Sunday, March 11, 2012

War Games

            I’m obsessing again and my mind is going back in time trying to change past conversations.  This one is when Lisa starting viewing me as an obstacle.  My mind takes me to the kitchen.  Lisa stands by the refrigerator - in less than four weeks, cancer will have won its battle – she is starting to binge on unhealthy foods, shakes, and cookies.  I’ve brought it up lightly once or twice, but today I can’t watch her treat her body like this, I have to try and say something.

            “Lisa, you really need to eat something more substantial.”
            “Just let me be, give me these few days.” She says.
            “You said that last week.”  I say.
            “And you didn’t give it to me, did you?”
            “I did.  I totally did, I even drove out one night and bought you a shake. You ate like this all of last week.”
            “What do you want from me?”
            “You need to eat food.  Are you no longer trying.  Is this it?  Are we no longer going to try to recover?”
            “Just leave me alone!” She says and storms out of the kitchen.

            I hate we had this conversation.  I’m so mad it happened.  Why was I starting fights with my dying wife?  I should have been more supportive.  I should have said this…

            “Lisa, you really need to eat something more substantial.” 
            “Just let me be, give me these few days.”
            “Okay, here, go sit down and I’ll pour the shake into a glass and bring you a plate of cookies.”
            “Thanks Matt, this will be the last one for awhile, starting tomorrow, no more junk food.”

            No, she never would have responded like that.  She was sick and was showing poor judgment.  I should have been more forceful.

            “Lisa, you really need to eat something more substantial.” 
            “Just let me be, give me these few days.”
            “No, Lisa, I’m sorry, all this sugar binging is not good for you.  I am throwing away your shakes and cookies.  Let me cook you up a chicken breast.”
            “Matthew, leave me alone!”
            “You can be mad at me all you want, but you are making bad choices and I need to make sure you are eating food, not junk.”

            Oh my. I don’t like the sound of that conversation at all.  That approach would never have worked.   Hmm, I’m missing the point.  I think it’s the first sentence where I screwed up.  Yeah, that’s it. I should’ve started with a softer opening line.

            “Hey Lisa, I see you are having another shake.  I know there is milk in there, but shouldn’t you have some more food groups represented.” 
            “Matt, I’m not in the mood, leave me alone.”

            Okay, that didn’t work either.  Probably sounded too smart assed.  How about,

            “Hey Lisa.  Wow, that looks good, do you mind if I have some? Mmmm, tasty.   Hey look, I am cooking some chicken, want some of mine?”
            “Come on, you really…”
            “Leave me alone.”

            Too passive-aggressive.  How about this?

            “Now, I’m not starting a fight, but…”
            “Good, then leave me alone.”

Grrrrr.  Let me try appealing to her empathy.

“Lisa, you do know it’s difficult for me to watch you binge on sweets for two weeks, right?”
“And you know it’s difficult for me to have cancer on my liver, lung, and bone.  Not to mention giving birth two months ago, right?”

Touché. Why can’t I solve this? 

“Lisa, I was thinking…”


“Can we just sit down and talk…”


“Lisa, you know I love you…”



No. No. No. What am I doing?  I’ve turned into the computer from the 1987 movie WarGames.  In it, the government programs a super-computer to simulate a winning strategy for global thermonuclear war.  Scenario after scenario, the computer keeps trying to launch missiles from every country to see which one will work.  Faster and faster it keeps trying different options yet coming up with the same results.  Winner: None, Winner: None, Winner: None, until finally it shorts circuits.

There is nothing to be gained on trying to relive what I can’t change.  Trying to look in the past and wish I would have said something different is like a computer trying to win a game of global thermonuclear war.  Looks like the movie WarGames has provided me the wisdom to solve my problem for trying to change past conversations,

“Greetings Matthew Croke.  A strange game, the only winning move is… not to play.  How about a nice game of chess?”


  1. I was just doing this at 6:30 a.m. when I woke up. Another dream with my husband in it. He is dying or at least I think he is. He wants to go on a trip but I am saying "Honey, you are too sick. I am afraid what will happen". I try to reason with him and try to get him to tell me how long he is and he answers "a month". But in the dream I am sure I didn't hear him right and I keep asking.
    My husband wanted to travel (we had to cancel two long distance dream trips when he was diagnosed) He had a brain tumour. He would ask me "someday we could go here?" not wanting to give him false hope (his cancer was terminal from the beginning. I would answer "I am not sure or it will depend on your treatment or not for the next little while . . . ." Now he is gone I just wish I would have said "Yes. We will go, or yes, I would love to do that, or what a beautiful idea/plan/dream"

    I realize now it was his way of projecting himself into the future. Because the surgery and his tumour left him brain injured and with short term memory deficits I was always trying to keep him orientated to the moment. Later after he was dead, I realized he just wanted that hope and to dream. It makes me so sad that there were things I could have done to give him this small wish but I was so busy taking care of him and loving him and trying to keep him alive that - this thing escaped me .
    When he died - the minister who gave his service said "What is done is done. What is undone, remains undone. When these "I wish" moments return - like you I replay what if. . . . over and over until I am exhausted and realize - it is a losing game. Then I tell myself I loved him, I loved him until his last breath. That is enough.

    Thanks for the reminder Matt.

  2. Great post, thanks. I, too, had similar conversations with my husband in the weeks before he died. The problem is that there are no right or good things to say because the entire situation was just so WRONG. I try to remember how stressed, scared, and exhausted I was and know I was doing the best I could, just as while I don't like the way I am behaving in my grieving, again I am just doing the best I can.

  3. Regret keeps us focused on the past. When we rehash our past decisions over and over in our minds, we can create regrets that corrode our present lives. Use your regrets as an opportunity to learn and continue to move forward, which is clearly what you are doing. This post is for the rest of us.....

  4. "A strange game, the only winning move is… not to play."

    Don't we all wish we didn't have to play the game to begin with. No one wins. Only losers.

    To anon above, we too had travel plans, and I can't believe we didn't cancel. We went sailing on our boat one more time. It was good for a few days, but then there was more down time than up time. And the trip home was brutal, even with help of kindly stewardesses. Do I regret going? No, it was his last wish. I do believe it shortened his life, but he did have a goal to focus on.

    We do what we think best, and at times of stress we shouldn't second guess our decisions. I, too, cannot believe my behavior in grief, but then no one can really prepare you for this, you have to experience it and find your own way. 2 years have gone by, and I feel like it only happened yesterday, why can't I move along on this road? As Tracey said, I believe I am doing the best I can, at this time. Thanks, Matthew, I think I'll go have a shake.

  5. We ended up having to cancel our fifteenth anniversary trip. Ended up spending that time together in the hospital. But we planned to go later. As long as he was able to talk about it. And when he was not able to talk anymore, I just sat with him and told him all about where we would go and what we would do. Still doesn't help me regret we never made it, though. Thank you, Matthew...

  6. 15yr old me...
    "Mom, can I have $10 for a student card?"

    "Sure...... oh...nope...I only have a twenty."

    "That's ok, I will bring you the change" (Well intentioned lie)

    "No you won't, you might bring me $5 and some coins.... but come on... just wait and I will give it to you tomorrow."

    "Whatever! You have no trust in me!!!" Agressively grab lovingly packed lunch and dramatically stomp away to school.

    Car accident at noon.

    Yes....Chess is nice.

    1. Yes, the torture of grief guilt. This is one of the hardest things to bear afterward, these thoughts. Mine have slowed down after two years but still pop up to make me miserable at times. I was a caregiver to my husband for the better part of six years. Let me say that everything we did or said, we did out of great love, while fighting for the lives of our brightest lights. It's a war, and war can be messy. Also, there is no benefit to second guess ourselves for things that happened when we were not in our right mind and trying to bear stress that literally kills people. I'll bet if the situations were reversed, our spouses would not have been perfect in dealing with it, either. I'd be willing to bet that everyone had many, many more times when they were kind and loving than not. It's just that we focus on the not, for some reason, some game our brains play. I hope everyone (including me) is able to find some peace in all of this, and eventually find a way to remember all of the love and care you gave to your special someone.

  7. Missing my lovely man. Having regrets. Playing them over in my mind. Same old things. Wishing I could stop the tapes.