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.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sit With It

Someone else.

For three years and a couple of months now, those words and that concept has been one that I simply cannot deal with or even picture. For 3 years, the very idea of someone else, someone other than my husband who I'm supposed to grow old with decades from now, sent me into instant panic. It still does. It still makes me shake and feel like maybe I'm coming down with something. In the beginning, and for maybe the first 2 years post-loss, whenever anyone even mentioned me possibly thinking about "dating" again or "getting back out there" or any of those other cliche and expected things put upon me, I would instantly feel sick to my stomach. The very concept of someone else literally made me sick.

Not too much has changed in 3 years. I no longer feel physically ill at the mere mention of a non-Don human coming my way, but now it is more of an extreme intense sadness. About a month ago, my grief-therapist innocently asked me in session: "So how are you doing with the whole relationships thing? Have you thought about it at all?" I started sobbing. Just instant sobs. Another time, more recently, she asked me if any "opportunities" had come my way, and how I felt about it if they had? Again, sobbing. She looked almost shocked, which is rare, and like she truly felt empathy for me and didn't know how to help. She just said: "Wow, this topic is really loaded for you, isn't it? I think it might be a very long time before you are ready to even be able to consider this as a possibility in your life. And that is totally okay. Don't let anyone push you. You aren't ready. But that doesn't mean you won't be one day. Just sit with it for now."

Okay. Sit with it. She says that a lot. At first, it kind of annoyed me. Sit with it. What the hell does that even mean? But now I get it, and I actually sort of like it. It means I don't need to be ready to move forward in this particular area right now, and that I will be ready whenever I'm ready. So don't stress over it - just let it marinate inside your heart for awhile. Sit with it.

So that is what I have been doing. The problem is, when it comes to the concept of "someone else," everyone else on earth seems to have an opinion and a judgment about it. Not only that, but people of the male variety have been approaching me a lot lately, asking for my number, talking and flirting with me out of nowhere, and generally making themselves known to me. This is very foreign to me. I was married for almost 5 years, and before that, I was with Don for an additional 8 years or so. So for about 13 years, I was with Don. And then he died. And now, it seems, the way that guys approach women has changed severely. Lots of times, I will be walking home from the subway, and a  guy will just appear out of nowhere, and start having a conversation with me. "Hey what's up? Are you single? Can I have your number? ", and that sort of thing. I really don't understand this. Is it a NYC thing? Is it a modern-day thing? Or am I just running into lots of extremely aggressive men, over and over again? And the thing is, with 95% of these men that come up to me, they are not the kind of men that I would ever be interested in. Lots of them happen to be weird-ish or just too aggressive for my liking, or tilting on borderline creepy.



However ...

One night, about 2 months ago or so, I was walking home from the subway in my very busy neighborhood in Queens, and I was about maybe 7 blocks from my apartment, when a man seemed to appear out of nowhere and started a conversation with me. "Hi", he said. "Hi," I said back, as if it was normal this person was talking to me so casually. He continued walking with me and having small-talk. His existence threw me off a bit, because he was, in many ways, very Don-like. He was wearing some kind of security uniform, which was blue, and looked a lot like my husband's old EMS uniforms. He had dark hair like Don, and he was wearing a Mets hat, which I immediately mocked him about. "Mets? Really?" He playfully mocked me back about the Yankees jacket I was wearing, and before I knew it, we were only a block from my apartment. I made the decision in my head to tell him I was stopping at the Dunkin Donuts that is on that corner, because I did not want a total stranger knowing where I live. So we stopped, and he said: "Can I pleaase have your number?" I told him no, that I didn't think so. He said: "Are you single? Cuz if you're not single, I'll leave you alone." I said: "It's complicated. " He said, in a kind of funny way: "What's complicated about it? You're either single or you're not single. Which is it?" I said: "My husband died 3 years ago, and I'm just not anywhere near ready for giving out my number and things like that."

It just sort of came out - me telling him that. He was the first guy that had approached me that didn't give me a creeper vibe. He said, very sincerely: "I'm really sorry. That is awful. I'm going to just write down MY number and give it to you, and this way if you feel like talking or just wanna get some coffee, you can call me." So he gave me his name (Stephen), and his number. He said he lived right here in the neighborhood and works as Security in the local Mall, and I said some crap about how maybe we will run into each other again sometime. Non-commital. Vague. Weak.

We parted ways, and I walked around the corner and dissolved into hysterical sobs, right there in the open, autumn air. It affected me for days afterwards. I kept crying over and over. Crying because I'm not ready. Crying because I don't know if I'll ever be ready. Crying because I don't WANT to have conversations with strangers on the street and have to try and decide whether they are sane or not - I want my husband back. Crying because the fact that this person is talking to me and asking me out, means that I can't just sit with it forever. I can't just put "relationships" on a shelf somewhere and pretend that I no longer need that. I can't just keep myself super busy with life and friends and work and creative things, and hope that I never notice that it's been years since being intimate with someone or being someone's priority. Crying because the world moves much faster than what I feel ready for. Crying because I miss my husband, and talking to a perfectly nice guy for 10 minutes, does nothing but put a huge exclamation point on that fact.

So two months went by. I didn't think about it much. I did not call him or even think about calling him, honestly. Then last night, I was walking home again from the subway, after a super long day working and then some fun with friends in the city, and suddenly I hear from behind me: "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey Yankees! Yankees!!! Hey Yankees!" I turned around, and he is running after me, to catch up to me. I am a block from my apartment, on my street. I stop. He says: "Sorry to yell out Yankees like that. I don't know if you even told me your name last time. Do you remember me?" "Hi Stephen", I said. We did the small-talk thing again for a few minutes, and then he said: "So you gonna give me your number this time?" Again, I said no. As nice as this guy seems, I dont know him. What if he is some stalker who won't stop calling me months from now when this all goes haywire? What if he sends me a "dick pic?" (that's what people are doing these days, right?) What if he wants to start "sexting" from our cell phones? No. No, no, no, no, no. I just cannot live in that world. So again, he wrote his number down on another piece of paper, and we left it at that.

And now, I am not sure where to go from here. He seems like a nice person, and what could it hurt having a cup of coffee with someone? Then again, a guy who randomly approaches strangers on the street must have issues. The whole thing is just odd to me. And why me? Why did he pick me to approach? Both times he stopped me, I looked like absolute hell, so it can't be that I was just so alluring and gorgeous that he HAD to talk to me. It doesn't feel like it's a match of any kind. I didn't feel any "spark" or anything like that with him. He was simply a nice person. There is a small part of me that wonders if Im supposed to have coffee with this dude for some reason - because now it is TWICE that I have run into him this way. I don't know. I am not ready for any of this. I really don't want to be a widow anymore, and I really hate the reality that I am now "single." I am not quite sure what to do with this place that I find myself in.

I suppose I will just have to sit with it. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Fork in the Road



I spend a lot of time these days thinking about what it was like to have Mike around. I find myself lost in this dreamland of days gone by - not really remembering anything in particular, not necessarily a specific memory of something we did together - I just find myself trying to grasp that mindspace where he still existed. What it felt like when he was in the house...what it felt like when he was still in my life. It happens randomly - I just sort of "come to" and realize I'd been staring into space, traveling back in time in my head. It's so close - and yet so far away. 

It's like trying to remember a most delicious flavor of something I ate a long time ago. I can remember it was spicy or savory, or crunchy or sweet, but I can't ever experience that taste sensation again, because the ingredients are now unavailable and forever off the menu of my life. 

It's also tremendously difficult to try and describe to someone else how delicious it was if they can never taste it for themselves. And more and more these days I find I don't even bother trying. 

For awhile after Mike died my life was locked in this bleak, rigid, grief-stricken place where I was afraid to move. I only existed in a very narrow margin - my small corner of my little world where I just went through the motions, stumbling blindly through my days, only doing the bare minimum to survive. I really couldn't function any more than that. If anything else changed around me it would be just too hard. If I allowed life back in, I might somehow lose some part of him, and forget the way things were.  I was afraid to taste anything new, only frantically trying to savor those last few drops of a lost life on my tongue.

For a long time I didn't socialize...I didn't meet anyone  or even really leave the house other than to gather another round of frozen dinners. For the most part, other than a couple of dear fellow widows I met, the only people I talked to were those who had known Mike - who understood who he was, and remembered their share of the individual spirit that he was. Back then, I didn't need to explain the gaping hole in my life, because I was otherwise alone in my misery.

Now, there are all kinds of new people in my life. And yes, at first my widowed status was one of the first things out of my mouth, usually along with an attempt to describe who he was and what I lost. But I realize: they never really get it. And it's not their fault, I understand...I just can't do it anymore. And it's really not for any other reason than...and as I type this I'm fighting feelings of guilt, or that people might think I'm in a bad place  - but it's really only that right now, I'm just tired. I'm tired of trying to explain about him, and us. Or maybe I want to protect the memory of him and keep him all to myself. And maybe that sounds selfish. But my life with Mike was mine. Mine and his. It is like having a special, personal stash of secret memories and feelings I am just unwilling to share haphazardly, because the casual telling of it will never begin to compare to the actuality of who he was, or what it was really like to have him around. 

It's not like he doesn't deserve to be memorialized - he does. He really, really does...and the writing of the book has that express purpose. But in daily, casual life these days, especially around people who never knew him or who have not experienced this level of personal loss...I find I tend to clam up about it, or answer very briefly and curtly and then change the subject. Instead of opening to that deep, painful, complicated, frustrating place of lost love...I'd just rather not. It's too hard. It's too long a story. So sometimes, I'd just really rather not elaborate, thank you very much.

I don't think it's necessarily a "bad" thing, these feelings. They might seem harsh, to someone on the outside. But maybe, just maybe, it's a fork in the road of building my own new recipes for life that will someday serve to nourish my starving soul. 

Maybe.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cadence Count~

Moving through grief is similar to moving through deep, dark mud and muck.

Lifting your feet to take another step forward takes every bit of determination and strength.

Sometimes you look down and you can't even see your feet, never mind lift them to take that step.

When you do lift them, they are covered with mud to the point of not being seen.

Nothing but a pit of mud surrounds you, as far as your eyes can see.  The tears in your eyes fall into the mud beneath you and muddy it more.

You know you have to move but it's exhausting to even contemplate.  But you do anyways.  Because you have to.  Because you're still here.

It all sounds pathetic even to my ears.  Particularly to my ears in relation to myself.  I hate being here.  I'm doing every damn thing I can to keep moving so that I won't always be here.  And part of being able to have the energy to move one more step requires allowing myself to be right where I am, rather than using the energy in resisting or fighting where I am.

My husband was fond of saying just look right down and see where your feet are and be there.

He didn't mean to stay there and make no effort.  He meant that it is necessary to allow yourself to be right where you are so that you will have the energy to move yourself forward.

But I hate this heaviness that is my constant companion.  I hate that I have to remind myself to breathe.  I hate all of this grief.  It's exhausting in the most elemental way and it's exhausting again when I have to lift first one foot and then the other from the clinging mud that surrounds me.  One step.  Another.  Cadence count one after the other.  The rhythm of death and grief and life.

Just get to the shore.  Keep walking, I tell myself.  There is firmer footing ahead, so I've been told.

I hope so.  God, I miss him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Different


I'm in that lovely crunch time in semester where I have assignments and other assessments coming out of my butt and I seriously question the sanity of going back to school.  Ok, I'm always questioning the sanity of that choice!

Which has had me thinking in the last day or so as I worked on cost accounting exercises - would I be doing this if Ian hadn't died?

Initially I thought no.

He didn't have a job and was struggling to find one.  I was the sole income earner, and would have had no choice but to find another role once my contract ended whenever that was going to happen.  And we were hoping that Ian found a role once he finished his studies to have his UK work skills & experience recognised here.

Lots of things would be different - we'd have tried for a second child, we'd have progressed our plan to move to a bigger home in a better area, with the corresponding increased mortgage and need to be earning a decent income.

But the combination of my learning my job only had 12 months to go, followed only 2 weeks later by Ian's death was a catalyst for thinking about what I needed to, and wanted do in the future. Which lead me to find, consider and apply for my accounting course only about 4 months after Ian died. My job was going because the project unit I worked in was being closed, and the whole team at my workplace would be out of a job. Even with the massive personal issue of a dying/dead husband, I was possibly the first to have an idea on what they were going to do when our work unit was disbanded, and have that idea come to fruition.

But the more I think about it, going back to school probably would have still been the same - widowhood or not.

There's every chance I'd have still gone back to uni and studied something.  Maybe not accounting, but I might well have done something.  Before, and still after, I'm a firm believer in life-long learning to keep the brain ticking over. And I was already tossing around the idea of further study in the year leading up to Ian's death, anyway.

Being widowed changed my focus on the "what" to study and it changed the mode of study I'm able to undertake, but as memories and thoughts come back into the light, I've realised it hasn't fundamentally changed the "if" I would study.

Life is completely different from what it was and what I expected it to be.  But maybe in the longer run there's a little bit that's not so different after all. 

I've just wound up taking a very much unexpected and unwanted path to get there.