Friday, August 31, 2012

Every Cell: Seven Years

About six months after Phil died I was having a conversation with a widow I had just met about the ways in which trauma can leave a physical imprint on your body. As we talked, I envisioned a huge, ragged tear starting at the top of my head and ripping my body, not exactly neatly, in half. The tearing was caused by Phil being yanked from my life, and I became lost in thought trying to figure out how I was supposed to sew those two halves of me back together. I was snapped out of my revelry immediately when she said these words:

"I heard somewhere that every cell in your body regenerates itself after seven years. So, any trauma we experience in life stays with us, on a cellular level, for seven years."

This is what I heard: there won't be any cells left in your body that know Phil after seven years. I have reflected on this conversation more times than I can count over the past 2,555 days.

With each year that passes the memories of my life with Phil become less crystal clear. I can't smell him anymore by just closing my eyes. I can't recall exactly where the top of my head came to when standing next to him in my highest heels. I don't remember the words he used every time he greeted his mother on the phone. I have to count backwards to recall whether he was alive when this baby was born or that person got married. I've lost the immediate recall I once clung to so fiercely, and that makes me wonder if my cells have forgotten him, have forgotten us. Those words uttered innocently almost seven years ago have made this anniversary of Phil's death different than all the rest.

Over the past few weeks I have been 'taking stock,' and I would like to share with you what I have found.

After seven years, I can still summon Phil's 100 watt smile in my mind's eye. 2,555 days after the accident that took his life, I cannot drive past a cyclist without uttering a silent prayer. 84 months after our last goodbye kiss, I never leave a person I love without letting them know that I do. 61,360 minutes after standing at the foot of an emergency room bed, watching the monitors attached to Phil registering no signs of life, I am more certain than ever before that life is a gift not to be wasted. 365 weeks after the word widow first applied to me, I have found a way to wear that word with both pride, and a bit of awe.

My biggest fear over the past seven years has been arriving at this day, and realizing that "they" were right. I was afraid that without the cells in my body that actually held Phil, loved Phil, walked through the world with Phil...that I would lose the essence of him. But all along my heart has told me that really losing him was not possible. The love we shared was too beautiful to be forgotten.

Turns out, I was right. Science has proven that there are some cells in the body that never regenerate...and there are others, like the muscles of the human heart, that slow down the regeneration process as we age.

"Even in people who have lived a very long life, less than half of the cardiomyocyte cells have been replaced. Those that aren’t replaced have been there since birth."~Dr. Frisen*

Music to my grieving heart...even science agrees that hearts just don't forget.

So my amazing man, you are safe inside my very slowly regenerating heart for years to come. To celebrate this news, I will give more than I take. I will keep believing that love, in its many forms, is worth the risk. I will do my best to honor you, but I will do it my way...I know you would love that. I will seize the day, savor the moment, and treat life like the adventure that it can be. I will also sit on the couch more often; read that book I have been meaning to pick up; have lunch with the kids just because; make time to babysit for my adorable nieces and nephews; and value every minute I have with Michael knowing that eventually that time will end.

All this I will do not because you died, but because you lived, really lived. You taught me that living the dream is a fluid concept. Dreams don't end when we wake up, they only end when we give up.

And, through every bit of this topsy turvy life, I will love you still.

Special thanks to Michelle for sharing her writing day with me today. *You can find the quote from Dr. Frisen at Naturalist dot com, and many other sites that a Google search of this topic will me, I've read them all!



  1. beautiful post Michele, thinking of you today - and the love you and Phil shared. And grateful that you have continued to share that love with so many people.

  2. I loved reading this today! Thanks Michele!

  3. As I wipe my tears, I send you hugs. Beautiful!

  4. I can't say enough how relatable the blogs are to what I have experienced. Beautifully written Michele. Thank you. Stay strong and keep on keepin on.

  5. My Dear Michele. You really touched my heart with your words, especially because I became a widow of 7 years just 9 days before you. Our hearts contain the love we were gifted with throughout eternity. And the really amazingly beautiful thing is that there is still room for yet even MORE love. Again, you are a true inspiration and I appreciate your work and your words of wisdom. You are quite special!

  6. Beautiful timing as I approach the 1 year mark next weekend. Lovely.

  7. Awesome Michelle, as I, too, wipe away the tears. My fear has been all along (now at 2.5 years) that I will forget his smell, his smile, his very deep voice, his hugs, etc. Thank you for letting me know that I will have cells that will not regenerate!

    The widow/widower community is blessed to have you!!!

  8. Michelle,
    I have only been at this for a little less than 5 months. My greatest fear has been forgetting my Charlie.

    Thank you so much for a beautiful post.

  9. Almost painfully beautiful, Michele. Love you to pieces.

  10. And even though our cells regenerate, they have "memory" (yes at a cellular level) that is passed on to the daughter cells. Yes, tis true or how could we still maintain our immunity to chickenpox that we had as a child. For there is replication and there is regeneration...but even our cells have memory.

  11. I'm glad to know that there will always be a part of me that has been with him, that h will never truly leaved me. It's hell not having his physical presence to lose his memories and his spiritual presence is beyond what I could handle.

  12. @Michele: And I became a widow 361 days before you. The 8-year anniversary is September 4. At first (before you got to the science proving you right part) this post brought tears--especially as now my anniversary weekend is upon me. I was having dinner tonight at a restaurant, alone at my table, surrounded by couples and groups...and I was reading this and tearing up. I even left early as I didn't feel like having a grief attack in public. Came home and read the rest. Wow...thank you. So, so good to know.

    @Anonymous (3): Your sharing that additional bit of scientific info, and the truth it conveys: beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you.

  13. Such beautiful words, Michele, and a lovely reminder of how to live our lives that we all need to remember. I just shared with a friend yesterday that I know I will always carry Vern and his love in my heart. And now I have the scientific proof.

  14. I would go one step further and say you will NEVER be able to discard or forget your husband no matter the number of years, because his love permanently changed who you are as a person. His virtue is part of you now. That cannot be erased by any amount of time.

  15. Thank you. 4 months a widow from my high school love of 18 years. Forging ahead because my 1&3 year olds make me. Realizing that it's actually getting harder, because all those big dreams of a chance to start fresh are just not true. Its still the same story, minus my heart and all my self esteem.

  16. Michelle,

    For reasons I'm not quite sure of, you and Phil have been on my mind lately. I am teaching my youngest son how to drive. We live not far in any direction from fairly rural roadways that are loved by our cycling community. Of course even without knowing you guys I would caution anyone learning to drive of the responsibility of looking out for everyone else on the road, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, but knowing the stories that I do know from hanging out with widowed people, it just feels, I don't even know how to describe it, sacred somehow. I'm as agnostic as the get, but out there on those country roads with those cyclists makes me feel apart of something special.

    My husband will be dead 11 years on Oct. 16. I can't believe it is that long. But any thoughts I have ever had about forgetting him have long since been put to rest by the very experience of not forgetting him. I will never forget. I know that as surely as I breathe air, he lives in my heart every moment.

  17. I really really needed this today. I also heard the 7 year cell thing last year and was so equally horrified by it. It is so comforting to hear this, and I needed the message at the end. I will seize the day, savor the moment, and treat life like the adventure that it can be. THANK YOU <3

    1. So glad this came to you when you needed it...and yep, let today be today...tomorrow is a whole new adventure. xo

  18. I am so glad that you, Michele Neff Hernandez, came into my life. Thank you for always sharing your heart (your life, your time, your love) with so many of us whose lives you have enriched. Sending you love from the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.