The View From Five Years Out

Next week is five years since my husband passed, and I’m both embracing and struggling with the reality of the view from five years out. Today I just want to share that perspective with you, which is really the perspective of my brain.

Good news. It does get better. The sun really does rise and set each day, and with that passage of time, our loss becomes more manageable. The pain changes and becomes less acute. Mary-Frances O’Connor, author of The Grieving Brain, explains it perfectly, and her book has given me some much needed and valued perspective.

Grief is the wave that knocks you off your feet…and comes with the fear that you will not survive. Grieving means that the hundredth time the wave comes at you, you may still want to escape, but it will also be familiar, and you will have learned by this point how to survive the moment.

Mary-Frances O’Connor, The Grieving Brain

The waves are now familiar and often expected. I see them coming and I can mentally prepare myself. I’ve made peace that there will always be waves in my life. Strangely enough, it almost feels like welcoming an old friend from a dysfunctional relationship that just won’t go away. My brain now says, “You again. Come here. I see you.”

My brain has done a lot of work in the last five years!

My brain has been so busy trying to process Jay’s death, which was a singular event and totally messes with how my brain works. For me, a singular event is a one time thing with a beginning, middle and end. Think about it. Most events follow this path: except death.

Death has no ending, to finish line.

The event of death created a giant marathon to nowhere, and for five years my brain has been frantically trying to find “the end.” Guess what? I’m tired, and my brain is tired. One part understands that he is gone, but there’s another piece in there that is still looking for him. Guess what? That’s perfectly normal. Our brain can hold two mutually exclusive truths at the same time!

If our loved one isn’t here, our brain believes that they are simply somewhere else, and motivates us to seek them out.”

Mary-Frances O’Connor

So, I’m trying to make peace with the fact that there is no end. My brain is slowly coming to terms with this new reality. It’s not doing as much searching and scanning. It has broken the habit of “my life with Jason” and is replacing it with the new habits that fall under the category of “how I do life without Jason.”

If I look around, I can see confirmation of this process happening.

I have an entire set of new pictures under the favorites album on my phone. Pictures of a life that I’ve done without him. Bittersweet? Yes. Confirmation that I am actually doing it? Also a yes. My house looks different. I have more wrinkles. Oh yeah, I also have a knee that needs to be replaced and a shoulder that needs to be rebuilt (as a result of taking on the role of farmer). My kids finished school, I have friends that simply did not exist before, and likewise I’m missing relationships that did not survive the fire of his death.

My brain has learned how to live this life after loss. I am learning how to live with the bitter and the sweet, and to know and embrace the deep joy that comes from simply having the privilege of being alive.

I’m spending more time focusing on the next part of my life, the chapters that have not yet been written. I’m looking towards the future. I’m chasing to focus on the new story. I have quit fighting my reality. My brain finally understands and has made peace with “the end.”

I know I’ve said this before, but it begs to be said again (thank you Dr. Benjamin Hardy, for your wise words). We cannot create a new masterpiece on a canvas that already contains one. We must first wipe the canvas clean in order to make room for the new work of art.

That’s what the last five years have been: wiping the canvas of my life clean in order to make a space where my new masterpiece can be created. I’ve kept my favorite parts, and will find meaningful ways to incorporate them. Make no mistake, the next masterpiece is all mine. The flaws, the beautiful pieces, and the mistakes. And while it frightens me, it’s also full of limitless possibility, and that makes me feel so alive.

If I can do this, you can too.

Much love my friends,


Julie Martella Avatar

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