Tonight about 50 friends and colleagues got together to honor Doug at Arch St. Tavern. It was sort of a faux retirement party, since he never got to have a real one.
I was happy his co-workers set it up. I thought maybe it would help all of us deal. However, part of me was dreading it, because I knew it would be hard.
I brought along a digital picture frame with some of my favorite photos of Doug (there are gazillions.) When I was putting it together, I came across one that hit me hard. He was looking up at me (I was sitting on a big rock) after giving me a new diamond ring (I lost the original.) He was proposing again on bended knee. There was so much love there.
There were a lot of great Doug stories. Lives he influenced, people he made laugh, people he appalled :-). (E.g., when he first took CH out in the field for inspector training she was nervous and said she had to go to the bathroom. He pulled over in the woods. She declined.)
One of my favorites was told by a guy who worked for him. RF drafted a letter for Doug's review. It came back with a few comments and two coffee blots on it - one large and one small. Doug penciled in note next to the small one. It said "Are you my mother?"
His friend and Bureau Chief read the proclamation from the Governor out loud.
I held it together until the end. Then the faucet face began and was unstoppable.
I was exhausted on the way home - fortunately Tina was the designated driver. (Whenever I went out with Doug I was always the DD, since he had no Off button.)
Unfortunately, a really special evening was followed by another sleepless night.
I don't recall crying all day today, although I am still crushingly sad. I'd LIKE to believe I've reached a turning point, but it is more likely another bout of numbness. I know it is too soon to expect much progress, although I've been trying to process my grief and cope more effectively. I have also been distracted with my sister's visit, lunches and dinners with friends, walking, work and volunteering. Sleep continues to elude me. Too many thoughts and squirrels swirling around in my head. KJ, a friend, shared that "I hate it when the night slowly drips away, one tiny tick tock at a time."
Although they haven't said anything, I feel as if some other people I see on a regular basis are growing tired of me talking about Doug all the time. When I bring it up over and over, some get a sort of blank look, get very quiet, or change the subject. I can't blame them. Maybe only other people who are grieving can understand how consumed one becomes by the loss and the missing. That is one reason the bereavement support group is helping me. The people there are in the same boat. Maybe some people are simply tired of feeling sad or prefer to block out the pain. It helps me to talk about him and the situation. That doesn't mean it helps them.
Sometimes I think I am doing okay. Then suddenly, grief hits me like a tsunami, and threatens to pull me under in its tow.
At the beginning of every weekend, Doug and I used to sit out on the porch together with a cup of coffee or ice tea and a piece of paper. We would write up to do lists.
Typical entries for me:
- Take a shower
- Bake brownies
Typical entries for Doug:
- Lift the house 1/2 foot
- Rake 4 acres
- Get lucky.
At the end of the weekend, we would go over what we crossed out and congratulate ourselves.
I still make a HoneyDo list every day. Except there is no more Honey.
I was talking to my sister about how overwhelmed I feel now. I am still not very productive, yet there are many things I really need to get done - both my chores, Doug's chores, and the new chores associated with the changes in my life.
I make lists every day, but they have a gazillion things on them. I finish a few, but feel overwhelmed by the totality.
She suggested making a list of just five 'must do' things for the day. At first I found it very hard to stick to just 5. But this new approach seems less overwhelming (although Tina was not pleased that I also made HER a list.)
No additional tearless days. I do definitely cry less often and less long now (hmm that sounds grammatically incorrect.)
Last night my sister and I went down to the neighbor's jacuzzi for an hour before bed. Afterwards, I slept until 9:10! That is the longest night's sleep I've had in four months.
Something else happened yesterday that gave me pause this morning. See Planting Parsley.
Some of my family members do not want to talk or think about Doug or his death. They don't want to be sad. Maybe they are moving on already, or are farther ahead of the process than I am.
I need to try to understand and accommodate this. Right now, it is hard for me to grasp. It hasn't even been four months since he died. I think about Doug and what we both lost all the time. I am sad all the time. How could I not be? I lost my husband and best friend. He was an incredible person. I miss him terribly, all day long and night long.
I am not sad because I WANT to be sad. I just am. I thought it was a normal part of the mourning process. I do hope it will diminish in time, and the crushingly sad thoughts will be replaced with mostly happy thoughts of our life together. But for now, I thought if I tried to distract myself from it, and move on too quickly, it would come back to bite me in the end. The only way out of grief is through it.
I have always struggled with understanding other people when they think and feel things so differently from me. Maybe this limitation stems from being an identical twin. I grew up with someone who shared the same genes, room, thoughts, experiences and looks. (Later in life we polarized [this happens sometimes with twins.] and became quite different from each other in some ways.)
Today marks the passage of four months beyond the line that now divides my life into "before" and "after.". I still have not accepted the new reality. The past few days I am back to floating around in numb denial. It's odd what a gap there is between knowing a thing on a rational level, and believing it. We should all know that everyone eventually dies. As one person said, the only thing that should surprise us are the circumstances. Yet people still tend to still feel they are immortal. We are still shocked when someone we love dies. And then, at least in the beginning, we cannot believe that it happened, and that they are really gone forever.
None of my close friends are widowed, and only a couple have even gone through the grief associated with divorce. Despite that, they have been supportive and caring. They listen to my dreary blather and try to understand. They share their perspectives. They knew Doug, but acknowledge they don't know from personal experience what it is like to lose a spouse.
I know I need help. It has helped me to talk to other widows and widowers - friends, friends of friends, and people in the bereavement support group. One noted that it is like getting to talk to someone who suffers from the same disease that you do. I recognize the pain I see in their eyes. They can relate to being consumed by the loss of a husband or wife. They don't get uncomfortable talking about death and loss. They have shared with me some really useful insights, and suggestions about what has worked for them.
A big issue those left behind face is whether to leave things and the person's "stuff" "as is" or to change things around. I was going to try changing some things around - "as is" is painful.
I plan to move my bedroom into a different floor in our house and see how that feels. Doug's pack is still at the top of the stairs - he had planned for us to go for a hike to see the mountain laurel when he got home from work. But he never came home. Today I took my hiking shoes out of the pack to go for a guided walk in the woods with a girlfriend. It was hard, but I'm glad I went. Of course I was sad too - my first hike without Doug.
One widow found herself dwelling on old memories, and decided to create new ones by doing things with no association to her husband. I am trying that one too. Going to a different restaurant or place, doing things that I didn't do with Doug, trying some new things that would not have interested him.
An intriguing widower who has spent a lot of time working through grief generously shared what he has learned with me. He emphasized the importance of doing whatever works. He helped me feel less guilty. He talked about the need to eventually stop resisting reality. At some point, I will need to accept that I can't have what I want, which is Doug, alive and well by my side.
Several widows/widowers have given up completely on love and relationships. They figure they had a great one already. They know nothing can compare. The person they lost can't be replaced. So they figure it's over for them, forever. I know that feeling all too well.
On the other hand, lately I'm not sure I'm willing to give up completely. Doug and I had such a happy and healthy relationship. I KNOW I will never find anyone like him, or experience anything like that again - it would not be possible to duplicate it. I know I never want to settle just to avoid being lonely. And I'm not into more pain.
But I also don't know if I want to spend the rest of my life alone. To never again experience intimacy or romance. As much as I loved Doug and was fully committed to our marriage, now that's he's gone I don't know what is right. I would feel guilty getting dating someone else because I still feel married. But I also don't think I'm convent material. (Plus I'm guessing they expect people to be kind of religious before letting them join.) The odds are against it though.
Today I went for a 2 mile walk with a friend. We talked and laughed. I felt good. Then I went another 3 miles by myself. I had my new iPod on. It helps quiet the squirrels in my head. But when a song about lasting love came on, I fell apart. I cried for about a mile in heaving sobs, to the point of almost throwing up. Fortunately there were no people around.
After these crying jags, I usually feel exhausted but somewhat better and readier to go back to faking it. I can think about Doug and Death non-stop, but don't think it's fair to inflict that on others. So I paste a smile on the surface of my face, and try to listen to what is going on in the lives of others, and to talk about things other than the loss that consumes me still.
At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night I was lying in bed, reading a book about grief that Mr. Intriguing kindly loaned me. Several quotes spoke to me.
“The span between life and death can be as quick and sudden as a puff of wind that blows out a candle. But the candle does not suffer after darkness comes. It is the person left in the dark room who gropes and stumbles.” Helen Duke Fike
I especially liked the one below, because it emphasizes the choices we have.
“What matters is not what life does to you but rather what you do with what life does to you.” Edgar Jackson
Then the C's called. They asked me if I wanted to come over to have fajitas with them and the kids. The easy answer would have been no. But easy isn't always best.
I said yes if I could come in my pajamas. I threw on a sweatshirt (I couldn't put my bathrobe on because the cat was sleeping in it) and headed over. The C's had put their PJ's on too, to keep me company. We ate fajitas laced with garlic, drank hot mulled cider and rum, looked at pictures of their trip out west and then watched a silly movie. It was fun tinged with sad because Doug wasn't there. But I do love my friends and my neighborhood.
I am reminded of Doug everywhere I go. Like when I went to the doctor's office and they asked if Doug was still my point of contact.
A guy I didn't know well asked me to go on a hike up Talcott Mountain on Columbus Day. I don't know many single men. I feel funny doing things alone with husbands of other friends - I don't know if it will bother their wives. It was a beautiful day and the leaves were starting to turn, so I said yes. But I felt very uncomfortable about it.
Doug had planned a hike to see the mountain laurel blooming after he got home from work on June 8. He had our day pack all ready to go, at the top of the stairs, with our hiking shoes in it. He kissed me goodbye and never came home. I can't bear to move that pack. It has been sitting there for four months.
I didn't want to use it to go on a hike with someone else. (I know, that sounds weird. Grieving people think and do all kinds of weird things, way more whacked out than this - trust me.) Instead, I emptied out my bluebirding pack. I didn't have another pair of hiking shoes though, so I had to take them out of our favorite pack. It was hard - almost physically painful.
Hiking with Doug was so much fun. (He made everything fun.) This guy was incredibly boring. Talking with him was like pulling teeth. It would have been better to go alone (but I probably would have gotten lost. Directional Dyslexia.)
I miss Doug so much.
“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” CS Lewis
I used to sleep soundly nine hours a night. I haven't slept well in the four months since Doug died, with the exception of one night when I soaked in the neighbor's jacuzzi just before hitting the sack.
I wake up (usually from the cat walking across my face with icy cold paws), remember reality, start thinking and that's the end of sleepytime.
It reminds me of that Robert Palmer Song, Addicted to Love
Your lights are on, but you're not home
Your mind is not your own ...
You can't sleep, you can't eat
There's no doubt, you're in deep
He's singing about being in love with a live person. Maybe grieving is a mirror of that because you love a person who no longer lives.
Despite the fact that I can't sleep, I'm exhausted. It takes a lot of energy to try to be normal in the midst of life that keeps going on around me. I am on a date with an emotional vampire. The effort associated with surviving and interacting with other drains me, leaving a dry husk behind.
I'm still not productive enough. My To Do list grows and grows as I procrastinate. I should try harder to get a piece of it done. It might give me the illusion of having some control over things.
My parents used to read the horoscopes together. If they didn't like the ones associated with their own sign, they picked a better one.
Doug and I cut out several horoscopes from the Hartford Courant, and posted them on the refrigerator. They say a lot about us and our relationship.
Here are two I cut out for him:
Lower your expectations. If you were hoping for a fun-filled weekend, think again. You should get off the couch and take care of routine maintenance chores.
(This was funny because in reality he was the anti-couch potato. But I loved to push his buttons.)
Accept the homage you deserve. When you are the king or queen of your castle, you will find plenty of willing subjects on hand to wait on you hand and foot. Enjoy being in charge of family fun.
Here's the one he cut out for me.
Take stock of your long term goals and widen the scope of your endeavors. Pleasing that special someone may be at the top of your list.
Today I chose to go back to the Emergency Room where I learned about the end. I was in Hartford anyway for my annual appointment with my OB-GYN (although there doesn't seem to be much point to that anymore.) I had a handmade gift for the ER doctor (Dr. D) who tried to help Doug. I was going to mail it to him, but decided to drop it off and thank him in person for his help and kindness.
I'm guessing most people have pretty bad days when they visit an Emergency Room. It certainly was difficult for me to go back to the scene. But it wasn't like it made the memories come rushing back. They are my constant companion anyway, from the minute I wake up, and in my nightmares and dreams.
However, when Dr. D came out, it triggered faucet-face mode. I'm sure he sees that a lot. He remembered the tragic circumstances, and understood.
We had a good and helpful talk. We discussed what transpired. He said that resuscitation rates in the field in Connecticut are only about 10%. We talked about my research into the possible connection between Doug's heart stoppage and Benicar.
Then he asked me "Are you doing anything else?" I laughed and said "You mean besides obsessing?" I told him I'm attending a bereavement support group, volunteering again, and have gone back to work part-time. I said I was doing a lot of walking and talking with friends, and how supportive family has been. But I still have a need to understand what happened. For others, maybe their search for meaning ends with their religious faith. That doesn't work for me.
Dr. D offered to show me the inner workings of the ER operation, if I was interested. I think maybe he thought it would help de-traumatize me. I wonder if people who lose a loved one suddenly under tragic circumstances suffer something akin to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome....
I gladly accepted. It was neat to be there when no one was dying. I was amazed at all the equipment and staff. I can't imagine all that transpires inside those four walls every day. How people's lives are changed forever.
Afterwards I walked out through the waiting room. A young woman was sitting alone, staring into space. Her face red with tears. I knew her pain. I so wanted to stop, reach out and put put my hand on her shoulder.
Life goes on. Clothes get dirty. I do loads of laundry but don't put them away. The pile just keeps growing horizontally and vertically.
Sometimes I dump a basketful on top of the bed, thinking it will force me to put it away so I can go to sleep. On occasion, I even get as far as folding and organizing piles. Then at night, I push it all onto the floor before crawling under the cold covers. Sometimes I don't even do that. I just sleep (or try to, anyway) underneath the weight.
I thought about why I leave it. I realized it's not simply that it takes more energy than I can muster. It is because it is yet another thing that Doug and I did together.
Once a week, my HeMan would lug the heavy baskets up the steep stairs of our old farmhouse. While I folded things, we would talk about our day and our plans, and joke around. We would change the sheets on the bed and Doug would play silly games with the crazy cat. (See video clip.) Then we put everything away, together.
I'm finding it hard to get motivated to do it, and live life, alone.
I miss him so much - for the little things and the big things.
I have been really really busy lately. Or maybe it just seems that way. I'm not sure whether being busy helps or is just a distraction that will delay mending. (My friend JH says you don't "heal" - healing implies there is a wound that closes completely and gets back to normal, without scars.)
When I'm working, it takes me about an hour to do what should take 2 minutes. It's like I'm in slow mo.
The chores around This Old House are time consuming, since now I do both mine and Doug's (the ones I can. He was a HeMan who could lift a 50 lb. bag of duck chow or cement like it was a feather pillow.)
I have started volunteering a bit again. One night this week I went to a meeting where I received a lovely award for the educational newspaper column (Our Better Nature) that I wrote on a weekly basis for many years. I stopped when Doug died - my heart just wasn't in it anymore. I am behind on my other commitments.
I have been walking a lot - 4 or 5 miles at a time. That eats up a chunk of the day. Yesterday I went into Hartford to have lunch with a running buddy of Doug's. We did one of scenic routes they often ran together. Good stories. More tears. I think there has only been one day in the past four months where I did not cry for what Doug and I have lost.
I'm working with neighbors and contractors on renovating the back room I'm going to move my bedroom into. Doug had gutted it and was replacing the sill. I'm finishing it up for both of us.
I'm attending a six week bereavement support group with my neighbor who lost both her parents in the span of 3 months. The meetings are often depressing - so much pain concentrated in one room. Occasionally the meetings provide useful information on coping. They help with awareness. I also feel somewhat less crazy when I see that other people are having similar experiences. Several are even more obsessed than I am - years later. I am hopeful that in a year or two I will reach a new normal and get back to living life.
I try to get out of the house and socialize almost every day. This has made all the difference for survival - I really don't think I would have made it this far without my friends. I do still have trouble answering the phone and talking to people. Email is easier.
I am not looking forward to the cold dreary New England winter in our drafty old farmhouse. To save money, I've been avoiding turning on the heat in the house. We have a wood stove, but I haven't gotten the hang of it yet. Every morning before he left for work, and before I even woke up, Doug would lug a wheelbarrow full of wood onto the porch for me. He would get the wood stove all set up with paper and kindling, so I could just light a match to get it going.
At night, he was like a personal furnace. I could wrap myself around him for heat transfer. Sometimes after I came back from a bathroom break and put my frosty feet on him to warm them up, he would yell out on contact "Sheesh, what did you do - stick your feet in the freezer on your way back!?!"
gave me a foot warmer that is heated in the microwave. That helps a bit. It made me think of a divorcee friend who said she replaced her miserable husband with a rolling trash can and a riding lawnmower.
I can never replace Doug.
Several weeks ago, I met a woman who is getting a divorce, She'd rather be a widow. You get to keep everything, people feel sorry for you, and you could know he loved you right up until the end.
One of the guys is going through a divorce. We were discussing adventures. I lamented that I feel as if my life is over. He said he felt the opposite - his life is just beginning again.
A book I am reading (How We Grieve) talked about "tragic opportunities" that arise because of a loss. As we relearn and reorient ourselves to life without our loved one, we have encounters and experiences and undergo changes that never would have happened otherwise.
Loss has already caused my path to cross with a number of people I probably never would have met if Doug were alive.
Last night I went out to dinner with some of Doug's climbing buddies. I think I only cried once. It really helps to be with people who knew and loved Doug.
I went for a five mile walk this morning by myself. I only cried for about 2 miles. It helps to get the crying jags over early, so I can be more functional for the rest of the day.
While I was walking, I thought about a book I finished last night - How We Grieve, by Thomas Attig. He talks about relearning the world, and learning to live again. This is a topic JG and I discussed on Wednesday. JG thought Doug would not want me to be as miserable as I am.
I am struggling with loving and being in love with someone who is dead. I really don't want to "let go." I yearn for him. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't want to forget him. But at some point I must accept that he will not be present in my future.
Attig cautions against acting on promises or feelings of responsibility or loyalty to the deceased that require that we not love again or that arbitrarily restrict our involvement in the world in which we survive and they do not. He says that "they may have wished nothing more than that we would live fully and richly in their absence."
Even though they are gone, he says we can relive their stories, appreciate their values, accept their influence, and take inspiration from them. He talks about integrating their history into one's present life. That you can begin to live again, and that does not mean betraying or abandoning them. "When we are bereaved, we may fear letting go of those who have died and losing ourselves in the past if we do not let go."
I guess it depends on how you define "letting go." It would not be good to put life on hold forever, have sadness that never ends, or throw myself into a hole in the ground. But I also don't think four months is enough time for me to be ready to "move on." I still haven't accepted that I will never see him again.
I find it distressing to be around people who have already moved on. They no longer want to think or talk about him. Maybe it makes them too uncomfortable or sad. Or maybe they think there is no point since he's no longer here. But he is still on my mind and in my heart.
Sometimes I hear Doug's voice in my head. E.g., telling me to recycle that carton of putrid milk instead of hiding it in the trash can. When I was debating about what kind of sliding door to get and was fretting over the cost, I could hear him saying "Get whatever you want." So I did.
I miss being happy. I miss the life we had. I miss the laughter. I miss Doug most of all.
Before Doug, I knew sadness often. The sources might have been a combination of attitude, biochemical, disappointments, and tragedy. With Doug, all that seemed to have ended. I thought my world had changed for good.
Certainly the blues would still descend upon me on occasion. Doug drove them away. He was able to lift me out of almost any bad mood. See an example of his sunshine serenade.How could I possibly stay sad after hearing that?
And now there is the After. In the past 4.5 months, I have only felt anything approaching joy once, and it didn't last a day. See Lucky the Duck.
I feel an uncanny connection to others who have lost a loved one. It reminds me of the title of a website a friend shared with me - My Spouse is Dead. Welcome to the Club You Never Wanted to Join.
They say bereavement makes us more compassionate. I think it also brings an understanding of a depth of sadness. Those who have not experienced suffering and profound loss do not know it - yet.
It is also easier to relate to fellow grievers. One widower said it is like meeting someone else who suffers from the same disease. They understand when you obsess and lean towards madness. They understand the fears, guilt, wishes and regrets. They don't mind the tears.
I have met some of these people at the bereavement support group. They think, feel and do many of the same things I do. I have been introduced to some by friends. Others I knew before, but was oblivious to their buried sorrow.
Many have trudged further than I have, down the sad and lonely path. I am learning a lot from these fellow souls. Such as:
Sometimes I wonder if I am cursed or am somehow transmitting bad karma to those I love. I base this on a number of tragic deaths - my twin died at age 24. my father drowned in a boating accident at age 59, two of my closest friends in their 30's - one from Aids and one hit by a car, and now Doug at age 52 from something we didn't even know he had.
I think I almost killed my carpenter yesterday. I put a couple of duck eggs in his truck in a plastic container. On his way home, he went around a corner and the eggs started to roll towards the floor. As he reached over to grab them and almost got in a horrid car accident.
The guys who put up our copper gutters almost got electrocuted when an aluminum ladder hit some overhead lines I forgot to warn them about. I could have had dead friends in the driveway.
I realize this is magical thinking. It is a skill I seem to be constantly honing. Of course I know on a rational level that I have little or no ability to influence such outcomes. If only the heart believed what the mind knows.
Even though I know I am anything but lucky lately, I bought a Powerball ticket last week. I figured it would solve some of my problems. Got one number right. JC reminded me that "The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math."
This morning I awoke with a hangover. After just a few hefty glasses of wine last night, I could barely walk. Wine in, blithering out. Apparently that is more than I am capable of metabolizing. When I got home and lay down, the whirlies kicked in. I haven't had those since high school. (KG says it doesn't count unless you vomit.) I guess I don't have any endurance for drinking. I was always the designated driver in the Days of Doug. He drank for two.
I am not one for wondering what other people think, as evidenced on a regular basis on this blog. I feel safe with my friends who know, love, and somehow tolerate me. But last night I was meeting with someone I do not know well. If I were him I don’t know what I’d think because I don’t even remember half of what I said. The half I DO remember was mostly inappropriate or idiotic.
If Doug had been there, he would have kept an eye on me. Now I have to watch out for myself.
I do wonder how people can stand me, and how long they will continue to make allowances for me.
My wise walking partner gave me some things to think about this morning during our five mile-er.
Clearly it would be good to try some things OTHER than what I'm doing now that DOESN'T work. Which includes saying "but..but..but" every time I get a suggestion about doing something differently. I instantly begin to argue why it will NOT work. I should just try it and see. What have I got to lose? I remember reading this advice - if what you're doing isn't working, try something else.
I probably need to watch the movie Yes Man, where the character tries saying yes to everything for an entire day. I am going to try not saying "but...." for an entire day.
I've had just two "visits" from Doug in dreams. They were wonderful. I did not want to wake up. (The movie Inception tackles this issue. It is complex and long, but worth watching if you're interested in the allure of the imaginary world in dreams.)
Two nights ago (after the drunken dinner) I dreamed that I went parachuting. Maybe this was because I felt like I was starting to re-engage in life, to take risks, and to move towards freeing myself from grief.
Last night I had another dream about Doug. I didn't get to see him though. I dreamed he "left me."
This is probably because at the bereavement support group (which my mother refers to as the "Grief Grope") last night, a man said "It has been X months since my wife left me." This struck me as odd. It seems to imply she had a choice. (She did not commit suicide.) Also, it implies it is something she did to him.
It's actually hard to find words for loss.. It took me three months to say the "d" word - i.e., "Doug died" or "Doug is dead". I still hate saying it - in part because I don't want it to be true. In part because it sounds so harsh and final.
Instead, in the beginning I said Doug had "gone away" (implying he will be coming back.) Or I had "lost him" (and he would be found.) Some say the person "passed away." (Some just say "passed." To me that sounds like the person had gas, or passed a kidney stone.)
Anyway, in the dream, Doug "left me" because I was ambivalent about commitment. (This was a real issue for many years.) He went back to UCONN to finish graduate school, and was living in a dorm.
In real life, Doug did go back to UCONN to get a Master's in Geology at one point. He completed a semester. At the time, he was trying to work full time and support his girlfriend, and it was too much of a load. Also, in an extremely difficult class - maybe it was mineral microscopy - the professor told him "You'll never be a geologist." He was crushed. He also couldn't really afford it, so he left. It was one of the only regrets I ever heard Doug express.
We talked about this during our marriage. He really didn't need a Master's degree to advance at work - he was already as high as he wanted to go, and had tons of responsibility. I told him I would work full time and he could go back to school. He didn't want to do that or feel he needed to.
In the dream, I pursued Doug. I got a room and called information to get Doug's phone number so I could try and meet with him, and convince him to come back. The operator said his number been removed from active listing. I asked why, and told her that was not possible - I knew he was there. She said there might be all kinds of reasons - like maybe he was underage (I told her he was 52 going on 53), etc etc.
I kept hounding her to look harder for the number. I needed to talk to him. I wanted to try to convince him to see me. I wanted our marriage back. I missed him.
I know I will always miss him.
I was talking to my mother on the phone yesterday. I told her I felt guilty about trying to live life again. She remarked that she thought Doug and I had one of the best, happiest marriages she had ever seen.
She said that, if it were possible, she would gladly exchange her life for Doug's. I know Doug's dad would do the same. It amazes me that someone could be that selfless. Of course I would never want that.
I DO wish Doug were alive and well, living out his life. I suppose this is childish. I cannot have something, but I want it! How does one stop wishing for something that can never be?
Last night I stayed up late and finished something I've been trying to get done for a year. It felt good. The guilt is gone. It was good to let it go. How does one finish grieving?
The back room restoration is progressing well. Instead of renting it out, I've decided to move down there myself. It is large and sunny, and will be quite cozy since it's the only part of This Old House that is actually insulated. Also, I'm hoping the change will do me good. It is something to look forward to, and I haven't had much of that lately. I am also finishing something Doug started.
The hardest part has been the expense - I really can't afford such a big project right now. It involves excavation, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, sheet rocking, plastering, painting, new storm windows, doors, light fixtures, flooring, etc etc etc. I'm doing it anyway. I do miss the best part - doing it together with Doug.
Went on an invigorating five mile walk with my interesting, kind neighbor. No crying, sun shining, blue skies! I thought, "Hey, maybe today is going to be good!"
When I got home, I went out to the pen to feed the ducks and goat. The potentially good day ended instantly.
There was carnage everywhere. Two ducks missing. Three others torn apart, their throats slashed. Four more seriously injured. It looked like the work of a vicious fisher, killing more than it could eat.
I rushed them to the vets. One died on the way there. Another died on the way back.
The other two don't look good, including Goldie, Lucky's daughter.
Butter the Goat is crying pathetically, searching everywhere for her ducks.
If there is such a thing as karma, mine must be beyond bad.
Not sure how much more of this I can take.
They tell me to take one day or one hour at a time. I will spend the next hour in a long, hot shower, washing the blood off.
Was life good once? Was I happy before? I can't recall anymore. If I was, it seems very distant.
Life keeps bringing me to my knees. (But not in a religious sense.)
Maybe this blog helps to excise pain from my insides. http://www.ted.com/talks/ze_frank_s_web_playroom.html
I didn't want to get my hopes up, but after two days, the two surviving ducks are still alive. They are still inside, to keep the quiet and warm as they heal. The goat continues to cry non-stop, missing them.
I will have to build them a predator proof enclosure. Of course the "I" is rhetorical - I couldn't build a house out of popsicle sticks. It is yet another thing I will have to hire out.
I went to NH for the day with Mom and Dad Z to visit Doug's brother and sister-in-law. It was their 25th anniversary. They didn't want to celebrate, but I can't see how they cannot. Of course I envy them.
While sitting in their living room, I felt the empty spot next to me where Doug always was. When we got together, he always laughed a lot. I could hear it echoing in my head.
I just finished the second book from a boxful shared with me by a co-bereaver. It is called The Courage to Grieve, by Judy Tatelbaum, a Gestalt psychotherapist. She uses a lot of quotes from The Prophet, which I think is incomprehensible and puerile (apologies to Gilbran fans.). However, I do find I get something useful out of almost everything I read.
Here's what I took away from this one, including some poignant passages. (See more quotes and poems)
The first book I read was Widowed, by the psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers. Here are a few pieces of advice that stick with me:
In our last Grief Grope (as my mother refers to the Bereavement Support Group) they gave us a "support wheel." We were asked to fill in the names of:
Some attendees were left with a lot of blanks. I was able to fill in almost every spoke, in some cases with multiple people. The one I had the hardest time with was "someone I can have fun with."
I had two interesting realizations while doing this exercise:
1. Before, I would have put Doug's name on every single spoke (except the last one, which I didn't need support on before he died.)
2. Neighbors, friends and Doug's family showed up on every spoke.
I have never been part of a neighborhood community before. I've lived here for 12 years - the longest I've ever been in one place. Thank goodness I'm here now. These people are one of the main reasons I've survived.
Yesterday morning I woke up crying. For some reason, mornings are often the hardest. Maybe it is reality hitting with each new day. By the evening, I am usually too exhausted and drained to weep more. The well recharges during the darkness.
At night, the hardest part is trying to fall asleep, especially when my feet are like ice. I miss my personal furnace (Doug.) I have been avoiding turning the heat on, as it evokes images of dollars being incinerated.
Last night I twisted myself up into a ball, trying to get warm, and almost dislocated my elbow during the contortions. I also shoved the cat down by my feet, trying to use him as a heating pad.
I went for a hike yesterday with a co-bereaver, PS. I wanted to get outside for Indian Summer. I needed exercise-induced endorphins. I wanted to talk about the latest book I read, (The Courage to Grieve.) I was also avoiding work that has been hanging over my head.
I knew it was going to be an unusual day when we met a scuba diver in full regalia on the trail.
I have no sense of direction, and am missing my navigator (Doug). Therefore, I picked a park where I THOUGHT it would be difficult to get lost. Despite a lake for reference, a map, a compass, and well-blazed trails, we managed to go in various wrong directions for almost five extra hours.
Fortunately, PS provided lively and thought provoking conversation the entire time. Of course most of my contributions centered on my current obsession - the three D's: Death, Dying and Dashed hopes. Lately I am a One Trick Pony. How tiresome that must be for my companions.
I actually laughed a LOT during the hike. I won some bets (PS didn't think I would really swim out to an island in 55 degree water) and lost some (rock skipping is clearly not my forte.)
PS commented that this loss does not seem to have affected my self-confidence. I am still bold. But Doug's shocking end threw my world off its axis, and led me to doubt many things, including my ability to survive without him.
One hard part on this day was that I had hiked this particular trail with Doug a number of times. It's difficult to go back to places we had been, or do things we did together, because of the memories and the missing. On the other hand, it's difficult when I go to new places, or try new things, because I know he doesn't get to experience it. But de-sensitization does work for me. When I re-visit a place multiple times, it gets easier each time.
I have to say the hike was a really good time. I didn't believe I'd be having any more of those. Part of me feels guilty for having fun at long last, when Doug is no longer here. Part of me feels glad. I am weary of constant sadness. Plus it's really boring.
Do composers write these songs on purpose just to make people cry? This morning that bastard Barry White sang this on my iPod while I was walking. I started bawling so hard I almost threw up.
Never, Ever Gonna Give You Up
I found what the world is searching for
Here, right here, my dear
I don't have to look no more ....
...all of my days
I hoped and I prayed
For someone just like you
I just can't live without you
The words reminded me that I had it all, and how big a hole is left now in my broken heart.
I guess songs are like smells in terms of their ability to tap into feelings and memories. A long time ago, I read the "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," (a fascinating book.) In it, the neurosurgeon author talks about how brain surgeons can touch a part of the brain and the the patient then "hears" a certain song. Or maybe I made that up.
Every time I think I'm finally getting beyond the "cry me a river" stage, the backwash hits me.
In the midst of nonstop weepage, I ran into a local farmer. I felt a need to explain the tears and we got to talking. We had a great chat. He gave me some tips on trapping and terminating the fisher than wiped out my ducks. Mercy is beyond me right now.
For my birthday this year, Doug got me a floor lamp, along with a whole bunch of other presents. Some I pre-selected, in order to increase the odds that he would have the opportunity to get me something I really wanted. I have always considered this my gift to Doug - so he could be sure that I wouldn't be disappointed. I guess some people would view this as selfish at the core, but I didn't want to set him up for failure. I never thought he should have to "guess" what I wanted.
It's not like he didn't come up with wonderful gift ideas on his own. He always asked what I wanted, but gave me surprise gifts too. Some were big, some were little. They were all special. Diamond earrings. A squirrel Beanie Baby (since I have squirrels in my head.) A balloon ride over the quiet corner. All new spices from Penzey's to replace my decades old ones. A Carolina Wren nestbox he made from some antique wood we removed during restorations. A classy looking top from Talbot's (how many men shop for their wives at Talbots?)
Years ago, I had purchased a lovely lamp from Plow & Hearth. It had a round shade of bubbled glass.
During a critical play in a Giants football game, Doug the Drama Queen threw his arms backwards and knocked the lamp into the bookcase. The shade was smashed to smithereens. We had never gotten around to replacing it.
During my Birthday Month, we went to the antiques district of Putnam and shopped around. In a consignment store, we finally found a really unusual antique floor lamp that we both thought would be just right. The shade that was with it did not really fit it though. It must have been a replacement for the original.
While leafing through a catalogue last week, I saw a stained glass lamp shade with hanging beads that I thought would look great on that antique lamp base. I splurged and ordered it.
It came yesterday and I put it on the lamp. It is beautiful. But it made me so sad. I want Doug to see it. After we made a purchase for the home, we always stood back together and admired it. Plus I used his hard earned money to buy this.
Four years ago, for my 50th birthday, Doug gave me a gorgeous blue topaz. He chose blue for bluebirds. I wear it all the time now, on a chain that also holds his beat up wedding ring.
The day of Doug's funeral, I was cleaning the topaz. I wanted it to sparkle. I wrapped it in a tissue to dry. Then, while Lost in Space, I must have laid the tissue with the topaz inside on a counter in the kitchen.
As we were leaving, I went to put on the necklace - no topaz. I completely panicked. I tore the house apart. We were already running late but I didn't want to go without it. I couldn't find it anywhere.
Finally I thought to look in the trash. My mother must have been cleaning up, and threw it away, along with all the other tissues we had all used for our crying jags.
I was incredibly relieved.
Last Thursday night I went out to dinner with a single guy. He was just an acquaintance, and it was just as friends, but I could sense he was sort of interested in me. I figured getting out with someone I didn't know all that well would be a way to 'practice" for real life, and test the waters.
I felt terribly guilty. (The Catholic upbringing kicks in.)
I still feel totally married. I expected to be with Doug forever. It just felt wrong to be out with an unmarried man. One woman at the bereavement support group can't even deal with a man opening the door for her. Another elderly widow has been asked out several times and is appalled. Her daughter told her they are probably not looking to get laid - more likely they are looking for someone to do their laundry for them. My mother only started going out four years after my father died.
It is also probably too soon to be getting out and about. I guess "soon" is defined by the individual. Some widowers start going out within weeks or months of losing their spouse. Some start dating before their wife is even dead. Most probably wait one to two years.
I am uncertain how to handle my mixed feelings about trying to start living life again. More on this later.
Anyway, I wore the topaz necklace when I went out. I talked about Doug the entire time, probably much to the dismay of my dining companion. It is probably something only a fellow widower could understand and tolerate.
I felt exhausted, and didn't stay out late. When I got home, I put the necklace on my bureau, in the midst of the rest of the chaos in my room.
The next day, no topaz.
I freaked out. I looked everywhere. I turned things upside down. I crawled around on the floor. I was running late for the last of six weekly sessions for the bereavement support group. I wanted to wear it there. I had to leave without it. I was panicky, irritable and distracted the whole evening.
It felt like a sign. Once again I lost something else precious to me. It seemed like punishment for going out to potentially have fun the evening before, while I "should" have been mourning an amazing husband and man. Getting out seems disrespectful to someone who was so loving and committed to me for so many years.
I realize this isn't entirely rational. Believe me, very little of what one thinks and feels while grieving is rational.
I finally found the topaz late last night. I breathed a significant sigh of relief.
Last night, Doug's climbing buddy and wife came over to chat, pound some wine, and look for Doug's ice axe. BP wanted to bring it along on the first ice climb of the year, and maybe someday to the summit of Robson (a dangerous mountain they attempted to climb 5+ times.)
I also needed BP's help in sorting out what equipment to donate to the Eastern college outing club, per our will. Doug enjoyed many trips with them and made great friends there.
We were all doing quite well until the giant red North Face bags came out. As BP said, that triggered great memories awash with a flood of emotions.
For BP, the hardest part was coming across a poly bottle marked with duct tape. It still smelled of grain alcohol. Hardened Crystal Light residue remained in the bottom. It had gone with them to Robson and back. BP said, "It's the little things that get you."
Then BP pulled out that mini-carabiner that Doug clipped his wedding ring on while climbing.
They felt badly when I started bawling. I told them it was okay. It happens every day.
I look at the bags and helmet and climbing rack and see Doug in the back room or the front porch, gear spread out all over the floor, planning and packing. The dogs or cat or ducks poking around the piles.
Doug always brought too much, just in case. He would pack the newer, high tech gear I had given him for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas, after consulting with BP. But he never left behind the tried and true pieces he felt most comfortable with. He was a creature of habit. (Thank goodness for that - it's probably part of the reason he stuck with me. ) He still used the ice climbing boots I got him the first year we dated, 20 years ago. He still had his first pair of Assiniboine leather hiking boots BP said he bought for 5 bucks in a bargain basement sale at Eastern Mountain Sports.
Then there was the coming home part. Exhausted, loaded with stories, ready to be scrubbed down in a hot bubble bath while sipping a glass of well-earned wine.
The next day, equipment and stinky musty sweaty salty clothes would be spread out on the porch for drying and decontamination. The duct-taped climbing pants with holes ripped in them by crampons. The moth-eaten wool police sweater. Hardware everywhere. Then he packed it all neatly back in the climbing closet, ready for the next trip.
I just can't believe he will never plan again, pack again, climb again, come home again. To never again see his smiling face in real life is one of the hardest things to bear.
I just had an amazing 24 hours.
If it were not for friends and family, I would have laid down and died after Doug died. I was completely lost. I couldn't think of a reason to go on.
Bob Fournier, the funeral director, told me “You will have experiences that you never would have had, and grow in ways you never could have imagined if you had not lost your spouse.” He was spot on.
Thanks to Doug, I ended up in an awesome village. I am so unbelievably fortunate.
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