grief journey

One Step Back

I’ve heard it said a million times about the grief journey – the progress towards healing is two steps forward, one step back.

I guess this week I’ve taken a step back.

A few days ago, I wrote about my decision to remove my wedding ring, well, not actually remove it, but move it from my left hand to my right. I decided it’s time, and I also think it’s important to create my own personal ceremony to honor Rick and our marriage. I planned to do it this past weekend, Valentine’s weekend. To spend an hour or so under the gazebo in our yard, where Rick and I enjoyed so many evenings together. I have a large, beautiful wind chime that holds a bit of his ashes, and I decided to sit out there and toast our life together, talk to him for a bit, and then move the ring.

I live in Michigan where the best laid plans are always subject to the weather forecast. The past four nights, the temps have been in the 20 degree range, and the snow continues to pile up on my deck. My so-called “ring ceremony” keeps getting postponed. And with each delay, I’ve begun to waiver on the whole idea. Am I really ready to do this?

Each day I wait brings more uncertainty. I’ve encountered the old mood swings: I’m sad, then tense, then anxious. And the same old questions arise: Am I leaving him behind? Being unfaithful to his memory? Where’s the strong woman I thought I was? The woman who is ready to embrace her future?

After getting out of the house (and away from my ruminating mind) and spending some time with family or friends, I’m okay again. I’m ready to embark upon whatever lies ahead, my new journey, and I feel solid in the knowledge that removing his ring from my left hand is the symbolic gesture I need to move forward. Besides, there are no rules here. I can always put the ring back on.

Then I return home and I go to bed at night and miss him so badly that I think I can’t possibly go on without him. This is too hard! I feel like I did when he first died. Nothing is the same without him. Nothing in my future can possibly bring me joy. I wake up missing him, but feeling a little better, a little more hope, then bam! I’m sad again.

The Timehop pictures that I view each morning are hitting me harder. Look at where we were two years ago – he had just finished his chemo and we had hope, so much hope. Look at where we were four years ago: we were enjoying another sunset on the beach in Florida, having no idea of what lay ahead, that our time would end too soon.

(Here’s an idea! Maybe I should stop looking at these memories every morning. Maybe I’m setting myself up for heartache before the day has even begun.)

For the past four long days, since Valentine’s Day, the mood swings have come and gone. I miss him. I hated spending Valentine’s Day without him. I hate the weekends without him. I hate filling time, wishing he were here to share each day with me, back when it used to be so effortless to just live and laugh and be. When I woke up every morning, he was here, making me laugh and love and enjoy life. And, just like that, in a few short days, I’ve gone from hopeful about creating a fulfilling future for myself to depressed because no future without him can possibly be worth pursuing.

What happened to me? I was okay last week. I was almost excited about my future. I could envision a future on my own. I had plans and goals and dreams. I had hope.

I guess I’ve taken one step back – again.

This grief journey feels like climbing a mountain each day. I reach the summit then roll back down and have to start all over. Okay, maybe that’s all or nothing thinking. Maybe I don’t end up back at the beginning, back where I was in those first days or months after he died. Maybe I only fall a few feet back, or a few yards back to that place I’ve worked so hard to reach. A place where I’ve created a life for myself but still have moments where it’s tough to believe he’s gone.

But propelling myself back up towards the place where I was yesterday is frustrating and difficult. I thought I was there. I thought I was on top of the mountain and moving along on my solo journey. I thought I had learned to cope, and was ready to remove my ring as a symbolic gesture of accepting that I’m on my own and that life will be okay.

I’m frustrated at having taken a step or two back from all that progress. But maybe I’ll get there tomorrow, instead.

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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