. Death took many things, but the memories are mine.
What am I trying to say? I guess it’s that if right now, you’re in a place where pictures and other mementos bring you pain, don’t lose hope. Put them all away in a box if you need to, hide them, give them to a friend to hold onto, do whatever feels right. There will come a day, it could be months away or it could be years, but the day will come when the very same things that cause you so much pain today will be things you’ll love having around. It is possible to look at pictures of your beloved and not feel crushed by sadness. I hate how cliche this sounds, but give it time. One day these things that hurt you will mean the world and be truly priceless.