I had to make a lot of choices during the first year following my husband John’s suicide. Choices I was ill-equipped to make considering the fact that in those early days, my shock-saturated brain kept making me leave the house with two completely different types of sandals on my feet.
As the one year anniversary of John’s suicide approached, I faced yet another decision. How do I commemorate such a thing when I am still so angry at him? What will the kids want to do on this day?
If they wanted me in a black veil I would drape myself in miles of black tulle. If they wanted to lay flowers on his grave I would buy them ten thousand roses. If they wanted to run a way and hide, I would take them to Jupiter.
Turns out, they wanted cheeseburgers.
Yes, cheeseburgers. It was that simple. When presenting them with the traditional options of a gravesite visit to lay roses, or a balloon release on the beach, they were both quiet for several seconds before my son asked if we could eat cheeseburgers that day instead, since the other options sounded “boring.”
My daughter took some convincing. Her main concern was this: cheeseburgers made her happy. Was it okay to be happy on such a day? I eventually convinced her (and myself), that yes it was. Feeling however you wanted to feel on whichever day of the year you feel it was always okay.
On the day of his death anniversary, I checked my social media and found photos and stories of my husband, a man that everyone felt they knew. People still expressing shock over the way he had died, and countless, sappy, overused poems with floral arrangements and beach sunsets in the background. Poems with rhyming words. Poems that made the general population feel comfortable with the way in which they were expressing their grief.
I became enraged the more I scrolled. He was not this person everyone was memorializing! He was not a nice person! He was not noble!
At least he wasn’t those things to me anymore.
In the years before his death, he had become cruel, disconnected, and unpredictable. Where were the stories and pictures of that? They were inside of me and the kids; the only ones who had been subjected fully to this side of him.
My anger subsided at this realization because these people were grieving a healthy version of John. A version I was slowly forced to grieve over the years as I watched his sanity slip from him. These people had to grieve in this way; remembering him fondly felt natural to them, like cheeseburgers seemed natural to my children. How could I judge these people for grieving in such a way when part of me feared being judged by them for eating cheeseburgers?
What if no one judged another for how they chose to grieve? What kind of world would that be?
That evening, when the kids and I reached the milkshake course of our meal at Ruby’s Diner, the three of us were laughing about the chocolate dripping form my son’s chin and the noise my daughter’s thigh made each time she peeled it from the pleather cushion of our booth.
So many other times in the past three hundred and sixty-five days had been devoted to the act of mourning. And it is, like love, an action. Random Wednesdays when the smell of a stranger’s Swisher Sweet cigars sent me into crying convulsions, Fourth of July when we each pointed out which firework we think daddy would’ve liked best, Saturday mornings at 3am when my nightmares were so vivid they induced an asthma attack.
Yes, so many days and weeks and moments in that first year had been devoted to thoughts and actions about him; missing him, crying for him, regretting not having done enough for him, celebrating him. But on that day, one year after he took his life we chose to celebrate us; our resilience, our mutual love of greasy cheeseburgers, our ability to still laugh about the arbitrary things that make up life, like milkshakes on chins and thighs on pleather.
We had made it through the first year intact and we will make it through so many more. Together. Inseparable. Adhered to one another through our tragedy and triumph like cheese adheres to meat patties.
Michelle Miller is a suicide-widow, author of two memoirs: “Boys, Booze and Bathroom Floors” and “Vodka Soup for the Widowed Soul”, public speaker, and Widow Life Coach. She lives in San Diego California with her best friend, their five children and a dwarf bunny.
Amazingly beautifully written.