This year was my second Valentine's without my fiancé. I spent most of the day on the road... driving the five hours up to Dallas to see my best friend. Going back to Dallas is always a lot like playing Russian roulette with my heart. I never quite know how I'm going to react. Sometimes, when I get my first glimpse of that sprawling city skyline over the horizon, I'm completely overcome by a total grief meltdown. Other times, as I drive through familiar streets and past old favorite restaurants, I feel this odd detachment… as if I am in a dream, driving through some post-apocalyptic version of a past life. A few times my trips have even been incredible, all thanks to my amazing friends who still live there.
In retrospect, it was perhaps not the smartest idea to return back to the city we called home on Valentine's weekend of all weekends. Really Sarah? Sometimes I am amazed at the bold (aka stupid) decisions I make. But anxiety attacks and crying fits aside, I'm gonna say it was worth it.
Friday morning, I took some flowers to Drew at the cemetery on my way out of town, and then headed for Dallas. There we were - me, my suitcase and my anxiety tightly packed into his truck. Anxiety quickly hogging all the space. So I called a girlfriend of mine, already in tears, and hoped that feeling the pain with someone by my side would help. We ended up talking the entire five hour drive. By the time I arrived, I had gotten plenty of crying out, and even some good laughs too. Most importantly, I felt like someone had taken the time to really see me - all the way down to the bones - and to love even the most painful parts of me. A good girlfriend will always do that.
The evening landed me with my best friend, her mom, and another good girlfriend of ours out for dinner and dancing. We had a three-course meal at a swanky restaurant in uptown, with a live band playing. I even bought a brand new dress just for the occasion. Last year, I was such an emotional wreck I could not even think about doing something like this. I don't know if I was feeling stronger or just reckless this year, but I really wanted to try doing it up right. Sure, I was terrified of having a complete breakdown in the middle of the restaurant and fleeing to the car in shame… but you know, that's just the gamble I've gotta take now.
The really amazing thing is… with good people surrounding me, I really wasn't focusing on all the things I didn't have. I never noticed any of the couples having romantic dinners nearby, or got upset at any of the sappy love songs (I was just as shocked as anyone by this). Because I felt seen for who I am - pain and all. We laughed and cried and sang songs and danced and drank wine and savored delicious food. We talked about happy memories and hard times and about how glad we were for each other. We lived precisely in the moment - an untouchable group of four fabulous females. As it turned out - even though I was missing the person I love the most - I had plenty of love right there in front of me and I knew just how lucky I was to have it.
And really, isn't that was life is about? I know in the times I am able to experience what is right in front of me fully I feel most alive, and most grateful. It was an honor to be able to sit in the presence of other beautiful human beings with their own pains and heartache and imperfect lives and know that - in that moment - we were sharing an exchange of love together. In that moment, we were seeing each other as the flawed and wounded souls we truly are and saying to one another "I see you. I see all of you. And I will not ask you to hide any part of you away from me. And I love you for all of it."
It is a gift I had only allowed him to give me before. For me, it was just too vulnerable to open myself up to anyone else in that way. But since his death, I've been quite forced to open myself more fully… time and time again my friends and family have shown they love all of me. It's a pretty important gift for his death to have given me, I happen to think.
Who knows how next year will go. Maybe I won't be feel able to celebrate love, or maybe I will. I sure can tell you that I woke up this morning feeling "the grief hangover". Missing him more deeply than I have in months… you know the feeling, where it hurts so bad that you want to crawl out of your skin just to get away from it. The pain that makes you want to tear out every synapse in your brain just to short circuit it. When even the tears won't come. I expect the next few mornings (at least) will likely be that way.
BUT... last night, just for one night, I was able to put on a beautiful new dress, my favorite black pumps he bought me just to see me smile, and just be me…. right where I am. No hiding my pain away, or hiding my joy away either, but letting it all be seen, and discovering that sometimes the best love is the love that is right in front of you.