The first man that I ever loved died this week.

We were together, on and off, for ten stormy years. Untreated depression made me difficult. Unchecked insecurity made him arrogant. We fought and we made up and we fought some more. Still, somehow, we stuck together through college. When I made the move home to New York from Florida, he followed. When I left for grad school in Virginia, he followed. But that would be our last joint-expedition. Somewhere between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight, I’d become an entirely different person. And by the time I’d completed my Master’s degree, I knew our romantic relationship was over. We went our separate ways.

We remained close after we split—still visiting one another despite living in different states. We attended one another’s weddings. We vacationed together as couples. It was so good to be happy with someone else while still nurturing the relationship with this person I’d spent such a large chunk of my life with. We were all in a good place. A very good place.

And then, last year, the unthinkable happened. His wife died suddenly, just shy of her fiftieth birthday. He was heartbroken. I comforted him as best I could but then I did a terrible thing…I went back to living my life. I’d meant to call and check on him more. I’d meant to get him to come stay with us for a bit. I’d meant to go visit him. But I got too caught up in my own trials and adventures and celebrations.

A few weeks ago we made contact again and I’d found, to my horror, that he’d slipped into the bottomless pit that is depression. He was far away, he was sad, and he was hurting. And there wasn’t much I could do but tell him that I loved him and that I was there for him. We made plans to catch up again in a few weeks. And then the unthinkable happened. Again.

The first man I ever loved died this week.

He was arrogant and obnoxious and generous and loving. He teased me relentlessly and he made me feel beautiful and special. He made me want to strangle him and he made me want to throw my arms around him. He taught me how to take care of my car and showed me that cooking could be as simple as reading a recipe. He became an honorary member of my nutty family. He was a good and decent man and, while he may not have lived out all of his youthful dreams, he did find his one true love—which is more than a lot of people can say. And now they are reunited.

I can feel it—the grief—just under the surface of my composure. So I keep moving, refusing to give it an opportunity to take hold. Of course I know it’s just a matter of time before it tackles me and drags me to the ground in a writhing, sobbing ball of pain and loss. But eventually that will pass and I will get up again. And my life will go on. And I will have more trials and adventures and celebrations. But it will be different. And my world will be lesser without him in it.

The first man I ever loved died this week. And he took a tiny piece of my heart with him.

Have you ever lost a former love? I’d love to read your comments on the experience and how you coped.