There are a lot of things I wish I knew about death before it hit me. Like how the pain you felt right before just suddenly fades away. Or how you really do get this sense of peace and understanding when you go. Or how you can become a ghost.
Being a ghost is not exactly something I would recommend, however. Because you don’t get to move on from the people you love. Because they aren’t gone to you. Sure, you can’t interact with them anymore, but you still get to watch them. I get to watch her eyes flutter open in the morning like they did when I slept beside her. I get to hear her sing very badly in the shower. I get to fall in love with her every time she laughs.
Although she doesn’t really laugh anymore.
When you propose, you promise to be there forever and always. Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself haunting her. But what hurts even more than death is watching her. At first, she couldn’t get out of bed. The tears never stopped. After a while, she turned numb. She would still stay in bed all day, but now it was just staring at the wall.
It was nearly impossible to watch her quit her job. She said she would work on her painting, that this had shown her life was too short not to follow her dreams. But she didn’t paint. She lost herself. The only time she laughed was in an angry drunken way or through her tears. I would whisper to her, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me. I begged her to try for me.
And maybe one day, it got through to her. Or maybe she had grieved long enough. But she started to try again. It was slow. First, she started wearing makeup again. Then she went out to lunch with old friends. Then to visit my grave. Then to therapy.
The first real laugh was in there somewhere. I think it was with her sister. Some bad joke over a text. But she laughed. And that was everything.
She finally picked up that paintbrush. Sure, she put it down again almost right away. But she picked it up. One day, she picked it up and painted a flower. A small little hydrangea. A hydrangea! She painted. She really was going to follow her dreams after all.
Then a date.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea. Neither was she, to be fair. But it had been almost three years. Three years of her not knowing I was there, keeping a silent watch over her—a guardian angel in my own way. I didn’t want her to move on. But she didn’t get to see me like how I could see her. She didn’t get to still fall for me with every tiny random detail.
So I watched her go on a date.
It didn’t go well. There wasn’t a second one. At least, not with that guy. But, a few guys later, she met him, and well, he got a second date. And a third date. And quite a few more. He bought her flowers. She danced with him at the park when they stumbled across a performer there. They went to my grave together. He bent down and promised the now well-worn stone he would do his best to take care of her, to make her happy. He met her parents. I was selfishly satisfied that they clearly liked me better. But I was relieved that they were still lovely as ever.
She went out to lunch once a month with my mom, and that seemed like it would never stop. My mom was happy for her. I was happy for her.
Or I was trying to be.
It was a year and a half after they started dating that he proposed. I knew he was planning it. He asked her parents for their blessing just like I did. They said yes, just like they did for me. I knew she wanted to say yes, but she asked for a minute before she responded. Then, she went outside and looked up at the sky. The moonlight shined on her face, making her even more beautiful.
“Hi.” She whispered softly. “It’s me. I know you’re probably busy doing whatever the afterlife is. Probably soccer with your Dad. Or maybe you’ve been watching me, so you know what’s happening.” Here she paused and took a deep breath. She was crying, but only slightly. “I will always love you. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” I whispered, even though I knew it didn’t matter. She couldn’t hear me. But I still wanted to tell her. I wanted to scream that I loved her. I always would.
“I’ve found someone.” She told the stars, thinking they may have held me in their brightness. I wish she knew I was right there in front of her. “I don’t love him the same way I love you, but I do love him. Is it… would it be ok if I decided to be happy with him?”
Of course, I thought. I reached my hand out and put it over her shoulder. I briefly made contact; of course, she couldn’t feel it. But a funny thing happened. She looked directly where my eyes were. Somehow, she saw me for that split second. Of that, I’m sure.
After she collected herself, she went back to tell him yes. The world started to change as she did. I guess that needing to know that she would be ok had been what kept me. Now that I knew she was… well, it was time to go. The future can’t come without the past. Moving on meant letting go. I was ready. I’m ready.
Watching her go to spend a life with someone else… it hurt. It hurt so bad. But maybe it was ok for her to love him. Because she was smiling, and that’s really all that ever mattered to me. That beautiful, beautiful smile.