So many days and dates have passed. A year from when I was in the hospital came and went. I meant to acknowledge it and I did, in my head, but not through my fingers – words on the page.
Some days I slip back, but now I feel like I’m taking three steps forward and only one back, once in a while.
I am not a widow anymore. I am a person standing on my own. But sometimes I lean on the past. People can talk about former relationships and no one flinches, but when someone mentions a loved one who died they cringe, so I share my memories with others who have lost their partners and we nod in unison. We remember fond memories as the sadness recedes it’s still there. How do we explain this to someone who doesn’t know? And how do those of us left behind move on, cope and remember? This is what I believe.
When you lose someone from this earth, when their last breath is expelled, there is an indelible mark left on those who spent their lives with that person. The closer you were to them the stronger the bond. Eventually we begin remembering happier times, but we never forget, and a pain sears through our chest when some memories come. We don’t want to let go. We need them to be remembered.
I’ve been wanting to do this and I’m ready. I’m writing a book that I hope will help others understand so that that when they go through the loss – and it’s more likely than not that they will – hopefully they won’t feel so alone. So the book begins like this…
One, two, orange, blue. How many will it take? Should I just use the whole bottle?
I was counting pills that night. There was no rational thought. I had reached the bottom of an endless number of sad, lonely days. I felt weak and welcomed death. Anything I could do to alleviate my pain had to be better than what I was feeling day after day after day.
Profound, gut-wrenching grief is horrible. In the beginning you don’t believe there is anything but pain. The journey itself seems insurmountable. But the opposite of living is not living, and for those left behind it leaves another horrible hole of despair.
When someone you love dies there are lessons to be learned. But when you are awash with grief you are numb. It’s nature’s way of protecting you. Slowly the protection peels away and then comes the excruciating painful reality.“He is here. No, he’s gone. I should tell him that. Oh, no. I can’t. He’s not here…”It plays over and over in your mind like a horrible song. It knocks you over and punches you in the gut. You get up. It happens again.
I’ve heard people say that when a loved one dies friends are there for you, but then they go away. My story is different. For me people came to help, some I barely knew, because I posted on social media and people felt a connection to me and my story, and to Bob. They were knocking at my door. Calling me. Some shared confidences in person, others on social media, telling me secrets about their own lives and intimate journeys. Some things I remember, but not everything as I fell into and out of the fog.
Each person who entered my life over the course of days, months andthese past years had a lesson for me. My mind selectively chose which ones to remember. Many have been repeated and ingrained in my heart.
When someone you love dies, part of you dies too. My fight to find purpose in life again has been long and arduous. Grief took away my role as wife and partner. It shattered family ties. Some mended, but will never be the same. And so there is more loss.
I am not overtly religious, but one thing I heard over and over again was the phrase “May his (or her) memory be a blessing.” This is a Jewish honorific – an expression conveying respect or esteem when addressing or referring to a person. I read somewhere that when we mention the deceased person’s name and we say it along with “blessed memory” this infers that each time you think of someone who has died, or say their name, they are blessed, and so are you. So the memory you have of them turns into a blessing for you and for their soul.
I want Bob’s memory to be a blessing. He was a beautiful person and I hope that I can share that too, as well as the lessons I learned through grief. The lessons he taught me when he passed on.May his memory be a blessing.
If you feel upset reading this feel free to stop. It is my journey, not yours…
Saturday October 18 2014
I had tried it all – psychotherapy, grief therapy, grief groups, alternative therapies…the list goes on and on ad nausium. I knew I was in trouble. I needed help. I saw my therapist that day. I probably didn’t articulate what I thought because my mind was muddled. She drew me pictures of life as we would like it to be: line from bottom to right going gradually up. Then reality: twists turns and circles as you climb up, sometimes a dip down along the way. I’d seen it before. I knew this. But I knew something wasn’t clicking. What I didn’t realize then is that somewhere inside the twists and turns I had been spiraling rapidly downward – down the rabbit hole.
I analyzed; looked for triggers. Knowing the pain of grief would come unexpectedly, expecting it to abate eventually. Sometimes I think I am ok. Other times I know I’m not. I had been spiraling downward into the vortex of what I believed to be grief, but it was so much more than that.
That night the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t see the light. I could end the pain but if I was gone who would look after the cats? Sounds crazy, I know. I have family and friends but this kind of pain takes away all rational thought. You just want it to end. But the cats were with me, looking at me. I haven’t had them for long. We had just started to bond. In fact, in less than a year everything that lived and breathed in my house was gone. I couldn’t think of getting more living creatures. The story began March 1, 2013. That was the day we had to put one of our cats down.
***** I was trying everything I could do to keep him alive. I knew he was suffering. We can put animals out of their suffering. We do everything in our power to prolong the suffering of people. The irony isn’t lost on me. But cat number one was very, very sick. And though I try to ease his pain and hide his rapid decline, Bob saw what was happening and said that it was time. He was right. I was beside myself with loss already.
We took him to the vet. He was a beautiful cat, so loving, and so happy until he became so sick. I held him in my arms; wrapped in one of my daughter’s old but still soft baby blankets. They asked if I was ready. Who is ever ready for this? I swallowed hard and nodded, buried my face into his fur and whispered in his ear “I am here. I love you. You will be oknow. You won’t suffer anymore.” He took a deep sigh as the injection went into his veins and he was gone.
I cried long and hard. This is not my first loss, but it the first in less than 12 months of three great losses. That same month Bob got sick – March 11, 2013. Our journey is chronicled here in my blog. On June 8, 2013 he was in critical care where he died – gone, forever.
Cat number two couldn’t seem to cope. His world that has been rocked beyond anything familiar. On February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day (the irony isn’t lost on me), I must do it again. A friend comes with me. I go through the exact same thing like the first cat, except for the most important thing, Bob isn’t with me. I wrap the little guy in the blanket and whisper that I love him in his ear, then he is gone.
I feel alright after my friend and I part. I go home, then break down, laying on the ground kicking and screaming and crying, “What did I do that made me so bad that nothing that breathed the same air that I did was no longer with me? Why? Why? Why? But no answers come. I pick myself up and think I’ll go on with life, but life isn’t what I want it to be.
Down the Rabbit hole
Someone has to take care of the cats. I posted it on Facebook. I was counting pills. I knew others would be sad but my muddled mind said “They will get through it. They will go on with their lives. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t keep doing this. It’s been 16 months and I hate being alone, lonely.” The wine heightens my depression. I have hit the bottom of the rabbit hole.
My post, intending to find someone to look after the cats, becomes a cry for help. From Montreal to Winnipeg to to my hometown, people call each other, then call me. I try to ignore it but eventually a good friend calls and I answer. I am crying and incoherent. I scream for people to leave me alone. She hangs up and calls someone closer to where I live. He comes over and calls another friend who arrives. Each time someone walks in I tell them I’m o.k. and scream “please go!” But they tell me they can’t; that they care too much. Texting, phone calls, social media goes into action. Friends leave as family arrives.
Then my daughter walks in the door after driving from out of town. Tears in her eyes, she hugs me and I cry. More family arrives. I am told they won’t leave me, that they are here to help me. My daughter leads me up the stairs and helps me pack a bag, speaking gently. An ambulance arrives. I am more coherent. I answer their questions but keep saying “Please don’t make me go.”
What I don’t realize is that help has come. What I needed is there. And if I just reach out my hands I will get what I need; what I have been looking for as I spiral down the rabbit hole. A new chapter in my journey has begun…
Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.
I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.
Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.
The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.
Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.
I haven’t written a blog since May: After He Was Gone: Darkest Days. It was just under a year, the long weekend in May, when I had a breakdown, actually one of two, leading up to the one-year anniversary since Bob died, June 8, 2013.
I found myself sitting with my doctor in her office, another blog in my hand: After he was gone – 11 months, I am. I’d been crying for two days. I felt like I was going through the first days of loss all over again. It was like being violently thrown back in time and crashing against the grief wall, living the first days of loss over and over and over again.
She read my blog, raised her eyebrows ever so slightly, then said “O.K….” We talked at length, actually, she talked. I cried, in between getting out a few straggling thoughts of depression and hopelessness. After what seemed like an hour, and having assessed my state of mind enough to feel she could trust me not to do anything rash, she asked me to increase my antidepressants and made a follow-up appointment.
It takes a while for the medication to kick in, but when it did I finally realized it wasn’t a place I wanted to be either. I was numb. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t care about anything. There was no sadness, but there was no joy either. I was existing in a fog of daily to-do chores. I could work because I could focus again, but my creativity was nil. I went back and told her I needed to decrease the medication. She agreed, but continues to monitor me. I am on the lower dose now and started to feel emotions again. It actually felt like relief when I cried again. But I wonder why I’m doing this balancing act with antidepressants.
For me, there is a hairline difference between existing and living. It’s called antidepressants. Given the right dose I feel ‘normal.’ When I go off them I find myself in a deep, dark cavern. It’s been going on for years. I have not found the antidepressant antidote that works for me. I must stay on them, even just a low dose. I’m not crazy, but they make me feel, well, ‘normal.’
So what is normal, or abnormal? Our Western society, dictates that we must smile and be happy. No matter how far we fall, we need to get up, brush ourselves off and move ahead. We need to “get over” anything that happened in the past and focus on the future.
Things get more complicated when you set out on a grief journey. It changes life in a way you can’t imagine. I try to learn as much about it as I can, and about ways to get through this, because I know that I will never will get over it. One of my lessons has become a new buzz phrase in Western society: “being in the moment.” It’s done through conscious effort but has been used in meditation for decades. It’s a place where you don’t think about the past or future. If your mind wanders back or forward, you need to pull it into the present.
It’s often a fight to get the busy (sometimes referred to as ‘monkey’) mind to settle down. Even those who have been meditating for years still find their minds wander. But the entire act of control over your mind and where you focus is achieved with repetition. The idea is to bring the practice into your present life. Don’t think too far ahead. Don’t focus on what happened before. Live each moment as it comes, every day.
In grief this is the biggest challenge. When we lose a loved one, we are thrown into a frenzy of making arrangements for their burial, or whatever our tradition requires. We are surrounded by family and friends who hold us up. We console others on their loss of our loved one. Then, suddenly, we are left on our own. Life goes on for everyone else. The grief-stricken don’t have a life as they knew it. Being in the moment means pain.
As time moves on we move further away from the intense grief but there are times when the loneliness of our new reality makes us apprehensive, fearful and sometimes depressed. For me it’s long weekends. I am alone, not by choice. So I post on Social Media, hoping to connect with someone out there:
“I don’t like weekends. I especially dislike long weekends. Why? Because I feel like everyone is with family hanging out or getting away, especially in the nice summer weather. Not that my preconceived idealist notion is true, but it feels like it to me. I don’t have my guy, or cats…or anyone to be with, consistently, throughout the weekend. I used to, but not now. Yes, I do try to make plans but sometimes it seems like a lot of work. I never had to do this before. [This is] Another part of my new reality.”
I am greeted with support. Some say they feel this way too. Others say this is a revelation to them. Over a year ago it would have been a revelation to me. But not now. And so I continue on my journey, after a year has passed since he was gone. I will be on pills that make me try to feel normal. I will smile and some days I will feel happiness, but nothing is the same, or will ever be the same. There is a huge gaping hole in my heart, but I’m the only one who can feel it. I didn’t sign up for this, but this is my new reality.
As I write this it’s the last day of a long weekend. I have seen some friends. I have spent time alone. It feels like it’s been a week, but I made it.
It’s been 11 months since I touched his hair, smelled the cologne on his shirt, traced his fingers with mine.
I haven’t marked every month through writing, but I instinctively know the day. It smacks me in the face unabated. No warning. A song plays and tears streak my cheeks. For me the pain is good. It keeps his memory alive.
I remember someone telling me that it’s o.k. to keep telling your story because every time you tell it, it’s different. I’m now keenly aware that each time I share our story it’s becoming more of an abbreviated version: “On March 11th, 2013 my husband called me from work to say he had to go to the hospital. On June 8, 2013 he died.”
Sometimes I invite the listener to check out my blog, if they want to know more, but really, I write about my journey for me. It is catharsis. Like tears, writing purges my anguish. It’s a temporary liberation from sorrow. Re-reading the words brings him back to me, for a moment.
In addition to going to a grief group, I started seeing a therapist. I was desperate the first time I walked into her office in the midst of another bad week that came out of nowhere. “One more time telling his story…our story,” I thought. I’m so tired of telling it over and over again.
I start to talk and words tumble out on top of each other. The tears are embedded in the narrative. “I don’t understand why this keeps happening,” I say, about these days that side swipe me out of nowhere. She explains the ebb and flow of grief and that it’s natural to feel all these emotions weeks, months, years later. “Years? Really?” But I realize my desperation to keep his memory alive. Feeling pain is my tribute. Forgetting him isn’t an option.
This week she gave me homework: “Exploring sense of self by completing the phrase ‘I am…’ (or related phrases).” So I mark 11 months since he was gone by looking at who I am now.
I am…no longer someone’s wife. And this starts the tears again. I lost that definition the day he died. I hate the title “widow.” I’m not that…but I am.
I am…not who I was. I was me, but I was also Bob’s wife. I planned my days around “us.”
I am…not as bereft as I was months ago but still missing him terribly.
I am…lonely but getting used to being on my own. But I am still lonely. Everyone went back to their lives. Mine is shattered and unrecognizable.
I am…reinventing myself. Without being a wife and losing half of me when he died I’m an emerging as new person. My acts and actions aren’t always predictable.
I am…stronger than I was 11 months ago. I’ve learned to do the jobs he did – get propane for the barbeque, putting up curtain rods, painting, reaching that top shelf (he was 6 foot 2 and I’m 5 foot 2)…but that doesn’t mean I like doing these things on my own.
I am…trying to be a good mother, but I am not the same mother I was. You must try to hide your feelings from your children (sorry if they’re reading this). My journey isn’t theirs.
I am…truly happy that I chose to move from “our home” to “my home.” I feel safe here. I brought pieces of Bob with me to create a new place for us. I don’t live with his ghost, in a physical sense – seeing him in a spot in the house where he used to be. But he is here with me in a positive way.
I am…living a dream. I would like to believe that this chapter in my life isn’t real. I am watching it from outside. I will wake up and he will be next to me. But it doesn’t happen.
I am…not over it. I never will be. Slowly the pain will fade, but the loss will always be there.
Some days you think everything is o.k. Then it hits you right between the eyes. Bam!
My inner voice asks, What was that? I thought I was fine. I start to cry. I pull out my phone to see if it’s the date. The eighth of every month is an anniversary that my mind never forgets. But that’s not today. Maybe it’s a reminder that it’s coming s00n. Maybe it’s just me having a bad day.
Then I think of the times when I felt all alone, desperate and forlorn. I don’t always feel that way now. I am better, or am I? I’m always second guessing myself.
And the roller coaster ride continues. Up, Up, Up, then, out of nowhere, the enormity of everything that happened comes flooding back, playing over and over and over in my head. I pass by the hospital he died in and I turn away. Everything is a reminder. How come no one else feels this? Down, Down, Down.
It’s not a good day to teach. I have to put on my Happy Face. I can’t paint it on like Ronald McDonald. And, anyway, his is a clown’s face and it’s just plain scary. Mine is a sad face that I cover up with a fake smile.
I talk but my words are jumbled. I try to put an idea forward and get confused; another lapse into widow brain. I’m hot and embarrassed. I want time to fast forward and it does, only slowly not fast, but at least it’s moving forward. I get through it. They don’t know. It’s just me.
Everything feels tainted today. When it happens I know I have to ride it out. This is how grief works. You try to get around it but it grabs you and throws you against the wall, or hits you between the eyes. Bam!
I can’t forget him. I don’t want to. And though I wish I could get off, these roller coaster days aren’t over yet. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Now I am…who am I? I am trying to find out, one day at a time.
Today was a good day but (the BUT) I want to post something about what I’m feeling. It is more of an information piece to get you thinking about who you share things with in your life.
I had a great day teaching my first class for a new course. I would normally share that with Bob. That, in itself is frustrating because I can’t. But something happened that only he and I would understand and I kept thinking “I want to tell him” then, “Oh, I can’t.” I started thinking “Who can I tell?” But then I knew no one else would Really‘Get It.’ He knew the people who’ve been in and out of my life for over 30 years. He knew me better than anyone. I wouldn’t have to explain it, just say “Did you know?” and a brief sentence and he’d say “Wow! That’s interesting!” And maybe we would strike up a “remember when” conversation. But this isn’t going to happen.
It’s really frustrating when that happens. It’s like wanting to punch a wall but it keeps disappearing. Argh! Another milestone, so to speak. But (the (BUT again), anyway, it was a good day.
This blog will seem disjointed as you read it. My thoughts are disjointed, but I think it will all come together if you read through to the end.
September 8th: It is three months now since he has been gone. I have cried, sometimes totally bereft, but not as often as I did before. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss him. I miss him every day, hour and minute. It just means that life goes on. When he died I thought it stopped, at least for me. But it didn’t.
I realized one day this week that we all have two choices. We can get up out of bed every morning and put ourselves out there to possibly face ridicule or we let good things come into our lives. But it seems easier some days to stay in bed and curl up in a ball. It was the day I had this epiphany – not really such a prophetic realization, but a simple thought that stayed with me that day. It was that day when I encountered the most hurtful and painful anger.
Bob was a family man. His parents, children, siblings, granddaughter, nieces and nephews were most important to him and me of course. Forgiving transgressions has always been part of our family’s culture. We don’t always agree with decisions made by others, but do our best not to judge. And when a family member is in trouble we are always there to help.
Bob wanted to protect his family from harm or hurt. He wasn’t authoritarian. So if he got mad his children stopped and listened. Sometimes they just did what they wanted anyway, even if he disagreed. Kids are like that. But they always thought twice about something if Dad didn’t approve.
People often say to me, “Bob would have wanted” this or that. I don’t know what he would want other than to be with us. He wasn’t ready to die. We weren’t ready to let him go. But I do know he would be hurt and angry if his death created a chasm between his loved ones. I saw that happen this week.
We all grieve in different ways. We go through the stages of grief – denial, anger, and somewhere down the road comes acceptance. But from what I can see the danger is in the phase of anger, and anger, like all the phases of grief, can arise over and over again, alone or in conjunction with other phases of grief.
I have tried to understand and give leeway to those who are also grieving Bob’s death. I don’t feel my grief is any more important than anyone else’s. I don’t judge how others grieve. I’m not angry at them. If grief separates us for a while, that’s o.k., as long as we come back together. But what happens when grief becomes anger that festers? What happens when things are said that can’t be taken back? I don’t think there are a lot of things that can’t be taken back with “I’m sorry” and a hug, but if the anger is so vile and ugly and hurtful it may take on a life of its own. I saw that happen this week.
Bob loved all of us and trusted us to stay strong together. He would not want us to hurt one another or judge or be spiteful.
Our grief and grieving is not about ourselves, it is about the loss of someone we loved. Some people choose to move more quickly. Others are more pensive. No one’s grief is more important or sacred than anyone else’s. We must be tolerant of everyone’s grieving process and forgiving, even if we don’t share the same feelings as someone else mourning our loved ones. Judgment of another’s grieving process at this fragile time is dangerous. Words can be said and deeds done that can’t be undone.
I have felt so much loss these three months, but never so much hurt as I felt this week when anger spewed its ugliness at me. What would Bob say now if he was here? Knowing who he was I am sure he’d be mediator and smooth things over. I am sad to know that his death has caused a divide that will be hard to mend. I will try to forgive but it will take time to forget.
Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.
Last week I didn’t cry. Instead of finding solace in not crying I worried my lack of tears meant I wasn’t a good wife/partner. I worried I had cried all the tears I could. What is that saying about Crocodile Tears? According to Wikipedia they are “superficial sympathy…a false, insincere display of emotion.” I am trying to make them come but they don’t.
This week they are back. I am in denial again. But now the denial isn’t as shocking. I just look at his side of the bed and think “He’s not there.” Tonight I cleaned the kitchen table. I went behind the chair he always sat in and thought “he’s not here.” And that was it. Would that be acceptance? And yet I can’t accept this. It’s still just a bad dream. It’s me wanting it to be just a bad dream.
I keep having replays of that scene in the movie Steel Magnolia’s where Meline (played by Sally Field) tries to come to terms with the reality that she just buried her child.
“God I want to know why?…No it isn’t supposed to happen this way…I just can’t take this.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-Ai4SUrj8w. In the end the scene takes a humourous turn, but I’m not feeling much laughter these days. That’s not reality.
I have tried to get the “cause of death” for the insurance companies but no one seems to know. I call and call and get passed off to someone else. Finally I go to see our doctor and she says she will get it. Today someone from our doctor’s office called and said the information came in and the doctor wanted to talk to me to explain it, so I went.
It isn’t easy talking about the details of how someone died but when I read the report all I could see was that recurring word “unfortunately.”
Unfortunately, this pneumonia progressed…Unfortunately, he was transferred to the ICU and deteriorated…Unfortunately, after a few days of treatment the family decided to withdraw (intubation).”
Like we had a choice? Should I have let him stay with that horrible tube down his throat; his face swollen from being propped on his stomach, then turned over, looking like he had been in a fight? Puffy features on his always slender, long face and his strong square chin. It wasn’t Bob. And when we removed the intubation and they shut off the machines, it didn’t take five days or five hours (as we were told it could). It took five seconds. No time at all.
And now the tears are back. Now I can’t stop crying when I think of him.
No one will ever know me like he knew me. No one will remember what happened when my mother died. No one will understand when I tell them something that happened when he and I were the only ones present.
Yes, I am taking care of myself. Yes, I am getting therapy. Yes, I am going to a bereavement group where others tell their stories of losing someone close, many spouses. Some can’t forget after three years or more.
I hear clichés over and over again:
You won’t get over this, you will just get through it. Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine. This is your new normal.
Then there are the ones that make you feel dissolute in a desolate wasteland because you can’t see or touch or hear or feel these things:
He’s an angel on your shoulder. He’s watching over you. He’s telling you what you should do.
Really? Because I can’t hear him. I can’t feel him.
And then there are the little things I miss. I want to touch his cheeks to feel the unshaven stubble. I tried to feel that after they unhooked him from the machines. He was so cold and there was no stubble. I touched his face in the casket and it was a terrible feeling – makeup. No, I will never, ever feel that stubble again.
I want to hold him and feel the scar on his back where he had a benign lump removed. It gave me a sense of reassurance. It was him. We were connected. He knew my body’s quirks, I knew his.
I want to trace that one fingernail with my finger; the one I traced every day and gently chastised him about biting. He said that it was crushed at work in a machine and the nail never grew back. Whatever it was, that, and every physical, tangible connection I had with him is gone. It’s just a memory.
Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.