September has always been one of my favorite months. Although I absolutely adore springtime, all things early autumn excite me. Brisk air, leaves changing colors, and caramel apples all make me happy. However, since my husband, Alan, suddenly passed away in May 2016, the last five months of the year now bring bittersweet moments. I would normally celebrate our dating anniversary in August, wedding anniversary in September, his birthday in October, and all the fall/winter holidays in November and December. But since he transitioned, this stretch of time brings a myriad of emotions that can be difficult to manage.
I’ve done a decent job of taking care of myself in preparing for those days. I always plan something, whether it’s a massage or a quick trip. And I hadn’t attended any weddings. Because we had such a beautiful wedding day, I assumed that weddings would be triggering, so I actively avoided them. A few invitations have come my way since Alan died and I would send regrets and gifts in the place of my attendance. However, after learning one of my friends got engaged last year, I knew that I was going to prepare myself to attend her wedding.
In September 2016, I started therapy. As a mental health professional, I knew how imperative it was to work with someone so I could begin my journey toward emotional healing. And even though I’m a therapist, I was annoyed with myself that every time I went to a session, I ended up crying during most of it. I started to feel as though I needed to bring my own tissue supply since I would deplete my counselor’s. However I was able to work through a lot of the feelings I experienced since Alan’s passing, but surprised myself with my own strength and resilience.
As the wedding date approached, I decided that I was going to have a good time. I planned to ride with one of my best friends, picked out a pretty dress to wear (because I feel better when I look pretty), and packed dancing shoes because I wanted to kick it on the dance floor. We arrived at the wedding on time and the ceremony was beautiful. I watched the groom tear up as his beautiful bride gracefully walked down the aisle to meet him. I laughed as the minister used her amazing comedic timing during the ceremony, and allowed myself to be taken by the gravity of the words “until death do us part.” I remarked how quickly we go through that section of the vows. I remembered saying those words myself and how I didn’t really think that time would come soon. It was something I said and meant, but still breezed through as something that wasn’t an immediate concern.
I didn’t get sad during this wedding, but just leaned over to my friend and asked if during her wedding, she thought about the weight of those words. She agreed, that we quickly recite that phrase, often focusing on other parts of the vows or the wedding itself. I again refocused on the beauty of what we were experiencing and lived in the moment. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I wanted to be present, to appreciate the feeling in the room and celebrate the love that was highlighted.
The first dance was another moment where I had to check in with my friend. They danced to As by Stevie Wonder which has become a song that allows me to dance and cry when I need to. Stevie wrote, “As today I know I’m living, but tomorrow could make me the past, but that I mustn’t fear. For I know deep in my mind the love of me I’ve left behind and I’ll be loving you always.” I leaned over to her and told her about these lyrics before they danced to that part in the song. As it approached, I just put my hands to my heart and sang them, imagining that Alan was singing them to me. I teared up a bit, but was able to smile as I thought about the love I experienced and the joy the newly married couple was now celebrating.
My last little heart pull of the evening came as the couple had their last dance. The DJ played Make It Last Forever by Keith Sweat and I immediately smiled. This was Alan’s JAM! He wasn’t much of a Keith Sweat fan (is anyone, really?), but this song did it for him. But I mean, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this song. I recorded them dancing for a bit then allowed myself to come back to the moment and dance with Alan in my mind. It was a sweet moment for me where I wasn’t sad, but deeply sentimental. I feel as though my heart smiled throughout the evening, even at moments where tears came, but I had an amazing night overall.
I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through my first wedding since losing my husband, but I made it. …and looked pretty damn fly while doing it. I danced until I sweat and danced even more. And I’m thankful to my friend for being supportive that evening and to the couple for allowing me to witness this part of their love story.
I made it, y’all. And I’m going to keep surviving.
Photo credit: Roland’s photography
De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker and sex therapist in private practice at Sankofa Sex Therapy, LLC. She’s on the Executive Board of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network and has been featured as a sexpert on Ebony.com, Shape.com, and WomensHealthMag.com. Check out her YouTube show, Ask A Sex Therapist, where she answers your questions related to sex and sexuality and visit her website, SankofaSexTherapy.com