Julie-eli-hawaiiLast week I took my youngest son Eli to Hawaii for Spring Break. He’s a senior and will graduate from high school in June and move out on his own, so I thought this would be an awesome opportunity to spend some quality time with him while I still can. I also felt like some happy sunshine would be good for both of us (but especially me).

The last time I went to Hawaii was with John. We had a wonderful vacation in Maui the year before he was diagnosed. We loved being together and were “active” vacationers. We parasailed, paddle boarded, snorkeled, and took a sunset dinner cruise. We rented a car and drove all over the island. It was an amazing week spent with my best friend and soul mate.

Even though Eli and I were on a different island, it still felt a little too familiar. We spent a day touring museums and exhibits at Pearl Harbor and Ford Island, rented a car and drove to the North Shore, chilled on the beach, and had a great time.

Except there was a soft blanket of sadness over the week for me. Nothing dramatic, just around the edges of the days and nights. I’m still glad we went. It just didn’t feel a whole lot different from being anywhere else these days. Without John. Because no matter where I am, he’s not there. I kept thinking about how much he would have loved doing and seeing everything we were doing and seeing. And even though I had a great time with my kid, I still just missed my best friend and lover. I feel incomplete and lonely without him, no matter who I’m with.

My grieving process is evolving and I’m “actively grieving.” I’m reading three different books on grieving and am in two different support groups. I’ve met with the social worker at our local hospice twice and each time have learned from what she’s told me. The most profound thing I’ve realized is that my relationship with John has continued beyond his death and into this new life I’m carving out. It will, in fact, never end. It’s just different now. I still love him more than I can even articulate, get frustrated when something comes up that he left unfinished that I have to deal with, reach for the phone to share with him every time something cool happens in my life.

He’s here with me, always present in my thoughts and through photographs all over my life, in the small touches and big things he did to make this home ours together. He’s also very silent. I know people tell me he’s always with me but I just don’t feel his presence (whatever that means). Everything holds a memory for me and sometimes, once in awhile, those memories make me smile. Too often, they just make me miss him for the millionth time that day.

The other big thing I’ve learned about grieving is that it’s a process I just have to be present to and move through. One of the books I’m reading compares it to a journey through a forest. Sometimes dark and scary and sometimes beautiful and inspiring. I know I’ll never stop grieving and that my job, especially right now, is to be as present as possible to what I’m feeling, allow myself to experience it in whatever way it manifests, and be gentle with myself through the process.

I’m not waiting for things to “go back to normal” or to feel “normal” again. I’ll never be the same person I was but am becoming someone different, creating a new normal, through this process. And at some point, or so I’m told, I’ll actually look at this journey I’m on and be grateful for what it’s taught me and the person I’ve become because of it. I can’t see the path to that eventuality right now, but I’m curious to see how it unfolds.

That curiosity is progress for me right now. #lovetrumpscancer #livelikejohnny