Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Backpack

(Image from here.)

The other day, a post-Maggie friend asked how I became so well adjusted, having put all the stuff that happened behind me. I was careful not to snort my drink through my nose upon hearing her well-intended question; such a reaction might have been confusing to her. When I asked what she meant, she described how she thought I had such a great perspective. Ah, perspective, my consolation prize.

It’s been more than five years now since the last day I kissed my lovely wife. She’s been physically absent from my life now more than half the total time we were together. That makes me sad. How can it be possible for my heart to hurt still so much? Of course (and thankfully), it hurts now less than it did. And it hurts indescribably way less than it did watching her slowly grow ill and eventually die. That’s perspective, too.

The oddest things strike me now. For instance, I get very confused about which TV shows we used to watch together or which movies she had seen. My brain innocently assumes that if I had seen them, then so had she, magically ignoring any minor little details about timing. My brain still has us inexplicably woven together and creating memories. Oh, silly, silly brain.

I have different friends now. Sometimes I can’t recall which of my friends had known her, which can create some remarkably uncomfortable social situations, especially with post-Maggie friends that never even knew I was married. Oh, silly brain.

How is it possible that my brain can’t keep these things straight? I’m pretty darn clear on when the “with Maggie” time transitioned to the “without Maggie” time. Despite that crystal clarity, the crisp edges of truth blur as if somehow my sanity is protected by gentle reminders that these little things don’t matter. Does this mean I’ve reached some state of acclimation to the New Normal? If so, I should get a sticker or something. Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt that says, “You think I’m awesome now? You shoulda met me before my wife died!” It’d be a big hit with a very select subset of society.

To my friend who asked how I seem so well adjusted, I asked her to imagine donning a new 250-pound backpack. For an unpleasantly long time, it’d be a dramatic struggle to grow new muscles and learn balancing skills. But with determination, help from friends, and hard work, she’d learn to walk, run, and maybe even dance again. Eventually she’d live a new type of life that only subtly hinted to that ever-present backpack.

Then I told her, you know those pesky rocks that life occasionally drops in your path - those little 1, 2, 10 and even 50 pounders? Those won’t seem like much of a big deal any more. In fact, most of them you won’t even notice.


  1. Chris nice to hear from you. Always changes and adjustments. It gets less as time moves on, but pain is present pushing without our best friend in life.

    Again good to hear from you, I wish you peace and to all for our losses.

  2. It's good to see your words again Chris!
    Perspective. Yes. I think back to all the little things I may have quarrelled about with Dave and shake my head. I would give anything to deal with those minor issues again.

    I find it challenging too. Keeping pre & post Dave friends straight sometimes. (How could they not have known him, right?)

    Thanks for sharing Chris.

  3. I want to start by saying that I think every person going through this has something of value to say to others going through this too. I appreciate and gain something from every writer here. That said, I have been reading awhile and so I am further along than a lot of the new writers here, so it really is nice to hear from an old writer who I used to follow and is further along(I sometimes go to the archives for the further along perspective). Chris, your posts on the stuff and the clean outs helped get me through cleaning out his side of our closet(I went back and found them after a post you did). And when you moved I thought maybe I could, and I haven't but I think I can. When you posted about not bringing up what happened in a group setting with people who didn't know(you used a battle axe analogy I think) I was still in that stage of throwing that thing around and now I am not. Anyway, I am rambling, but the gist is I want to say thank you for your posts and it is nice to read a new one from you.

  4. Love hearing from you Chris. We need the male "perspective" on here. (Im the one who took over your Fridays lol) Great piece. And I sooo relate. I often cant recall which people are from which of my lives - before Don or after Don? Its very confusing.

  5. I am almost three years out, and the past couple of months, I have finally some peaceful moments without the crushing grief so constant.
    Today, however, I had two different people telling me about their situations---and my thoughts (I know, selfish) were this isn't even a blip on the radar, a pebble in the scheme of life. Be grateful for every day you have your beloved by your side.

  6. Chris, I miss you! Lovely to see your post. Ahhh...that back-pack thing! Hmmm...are those muscles the ones we grew from lifting the weight or bearing the load for the past 5 years? I guess both huh? Nice to be dancing again though...

  7. Chris it is good to read your post again. I am developing new muscles and balance too.
    Maria O.

  8. The before and after is something I think the majority of us find ourselves doing. I seem to do the before cancer diagnosis or after & also before Michael or after Michael. Some people just don't get it, especially new friends that don't know your whole story. Thanks for such a wonderful article thar might help me explain my situation.

  9. This is such A wonderfully written post. You really hot the nail on the head for me and how I feel. I've been a widow and a single mom now for 3.5 years. The boulder that represents that puts everything else into perspective and like you, I carry on, even those large rocks don't seem so heavy. What I realized though is that this perspective has actually made me less empathic. I have a very difficult time listening to others complain about issues that in the big picture, aren't so big. Sometimes I try to help put it in perspective and it's not always well received. Sometimes I try to listen and support, but that can be difficult too. Does anyone feel this way too?

  10. Chris, It's great to hear from you again! Your perspective has always resonated with me (esp the battle axe metaphor from a previous post) and this one is no different. I think I'm getting there with my backpack - maybe not dancing again, but definitely walking.

  11. Chris, I just cleared out the closet, moved from my house and bought a new bed, discarding "our bed"...thanks for sharing how you dealt with all of those issues, and keeping in touch over the years. I truly appreciate all the writers, sharing day to day tribulations; no matter how trivial they may seem, they are not. My backpack load varies these days, I don't always notice it but it is ever present. My life has changed forever. Thanks for making it a tad easier, and warning me of what is to come.