Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Dangerous Indulgence

Waiting to board the plane for our first holiday together in May 2012. Dan was so excited, like a big kid. He made every day so fun.  I really miss that. 
I’ve been really missing my husband this week.  I miss him every week, of course, but this week his absence has been palpable.  I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I’ve been spending a bit of time helping a friend who has a new born baby, which is a sensitive issue for me. Maybe it’s because yesterday marked the 15-month anniversary. Maybe it’s just the grief rollercoaster swinging me through a new bend or dip.  Whatever it is, it sucks.

I’ve been waking up in the morning and finding myself just laying there, staring at his pillow and resting my arm on his side of the bed, knowing I’d be hugging him if he were still there. 

I’ve been feeling that urge to call or text him throughout the day with the tid bits of information about what I’m up to that would be mundane to most other people in my life but fascinating to him.  I’ve been clenching my fist as I walk through the city to work, wishing he was beside me and I could tighten my grip around the comfort of his hand in mine.

At night our house has felt quieter than usual.  The emptiness has been bigger. When I look at the photos of him scattered all around our home, I’m less able to smile at the beautiful memories we shared and instead have found my thoughts wandering towards his depression.  Imagining what dark whispers might have been lurking in the corners of his mind, tormenting him. 

I’ve been day dreaming about what life would be like if he were still here.  This is always dangerous territory for me; it’s an indulgence that I don’t often dare allow myself. To start with it’s such a sweet sensation. When I let go and imagine the life we could be living, it fills me with warmth and love.  We had a very fun, kind and playful relationship. Dan would make even the most mundane and boring chores a delight. 

When I think about how dramatically different my life would be if he were still here (and his depression had magically never existed), how I’d be spending these lonely nights, the adventures we’d be getting up to on our weekends, the face of the child we could be raising, with Dan’s bright blue eyes and round cheeks - well it’s so wonderful that it’s almost unbearable.  Because when I come crashing back down to reality and this dream is replaced with the severity of my new life.  It’s nothing less than torture.

I’m overwhelmed with how unfair this world is.  Everything around me seems so bleak and inadequate.  Trying to look for positives or find things to be grateful for is just impossible – all I want is Dan. 

I want the life we should be living together and I want my innocence back and I don’t understand a world where this could be taken from me. I don’t understand why such horrible things can happen to good people.  I miss him.  And I’m so sick of these words because they just feel so inadequate to explain how deeply I ache for him.

I understand my grief well enough now, that when this low sets in, I instinctively go in to self-preservation mode.  I pull back, tread lightly, and reach out to my support network when I can.  I remind myself that I'm stronger than I know.  This agony will lift again. I know Dan would be so proud of me for surviving without him.  I just wish I didn't have to.  I wish he was still here.  I wish I didn't know this pain - I wish no one did.  Death sucks. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Just Pray

Okay. So I'm probably going to alienate some people or piss some people off with this post today, but you know what? The reason I'm writing it in the first place is because I feel alienated every single day, by the very same people who will be angry or upset by this post. Besides, my intention is not to upset anyone. My intention is, as always, to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth pisses people off.

So here we go. It's been 3 years and 3 months since my husband's sudden death. In that time, there have, of course, been many comments and sentiments said to me by others, that have been hurtful or ignorant or unhelpful. However, in my experience, and I am only speaking for myself here, it is the comments and thoughts made by very religious people that have been the most hurtful and sometimes downright rude. And after 3 plus years of nodding my head or smiling or not saying anything back to them, I am fed up.

Let me be clear. I have many religious friends, and people in my life who have a strong faith. There are many friends and family and other widowed people who, although they are religious, realize that I am not, and therefore, they don't ever push their views on me or make comments which they know would only be hurtful to me. I highly appreciate these people, because they have respect for me, and I have respect for them. There are many people of faith out in the world that are also beautifully and wonderfully open-minded and nonjudgmental. But this post isn't about those people. This post is about all the others, who, unfortunately, outweigh the "good" religious types by a pretty big margin.

Like many widowed people, I run into and deal with thoughtless comments about my loss on a regular basis. Sometimes it is in person, other times it is on the internet. The comments in person are mainly from non-widowed people, and the ones online are from widowed and non-widowed alike. Since I belong to quite a few closed/private groups for widowed people on Facebook, there are a lot of opinions flying at me. None of the groups I am part of advertise themselves as being religion-based groups, yet it seems that lately, the nutty religious types are overwhelming the rest of us. If I post about an issue or emotion I'm having, or just a rough day, often I will get replies such as just pray, Trust in the Lord, everything happens for a reason, God wont give you more than you can handle, we have no control over what happens to us - leave that to God, etc, etc , etc ..... Now, depending on how many of these comments I get, often times I simply ignore them and don't respond to it. However, when it's being pushed on you by multiple people, it can get annoying and feel like an attack. If I respond by simply telling them I am not religious, therefore those comments aren't really helpful, then I am bombarded and judged, with replies like: "I can't see even getting through this without God in your life", or "perhaps you need to be Saved." Nope. Don't need to be saved, and I'm doing just fine without religion, thank you very much. What I need is to not be judged for my beliefs, and to not be made to feel like I am somehow "less than" you because you are a person of Faith.

If it matters, I will share what I do believe. Yes, I believe in God. Sort of. To me, the term God is more of a concept or an idea. I believe that God is whatever you think it is. A higher power of some kind, yes, but that could mean many things. It could be nature, or a force of some kind. I believe in some form of that, and I truly believe that people should believe or not believe in whatever it is that helps them or comforts them in some way. I do not follow any religion, nor read any Bible, nor do I believe in "God's Plan" or "Heaven and Hell" or "Satan" or any of that stuff. I generally think that things happen randomly, and that sometimes life is beautiful, and sometimes life sucks. People live and people die. My husband had a sudden heart-attack at age 46 with zero warning or symptoms, because he had a crappy father that didn't bother to tell him his medical history, and so he was walking around earth as a time-bomb and didn't know it. He did NOT die as part of some ridiculous PLAN that God has, and everytime someone tries to push that idea down my throat as if they know that for a fact, it is not only hurtful, it is offensive.



I don't know what happens when we die, and I don't pretend to know. I do know that science says energy cannot be destroyed, and that humans are made up of energy. Everything is. So, when we die and our souls leave our physical bodies, I assume and I hope and I think, that our energy and our cells and our being, is alive out there somewhere in the universe. Is it a star, a plant, a cloud, part of the earth, a sunrise? I don't know. And because I don't know, I try to focus on what I do know - the here and now. Life. Being a good person who gives to others. Leaving behind a legacy that I did something important, and that I was loved and gave love. Not so I might get into some Heavenly place, but because it feels good. I take credit for all of my own accomplishments, and my mistakes. I do not give that credit to God. I am the one who has gotten myself through this Hell for 3 plus years. I am the one who decides to wake up each day and give it another shot. I am the one who hasn't given up. I did that. I'm doing that. Me.

At my husband's funeral, someone that I barely know (a co-worker of Don's I think) came up to me and said: "Now you can feel better because your husband was called Home to Jesus." I wanted to explode with fury and fire, but I was in too much of a fog, and too exhausted and in shock to respond. But inside, I was crying. My heart was crying. Now I can feel better? Better? My husband just f**king died, and he wasn't sick, and he wasn't in pain of any kind, and we were HAPPY, and we just started our lives together, and now he is just gone forever. He is with Jesus? He is home? Home? No. Our home is home. Our life here was home. A couple weeks later, at a family gathering, a friend of my family gave me the "God's plan" speech out of nowhere, and I replied with a shaky (because I was about to cry): "Actually, I don't believe in that concept, but thank you anyway." She got really upset with me, and said very seriously and sternly: "Well, you'd better start believing and you'd better start reading your Bible, or you will go to Hell and you will never see your husband ever again." Wow. Thank you for threatening me. That is so helpful and kind of you. I could sit here and list all the many horrible religious-themed comments I have received over hte past 3 years, but then this post would go on forever, and it's already too long. I run a closed group on Facebook called: "Non-religious Widows and Widowers Club", and I have also facilitated the Round Table for Non-Religious, Atheist, and Agnostics at Camp Widow, 2 times now. The stories of cruel and mean comments coming from some religious people that are thoughtlessly lobbed at us, continues to astound me. Someone joked in our last meeting at Camp Widow that she tried "praying the religious meanies away, but it didn't work. They're still here."

As most of you know, I am in the midst of writing a book about the loss of my husband, and our love story. recently, it was suggested to me by a widow friend, with the best of intentions, that perhaps I should consider "toning down my views on religion while promoting the book." I understood what she was saying, and I understood why. But I cannot do that. It goes against everything that I am, and everything that makes my book different. The phrase "brutally awful truth" is in the title of my book, and I intend to tell the truth, always. If you don't want to hear it, just pray. Maybe I will disappear. If not, then please don't worry about it. I take no responsibility for this post. It was all part of God's Plan.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Complicated



Recently I've had people say to me, when they learn I've been widowed, well, you know he'll always be with you. I know they say that with all the best intentions...and in a way, I agree, because yes, he will always be in my heart. But it's not as easy as that. Regardless of what my personal spiritual beliefs are, saying something like that can sound awfully close to someone wanting to gloss over the tragedy of the death of my husband and what it means for me in my own life. Easier to say that and hope the conversation will move away from the uncomfortable subject, right? Or am I being difficult here? What do they expect - that I'll say, oh, he will? Well that's great, I feel so much better now! Thanks for letting me know!

I do have my own beliefs about what happens to us when we die. And I have my own suspicions about how Mike occasionally makes his presence known...the wind. The birds.

Most recently, a grasshopper. I'm sure it's not the same grasshopper, because it's been happening for months, but at certain moments that will only ever be truly meaningful to me, there it is...on a doorknob, on a light switch, on my computer screen...so much so that I have taken to sighing, rolling my eyes in a playful way and saying hey, Mike. Thanks for being here. Miss you. Love you. Or something like that.

But you still can't tell me he's really here. Even if he really were that grasshopper for that moment, or using it to somehow tell me he's around...it's still not really him. He's not sitting here in his full, living body, talking to me, touching me, arguing with me, walking next to me, holding my hand...he's not here, and he never will be, ever again. I can never talk to him again. I can never ask him questions, hear him sing, or wonder what time he's coming home. 

So, while I want to believe in the grasshopper...I don't want people to say in some wishy-washy way he'll always be with me. Can I have it both ways? Is it fair to want to tell people to go to hell when they try to reassure me (I don't, but I want to), and then try and explain about an insect in the next breath?

I really do feel like a walking enigma. My thoughts and feelings are so all over the chart I even puzzle myself some days. All I can tell you is that grief can be difficult to define or delineate, especially to anyone on the outside. 

First of all, no one goes through exactly the same experience. We all have our own stories of grief. We might have lost them through sickness, accidents, suicide, war...it might have been a terrible, long process, or a sudden unexpected moment.

We might have been in beautiful, loving relationships. We might have been having problems. Maybe it was both. We might be strong, resilient personalities. We might be struggling with our own identities. Maybe too, it is both.

Those of us in the middle of it all know by now that the process of our bereavement, the timetable of our grief, doesn't follow any plan, or clock. It may chug along at a fair pace, as life begins to fill in those empty spaces. Other times, or for other people, an eternity passes between each tick, and "life" feels very, very far away. I often have both sensations going on at the same time.

I guess it's just complicated. As my genius friend Sarah says: the cup is not half empty or half full. It's both. I'm a strong person and nowadays in public I'm fairly even-keeled and doing pretty well. But I have my moments - moments usually no one but those closest to me know about. Sometimes, it surprises people that I'm still talking about it, writing about it, missing him, grieving him.

I try and explain how that can be...how I can seem relatively fully-functioning on one hand, and yet come out with all this grief on the other. But I can't really explain it. Nor can I speak for anyone else and their grief; it's just how it's happening for me.

Even though I can claim to have experience and understanding of a deep and abiding grief in a way I never imagined I would have this early in life, I also feel like I have no business telling anyone else what to expect or how to deal with it. Nor, may I say, do I appreciate anyone else other than my grief therapist telling me what to expect, how to experience it, what to think, how to behave, or what I should or shouldn't be doing with it, or about it. 

I don't have an ending to these thoughts...I don't feel like these thoughts will ever end, or that there will ever be a tidy summation to grief. So for today, that's all there is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What Time Means. And Doesn't~


Today marks 18 months since my husband died.  One and a half years.  Forever.

He was in the Air Force and often went TDY (temporary duty) in our first years together and mostly I didn't know where he was during those times and would watch the news to maybe figure it out.  But he was never gone for more than a few weeks at a time and then he'd be home safe with me and we'd carry on our love affair of a marriage.

This is the longest we've ever been apart.  And, presumably, given my mostly young (ish) age, I'll spend many years without him.  None of that is alright, in any way.

But how many more ways are there to say how much I miss him?  Language fails me.  18 months seems like such a long time and I know that there is no timeline for grief but after a while it feels like life really has gone on without him and yet I'm standing still.  Not literally-I've been striving to create the life I must create without him but my heart and mind and soul are still very much with him and grieving his absence from me.  There are no words left.

It's discouraging to read about women who have been widowed and their experiences with men after their loved one's death and how awful it is "out there".  My heart is open to loving again and I know Chuck wanted that for me but the very idea of it feels un-natural and I think how on earth is it possible, (especially given the general consensus of the lack of decent men) for me to find anyone that could possibly measure up to my standards?  I was shocked that Chuck and I found each other in the first place and maybe I've had my love story already and need to be content with that.

But, 18 months in, I crave the feel of a man's arms around me.  A man to hold me in a way only a man is able.  The energy.  The yin/yang of masculine/feminine.  A gentleman.  A romantic.  A lover.  A man who will have my back.  Someone who knows me.  Someone who cherishes me.  Chuck did all of those things and more and I miss it, and him, so godawful much I could die except I haven't and so I must go on.  And it sucks the big one in ways that sear me into my bones.

I just want him back.  And I can't have him back.  And so...now what?  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Comprehension

"Hey, Mr Panda, did you know, when I was a baby..."

One thing I've struggled with is how to manage John's understanding of Ian dying.  Of having a daddy, but having no memory of him.

We're a family of faith, actively involved in our church community so that gave me a bit of framework to use.  We talk about daddy going to heaven, as opposed to other explanations. When ever I've been talking to John about Ian dying, I have kept that explanation consistent.

Recently John's been showing an interest in our wedding album. John was 4 months old when Ian and I married, so he's in the photos.  And he has taken to saying that is when Daddy went to heaven. 

I've got photos of John with Ian after the wedding up around the house; photos where John's obviously older than in the wedding photos.  

So I wondered where this timing belief came from (not that I've dealt with it yet, but it's relatively new)...

This week however, we had our first experience of John stating that 'daddy went to heaven' independently, and to a stranger.  And it gave context to his interpretation of the wedding photos being when daddy went to heaven.

A colleague of my step-mother got stuck sitting next to John as my Dad to both ladies to a function, and John insisted that he go for the car ride too.   This lady apparently chatted away with John.  Then she apparently said to John, something to the effect of 'you're not a baby'.  John promptly responded 'when I was a baby, daddy went to heaven'. 

How to throw someone who has no inkling that it's coming. 

Let alone out of the mouth of a three and a half year old. 

So I now know where his interpretation of the wedding photos comes from - he's a baby in them, and they're at the church we still attend, so in his little three and a half year old brain and understanding of the world, that's when daddy went to heaven.

And I know John has an explanation that he's at least comfortable with, if not fully understanding.

It's something to work with as he, and his language and comprehension, grows.  As yet I've not gone into details with John about how Ian died, but I think it's time to add some of that medical detail so he builds a better understanding for himself.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When Sick was Pretty

This past week, I've been under the weather with a mysterious illness. On Tuesday, my lymph nodes started to swell up. By Wednesday they were the size of golf balls and very tender. And then some glands in my cheeks started to do the same. Needless to say, by Wednesday night I looked like I had gained twenty pounds on my face. I actually had no other symptoms of any kind save being a tad achy and tired - so when I went to the doctor on Friday, even he was stumped. Whatever it is, it seems to be subsiding with the antibiotics he gave me though, but the whole week of dealing with this has been awful.

I've been sick since Drew died a few times - colds, flus, stuff like that. But the last time I remember my anything that changed my physical appearance was when I got my wisdom teeth removed a few years ago. And he was by my side the whole time… laughing at my chipmunk cheeks and making me laugh which made me look even dumber and made us both laugh even harder. Funny as it was, I knew I looked awful, yet here I was looking completely beautiful through this man's eyes.

Even with gauze shoved into my face and swelled up cheeks for miles, there was this man. This man who drove me there and waited with me at the dentist. Who calmed me and held my hand because I was so scared to have a tooth pulled that I was getting anxiety. This man who picked up my medicine for me at the pharmacy and got my soup. Who watched with loving humor as the Codeine took affect and made my already very talkative self about 1000 times more talkative…. until I totally crashed 3 hours later. For all of that, and for all the many other ordinary, vulnerable moments, he was there…. Looking at me with those beautiful blue-hazel eyes that said everything about being sick was pretty. Even the stuff that wasn't. Because those were some of the most tender and most beautiful moments of showing our love for one another. I really miss that.

This week, I did not feel beautiful. I felt hideous, and fat, and so completely self conscious that - despite having no other symptoms and feeling pretty fine - I did not leave the house for four days. Not even to have dinner with his/our family - whom I still live with. I did not want a soul on the planet to see my looking this way. I only wanted one soul to see me - the one who I knew really saw me… him. It made me realize just how fortunate I was to have had the kind of man who would take such wonderful care of me. A man who was so in love with me that I could see my own beauty through his eyes - and that even after he died, his love continues to make me feel like the most beautiful girl most days.

Just… not on the days when your head swells up three times its normal size. On those days, it doesn't matter how strong and unbreakable your love is, you want your person THERE. Really there. I wanted so badly for him to look at me from behind those glasses with hint of a smile that tells me everything I need to know. Or to feel his arms wrapped around me, embracing me and my puffiness. Or to have him make me laugh at my own ridiculous of thinking I look hideous at all. Those are the things I really miss. The ones I would give anything to have back.

~~~

Instead, though, there was a different kind of love there for me. His mom's love. It was she who called me every day around lunch to see how I was feeling and what the doctor said. She who brought me home Gatorade and soup - and not just soup, but like ten different flavors… a buffet of soups. It didn't make me feel beautiful, not in the way his love can… but still, I have felt so deeply loved and cared for.

For a gal who lost her mother as a child, it is impossible for me to take for granted these moments. I was eight years old the last time my own mother cared for me while I was sick. I'd given up on ever feeling any sort of deep motherly nurturing long ago. Now, twenty four years later, I am feeling that love through his mom and our relationship that has been fostered and deepened in the wake of his death. In a way, it is also feeling her son's love for me through her - and her love for her son, too. It's a gift beyond gifts and one I never imagined I would hold. She is, as many have called her, my angel.

So there was still much love this week. A different kind. Nothing will ever be the same as how he made me feel when I was sick, but I don't guess there's any need to compare. I suppose sometimes we just have to allow our partners to send their love to us through those who are still here to give it.

Wishing you good health as the cold & flu season comes.
And if you do get sick, don't forget to let the love and caring of others help make the sick days more beautiful.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

When Friends Aren't in Your Corner


Someone asked me recently besides missing him, what is the hardest part about Dan's death.  There are so many ways I could have responded to this and, realistically, the answer probably changes depending on the kind of day I'm having.  

It's hard not having that person in your corner, your partner, that first one you'd always call to share happy news or to save you when you needed help.

It's hard accepting that our future together was taken from us. The children I will never hold.  That first wedding anniversary.  Growing old and sharing the life I thought we'd have.  

But if I have to identify the most difficult, it would probably be the way that he died.  Suicide. Dealing with the stigma and judgement around the fact that he took his life makes an impossible challenge just that bit worse. 

Recently, a seven-year friendship with a friend ended because of that stigma.  

Most people in my life understand that depression isn't a personality flaw or weakness - mental illness doesn't discriminate any more than cancer or heart disease. The happiest, most confident, loving, rational and stable person can lose their life to depression, nothing proved this to us more than Dan's death. 

Through counselling and research I have been able to accept that Dan's suicide wasn't his 'choice'. He loved life and adored me and would never have wanted this pain for those of us whom he cared about so much. He lost his life to a disease, I don't question that anymore*. 

It took a while to get to that place of peace.  Hell, when he died, I questioned which way was up.  I questioned if the sun would rise and of course I questioned how he could have done this.  I couldn't begin to understand how, six weeks after our wedding, my darling reached such a state of despair that he could take his life. 

So when I heard that in the weeks following his death, this friend was asking someone close to me very pointed questions around whether he could have been having an affair, or even if he may have been gay (?!), I tried to be open minded about the process of understanding that she was going through.  

It was hard, I wanted to tear her apart for questioning his character and casting dispersion on our relationship. But I chose to give her the benefit of the doubt and have faith that she was only trying to come to terms with such a terrible tragedy and would also find her way to the answer that suicide doesn't have to mean there's anything wrong in a marriage.

When I saw her at social functions or dinner parties, I focused on her kind words of comfort and support and tried not be put off by all the personal questions she would ask (about whether I was dating again, or thinking of trying IVF to have a child on my own). It was difficult, I couldn't be as open with her as I would have been before.  I didn't trust her.  But I couldn't confront her about her comments and clear the air without exposing that the person she'd spoken to had passed it on to me.  

Then, in July, around the time of his one year anniversary, I heard she was still doing it.  This time, asking the same close friend if we may have been having problems in the bedroom.  

And that was it.  The line was well and truly crossed.  I mean, SERIOUSLY!  The guy's been dead for a year now, just let him rest in peace. Enough was enough. This friend obviously couldn't let go of her need to find some kind of scandalous personal problem to rationalise his death. In a year she still hadn't learnt that suicide can happen to even the happiest people with everything to live for.  

Ever since the day he died I have spoken about Dan's death openly, choosing to raise awareness about suicide rather than buy into the notion that it's something to be ashamed about. And I can't have people in my life who can't accept that he died because he was sick - not because of a fault in his personality or our relationship. 



* In the interest of 100% honestly, I have to clarify that of course I still have the occasional slide back to day one where my brain goes right back in to shock and I forget everything I've learnt about suicide.  In these moments I don't understand how I got here and why on earth this happened to us.  I can't believe he's gone, let alone how. But thankfully these moments are fleeting and, I believe, are more about the grief roller coaster and my process of healing rather than any doubts about Dan's frame of mind that day.