On May 23, 2017 at 1:07 p.m., I looked at the attending nurse and asked, “Is she gone?” The nurse nodded. At that moment I experienced an emptiness I had never experienced before. Today marks one year since that nurse nodded that Carolyn was dead. I still cry at a sudden memory of her, but as I have since the moment she died, the tears represent both sadness and gladness. Sadness for the years we would never have, and gladness for those precious five that we did. Only the percentages have shifted. Increasingly over this past year the tears have favored gladness, as memories of her are able to bring smiles to my face. Now, the tears that are sad center around thoughts of a life she was unable to live for herself. That’s a sadness I’ll be carrying with me for the rest of my days.
We remember anniversaries because they accumulate. We assign physical elements to mark those remembrances as they mount, as a way of celebration, an achievement through time. Paper wedding anniversary. Silver. Golden. But what do you call the anniversary of the death of a spouse?
We don't label these remembrances, not because they are not a reason to celebrate. We should celebrate the years that we did share. As far as an achievement through time, we should meditate on this day how far we've come in forging a new life for ourselves. Still, we do not recognize these special days with labels of paper, silver and gold.
I think that's because they are not anniversaries at all, but mileposts. Mileposts that are the journey of our own individual life. A friend recently sent me a quote from the movie The Way: “You don't choose a life, Dad. You live one.” For me, today marks the first year I have what is my new life to live, the way it has presented itself, not the way I chose it to be.
I know Carolyn is happy that I’ve found a way to travel alone without being lonely. She’d done it for forty years herself, so she certainly knew I could. Of course, she’s rolling her eyes at some of the accommodations I’ve chosen. She did not approve of shared bathrooms, especially ones that were located in another guest room, for crying out loud! She would have indulged my train travel, telling me she enjoyed the joy on my face the same way I enjoyed that on hers when she was taking pictures of doors, flower boxes or stained glass windows. You go ride your little trains, Reid. I’ll stay here and take pictures of all the things you missed.
I will always remember you, Carolyn K. Marquardt. And remember, too, how happy you had and have continued to make me.
So on this day, May 23rd, 2018, there is a milepost, not an anniversary. Milepost 1. I don't know how many of these are left for me, but I will live them all. As the poet said,
For I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep