In addition to this blog, I keep a journal that I write in from time to time. The other day I opened it up and saw this written in desperate script:
"I am going crazy. I can't live without him. I don't want to go on."
I didn't give up though. Surprisingly, one of the things that helped me through such moments was an anonymous poem I read online.
I never thought I could go on living when you died, but - I did.
I never thought I would survive after burying you, but - I did.
I never thought I'd get through those first days, weeks and months, but - I did.
I never thought I would be able to endure the first anniversary of your death, but - I did.
I never thought I would let myself love my new grandchild, but - I did.
I never thought tomorrow would be different, but - it was.
I never thought I would stop crying for you, but - I have.
I never thought that I would ever sing again, but - have.
I never thought the pain would "soften," but - it has.
I never thought I would care if the sun shone again, but - I do.
I never thought I would be able to entertain again, but - I have.
I never thought I would be able to control my grief, but - I can.
I never thought I could function without medication again, but - I can.
I never thought I'd smile again, but - I do.
I never thought I would laugh out loud again, but - I do.
I never thought I would look forward to tomorrow, but - I do.
I never thought I'd reconcile your death, but - I have.
I never thought I would be able to create that "new normal," but - I have.
I never thought I'd want to go on living after you died, but - I do.
Always missing you,
always loving you,
and thinking of you daily,
with a smile on my face
and tears in my heart.
~ Author unknown
In those awful early months, I lived in the first part of those lines - absolutely convinced that Life was Crap and could never be worth living again.
Now I am starting to live in the second part. I enjoy a sunny day, I smile, I look forward to tomorrow. I am grateful for many things. am grateful to whoever wrote these lines, and whoever put them online so I could find them.
It seems so bizarre that someone I don't even know - someone I can't even thank - gave me hope that kept me going through some really dark hours.
It reminds me of what a difference we can make in someone else's life.
Doug's life is over, but he too continues to make a difference to people who have and will benefit from his donated tissues. (More on the gift that keeps on giving.)
What a world....
When Doug died, I checked out of life. I have yet to check back in.
I still am not up to socializing. I rarely answer the phone or emails. I guess I am still hunkered down, licking the wounds and trying to find my way back up from the netherworld of grief. It is a long haul and I'm not there yet.
The year "anniversary" was something of a relief. It was as if some of the chains of pain dropped away. But I still wake and go to sleep wishing Doug were alive and well, and missing him. So clearly, I have not stopped wishing for what I cannot have. When that tapers off, maybe I will have achieved what some refer to as the final stage of grief - acceptance.
I tried to make a phone call out in the yard today, using my house phone. The call wouldn't go through, and the phone displayed this message "Not possible." It seems like a lot of life is like that lately.
I was trying to call the State retirement division. My health insurance through Doug was cancelled by accident (this is the second time.)
Does life really need to be this hard?
Yes, yes, I know, I should be gratefully I am SUPPOSED to have health care coverage - many people do not.
The reason I have it is because Doug worked tirelessly for 27 years for the State. Most people would not have been able to endure the frustration, bureaucracy, glacial pace, incompetence, pressure, demands, etc. Doug took it on the chin every day, with a smile on his face. As a result, as his surviving spouse, I get health care coverage. Or at least that's the way it is supposed to work.
This is the second time they have accidentally cancelled my insurance. I found out the first time several weeks after Doug died. I fell apart. This time, a year later ...I am just mad and annoyed. But it isn't sending me over the edge. That probably signifies progress.
Then of course there are the mechanical challenges which kind and handy neighbor DH delivers me from on a daily basis - like my riding lawnmower that won't stop or start (yes it's possible to do both!) To maintain this old house, I am dependent on him and friends and family and Patrick and the eight people I have to pay to replace all that Doug did. Makes me wonder how other widows do it.
It also makes me wish I had done more to make Doug's life easier. Yes, I bought him tools. How many men would say that one of the best presents ever was a backpack leaf blower? Or would be excited to get a heavy duty chain for Christmas? Yes, when Doug was alive, I hired some people to do things that would have taken Doug forever - painting the house, roofing the house (he had already done the barn and carriage shed and shop), etc., in order to free him up and relieve him of some of the burden. But I could have done so much more.
How I also wish I had never yelled at him. It didn't happen all that often, but losing my patience with him ever was too often. He never lost it with me.
It is SO VERY painful now to watch my married friends bicker with their spouses.... over things that don't really seem to matter. I want to tell them "What if those are the last words you ever speak to each other? Can you live with that?"
But I stay silent.
For eons, people have wished that the dear departed would stick around in some form - to guide us, be accessible, for communication - whatever.
I would like to believe that something of someone's spirit remains when their corporeal presence is with us no longer. I wrote about signs like rainbows or butterflies here: http://www.cragman.com/watching.htm.
I don't believe energy can be destroyed, but when it comes to spirits I'm a skeptic. So I'm embarrassed to mention wondering about orbs....
PS took a photo of me standing out on a deck in Rhode Island this weekend. I was looking down. When he looked at the picture, there was a weird light beside my head. (See photo - that's my hair sticking out to the left of the red light.) Some people think these glowing blobs that show up in photographs are spirits - they call them "orbs." Usually they are specks of dust either on the camera lens or in the air.
This object did not appear in photos taken immediately before or after, other than one shot where it was sort of fading. The sun was setting, so it probably was reflected light. But I'll admit that I wondered if it was a Doug Orb. I would like to think he is still by my side....
Later, when I went to bed, I was missing Doug and our life together. That night, I had a dream.
Doug was alive, but not really. I knew he was dead, but also thought he was back somehow. I wondered why I had to mourn and struggle with accepting loss when he was still around. This is a common dream theme after loss, especially sudden death - I think it may be generated because the brain is having trouble processing reality. I have this issue even when I am awake - I can't believe he is dead.
Anyhow, in the dream Doug was very young - about the age when I first met him 28 years ago. I had to decide whether to be with PS - the widower I am seeing now - or to go back to Doug. The pull towards Doug was incredibly strong. I loved him, he was my husband, and we were so happy together. But the pull towards life and PS was also very strong. He is an amazing man, and I am fortunate to have him in my life. I know happiness again with him.
In the dream, I chose Doug.
I wonder if the dream was about living versus dying. Or choosing to live life in the now and the future versus staying buried knee deep in loss and the past.
I know that the marriage vows are "till death do us part." I just can't let go yet.
Today was a beautiful summer day. I spent it with PS on the lake. In the morning, I swam back and forth across the lake (about 2/3 of a mile.) The water was warm and there was a cool breeze. Bluebirds from the trail Doug and I had set up at the park across the lake were singing.
In the afternoon I lounged in PS's little screened in lake front tea house. I drank iced tea and read a book. It was lazy and luxurious. It felt good to be alive.
Still, it is hard not to go into "if only" mode.... If only Doug were there to enjoy it too.
Then I got news that a neighbor's mother had passed away. It was expected, and she was 91 years old, but my heart was filled with sadness for DD. He was very close to his mom and she was a wonderful human being.
This is from Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, talking about what it is like when you lose a parent:
"...despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, [the death of a parent] dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and may cut free memories and feelings that we thought had gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections."
Although it has been 13 months since losing Doug, I myself still get surprised when the depth charges go off.
Tonight I met with MP and BP. BP is going to bring the last of Doug's ashes to a mountain top somewhere - hopefully Mt. Robson which he and Doug tried to summit on numerous occasions.
Robson is a BIG dangerous mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Some years no one makes it up. Some years climbers die trying. Doug and he attempted it together at least five times. The last time they were stuck in a tent in a blinding snowstorm for more than 100 hours. After that, Doug said he was done with that particular peak, but BP keeps trying. He and DJ will head out there on August 8th.
The remainder of Doug's ashes are in a small granite urn - a bit heavy to carry in a pack where every ounce counts, but I thought a rock container was fitting. Doug was a geologist with a head of stone.
Letting go of the last of the ashes was surprisingly sad. I still can't believe that they are all that is left of Doug's corporeal being.... But I am glad he will get one more shot at Robson with BP.
PS came with me tonight. I was glad he got to meet the P's. They were very gracious towards him. It must be weird to see me with someone else after so many years at Doug's side....
Today PS and I were talking about those mall or street maps that have an arrow saying "You are here." Except I'm not here. I am not in the present. I'm lost. With at least one foot stuck in the past. I'm constantly comparing my life to the life I had. Constantly comparing PS to Doug, either out loud or in my head. Which of course is not fair to him.
I read an article about a woman who is getting married a year after being paralyzed from pool side horseplay at her bachelorette party. She is in a wheelchair now. I wonder if she spends most of her time thinking about what it was like before she was in a wheelchair. Or wishing she wasn't in it. That's probably how I would spend my days, at least in the beginning.
I don't want to be here. I want to be in the past...or somewhere else. Not here. Not living in sorrow and pain.
I am reminded of a story KC told me once. She was in a restaurant and dumped a bunch of chili sauce on her food. She did not realize that it was incredibly hot, and after swallowing it, she panicked. She said was in so much pain she didn't know what to do. She wanted to jump out of her chair and run, even though intellectually she knew it wouldn't do any good. Perhaps this reaction is akin to a fight or flight impulse. Except there's nothing to fight, except the inevitable.
"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
So should we stop resisting the inevitable? Accept the "here." Stop wishing that things were the way they used to be. How the heck do you do that? Wishing wishing wishing I could figure it out....
On Tuesday, it was my turn. My turn to give back. A beloved neighborhood icon, ID, passed away at age 91.5. The reception was at the same church where Doug's was. I volunteered with the Angel ED to bake the desserts, and help set up the room, serve and clean up. ED and JJ did ten times more than I did, yet I was exhausted. I had not realized how hard it was. I remembered all the women who helped at Doug's reception, where there were many more people. How do they do it? Thank goodness there are people like them in our world.
The service for ID was sad. But one part struck me. The priest talked about how differently we view birth and death. When a child is born, we are happy and celebrate, with balloons and flowers and presents and parties. Yet the child has just left the only world it has ever known - the warm safe womb - and is thrust (without any choice) into an alien world filled with unfamiliar sights and sounds. It is hungry and cold and cries for the first (not the last) time. It experiences a kind of death - the death of the life it knew.
I think the message was that if we believe something comes after this life, then maybe we should be happy for someone when they die. Unfortunately I don't have any idea what happens after you die. (I think this death sh*t is so much easier for religious people to bear.) However, I guess the baby doesn't have any idea what will happen after it is born either. Which is why it wails. As do we.
July 26th came and went. Doug would have been 54 this year. Two birthdays have passed since he died. I ache for what he has missed, and for his family, who misses him in a way that is different than my missing, but equally painful I am sure. His friends mourn as well. Two of our neighbors sent me a photo of them raising a glass to their fallen comrade.
I was surprised at how much LESS sad I felt this year compared to last year. I don't know if this is numbness or distraction. I was on travel for work at the time. The memories are much less intrusive when I am away from home.
I recall BN telling me what changed for her after a year. She said in the beginning, it was like being stabbed with a knife that was twisted upon entry. With the passage of time, it was just plain old stabbing. And the stabs eventually became less intense.
Last night I had an odd dream. It was the first time I have dreamed that Doug was dead and gone.
When Doug first died, I searched feverishly for answers - what happened and why. (See The End.) Part of this was probably the scientist in me. But part of it was also trying to understand and come to terms with the shocking turn of events. The autopsy report did not make sense - it said he died of hypertension. That is not typically a cause of death in a fairly young person with mild, controlled hypertension. The ER doctor was convinced that a malignant arrhythmia stopped his heart, which is much more likely.
In the dream, I was given an autopsy report with a clear reason why Doug died. His heart was torn in half. The was a rip or hole between the two upper chambers. I thought - finally, an answer! But I was also stricken...with the sense that I had caused the hole. When Doug and I were first seeing each other, I struggled mightily with commitment and dumped him time and time again. He endured and waited and finally I came to my senses, after eight years. But I know I hurt him badly during that time period. In the dream I felt that damage caused his untimely death.
PS said it is more likely that the dream shows that (1) I am beginning to understand that Doug is actually dead; and (2) it is my heart that has been broken, my life that has been torn in half.
We always used to say that Doug was a "manly man." JC is reading a book to his boys called "The Art of Manliness." KC said it reminds them of Doug, and cried when she read this part to me.
"A man who had mastered the art of manliness embodied many, if not all, of these manly characteristics:
Doug was all of these things.
"Time it was and what a
time it was it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidence
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you"
~ Old Friends/Bookends, Simon & Garfunkel
It has been 14 months. Yesterday I came across a photo of Doug smiling (he was always smiling) and was stunned anew....How could he be gone?
I have lost lost close friends and family ... some suddenly, some after an extended illness. I eventually accepted their deaths, and understood that they were gone. I I still do not believe Doug is dead. It is impossible.
I read about two NYC triathletes who died during the one mile swimming event - a 40 year old woman and a 64 year old man - apparently from cardiac arrest. Then I saw an obituary for a 60 year old man in Brooklyn - in the photo he looked so young and vibrant. Doug was only 52. It is so hard when a life is cut short.
A friend is mourning the recent death of his mother, who was 90 years old and had suffered from dementia. He is surprised that he is handling the loss so well. I think he may be somewhat numb, but he is also very grounded, and prepared himself for the inevitable. He is comforted by the fact that she was blessed with a long life. Still, we miss them when they are gone.
Today is a good day. I feel truly happy.
ED and I went for a seven mile walk. The sky was blue, there was a lovely breeze, and the temperatures were very unAugust-like.
During a relaxing lunch break, PS and I watched an old Snagglepuss cartoon (we were researching the source of the phrase "Heavens to Murgatroyd'). Snagglepuss woke up and said "I greet the day unafraid!" I feel that way today.
I looked at a photo to Doug today, and, as PS says, felt "happy-sad." Happy that he was - sad that he is not now. It seems like it's been a long time since I felt the truly happy part.
I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I enjoy this day and am grateful for it.
On the 11th, the day started out so well. I felt truly happy. But then it seemed as though the Universe would not allow me even one good day....
I went out to do some errands. While driving home, I put my hand up to my earlobe and realized I had lost one of my earrings.
It wasn't just any earring - it was part of a pair of dangling solid gold sea turtles that PS gave me. He chose it to commemorate the first magical day in the Cayman Islands. We had arrived on Seven Mile Beach, and before checking into our rooms, walked out across the soft white sand and dove into the warm Caribbean sea. As we were snorkeling, PS swam up to my side, excited, and silently pointed ahead - towards a beautiful sea turtle. It wasn't large, but it was lovely. It swam in slow motion - so calm, so peaceful, so graceful. It was a breathtaking experience. Thus, the earrings were very special to me. I wore them often, and people often commented on them.
I felt awful that I had lost one. One of my New Year's resolutions had been to slow down, pay attention and be more careful. Even though the earring fell out by itself, I felt it was because I was somewhat careless. But worst of all, it reminded me of something else I had lost.
About a year before Doug died, I lost my engagement ring. He had given it to me 20 years earlier. The diamond was especially colorful and brilliant, and we had it set in a unique, antique gold band that we chose together.
We looked every where for it. Doug even pumped out the dry well (a disgusting task). He and a friend used a metal detector on the cat box in case the cat had swallowed it. We went through every shred of garbage. Took the washer and dryer apart. All to no avail. I was brokenhearted at losing such a treasure.
Doug never said a word - he was not angry or disappointed. He just felt badly for me. Then he went out and bought me a bigger, new diamond. We had it set in my wedding band which I had not lost. He re-proposed to me by Pulpit Rock in Woodstock.
But it was not the same.
A year later, he died. In my MMM (More Mental Moments), I looked back on this incident and wondered if it was an omen - a foreboding of losing Doug.
When I lost this turtle earring, I thought...here we go again. By some kind of miracle, I have found companionship and love again, and it will be taken from me. PS is going to die.
I knew I would look high and low but there was no chance of finding the lost earring.
Despite that, I retraced every step ...nothing. My mom said she would do the Saint Anthony prayer - "Tony Tony look around, something's lost that must be found." But I was sure it was hopeless.
I told PS. H e was disappointed for me, as he could see how upset I was, but did not yell at me for losing such a valuable item.
I barely slept that night.
The next day, I was cleaning the house. PS called me into the kitchen and said "Looks like you missed something on the floor here." I looked down - and there was the shiny gold turtle earring. He had found it out on the lawn, buried in the grass.
I would like to think this was a DIFFERENT kind of omen. That something lost CAN be found. That even when things look mighty bleak, there is hope. That good surprises lie ahead. That maybe Doug is not the only hero I will be fortunate enough to know in my lifetime.
It was a reminder, once again, that some things we think we know for certain turn out not to be true.
Today was the 5 mile Kathy Deary walk/race, a fund raiser for cancer treatment. Doug used to run this race every year. Last year, he and I were going to walk it together after his planned shoulder surgery, but he died weeks before the race. So Team Z did it in his memory. See more on that amazing day.
This year I walked it with PS. Other friends could not make it. It reminded me that people are bound to get on with their lives - and that they don't want to stay stuck in the past. However, I don't worry that any of Doug's friends and family could ever forget him. But maybe the memories will fade. Which is sad. I wonder if a day will come when I will forget to think of him...when I won't hear his voice in my head, see his smile in my mind's eye, or be reminded of him by a trivial or major event.
Again this year, the skies were blue and there was a lovely breeze. PS and I were both were weepy at the start when a local woman sang "You never walk alone." PS's wife did not survive her battle with cancer.
We headed off with hundreds of other folks. Last year I cried for miles. This year I mostly smiled. Of course my heart is sad that Doug is not here to enjoy life any more.
I never could have imagined how far I would have come in 12 months. It was a hard road and I know there are still challenges ahead, but I am getting stronger.
"Doug is dead."
"I was Doug's wife. I am now Doug's widow."
I can say these things out loud now. But I feel very disconnected from them. Like they are not real or they don't have anything to do me with me, or with Doug. As if I am talking about someone else.
Most days it all seems "surreal, "as a friend who lost her son aptly described it.
14 months have passed and I still feel this way? Am I in denial still?
Other days it seems all too real. Perhaps it is like labor pains - if women could remember how much it hurt, they would probably never bear another child.
When filling out forms, a lot of times you have to check a box on your marital status. PS and I discussed whether we should put 'single' or 'widowed.' We agreed that once widowed, always widowed.
"Cremains" are the ashes leftover after a person is cremated. If you've ever wondered what cremains look like, there is a pretty good description here on Snopes.com (along with tales of people stealing and supposedly trying to snort them after mistaking them for cocaine).
Last week, BP tried top bring some of Doug's ashes out to Mt. Robson. Unfortunately, their adventure turned to misadventure. I'm just glad they made it home safely. Read more.
NOTE: I posted an incorrect link to the story about BP's attempt to bring Doug's ashes to Mt. Robson - sorry! See the real link to Part III of the cremains situation.
Soon after losing Doug, I realized I probably could not handle camping alone in our Recreational Vehicle (RV.) It is 28 feet long and a bear to drive, but I've done it before. For example, I drove it by myself Connecticut to the Tetons to hook up with Doug for a camping adventure post-climbing expedition. I've gone camping alone in the past too, so it wasn't that. It was more mechanical and emotional.
It seemed like something on the RV broke just about every time we went on a long trip . It was built in 1997, so had some wear and tear on it. Doug could do anything - plumbing, electrical, automotive, changing tires, etc. He spent more than a few hours underneath the rig, rescuing us en route. I'm not good at repairs.
The emotional part was also a factor - too many wonderful memories. The majority of our vacations were spent in that RV. We called it the Pleasure Palace. We left work and This Old House behind and took off for one adventure after another. We travelled together to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, other parts of Canada, North Carolina, Wyoming, Virginia, all of New England and more. We had so much fun in it - together. Being in it alone, or with someone else, was more than I could bear.
However, there were several challenges to be faced. The first was cleaning it out. It was like a second home - and Doug's mark was everywhere. We spent our last Saturday night together in there, camping in the back yard. There was the bed we slept in, woke up together in, made love in. The kitchen table where we shared candlelit meals. It was full of his clothes, his tools, his toys, his empty beer cans, etc.
The first time I tried to go in to prepare it, I became hysterical. I walked outside, fell down face first on the grass and cried my heart out. I didn't go back inside for weeks.
When I finally did get it spic and span, the question arose as to what to do with it. I offered it to his sister and his brother, but they declined. I thought about selling it, but then PS suggested that I donate it.
I contacted Action Donation. They specialize in RVs, boats, and motorcycles, although they also take cars. They sounded like they would be a great organization to deal with. They were caring and patient.
I had a tough time picking a charity to donate the proceeds to though. I am on the board of the North American Bluebird Society. I proposed to them that they sign up and they agreed.
Making the arrangements was easy - I just gave them the VIN number and some basic info, and they came out to pick it up. Watching it leave the driveway for the last time was not easy. It poured rain all day long. I wondered if the heavens were weeping.
Now Action Donation will market the RV and try and get the highest possible price. Half of what it sells for will go to the Bluebird Society.
Letting go of that part of my life was hard. But it also brought me some relief, and a form of freedom. I know the donated proceeds will be put to good use. I do hope some other family enjoys it as much as Doug and I did.
I made the tough decision to “retire” from my job, effective September 30, 2011. However, I will be transitioning over to a small firm starting October 1. I'll be doing the same kind of work, still operating out of my home office, still travelling on occasion, but I will part of a workforce consisting of a dozen professionals instead of over four thousand.
The past 17 years with the world's largest non-profit research and development company have been both interesting and challenging. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work on a variety of assignments– first as a senior scientist and then as the Environmental Business Area Manager. Then my boss convinced me to move over to the support side, to manage the company's environmental programs. After that, I spent two years in Amarillo managing an environmental organization.
That convinced me to return east and the chance to be closer to and marry the love of my life, Doug. It is a choice I have never regretted.
After commuting from CT to Long Island for work for almost three years, I chose to go part-time and work from home in order to spend more time with Doug. We waited so long for such happiness. I didn't want to spend an unnecessary minute of it apart. I remember one weeknight going to bed alone in my condo in Long Island and yelling out loud in the empty, cold room - "I WANT DOUG!" I missed him too much.
It was hard for both of us. The travel was stressful for me, which made me cranky. Being alone in This Old House meant Doug had to do everything alone all week long. Talking on the phone was not the same, and Doug was not much of a phone talker. The weekends seemed so rushed.
For the past ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to work part-time from home, leading environmental assessments and providing strategic planning support to a variety of public and private sector clients. I’ve also enjoyed volunteering at both the local and national level. Along with the way, I’ve had the chance to work with amazing people, and to form friendships I will always treasure. But the best part was that priceless extra time I got to spend with Doug.
After he died suddenly in the summer of 2010, I decided to follow conventional wisdom and wait a year before making any major changes. They say you should not move, change jobs, marry, or make big financial decisions during those first twelve months for a number of reasons.
I did very much appreciate my employer's patience with me during that first year after losing Doug. It was the worst of the worst.
But now I’m ready for what’s next.
I was drawn to this new firm because of their reputation for credibility, integrity, professionalism, the value they add, and the caliber of their staff. The work I’ve been doing aligns well with their focus on strategic decision making, planning and management. Also, they team with many of the same organizations I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with over the past two decades.
I feel lucky to have found such a great position with an amazing firm when so many people are still hunting. I look forward to making a difference and growing professionally with this new organization.
I went to a local restaurant tonight with friends. Afterwards I yakked my brains out all over the bathroom wall. It made me think of Doug.
After I gallbladder surgery a few years ago, they prescribed Oxycotin for pain. I didn't realize it can cause projectile puking.
I was barfing violently in the bathroom that night, when I heard a faint, sleepy call from the bedroom:
"Hey Bet, are you okay?"
I believe my uncivilized reply was something along the lines of
"Do I SOUND like I'm okay?" (insert F-Bomb before, during and after.)
When I finally crawled back to bed, Doug was snoring up a storm.
The next morning, when Doug awoke, he complained that his ear hurt because it got bent on the pillow while he was sleeping.
I reminded him that I had body part removed less than 24 hours ago, followed by an evening face down in the Ceramic Bowl of Despair.
I guess neither of us were nursing material. I'm not sure how well we would have fared in our later years when illness is inevitable. I do wish I'd gotten the chance to find out though.
It is almost 16 months since Doug died.
I have learned that everyone deals with loss in their own way, in their own time.
Doug's family dealt with losing their son and brother by thinking happy thoughts, and focusing on the many wonderful memories he left us with.
I still spend feel considerable pain. Most days I bury it. But when meeting with the grief counselor, the tears often flow. I stop breathing, try to get under control and admonish myself for not making more progress and for being such a baby.
She suggested that, since "what we resist persists," it might be good to try going with the pain, relaxing into it and letting it fill me up for a while. The theory is that such a release would enable me to move past it. I am afraid it will destroy me. She says that won't happen.
So today I went for a walk, and allowed myself to fully feel the sadness. It overwhelmed me. I cried for almost the entire five miles. I felt as if I were being sucked into a spiralling vortex of pain. If a bus had gone by, I probably would have thrown myself under it.
Conclusion: I think this was not a good idea for me at this point.
If it had not been for my friends, family and PS, I would not have made it this far. I still am not strong enough.
For now, I think I am better off fighting it. Trying to focus on the positive, gratitude, good memories, the present and the future.
Today same person (me) walked same route, alone. No tears. Mostly because I did not reflect on loss, but instead thought about life.
After doing something stupid, a standard Doug saying was "How could I have known?" I used that one today....
After renovating the back room, it desperately needed new siding. Last month, PS spent three weeks putting it up. He did an awesome job. It wasn't easy, since This Old House is crooked from every corner. The cedar siding was primed, but needed to be painted before fall.
To save money, I decided to take advantage of the existing stash of leftover paint in the basement. When Doug and I had the house painted over a decade ago, we used Sherwin Williams Duration self-priming paint - the color was White Doe. We had gotten a contingency gallon. The extra can has been in the basement ever since, rusting away.
I went down to retrieve the can today, but the label had fallen off. Well, actually, it didn't fall off. It was eaten off by the goats when Doug left it outside one day. But the top of the can was still clearly marked - "White Doe."
Today was a beautiful, sunny fall day. PS and I proceeded to paint one entire side of the house. The paint seemed gummy while we were putting it on, but I figured that was because it was old.
After admiring our handiwork, PS brought the brushes in for cleanup. He ran water over them...but the paint wouldn't come off. He asked, "Are you SURE this is latex?" I said, "Of course it is - it's Duration paint. Maybe because it had high adhesion, it's hard to get it off the brush. He took another look at the can. There was a fraction of a label still stuck to it - and he saw the words "clean up with mineral spirits." He asked me again - are you SURE this isn't oil paint? I swore up and down it was not - in fact I even bet him $100. As soon as we shook on the bet, I remembered....
About 11 years ago, while I was commuting to my job in Long Island Monday through Friday, Doug decided to surprise me by painting the trim in the bathroom he was restoring. He bought a gallon of oil paint at Sherwin-Williams. Except he mixed up the color names, and got "White Doe" instead of the "Cloud White" we had used on all the interior trim. When I got home and saw the color, I immediately realized it was not the right one - instead it was the white we had used outside. Doug's response was "How could I have known?" We had to repaint everything.
THAT mistaken can was the one I grabbed today. So we just painted an entire side of the house, brand new siding, with INTERIOR oil based paint.
I called the paint store, and they said we should sand it all off and re-do it.
I started to cry. So much time wasted...I had wrecked the brand new siding...this would not have happened if Doug had not died. Only he and I knew about this...and I forgot.
It reminded me of the early days after losing Doug, when I encountered things like this on a daily basis...things where I needed Doug's help or answers from him. But he wasn't there any more.
I have since calmed down and can ALMOST laugh about it. But it does remind me that the challenges are not over.
Painting house redux awaits.
Last weekend I was dancing in the kitchen at PS's house. We were laughing and jumping around to pop hits. It was fun, lively, happy.
All of a sudden I flashed back. To dancing in the living room of my house with Doug. Our favorite song had come on the radio (I Drink Alone by G. Thorogood. Not too many people have that for their wedding theme song. We did. It played on the radio in the car on our first date. Simultaneously we both reached for the knob to crank it up and said "I love this song!". and cranked it up.) As usual, he flung me around the room, into walls, etc. We laughed so hard. After years of marriage, it was still fun, lively, happy.
After Doug died, I thought I would never dance again.
Then, still dancing with PS, I flashed forward. To a time when it will be over for PS and I. When one of us has gone to meet our maker, or things fall apart because it is so hard dating a broken widow/widower. When one of us would look back fondly on this happy memory and wish to re-live it.
Then I came back to the present and lived it in the here and now.
I found a journal of Doug's about a disastrous attempt to summit Mt. Robson in 2002. I flipped it open to a page in the middle, to find a love note he had written to me. It made me cry.
I went on a hike today to a place we visited often and read the rest of it. It offers a glimpse of what it's like to be stuck in a tent for a looong time - and how simple, heroic, funny and loving he was.
Exercising regularly has been a key to my survival - I find the endorphins really help.
Today I went for a run on the track. I prefer to walk, but didn't have the time today.
I decided to do 3.5 miles, which is the length of Doug's last run. I struggled on the first lap, and the second. I didn't think I could finish.
Then I heard Doug's voice in my head, coaxing me up a steep mountain trail.
Baby steps. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can do it. We're almost there! (The last part was usually a lie involving a false summit. :-)
I kept saying it over and over to myself. I did finish the run.
I miss the cushion of Doug's love. It was unconditional. It surrounded me. It protected me from the buffeting blows of life. I could always come in for a soft landing from difficulty. His love made my world safe, cozy, endurable.
Now he is gone. Can I find that cushion inside of myself? Is it mine to keep, even though he is no longer by my side?
An official letter came in the mail today, addressed to Doug. With some trepidation, I opened it. Doug has been called to jury duty. The enclosed questionnaire asks what his excuse will be. Once again, I must admit reality, and write "deceased."
Doug and I often commented on how odd it was that neither of us was ever called to jury duty. We both had driver's licenses and were registered voters since age 18. In fact, we both voted in every election - local, state and federal. We made a date of going to the polls, and often cancelled each other out. No more.
It seems macabre, but I wish Doug and I had done some advance planning regarding funeral services. Because he died suddenly, there were many decisions that needed to be made very quickly. Even when death is expected, there are many choices to be made.
I wrote down some thoughts and suggestions about this - see Planning services (calling hours/wake/funeral/memorial services etc.)
I finally finished Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. She said "Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." Her husband had a massive heart attack and died in their home. They had been married forty years and were together almost all the time. The book was somewhat choppy, disorganized. It was obsessive (I can relate) but there were some excellent passages. I thought these near the end were particularly good.
"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing." A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we worry about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to settle ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I even be able to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."
"People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as "dwelling on it." ...Visible mourning reminds us of death, which is construed as unnatural, a failure to manage the situation. "A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty," Philippe Aries wrote to the point of this aversion in Western Attitudes toward Death. "But one no longer has the right to say so aloud." We remind ourselves repeatedly that our own loss is nothing compared to the loss experienced (or, even worse thought, not experienced) by he or she who died; this attempt at corrective thinking serves only to plunge us deeper into the self-regarding deep....
In fact, the grieving have urgent reasons, even an urgent need, to feel sorry for themselves. Husbands walk out, wives walk out, divorces happen, but these husbands and wives leave behind them webs of intact associations, however acrimonious. Only the survivors of a death are truly left alone. The connections that made up their life - both the deep connections and the apparently (until they are broken) insignificant connections - have all vanished....
I am dropping my keys on the table inside the door before I fully remember. There is no one to hear this news, nowhere to go with the unmade plan, the uncompleted thought. There is no one to agree, disagree, talk back. "I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense," C.S. Lewis wrote after the death of his wife. "It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action, had H. for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through the habit of fitting an arrow to the string, and then I remember and have to lay the bow down."
We are repeatedly left, in other words, with no further focus than ourselves, a source from which self-pity naturally flows."
At the of the first year, she wrote:
"The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place."
Today while exercising, I watched a fascinating video on Ted TV on How to Spot a Liar. The speaker claimed that people lie all the time. I did laugh out loud at her example of how even animals lie. Coco the Gorilla apparently blamed her fluffy little pet kitten for ripping a sink out of a wall.
Doug was a terrible liar, which I always considered a great quality. I don't lie much - I'm too lazy. At least not to other people. I do lie to myself sometimes...e.g., by pretending that Doug is not dead.
A companion video was Michael Shermer on self-deception. He talked about how we believe what we want to believe and see what we think we should see. He also discussed Patternicity - when people seek meaning in meaningless events, and see connections that do not exist. It occurred to me that perhaps this is what happens when people in the midst of grief hallucinate, see angels, or what they believe are signs. (see page I wrote on this soon after Doug died.) A black cat runs in front of my car. Bad things happen that day. Thus a superstition is born.
Shermer also talked about how high levels of dopamine in the brain can trigger patternicity type thinking. People with schizophrenia typically have high levels of dopamine. I wondered if anyone had ever studied what happens with neurotransmitters in the brains of the bereaved. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that they go haywire, which could explain some of the magical thinking and madness that can follow loss.
The term "Fog of War" (as used by Robert McNamara, also the title of a documentary) refers to uncertainty in situation awareness experienced by participants in military operations. (Wikipedia.)
Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz wrote: "... three quarters of the things on which all action in War is based on are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing (needed) here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel the truth with the measure of its judgment ....The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonlight — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance."
Maybe they should call what happens during deep grief the "Fog of Loss." Where all you thought you knew/believed in turns out not to be so...where uncertainty about the past, present and future swirls around you...where you must make decisions and plans in a world that is suddenly distorted, off kilter and unnatural.
The effect of the Fog of Loss is probably why they recommend deferring major decisions (buying/selling property, moving, changing jobs, re-marriage, etc.) until it clears.
Shortly after losing Doug, I went to our favorite local hardware store. When I got to the counter, they pulled up our account - and I saw that it was no longer in Doug's name - just me now. I started bawling.
Yesterday, a friend told me that every time I call, the phone announces that the call is from Doug. It was hard for them, so they re-programmed it to reflect reality.
Today, I went to cash a small refund check that came in Doug's name. The bank said he needed to sign it. I said "He can't do that." They asked why not, and I blurted out "Because he is dead." I hate it when those words have to come out of my mouth.
Even after a year+, these occurrences are still upsetting. As PS noted, each time is like another little death.
Deleting Doug sucks.
Today I tried to clean up a room where I had tossed a lot of stuff after Doug died. I just closed the door and left it all there. If someone saw it, they might think" WTF - how can she live like that? Why doesn't she clean that mess bomb up? It would probably only take a day or two...."
It wasn't long until I was in tears.
The piles included dishes and Tupperware containers from food people brought over in those first few weeks. I appreciated that so much. I wasn't up to cooking or grocery shopping. But I sure do wish they had used disposable containers. I forgot to return the containers, and now I forget who brought what.. so it has become an extra source of guilt. (See suggestions on how to help the recently bereaved.)
Some of Doug's climbing stuff is also in there. These are the most painful things to handle. It's hard to explain, but he is so connected to the things he carried on those trips...
I keep thinking it will get easier. When it doesn't, I am surprised...over and over again.
A know a woman who lost her husband recently, after an awful illness. I often think of her loss, and the long, bumpy road ahead. Then I am her sister in pain.
But other times I temporarily forget her situation (although I know she does not.) I wonder why I have not heard back from her. I start to make up stories - Did I do or say something wrong? Is she mad at me? Does she not like me? Then I remember ....
It was months and months before I was able to get back to people. After 16 months, there are still so many people I have not properly thanked yet, or followed up with. I doubt they understand why they have not heard from me. They probably assume that after this long, things must be back to normal. Take it from me - it doesn't always work that way.
During Hurricane Irene, the basement flooded. The sump stopped working because we lost electricity for a week. (Note to self: Get a decent insurance policy that covers this scenario - mine did not. Another thing to add to the list.)
I just closed the door and left everything as is. This is my Standard Operating Procedure these days.
But now, a month later, the whole house is starting to smell like mildew. I went down into the dank basement. Sure enough, it is the source of stinkage. I have to clean it up.
It is a filthy disgusting job - just the sort of thing I would have stuck Doug with, probably without even lifting a hand to help him. (I might have made him a nice hot bubble bath afterwards though.) Even in the unlikely event that I HAD offered to help, he probably would have resisted, saying it was too gross, or the boxes were too heavy for me. He spoiled me so.
In any event, Doug would have seen what needed to be done, and done it. He would have put on some of his unlimited inventory of old ratty, paint and oil-stained clothes, rolled up his sleeves, and gotten to work, never uttering a complaint.
I thought of him every time my back strained under the load of heavy boxes I lugged up the steep basement stairs.
On days like this, I am not certain what I am still doing in This Old House. I left my life behind. At some point I will probably have to leave my home behind too. I'm not ready for that yet though. Although I must admit that days like this prompt wistful musings of a friction fire (the kind caused by mortgage and insurance papers rubbing together really fast.)
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