Marking another milestone

Thirty-eight years ago, July 28, 1978, I had my first date with David. Our wedding date was June 2, 1979, not quite a year later, and we began our married life as college students living in a small trailer south of the main campus. Later, we moved to different married student housing; cement block buildings where we lived for several years with our two youngest children.

In June 2011, David and I celebrated our 32nd anniversary by strolling through the UNI campus and visiting those old buildings that were in the process of being torn down. Just a few months later, my husband was gone.

Recently someone early on in their own grief journey asked me what it felt like, more than four years out from the loss of my spouse. I hesitated, not sure how to respond. What could I say that would convey truth, but not scare her?

For the most part, I am doing well. I am navigating single motherhood the best that I can. I have had four books published since 2012, and have a good job. But the honest truth is that days like today, that mark special dates for David and I, remain difficult for me. Memories rise closer to the surface on those days. The pain of loss sharpens. My heart aches, and yes, I shed a tear. Or two. I wouldn’t be quite truthful if I told someone new to grief that it “gets better.” It just gets different. The best thing I can say is that they won’t be feeling the way they do right then, forever. This is an important distinction to make because in those early days and weeks, the pain is unbearable.

Seasoned grief looks and feels different than that dark despair of early mourning. It comes with the dawning reality that a daughter will soon be getting married without her father to walk her down the aisle. It can be a sob escaping while driving because a certain song comes on the radio. It can rear its ugly head with jealousy at another couple’s anniversary trip or the sight of an elderly couple holding hands. Grief remains a heavy burden for those left behind. It never really ends, and only those who have experienced it truly understand its depths.

Grieving is lonely.

Even today, more than four years after his death, I want so badly to share with David what I am feeling, what losing him has been like. Because we talked about everything. And nothing. And when we weren’t talking, we often just held hands. I miss that too.

Grief, four years out, remains a constant companion.


She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. – George Eliot

4 thoughts on “Marking another milestone

  1. Dianna Vagianos Armentrout says:

    I too struggle with what to say to the newly grieving when they ask if gets better. This post perfectly describes grief as changing, but remaining a companion. Thank you, Mary. I will send this to a mother facing the early grief of losing a child today.

  2. Kay Schmitt 21501 Cottage Hill Rd. Durango, Iowa 52039 says:

    I’m interested in your October 7 & 8 presentation. I lost my husband 21/2 years and yes, it doesn’t get better just different. I’ve had 16 experiences with his spirit. It’s hard for other people to understand if they haven’t walked in our shoes.

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