There’s the guy that got away, and then there’s the guy you let go of. Not because you didn’t love him, but as an act of self-preservation. Because you know the crazy-making shit that’s happening isn’t love but something else entirely, something deep and dark and completely out of your control. Because at some point you decide to love yourself more.
It’s the hardest decision you will ever make, it will feel like somebody died. But it gets better, over time, and while you aren’t quite at a place of forgiveness yet you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. You take baby steps to build a life for yourself, and then you find someone else to share it with, and it’s so different without all the drama but good. Really, really good. The way it’s supposed to be.
And then the guy-you-let-go-of actually dies.
You don’t believe it until you see the obituary. And then, that retaining wall you’ve built, the one holding it all together for so long, just bursts. Because even though the end was years ago, and you’ve already mourned once, this is The End, and a part of you just died for real and you didn’t even know it until 3 days later.
And you know your problems are the least of it – his family, his wife, his children all have much bigger crosses to bear. He was yours but only temporarily; he was theirs, always and forever. Still, he carried a piece of you, in fact a great big chunk of you, from age 17 until 37. Twenty years of on-again, off-again love and friendship and angst and suffering. And ultimately betrayal, in some bewildering and totally unnecessary ways.
You learned that love isn’t always enough.
And now he’s dead. You don’t know how or why, and maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. You don’t doubt your decision to break ties, but you wish you had been able to forgive more quickly. There’s no set timetable for these sorts of things, just “someday” and “eventually” and then suddenly it’s too late. You read the obituary and cry and call him names as you look upwards, in the off-chance he’s actually there (because the afterlife is a murky concept for you, the agnostic). You do this not because you hate him, but because once again he has broken your heart.
You are simultaneously devastated the funeral is private and relieved that the decision to attend has been made for you.
You know in a few weeks it will be better, things will be back to normal. The old pictures will go back in their box, and you will put one foot in front of the other, and pick up your life again. You will make sure your very excellent boyfriend knows that he’s the best thing that has ever happened to you, and thank him for giving you space to mourn a part of your life he will never know. The wound that has been re-opened will heal again, this time forever, and there’s relief in that.
The only thing that changes is that now you don’t have to occasionally wonder how the ex is or what he is doing, or worry about certain things, like running into him at the grocery store back home. It’s all moot. Now, you know.