There are things my heart and mind will never be in concert over. The death of someone I loved is one of those things. Human nature can be so contrary. How do I grieve for a man who in life found a million ways to both infuriate and endear?
The anniversary date of Keith’s passing was yesterday, and I was quiet. On my end, there were no exquisitely penned social media posts paying tribute, because that space, I believe, is reserved for my children, his parents, and his siblings.
Keith and I were divorced. Our lives had been inextricably joined until they weren’t, and I grieved that loss for many years. But on that night, five years ago, there was a distinct finality to this new and undefined grief. In the days that followed his death, sudden and too soon, the intimate moments of our shared life brought sweet relief. Tears burned my eyes as the echoes of our shared experiences, once so greyed by the end of our marriage, flushed with color, but even so, language failed to define my relationship to Keith in the present. I wept for days, for my children, for his parents, for his siblings. And I wept, for me.
I pondered in the silence of the early morning, what the days to come would bring. I wondered how the obituary would read and how the funeral would be planned. Where do exes go to grieve? And though Keith’s family offered sanctuary and unconditional love, their words and actions peppered with grace and undisturbed by division and exclusivity, I stayed at the edge of the room. I stood on the dark fringe of mourning, plagued by a nagging sense of guilt for accepting sympathy that felt so undeserved. There were people who knew him better and loved him longer. I did not think that I was entitled to the acute sadness and bewilderment that seemed to define his passing.
I have wondered in the years following Keith’s death, of his understanding of our past. I know that despite his many struggles, he deeply loved his family. He was a beautiful mess. Perhaps the years might have softened the hardness that defined our divorce, but that is the most profound loss of all because there is no possibility left when someone dies. The gash of failure, still tender, will never be healed. Grief is messy and cumbersome on its own. Add that it’s the death of an ex, and those feelings become even more complicated—regardless of how the relationship ended. But once, long ago, he was mine.
Even now, I still hesitate before defining my connection to Keith. I feel neither single nor divorced, and it would be unfair to own the term widow. But this is what I do know; divorce should not define who we cherish and how we grieve. It’s simple, really; we grieve because we have loved.
And so I claim today as mine. I want to honor the loss of Keith in a way that feels authentic because it is valid, real, and complicated. Even exes have the right to grieve fully and deeply for someone we once loved. A piece of him is still mine.