“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
-“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
I ordinarily would not think of “Invictus” as a love poem, but it’s funny how life can change your perspective on things you learned a lifetime ago.
I first heard William Ernest Henley’s poem in college. The title literally means “unconquerable” or “undefeated” in Latin. The imagery of overcoming adversity 18 years ago touched this then young coed who simply wanted to pass statistics and wear her greek letters on a cute new crimson and cream jacket. I understood it, but not like I do today. I currently feel the words in my soul, and understand the pain Henley wrote from as he fought his lifelong battle with tuberculosis of the bone.
Rasheed was a warrior in so many ways. Losing him forced me to tap into that side of myself. Even before I began dating him, I’d overcome a great deal. However, losing my husband produced pain I never could have imagined existed. He wasn’t just my spouse. Rasheed Amin Wiggins was my best friend, my protector, my lover, my cheerleader, and my comedian all rolled into one. He knew how to make me laugh when I wanted to cry, and he knew how to keep me from going crazy when I didn’t even know how to do so myself. He completed me in the sappy movie kind of way. He also helped me navigate the very real turns of life. He always joked he knew me better than I knew myself. It literally drove me crazy every single time he said it and sent me into a deep eye roll. However, that’s the first phrase I can hear him jokingly say in my head when I can’t remember exactly what I like or why I walked into a room.
Seven years ago today my dad accompanied me down the aisle of the largest “chapel” I’ve ever seen. The flowers. The dress. The bridal party. The man. They were all perfect. There were so many smiles that day. So much love — not just for each other, but from and for our friends and family.
I’m so glad thorns have roses.
Not having that now — on a daily basis — from him, physically — it’s excruciatingly difficult. I can’t lie. I wish I could say you get used to not having the flowers or the sweet texts, but how could you?
A few weeks ago the idea to “redo” my favorite wedding picture popped into my head.
I’ve become an entirely new being over these last two years, yet I’m still so connected to the beautiful memories and milestones of my past. Like a phoenix, I suppose I have started to rise from the ashes and darkness of April 16, 2016 – as my dear line sister told me. So Rasheed’s good friend and fraternity brother agreed to help me & my high school bestie accompanied me to the shoot.
Every bride needs four things, right? These honestly did not hit me until I fell asleep the night after the shoot.
Something old: my wedding shoes
Something new: the red dress
Something borrowed: my bestie’s pearl bracelet I gave her as a bridesmaid gift
Something blue: me
Life can be more difficult than we ever imagined, but it can also be incredibly beautiful if we learn to shift our gaze.
I’m so glad thorns have roses.
I live with this deep dark pain today because of the deep, bright love that was introduced to me nearly 15 years ago. That seed was nurtured and protected. It was allowed to grow and become the amazing, unconquerable thing it is today.
You see, while I didn’t get to love my husband in his physical form for nearly long enough, I was lucky enough to be loved in an incredible way. Because of that love, I am able to still see the beauty in life and in this wicked world; the same one that stole my love from me.
Oh, Rasheed. Being loved by you changed me into an incredible creature. It’s opposite — losing you — has left a hole in my heart that can never be filled. However, I am learning broken hearts still beat. I’m learning there is still some purpose for me here on this earth. I’m learning maybe I can still smell the sweetness of the roses even after feeling the prick of the thorns while I hold them. I didn’t think I’d survive the first two days without you, and yet here I am, more than two years out and doing things that truly surprise myself.
The cardinals that play outside the back windows of the house. The songs with lyrics that pierce my wandering mind. The conversations with strangers that touch on our favorite places and things. I get all of the signs and appreciate them dearly. You’ve forced me to take certain steps and live more life than I wanted to, but you were always good at getting me to live fully.
I’ve learned to pour out the love that you left me back into this world. Some of it has started to return to me. It’s helping me live. It’s helping me to start breathing and laughing and to dream again.
It’s difficult though.
Some days the laughter makes me feel guilty.
Some days the happy times make me miss you more.
I still face more difficult days than I care to admit, but that’s life. I would walk down that long aisle of the Duke Chapel to become your wife a thousand times over while still knowing the pain I would face seven years later, standing here alone, now, as your widow.
Thank you, babe, for loving me the way you *do.
I choose to live in the light and in the love for it will remain far longer than our mortal bodies.
Because of you the darkness will never have me.
We will always have June 4th.
Happy 7th Anniversary, babe.
A HUGE thank you to Douglas Burt Photography who made this incredible shoot happen on a terribly short notice. Thank you, Doug!!