This week has been a tough one so far. My girls are with my parents for their Fall break and I’ve taken the week off to try to get some things done. The house has been quiet. Very, very quiet. I didn’t realize how much I had grown to depend on the chaos of my children and all of their activities and school to distract me. For the last few days, I’ve no longer had that luxury. I’ve cried — a lot. I’ve cried while cleaning out the garage, I’ve cried while working out, I’ve cried in the bath, I even cried while eating a salad. I couldn’t help but wonder why so many tears? Why would I cry so hard over 8 months in? Then I realized. I had begun to grieve my loss of self — the loss of who I was with him. He always inspired me to be my best self. He stuck by me through hard times, called me out when I got lost in my negativity or became self-destructive. He stuck by me through thick and thin and everything in between. Now it’s all up to me. Oddly, or not so oddly, he knew it would be.

He knew I planned and executed against a master plan. So he made me make promises. There were the financial promises. Check. Those weren’t so hard. I’d always followed his financial advice. Then there were his wishes for the girls. Check. So easy. He’d always taken such loving care of them. Then there were the promises that concerned me. Not so easy. And that’s probably why he made me make them. He knew I’d revert to walling myself off if he were gone. He knew that I’d allow grief to so consume me that I’d never look outward — unless I promised him I’d do so.

The thing about the sudden loss of a spouse is that it’s much like standing on a mountain. It’s like standing on a lush, green, flower covered mountain. Then suddenly, without warning, the peak is blown off and changed into an erupting caldera. Lava pours down the sides of the mountain and engulfs everything in its path. You’re frozen and unable to move. The searing pain swirls around you and all you can do is cry. And in the aftermath, when all that’s left is the rumble under the mountain and ash falling from the sky, everything that you’ve known and loved is gone. Life is in pieces.

So many well meaning people offer guidance and advice. None of it ever really rings true even if they’ve experienced the same eruption on their own mountain. After all, we all love in unique and individual ways and so to is our grief unique and individual. For a time, we have to sit alone on the ash covered mountain. We sit alone and we weep. We could use the mud from our tears to begin to build walls to protect ourselves. I’ve noticed some old foundations that have appeared this week. I know that every brick laid is a broken promise. If there was one thing my husband knew, that was joy. Joy doesn’t come from walls.

So this week, I’ve been sitting in the mud. Refraining from making bricks and pondering how I’ll keep my promise. (And don’t be naive, he left a list!) The least I can do is what the most spectacular man I have ever known asked of me. He asked that I be open. He asked that I be vulnerable. He asked that I let life find me. Wherever I ended up, to let it find me and bring me joy again. It was so much easier to say yes when I thought we had more time. So if, someday soon, you see me at a party, or at dinner with someone new, don’t whisper. Say hello. Odds are I’ll be out looking for joy and could use some friendly words. And don’t be surprised or worried if I talk about how much it hurts to miss my husband the very next weekend. It’s all part and parcel now. This big life is definitely bigger because grief has moved in. But I now know I have to save a seat for joy, and the two of them have to sit together.

Until then, I sit on this mountain of ash. I watch the clouds come and go and the rain of my tears fall into the ash. But peeking through, there is the smallest sprout appearing from the ash. It’s the sprout from the seed of joy he left me. And it is a flower called hope.

Father, storyteller, observer, and philosopher. Now learning to live with grief.