Everything seems to be broken.
Our giant historic barn is in danger of collapse - frost heaves have buckled the stone foundation. The back wall is sitting on air. The floor structure has dropped down from the weight of 6 feet of snow we got over a period of a couple of weeks.
Then the snow finally melted. Unfortunately the melt water went into the basement. Our wonderful volunteer fire department is pumping it out now.
I can hear his voice in my head. "If anything ever happens to me, take my ashes and fill in a low spot in the driveway, and stick a For Sale sign on the front lawn on the way to the funeral parlor, because you'll never be able to handle This Old House alone - it's a load."
The finger I smashed in a car door is healing. My head has a big dent in it now. Some fellows were helping move furniture and I didn't realize a big armoire was out in the hall - went running up the steps in the dark and bashed into the corner with my head. I saw stars.
To top it off, I am broken. Emotionally and mentally I feel as if I am in a hole. Lost. A mess.
It's almost 9 months since losing Doug. I'm trying to get on with life, but have Survivor's Guilt. And I feel disconnected.. Yesterday I saw the small urn I ordered for some of Doug's ashes on the counter. His climbing buddies are going to bring some up a mountain. I looked at it and thought "What is that for?" I just cannot believe that all that is left of his physical being is some ashes that will fit in a container. How can that happen to someone so full of life? Someone whose voice I can still hear in my head? Whose smile seems so nearby? Whose presence and touch I can still feel?
I am also filled with confusion about how to reorient myself to all the changes.
I agree with people who say you never "get over" a loss like this. But if you survive, you do have to come to terms with it. I am still working on that.
Dealing with these things wears me out. I guess it's no surprise that I don't have much energy left...to do things like write or call or socialize.
I hope people understand. I wonder if they know that I would not have survived this long without them - their compassion and love and support has made all the difference. I fully recognize how lucky I am to be surrounded by that....`
PS spent two days knee deep in mud and cold water to install a sump pump so I won't have to worry about the basement flooding. (When Dirk called, I told him Doug was in the basement digging a hole ....before I caught myself.)
Spring is sproinging - birds are singing their mating songs, daffodils are poking out of the cold wet soil, and we saw a frog crossing the road last night. I'm looking forward to getting outside more.
I actually read a book that was not about death, despair or dying.
I can go a few days now without tears.
It all feels like progress, albeit much more slow than my impatient heart can abide by.
More and more of the time my sadness is for Doug and the fact that his life is over, as opposed to the primarily selfish sadness I feel for myself since I no longer have him by my side.
Sadness hits me at odd times - like when I go into Doug's shop and see all his tools. Another thing that is difficult is seeing his handwriting. I opened up our Scrabble game for the first time since Doug died, and saw his scrawly scores and funny notes. It hurt. I've heard other bereft people comment on this. Maybe it is because handwriting is so personal, so unique, and was created with hands we held or that touched us. What they wrote can cause a pang, whether it is a letter, or just a casual note. It is a physical reminder of a person and a time that is no more.
I walked alone this morning in the cold, dreary rain. The thought of the brand new, never used pair of running sneakers sitting in Doug's closet made my cry. I always bought him two pairs at a time. This ensured that was never without, as he changed them out every 500 miles. The other pair he was running in the day he died are still in the gym bag I brought back from the emergency room..
There is also the plywood cover he put up over a broken sliding door in the backroom. On the eve of our wedding he spray painted it with " Bet's new kitchen - coming soon!" We had planned to renovate that room. Another thing we never got around too - work and This Old House and fun always seemed to get in the way.
That and so many hopes and dreams died with Doug. But when I was walking, the Eric Clapton tune that says "I will get by, I will survive" came on and I tried to focus on that. When I was walking I realized I'm young, and I'm strong... and I should be able to handle this.
The other day I was in "woe is me" mode. I was reminded that at least I'm not in Japan, wondering whether my family and friends survived, whether I will die of radiation poisoning, and where I'm going to sleep at night. I am grateful for all I have. Yet I'm still sad that Doug is dead. The grief counselor reminded me that not honoring feelings, and trying to suppress them will result in them bubbling up somewhere else. Another choice is numbing them with drugs or alcohol but I'm not going there. So I still have to figure out how to deal with those feelings and move beyond them.
I worry that others around me - family, friends and colleagues - grow impatient with my grief. I know grief and weeping and whining tends to make people uncomfortable. However, almost none of them have expressed this, so I guess this is a story I'm making up. It's me who is impatient. I have not handled loss gracefully. I have gone through this thing kicking and screaming.
A few nights ago I was watching a beautiful sunset over a lake with PS. I felt happy and relaxed. Then I suddenly thought of Doug. How much he would have enjoyed the view and the quiet evening. I felt a familiar pang.
I looked up the definition of "pang." It is 1) a sudden feeling of mental or emotional distress or longing: 2) a sudden, brief, sharp pain or physical sensation; spasm. Synonyms are twinge, ache, throb, prick, stab.
The pangs of pain often happen when something unexpected connects me to Doug - a photo, a date or anniversary, a piece of clothing, his hole-y running sneakers or ripped up work gloves, something with his handwritten scrawl on it, a tool, his climbing gear, passing by or visiting a place we were at together. They also happen at unexpected moments like when the weather is spectacular, when someone speaks a phrase he often used, when a memory surfaces.
They are painful. I know they say all emotions are really in your head, but I feel these pangs in my heart.
I doubt I will ever stop missing Doug. I have never known anyone like him. When I describe him to someone who didn't know him, they probably think I am fantasizing. But I thought he was amazing. So kind and funny, loving and loyal, understanding and manly. He could be incredibly annoying, but I loved him with all my heart.
I keep thinking back to a few days before he died, when we were lying in bed. I put my head on his chest and was listening to his heart beat, strong and true. I wished - and spoke the thought aloud to him - to always be able to hear that sound.
I will never stop loving him, and never forget him. Yet a part of me does want to move forward. But I know some people will judge me as I do - they will judge the company I keep, judge the timing, and judge me. I don't think they mean any harm - people by nature tend to be judgmental, and we all bring our own preconceived notions to bear on what we see happening around us. I try to recognize that I can't control their reactions. I can only do what I believe is right for me, and try to make rational choices, and hope that people who care for me and for Doug will understand, and be happy for me if I find happiness again.
I am a firm believer in following the general advice not to make any major decisions for a year after losing a spouse. Some widows/widowers sell their homes, move, quit their jobs, kill themselves, and throw out or give away major possessions. Some re-marry in haste, and then repent at leisure.
I have had to sell some things. I have chosen to give a few of Doug's personal effects to others, but not much. I haven't been able to muster the energy or heart to do it.
I wonder how much I bore people with my tale of woe, and Doug memories and stories and missing. I know some widows who talk of nothing but their spouse decades later. I still cannot concentrate much, and am not as productive as I need to be. I frequently disappoint or fail to meet the expectations of others and disappoint. I probably offend people right and left as I hunker down in oblivion.
I know people make allowances for those who grieve, but I think the "mourner's pass" probably expires after a year at most. I so need to get my act together....
Doug ran his last race in Woodstock on Memorial Day, 2010, eight days before he died. He won a medal for the third place Woodstock resident in his age group. (See race results.) He was so proud of it that danced around the yard while singing "I am the champion of the world."
Afterwards, he sat down with me by the computer, and reviewed the race results to check the times of Woodstock runners who were going to move into his age category in 2011, to see if he could place again. It was adorable.
When I accompanied Doug's remains to the crematorium, our kind funeral director drove us one last on the entire route.
This Woodstock race is a 10K. The lovely route meanders by our many farms, and ends on "heartbreak hill." Doug's goal was to run (not have to walk), even at the end.
This year the town will be doing something special to commemorate Doug. I hope those who knew and loved Doug will consider running or volunteering in support of the race, which is sponsored by the Woodstock Recreation Committee.
You can see the route here: http://thelastmileracing.com/woodstock10k/10k.html. I'll post registration information as soon as it's online.
Those who are not runners might consider donating blood, or perhaps signing up to be an organ donor in honor of Doug's gifts of blood and tissue, and life.
One of the many things that kept romance alive in our relationship was Doug's Date-A-Week program. We went on one pretty much every week, no matter how hectic things got. We might go out to dinner, to a play, to a museum, on a picnic, scooter ride, hike or camping trip. Whatever it was, it was always fun.
The last thing Doug did before he left the house on June 8 was prepare a day pack for a little hike we were going on together after he got home. I had been in an inexplicably mopey mode (a premonition?) the weekend prior. He wanted to cheer me up by taking me to see the mountain laurel in bloom.
Inside the pack he put our sneakers, rain jackets, a flash lights, and a tasty beverage of course. He left the pack at the top of the stairs, so we could grab it and go as soon as he came home. That never happened.
The pack has been lying at the top of the stairs now for more than 9 months. I did not have the heart to move it. It was the last date he planned.
I have walked by it, dusted around it and tripped on it countless times, and felt a pang ever time I saw it there.
Today it was time. I wanted to bring the pack on a special trip I am taking next week. I went upstairs and picked it up. I was instantly overtaken by a hot flash. They seem to be triggered by strong emotions. I emptied out the pack and brought it downstairs. I felt somewhat relieved. Another threshold crossed.
A few days ago, LifeChoice called. They are organizing a ceremony in honor of donors and their families. Doug was a tissue donor and they wanted a photo for a memorial video, and wondered if I would be attending.
I immediately started bawling. I felt foolish. It has been almost 10 months, yet the tears are still so close to the surface and I am still so raw. The other day someone asked me how I was doing. I said I had good days, and others are a struggle, and began to weep. The person I was talking with looked away and changed the subject. I realized that when some people ask this question, they really do not want to know the truth. I must get myself more under control.
.I wonder when the tears will subside. PS says that one day sorrow will be my companion instead of my master.
A quote from "Conscious Loving" by Gay and Kathryn Hendrickson struck it. It deals with my concern about my out of control emotions.
"There is a delicate balance between repressing your feelings and letting them overflow. It is in this this narrow zone that psychological health resides. If you shut your feelings out of your awareness you deaden yourself. If you let you feelings spill over inappropriately, you risk social censure and worse. It is now considered necessary to bring our feelings out of the shadows and into the light. ....the act of hiding feeling is perhaps the most crippling component of relationship difficulty...hidden feelings have been implicated in nearly every human ill, from headaches to cancer to heart disease. ...it is important to learn when and where to express your feelings in ways that will be well received."
A few days ago I blogged that someone asked me how I was doing, and I admitted I was struggling and started to cry. They looked away and changed the subject. I said I realized that when some people ask this question, they really do not want to know the truth. I must get myself more under control.
A dear friend who lost her son several years ago offered another perspective. She said "I submit that the person may instead have been horrified to have asked such a thoughtless question (assuming they knew about Doug) and changed the subject to redirect you from the pain they inflicted. They did not know that it helps you to cry. It's a wonder how many people do not understand that. But I think their "cold" seeming reaction to your tears might have instead been >disguising their mental forehead slap and dismay at their "foot in mouth" disease. I know; I have been there and done that."
This had never occurred to me. I guess we project ourselves and our own stories and meanings on to others. Another quote from "Conscious Loving" says it well:
"Problems with people "out there" rarely have anything to do with them. People are simply screens onto which we cast our projections. Is this hard to accept? Wait, it gets worse. They are busily casting their projections onto you at the same time. This means that people are not really relating to one another most of the time, but to their own projections. When you begin to see that virtually everyone is projecting, you may feel like resigning from the human race. However, as you move through despair, you may may begin to see it as an opportunity find out who you, and those around you, really are. "
Well - it's a go! The Woodstock 10K Memorial Day race in Woodstock CT will be in Doug's memory. His name will be on the T-shirts every runner receives.
I hope that runners in the area will consider doing the race on Memorial Day.
The Recreation Dept. is also looking for volunteers to help out (e.g., with registration) - if you can help, please contact Karen Fitzpatrick at 860.928.0208 x 305 or email@example.com
Here is the info:
I cannot count the times I have started a sentence with "since Doug died...." Life is now divided into before and after... I have been tracking my progress on a month to month basis - see progress - and there are definitely better days ten months later that I could not have imagined earlier. Yesterday I actually felt content and happy almost the whole day - just like old times.
However, new season without Doug - spring - is beginning. It makes my heart ache. I need him. I still wish he were alive.
I know that wanting what I can never have will keep me suffering and I need to accept reality.
I know I need to finish writing thank you notes. I have heard there is no "rule" of etiquette or expectation. But I have my own. I feel a pressing need to express my gratitude to so many thoughtful caring people who kept me going through the darkest hours. When I whine about it, friends or family say "so why [the f___ - unspoken] don't you just DO it?" I think what stops me is when I sit down to do it, it all comes rushing back and is too real. I want to avoid the pain. But I also need to get it done and know I will feel better after I do.
I just got back from my first real vacation since losing Doug. A friend treated me to an awesome six day trip to Grand Cayman island.
It was paradise. It was also the most relaxing, stress free time I have ever had - bar none. And it was very healing somehow.
The hotel was situated on Seven Mile Beach - literally seven miles of pristine white sand that felt like talcum powder underneath bare feet, with gently lapping waves and Caribbean breezes moving the 74-85 degree sunny air.
Swim off the beach 100 yards and and you are on a reef teeming with stingrays and eels and schools of beautiful blue tangs. The first time we hit the water (right off the plane) we had a magical experience - small green sea turtle gliding along, feeding, and occasionally floating up for air. It seemed so calm. I felt peace.
Of course it was different than what I have experienced in the past...as is everything now. I am used to camping. Doug and I tent camped for years. He could sleep on a pile of logs (and did). I, on the other hand, am the Princess and the Pea. We eventually opted for a cushy 28 foot RV. I am very frugal, and hesitated to invest in it, even though it was used and reasonably priced. But our friend RU asked if we had the money in the stock market to pay for it. We did. Then he asked how much fun we were having with that money. Answer - none. He said "Just do it." And we did! We never regretted that decision.
Doug and I RV'd all over the U.S. and Canada, for overnight trips and longer trips that lasted weeks. We went to remote campgrounds in the middle of nowhere, and occasionally boondocked at Publicly Owned Treatment Works. We rarely ate out while on travel - instead we cooked meals over a campfire. We played cards and scrabble, and built puzzles. We slept late, explored, hiked and talked and laughed.
My last trip to a tropical place was when Doug and I went to Hawaii on one of our honeymoons. It was an adventure vacation - snorkeling, helicoptering, hiking, biking, kayaking, etc. For Doug, the highlight was lounging by the pool one day. He was delighted to learn that flipping a little flag up on the back of the lounge chair summoned a cabana boy armed with a slushy blue tropical drink.
This trip to the Grand Caymans was different yet wonderful. Much fun, but lazy and luxurious. Breakfast was room service on an ocean-front balcony. Dinner at the Ritz after a quarter mile stroll along the beach from the hotel. Floating for hours each day in the warm ocean, spellbound by the plethora of sea life below. A half day trip on a Catamaran to Stingray City where dozens of huge stingrays rubbed up against their visitors, flapping "wings" that felt unlike smooth portabello mushrooms.
I only thought about the present. I tried not to think about any problems or loss. The only real worry was avoiding a sunburn. Every night, I fell into bed, exhausted in a good way from the fresh air and exercise and wonder, and slept soundly.
I am so grateful for this trip. It was incredible. It felt unreal - but as John Mayer says, maybe "there is no such thing as the real world."
I waited till the last minute to electronically file my taxes - I've been so overwhelmed with the rest of life. But I knew I had to get it done on time, especially because a refund is due. I tried to electronically file it (called e-filing) as usual...having to note on this year's return that Doug was deceased. It's always painful to put it in writing.
The return was rejected by the IRS. That has never happened before. The error message was gobbledegook. I thought it was a mistake so I tried again. Rejected. I thought maybe it was a problem with the TurboTax software so I tried AGAIN, using another software package. Rejected.
I tried to decipher the error message, but it made no sense! It said a return had already been filed with one of the social security numbers. How could that be?
Finally I called the IRS. After waiting on the line for more than an half an hour and being transferred three times, I learned that apparently someone somewhere has already filed a return using Doug's social security number.
Apparently some evildoers scan the obituaries, get the person's social security number and then file a return with made up numbers (amount earned and withheld) since W-2's don't need to be submitted anymore. They usually file the fraudulent return the minute the IRS starts taking e-filed forms (January 14th this year) to beat the legitimate filers to the punch. As we all know from reading the newspaper, identify theft is on the increase. It usually involves credit cards, but the IRS has 10 people full time working in their identity fraud program.
See http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/2011-06-01-tax-time-identity-theft_n.htm - I am not alone.
So now I must go through the identity theft process - including filing a police report, reporting to credit agencies, putting freezes on accounts, reporting to FTC (the coordinating agency for identity theft) and the IRS etc etc. The identify theft issue will add months to the time it takes for the IRS to process the refund.
It will be an inconvenience...but actually I feel pretty calm about it. As we have said for many years in my family, these things can be a pain, but as long as no one dies, you can deal with it. Day to day problems and complaints pale in comparison to death.
I had an interesting phone call the other day. I am finally getting around to dealing with probate. In one sense, there wasn't a big rush because the sooner the papers are filed, the sooner I will have to pay the probate court fee. However, since it is just me now, I don't wish to stick my mom or Doug's parents with a unsettled mess if anything should happen to me.
It was surprisingly distressing to sign the papers in the lawyer's office. So final... so hard to see Doug's life, earnings and possessions distilled down to black and white numbers on a form. It also reminded me how he is taking care of me even though he is gone.
Afterwards, I finally called our brokerage account to have Doug's IRA closed. Ignoring that was part of my whole scale denial that Doug is actually dead. But with the identity theft thing hanging over my head, I needed to get closure. I was connected with a man who had an Indian accent. When I told him my husband had passed away, he offered me his "sincere compliments." I assume he meant condolences.
It reminds me of something I have been feeling guilty about. Years ago, Doug relented and made a donation to telemarketers fundraising for the fireman's fund. I was very unhappy about this since #1) I knew that most of the money goes to the telemarketing organization and does not directly benefit firefighters (better to donate directly to a local firehouse) and #2) our name would be sold far and wide. Sure enough the calls starting pouring in, usually during dinner. One day when they asked to speak with Doug (who was sitting right next to me) and I I told them he was dead. I was trying to get off their calling list. Doug laughed and reminded me that I was destined to go to Hell (one of his standard sayings after some bad behavior on my part.)
After Doug died I felt terrible about this. I know it's just "magical thinking" - assuming I am powerful enough to influence the turn of events. If only I were....
Machinery poses a special challenge for me. I'm not very mechanical. Or should I say not even slightly mechanical. I relied entirely on Doug for this. He could fix just about anything - although it often took several tries.
When Doug was in high school, he and RH took a correspondence course in engine repair - I think they shared the books. Doug had lots of opportunities to hone his skills on the old rust buckets he drove around.
His dad told me that every day before going to his job at a factory bakery (in the year he took off between high school and college), Doug would spend an hour or two working on his car. He took great pride in getting the maximum mileage out of a vehicle, even when the body was flaking into non-existence, being replaced bit by bit by Bondo.
Every spring Doug would tune up our aging riding lawnmower. He would take the deck off and sharpen the blades, replace the oil filter, fix the deck-raising mechanism that broke constantly after running over lots of "New England potatoes" (rocks), etc. Then he would insist on doing the first mow of the year (we have 4+ acres) because he thought it was too hard for me. He spoiled me so.
This year the mower wouldn't start. I had forgotten to empty out the gasoline last year, which probably didn't help. Thank goodness PS got it going. Then the mowing deck wouldn't raise or lower and I got it stuck. More help needed from PS. He has his own yard to deal with. I feel like such a load on others sometimes.
Mowing is still sad for me. Doug and I usually mowed the lawn together. I bombed around on the tractor, singing loudly off-key to my headset-radio while Doug did the hard parts with the push mower. (He never liked a self-propelled mower - he figured it was just another thing to break.)
Somehow even mowing was fun with Doug. We would mow circles around each other, laughing and making faces. Of course it was followed by a tasty beverage...and a slow walk around the yard, arm in arm, to admire our property.
Then today my car battery was dead. I guess I left the lights on again. Fortunately my neighbor DH was home and came to the rescue. It is so great to have a manly man like him who I can always count on, right next door. I wonder if he gets tired of jump starting my vehicles...this is the fourth time in the past 6 mos. I wonder if his wife appreciates him as much as I appreciated Doug. I wonder how the other zillion widows of the world deal with these everyday challenges. Or the women whose husbands are disabled, and have to care for their home, and their spouse, and often children to boot. At least I only have to deal with my own sorry self.
Yesterday I was making a double batch of brownies from scratch but didn’t have enough sugar…and then was thrilled to find another metal container full! Licked the spoon after I put the pan in the oven and almost threw up. The second container was apparently filled with SALT – and I used a cup of it. Good thing I’m not a pharmacist…. Read more about Grief and Safety.
My inability to concentrate and mistake-making started the day Doug died, and has really not let up. I still find myself putting my clothes on backwards or inside out. I recently went on travel and upon arriving at the airport realized I had forgotten my pocketbook. It is true that things like this happened on occasion before losing Doug, but not to this extent.
Hartford Hospital contacted me last month about doing a feature article on Doug and tissue donation. They did an amazing job - you can read it here.
I received a wonderful note out of the blue yesterday. The timing was interesting, as I was having a rough day... missing Doug more than most days. Partly because I had to muck out the goat pen by myself. It is a disgusting job that Doug always handled. He didn't want me to have to do it because the loads of crap and piss-soaked hay are heavy, messy and reeky. I was feeling sorry for myself, even though I was wearing a lovely new pair of high bluebird-blue Wellington boots I got for my birthday. I was also missing him while mowing the lawn. He mowed circles around all the wildflowers, especially buttercups and daisies. He was so sappily sentimental. I remember the first bouquet he left on my desk at work - a messy conglomeration of wildflowers and weeds and bugs. When this email came, I was wishing for my old life back...and, as always, for Doug to be alive again. To see his smiling face....
Anyway, here is part of the email from LR:
"It is funny, I didn't know you very well and even though I graduated high school, went to Eastern at the same time as Doug, and married someone from Doug's neighborhood I didn't know more than his intriguing sense of humor and his passion for the outdoors.
When I was invited to your wedding, your obvious love and attraction to each other was unusual to me. It was very different than weddings I had been to previously, not to mention that many of my friends were divorcing at that time.... The combination of the both of you, the animals, the house, - it seemed frighteningly genuine.
I read your blog periodically ...I want to know how people cope with the worse type of badness ....I wonder what you are feeling and how you are coping.
I pass a spot off Rt 9, exit 7 where one day I saw Doug rock climbing. B and I recognized the shape of his head and we stopped to chat. When we pulled away in the car, I was so envious of his energy and his enthusiasm, such a happy guy. I can't drive by that spot without thinking of you."
I will admit to getting upset sometimes when I see an unhappy couple tearing each other apart. They get to still be together, while Doug and I had our future together cut short. Or when I see someone who doesn't appreciate their wonderful spouse, as I know they will regret it someday. I am grateful to a friend in our neighborhood who reminded me to go easy on Doug (he was so sensitive to criticism which I freely dish out.) I am grateful that I appreciated Doug while he was alive, and recognized how wonderful our life together was. I am grateful to him for all he did for me.... The grief counselor claims the dead can feel our gratitude, even though we get nothing back when we express it. I don't think I believe that, but I feel gratitude just the same.
"Moving on." I hate that term. I hear it occasion. "You need to move on." "If I lost my husband, I would never move on like you have." "You are moving on too fast."
What the f**k does "moving on" mean anyway? To me, it implies forgetting the person you lost. Leaving them in the dust. Like loss is a hole you can fill in.
Doug left a hole in my heart. I can never fill it with another person, activity or thing. No one can replace him. The loss will always be there.
Instead, I believe it is possible for one's heart to expand, creating new space or room for another, different and wonderful love. Of course it can never be the same as the love that was lost.
For now, what I hope for is that the sorrow associated with losing Doug will diminish in time, and that someday I will again live my life fully.
I just got this lovely note from some friends:
"Last month when we had our 45th anniversary we toasted with the beautiful glasses you and Doug gave us. Whenever we use them we think of you two. They are such a special gift just as Doug was. We will never be able to think of him without seeing him with a beautiful contagious smile. He was God's gift to you and you very generously shared him with all of us. We will never forget him or his caring happy nature. He was always there for his friends and will always be a part of all of us."
Another dear friend who has called me a number of times without a reply from me sent me a beautiful letter encouraging me to hang in there. He shared this poem...
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you're trudging seems all up hill....
when you want to smile, but you have to sigh
when care is pressing you down a bit
rest, if you must, but don't you quit
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns....
We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.
- Charles Swindoll
His timing was good, as I am stumbling again. Every time I think I am making forward progress, it seems like something reaches out and grabs me by the ankles and drags me backwards in the mud. Or I create the mud myself...
Went for a walk with a girlfriend yesterday. We discussed the "moving on" issue, and whether loving again is like filling in a hole. She gave me a great analogy. When she was pregnant with her second child, she was worried that it might not be possible to love the second the way she loved the first. When her second daughter was born, she found that her heart grew and there was plenty of room for a different love for a different child. I think that is the way it can be when you lose a spouse. I believe it is possible to love again without forgetting, dishonoring or betraying Doug, or minimizing what we had in any way.
I think I am doing well, and then when I go to the grief counselor, DL, I fall apart. She says I am trying to choke back the pain. I am afraid if I allow myself to feel the sadness and pain fully, it will consume me.
DL says I am also trying to live my life in a way that doesn't hurt others and seeking their approval for the choices I made as a widow - and that I must live it for myself, as I can't please everyone. She also said that my description of Doug and our relationship sounds like a fairy tale - that she just doesn't seem relationships like that. I told her that is because only f**ked up couples visit her. He really WAS a wonderful husband - consistently giving unconditional, nurturing, fun fun fun love.
In David Richo's book, How to Be an Adult, he says "We are born with inalienable emotion needs for love, safety, acceptance, freedom, attention, validation of our feelings and physical holding." Doug gave me all that. Usually the lucky ones only get that from a parent. I was spoiled. I hope I never forget how to give it back to someone else, and everything else I learned from Doug.
You cannot do kindness too soon
for you never know how soon it will be too late.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Afterwards, I had lunch with a friend. I told her that DL said I was describing a fairy tale when I spoke about Doug and our marriage. LB said "That's because it was. A fairy tale. The love between you two was palpable." And that it was impossible not to love Doug because of the kind of person he was.
He deserved to live. Often I wish I could have traded my life for his. But I was not given that option. And who knows whether I would have been unselfish enough to take it if it were offered to me.
A friend said I grieved harder and faster than anyone she knew. I have been doing it on purpose - trying to be mindful, trying to allow myself to feel the pain and heal.
"A wound does not destroy us. It activates our self-healing powers. The point is not to "put it behind you" but to keep benefiting from the strength it has awakened."
- David Richo, How to be an Adult in Relationships
He also said "Surprisingly, denial plays a role in healthy grieving. For an addict, denial provides a way of not facing the reality. But for people working through childhood grief, denial provides a healthy way of letting in the pain little by little, so we can handle it safely. The terrifying grief is the one that does not permit that slowed-down intake of information - for example the sudden news of a loved one's death - but leaves us powerless, defenseless, unshielded in the face of unalterable and irreversible information about a loss"
- David Richo, How to be an Adult in Relationships
See more about dealing with sudden death
Here is how I feel some days....
Undo it, take it back,
make every day the previous one
until I am returned to the day
before the one that made you gone....
losing this day, then that,
until the day of loss still lies ahead,
and you are here instead of sorrow.
~ Nessa Rapoport, A Woman's Book of Grieving
Other days I am in the present…enjoying it. The rain last night! Sitting out on in the shelter of the front porch - with PS by my side in a chair I thought would always be empty - watching the rain pour down. Waking up to a sunny blue sky day!
Coming up on the anniversary of the last weekend with Doug. As my friend TM noted, the word "anniversary" seems bizarre in this context - almost festive. It is anything but.
I was surprised at how hard the days leading up to this anniversary have been. I thought I had made more progress. I started feeling really crazy with grief again, but I guess this is typical.
Wildflowers are blooming everywhere - the same species Doug put in the last bouquet he gave me. The same ones our neighbors picked to decorate the church for his memorial service. OMG I have gotten so maudlin. But I just cannot believe it is almost a year since he died. Time is so distorted. Sometimes it seems like it happened yesterday - sometimes it seems like ages.
I don't even believe he is really dead. It doesn't seem possible that someone so alive is not. It's not like I think he be walking through the door, but I also can't grasp that he is really gone. I miss him as much as ever.
When I hear this song it rings true:
"I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing...
Just praying to a God that I don't believe in....
When a heart breaks it don't break even....
What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you...
They say that things happen for a reason
But no wise word's gonna stop the bleeding
I'm falling to pieces...."
(Lyrics from I'm Falling to Pieces")
My mom said "It will be okay." But it will never be okay that Doug is dead - and that it was premature. He should have had at least 20 to 30 more years on this earth, according to average life expectancies. But one study concluded that happy people don't live as long.
I have managed to survive the first year.There were many times when I didn't think I should or could or would. I seriously doubt I would have, without family, friends, and counseling. PS has been my side these last months too and he understands as he has been there himself.
Last weekend, on the day before the Memorial Day race, a door was left open for several hours and Tenzing the Cat escaped.
Tenzing is not an outdoor cat. He is a spoiled rotten, lap cuddling indoor fraidy cat.
Doug and I picked our feline out together about 10 years ago. Sometimes I wondered if Doug liked the cat better than me. We both joked that we would never get divorced because we would not be able to decide who would get to keep the cat. Doug constantly worried about the cat getting outside. He was forever saying "Where's the cat?" We never left the cat alone overnight. He RV'd with us. When I travelled, Doug was with him. When we both travelled, he stayed with Doug's parents where he was pampered to the extreme.
Tenzing had gotten out onto the porch a time or two in the past, and quickly ratted himself out by yowling up a storm. He has his claws, but, being clueless and inexperienced, would be defenseless outdoors against the bobcats, fishers, coyotes and other predators that roam our area. I'm not sure he would even be able to figure out how to climb a tree.
When I realized he was missing, I was frantic. PS and friends helped look for him for hours. I called his name over and over, walking up and down and all around. Every once in a while we thought we heard a plaintive meow in the distance, but it could also have been a catbird.
It was getting dark. I didn't want to give up. I was concerned that the cat would not survive the night.
I felt horribly guilty that he had gotten outside. I felt it was irresponsible of me to put him in that position. I felt Doug would be so upset and also disappointed in me.
It was hopeless. I knelt down in the driveway and wept, telling Doug and the cat how sorry I was that I had failed them.
Jus then, I heard more crying...and looked up to see the cat slinking up to me, wailing. I grabbed him in my arms and ran indoors.
I wondered if it were a sign.... Which is silly, I know. I seriously doubt the universe has time for me. It seems pretty egocentric to believe it is sending me messages, or gives a rat's ass what happens to me or my cat. Regardless, I was relieved and grateful.
Yet several people have asked me whether the universe, or Doug, might have sent PS into my life. Someone uniquely situated to understand what widowhood is like, after losing his wife of 27 years to a horrible battle with cancer.
The next morning, PS and I were surprised to witness a hooded merganzer flying into and out of a nestbox he had built for wood ducks. Not exactly what we had been planned. But life just the same.
I am feeling some anger and resentment towards those who comment, in a somewhat accusatory tone, that "I've moved on" because I am seeing PS.
They are not the ones who wake up every morning without Doug. Who go to sleep every night without him.
I miss being in life and love together with my husband and partner. I also ache every day for what Doug is missing.
I went to a dinner party with some great friends of Doug. I could see that I was the only one still stuck in how and why he died and what it means to not have him here. They miss him of course, but can focus more on memories and the fun times. I still have too much pain in the way.
Sometimes I can't stop myself from laughing out loud when someone says how 'strong" I am. I am so weak. I want my old life back. I want Doug back. I can't have it. I am filled with yearning but I don't want to be. I want to accept what has happened and what is. I knowI should try harder to live fully in the present and the future. I just don't know how to make that happen. I don't know how to make the pain go away.
I am weary of weeping. Weary of listening to myself drone on and on about Doug and loss and of listening the whining inside my head. Weary of being defined by widowhood. Wearing of living life without Doug.
I have been dreading this day. But I also wanted it to be over - to cross this threshold. To have survived the worst year. The first year.
The day was exhausting but very special. I think we did right by Doug.
His ashes have been a dilemma for me - I was not sure what to do with them. (More)
I gave a lot of thought to the various options and rituals. I knew his ashes needed to go outside. I thought the one year "anniversary" would be a good time to do this.
PS asked what I needed from him on this day. He would stay with me if I asked, but we both agreed I needed to do this by myself.
I was somewhat afraid to actually open the container and see the ashes.
In the morning, I screwed up my courage and unscrewed the bottom of the mahogany box that held Doug's remains. Inside was a plastic bag, closed with a cable tie that held a metal marker that had gone into the incinerator with Doug.
I opened the bag. The ashes were grayish brown, and sort of chalky looking. There were little granules in there still - I guess they grind things down after the cremation process is complete because the bones don't completely disintegrate.
I took a tiny sterling spoon PS loanedme, and scooped some of the ashes into two small urns. They are actually urns made for pet ashes I think. One was made of brass, and engraved with leaves. The other was a simple granite urn. Doug's climbing buddy will be bringing it onto a mountaintop sometime soon.
There was still quite a bit left. I was surprised at how heavy the bag was.
I took some and put them in a small silk mesh bag tied with a ribbon. Then I went outside and walked around the entire perimeter of the house and the barn and his shop, letting them fall out and waft into the wind. We were so happy in this house, and he worked so hard on it.
It was hot out - approaching 100 degrees, and bug-gy. At 1:00 p.m. - a year to the hour from when the call came - our neighbors - young and old - arrived.
We walked in a little procession down to DH's Christmas Tree field.
Doug and I picked out our Christmas tree there every year...hung bluebird boxes there...cut through that field on the way to various neighborhood parties...and stood around the "ring of fire" during the holidays, warming our cockles and toasting the end of the workday.
I had told our neighbors about a tradition I saw in China when I visited a Buddhist temple. People wrote messages on a piece of paper and burned them, believing their thoughts and prayers would then waft heavenward.
Some had written something for or to Doug. Some read their note, some gave it to me to read aloud, and some asked that it be kept private. See Joe's below (it is also posted on his RequiredReading blog.
This is how I will remember you, Doug...
A real man
Filled with vigor,
a zest for living,
and a never-ending sense of adventure
Fearless, sometimes to a fault
You worked hard,
but you played harder
Always in search of a new adventure
But always happy to come home
Thank you, Doug, for always giving
We knew we could count on you to share good things:
A helping hand or some special problem-solving wisdom
A tasty beverage at the end of the day
Your smile, jokes and laughter
A story made funnier simply because you were telling it
The way you lived life was an inspiration to all of us
Filled with joy and passion
Dedicated to your work
But devoted to family and friends
Especially your one true love
Gone too soon
But never forgotten
I consider myself lucky to have called you a friend.
I read the notes and wept. The pain still feels so fresh.
Then some other neighbors each read a passage from a book BN gave me, called "Healing After Loss." I asked them to pick something at random, kind of like you can do with a Bible reading. The ones they landed on were unbelievably relevant. When RJ read one that said that even though we may wish it so, the grief doesn't end at the end of the year, I said "oh CRAP" out loud.
The last one read was about the "middle miles" by Henry E. Woodruff.
"Hikers refer to them as the "middle-miles." These are the most exhausting, challenging miles on the path, when the exhilaration of beginning the journey has evaporated into drudgery and the promise of the path's end has not yet given new energy for the stepping." Martha Whitmore Hickman then wrote
" We wonder whether we shall ever feel our old energy and hunger for life again....Liek the climbers in the "middle miles," we must keep going, knowing that one day we will get on top of our lives again. Looking back, we'll marvel at how far we've come."
More tears and hugs.
Doug's friend DH had prepared a spot, with an iris brought down from NH, a Molson red cap beer and Doug's favorite bottle opener (a screwdriver) and a lovely flat rock from NH. After the readings, I placed a small brass urn with some of Doug's ashes into a hole and Dirk put the rock on top.
Then we walked up to the barn at our house. Each person took a trowel and took a shovelful of dirt to form a hole in the driveway. I put a poem I wrote for Doug on one of our wedding anniversaries on the bottom of the hole, and then put the remaining ashes in it. I covered them gently with dirt. Then we each toasted to Doug with a Molson red cap. I took the caps and made a little "Z" on top of the ashes.
On his way home, Dirk lit off some firecrackers by the ashes in the field.
It was done. I hope it was as healing for our friends as it was for me.
Later in the day, I went over to Doug's parents to visit, cry, tell stories, feel the love, and share a meal.
Oddly, while writing this, I looked in the Healing After Loss book and landed on this quote:
All those who try to go it sole alone,
Too proud to be beholden for relief,
Are absolutely sure to come to grief.
~ Robert Frost
I am strong, but not strong enough to bear this burden by myself.
More coming if you can stand it. Have some Prozac handy.
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