What you don’t know or see about my grief, love and loss: the truth behind closed doors.
Jon did not marry me for my cooking skills or house cleaning abilities. It was me, us together, each other’s perfect fit. He always said I flipped his switch. Our kids would catch us playing grab-ass or smooching on a regular basis. And those family videos! Jon would always zoom in on my parts he liked best, we all laugh now at his “eye” for things when we watch them. For so long, he and I were a very private couple, we relied on each other to share intricate details of our lives. Since our beginnings in Chicago, we were on a rollercoaster. Year to year, there were job changes, life changes, that only we felt we could keep up with being ever-responsible for ourselves and protecting those we loved from getting sucked in to our happy chaos. We never wanted to worry our families or close friends with too much information.
Jon was always the healthy one in our relationship. It was one of our jokes, “What will happen to Paula this summer? Gee, last year it was a knee operation.” Jon endured the constant stress of his job, at one time it was normal for him to travel three weeks out of four. His emergency surgery for a bowel blockage in January 2013 resulted in his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It was devastating, but at the same time, I finally knew why my partner was not himself. We had moved to Michigan at the end of 2011, and our family life had not settled in well. I was losing my mind trying to get the kids school situation right, struggling to make family time a priority, and failing at myself being happy on the inside even though from the outside we should have had nothing to complain about. With cancer added to our family drama as the lead antagonist character, our habits to seal and protect our family went in to full-effect and lock-down. Jon chose not to tell our children that he, in fact, had cancer, and only very few family members and friends were told of our situation. I was the lead secret keeper and had to run constant interference to support Jon’s choice for three years. That is our harsh truth, and right now I can’t add any more about that time, without ripping off large bandaids in my mind that are keeping the past on its shelf and the present in tact.
There are now three teenagers living in our house – my two kids and me. Yes, I’m the third at age 48, this is not a joke. I am convinced that my brain has detached its frontal lobe cortex just like a normal teenager’s brain due to all of the stress and anxiety caused by grief and years of withholding my truest feelings. I am now letting it all out and not holding back a single thing. Please don’t try to fix me or get me back to normal, this is my normal. I am crying in front of my kids, I am connecting with people and making new friends, I’m getting Brazilian wax treatments. If I do something that triggers an unpleasant memory, makes me go into a grief zone, or just for no reason at all, as soon as possible I will choose a release – usually exercise, sometimes social media, something that leans to the opposite of sad or can vent my frustration. Some might say I’m in denial: I say it’s survival, finding ways to feel good, to laugh, to FEEL when I would rather not. My teen-brain makes sure these things are extreme, appear reckless, or gets my heart pumping hard because when I’m sucking wind biking uphill to its crest, driving over the speed limit on country roads, or listening to music that has big-bass beats to vibrate my core – I am ALIVE and AWAKE. I want to stay awake, wide awake. The kids and I have the rest of our lives to live without Jon, and we will brace ourselves for each day, live in our reality rebuilding trust with each other, and establishing honest truths. We are not okay, and that’s okay – our lives altered by Jon’s death are continuing and they will do so full-steam ahead.~Paula