Like the number 3, the number 7 seems to be a signifcant number to human beings in both the arts and sciences. Lucky number 7, The Seven Year Itch, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...these are just a few of the ways the number 7 is referenced in our society. I've also read that the human body renews every seven years so that essentially, on a cellular level, we're not the same person we were seven years ago (though a quick Google tells me that this is not entirely accurate).
I'm thinking of these things today not because I'm about to leave a partner out of boredom, but because a partner left me seven years ago on the 10th March when he tragically died. I'm also thinking about it because I remember reading something by Elisabeth Kubhler Ross which suggested that it takes seven years to recover from major loss. I've also read that Kubhler Ross' theory of the five stages of grief has since been adapted to a seven stage model, the stages being: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and hope, and processing. I've certainly experienced all seven of those phases in a cyclical pattern over and over, and when I revisit my blog and my memoir they're clearly reflected back at me. But have I completely processed the grief on this seven year anniversary? Have I fully recovered? Am I still the same person that I was back then? What if the cells that loved Paul, and the cells of me that loved him, no longer exist! That's a terrible idea!
Regardless of the science, it's nonsense, of course. When we lose someone, people often say that they live on in such nebulous places as our memories and in our metaphorical (if not our literal) hearts. They do. Though I no longer think of Paul daily and don't actively grieve for him on a regular basis, I can sometimes remember being with him as if it were yesterday. I can still feel deep love for him and gratititude for the time we spent together and I can still feel deep sadness for his loss. But I no longer live with grief as a constant presence. In that sense, Kubler Ross is right and I have recovered.
Though I wouldn't force it on anyone who isn't ready, recovery, I feel now, is right and proper. It is important to learn to live a full life again after loss, in honour of the person whose life was denied as much as anything. I think I am, mostly, succeeding. I have a beautiful life in many ways and I recently began a new relationship with another beautiful man who makes me very happy...when I allow myself to feel happy instead of terrified! The truth is that, though grief might be resolved by the seven year point, trauma lives on in the body, heart and mind and I'm not sure any amount of cellular renewal erases its imprint. My trauma tells me that to love another human being is the most devastatingly dangerous thing I can do.
It's not just the loss of Paul that was truamatic, of course. I've experienced multiple losses and traumas in my life and many devastating consequences of relationships. All of it is triggered when I fall in love. I'm in the middle of having EMDR therapy for PTSD (following other recent major life dramas) and my therapist tells me that the Protectors, Managers and Fire Fighters in my brain are in overdrive. As she says, they smell burnt toast, believe the house is on fire and activate the alarms - alarms which say things like RUN! GET OUT NOW! They believe that, when you fall in love, terrifying things happen. It's an absolute nightmare for me and rather sad for the man who loves me that, while he is cockahoop, I'm finding multiple reasons to distance myself from him, push him away and that I am testing every possible aspect of our relationship like a person with OCD might check lights, switches and ovens. It's exhausting for me and hard for him but testimony to how wonderful he is that he puts up with it all with so much love and understanding that I can't help but adore him however petrified I am. Synchronicity and serendipity is strong too and, despite my fears, I believe there is something very good about the connection that we have. People keep telling me how happy I look and I can't deny that they're right!
The irony is that it's the very fact that my new partner is so wonderful and makes me so happy that terrifies me! In fact, he reminds me of Paul in many ways. He's strong and kind, patient and funny. He loves words and being outside and making things. Sometimes he even looks like Paul, laughs like Paul, talks like Paul, knocks on the door like Paul. 'There's a strong pattern match,' my therapist says as she tells me again that, 'he's not Paul!' Just because Paul died, it doesn't mean I will lose my new love so soon.
In the end, regardless, we don't conquer our fears by running away. We conquer them by facing them and, like a person conducting exposure therapy, I fall in love little by little and I let my new partner get closer day by day. Sometimes I have to retreat but I always come back. I feel the fear and do it anyway because this is what I gained from loving Paul. 'Would you ever wish you hadn't been with Paul?' my therapist asks and I don't hesitate. I wrote a whole book about how I would do it all again. And here I am, doing it all again. 'What's the worst that could happen?' I ask my demons. It doesn't bear thinking about. But I think about it anyway and I tell myself that I survived before and that I will continue to survive. Love is the most precious thing in the world. Life is for living. Every moment is special. That's the gift. That's the lesson. There's the post-traumatic growth. Am I the same person? No. I wouldn't want to be. I like the me that I am now. I am braver and stronger, I follow my instincts and intution more and I live my life more fully.
I am grateful for the love I shared with Paul and grateful for the man who loves me now. My intuition tells me that Paul would love him too. Seven years on my grief is still an itch and this is me scratching it. I make space sometimes for sadness and memories. Because I remember Paul and all that he gave to me and to the people who loved him. And I remember the life that he lost too soon.
Seven years. It's unbelievable. Time goes so fast. Which is why we must make the most of it. Here's to love my friends. And to understanding that loss is a price worth paying.