I’m never prepared for January. After coasting through the holidays, sugarcoated and filled with the warmth of familiar movies, game nights, and a twinkle-light-covered world, I blink my eyes and January’s suddenly upon me full of all this newness and possibility. I’ve heard that some people actually find this time of year exciting. And sometimes, I follow them onto the resolution-making, goal-setting, this-is-gonna-be-the-year-that-I-finally-____________ bandwagon. But I don’t usually stay there long. January is too cold and too dark and too sad a month to be moving forward so quickly. So, I end up back on the couch wrapped in a quilt (or two) and petting a cat (or two).
January isn’t an inherently sad month for most people. But for me, the middle of January holds the memories of a death and a life I once shared. His name was Ed, and over the course of his time on earth, he was many things. A computer programmer. A gamer. A stargazer. A martial artist. A son. A brother. A dear, dear friend. And for a time, he was my husband.
During the days following his death, I found myself lying on the floor a lot. Gravity was too strong, and the couch was too comfortable. When I eventually found the strength to be vertical again, the first thing I did was make a playlist. I called it Surviving Death, because somehow, that’s what I had to figure out how to do.
When everything else fails me, I turn to music. The songs on that playlist became little three-and-a-half-minute buoys. And in the weeks and months following that cold, January day, they kept me afloat.
Surviving Death has stayed with me for the past four years. I listen to it every so often when I want to remember. And when January rolls around, I find myself listening to it more and more—especially this January and especially the song “Away When You Were Here” by Ben Folds Five. It’s a song about moving on after the death of a father. While I didn’t lose my father, it still seemed a fitting song for the playlist. As the years passed and today approached, a few lines toward the end of the song grew more and more significant.
This morning I wake to be older than you were.
Fresh, white snow for miles.
Every footstep will be mine.
As of today, I am now officially older than Ed was when he left this world. I realized this day was coming about six months ago, and I knew I would write about it in the context of this song. I love the idea of someone trying to comprehend something as incomprehensible as death by counting days on a calendar. I also love the image of that single set of footprints in the snow—alone, but moving. I wanted to experience that feeling so much, I went out into the bitter January wind and walked through an empty field by my house. (Those are my footprints in the picture above.)
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it means to be older than Ed, but I still haven’t figured it out. What I do know is that my walk through the snow was cold. Twice, I lost my balance and almost fell over. I also know that at one point in my life I was married to a man named Ed, and he made the best pepper steak I’ve ever tasted. The big things, the little things. Ed’s life and death. My walk through a snowy field. They’re all part of me now. And as Ben Folds so wisely sings:
It’s not about you, not you, anymore.
It’s about what I do with it all.
I might never be prepared for January. It will probably always be too cold and too dark and too sad for me. But I can try to make pepper steak like Ed used to. And I can walk by myself through the snow. And no matter what happens, I can always write.
Just in case you were wondering, these are the songs that made it onto my Surviving Death playlist. And if any of these artists would ever happen to read this, I just want to say thank you.
Annabel – The Duhks
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
Lullaby – Nickelback
I Wish I Was the Moon – Neko Case
Away When You Were Here – Ben Folds Five
To Where You Are – Josh Groban
Closer to Love – Mat Kearney