A handful of memories race through my mind when I think of August 28, 2017. I remember going out for a run in the morning and failing to bring any cash with me to buy Matt a blueberry muffin. I remember cloudy skies and cool temperatures kept us from sitting on the beach. I remember climbing a few hundred steps to the top of a lighthouse with G and H, looking over the side to try and spot Matt waiting on the ground below.
I remember watching the finale of Game of Thrones on Matt’s iPad after G and H had gone to bed. I remember how the WiFi kept cutting out and Matt kept accidentally restarting the episode. I remember drinking wine and laughing with him every time he pressed the wrong button. I remember the swirl of emotions as I watched Matt find a way to laugh about his brain’s brutal betrayal.
Game of Thrones ended and Matt and I sat in silence, stunned by the season ending of the show we’d been watching since season one, episode one. I looked up the next season start date—February 2019, almost a year and a half to wait for the finale season of Game of Thrones.
When I had the idea for this blog, I bought a yearly planner and wrote down a few key dates with the intention of filling in the other dates. An outline, of sorts. As of today, most of the dates in that planner remain blank—most mornings, I don’t know the story until I sit to write it. Of the 365 days in that planner, a dozen—maybe two dozen, if I’m being generous—are not blank. August 28th is not blank.
One year ago today, in between sips of wine and fits of laughter, in between wondering whether Matt’s withdrawal was due to tumor or heartache, I accidentally allowed a thought to slip into my mind. I looked at the date Game of Thrones was scheduled to air, looked at Matt, and was submerged in the heaviness that accompanies what if. I thought: What if Matt’s not here to watch with me in 2019? What if he doesn’t defy the odds?
The moment the thought entered my mind, I banished it. That kind of thinking was overdramatic at best, and capable of inviting in bad energy, at worst. I hated that I had the thought and I blamed the wine and the emotional Game of Thrones ending (which, oddly enough, I don’t even remember now). I despised that the thought had crossed my mind and I never told a soul.
But the day I started writing this blog, I knew I’d have to write about that traitorous thought. Because this story deserves honesty. Always. Because after I write about a day, it replays less often in my mind. A kindness to my often scattered widow brain. And because, simply, it’s a crucial moment in the story. That first traitorous what if.
I’ve fixated on this moment often in the last twelve months, both during our year of hope and in these Post Hope days. I’ve wondered what brought on that thought, how it could have slipped past the defenses I’d put up to bar any negativity. Once again, how and why.
The answer I’ve come up with is this: Hope doesn’t mean the absence of despair. I think hope is actually a choice informed by despair, the way light is informed by darkness. I had to acknowledge reality, the terrifying odds and statistics and heartbreaking stories, to have hope. To truly choose hope, not hide behind denial or delusion, I needed to understand the depths of despair.
One year ago today, for a moment, I acknowledged the worst, but went to bed believing the very best. With the highest hopes.