Pt 03 concludes this story.
November 1, 2017 – continued
The Before is sealed shut. So now what? Can any grass be found, and if so, be “greener” HERE in After, can it EVER possibly be? Am I torturing myself saying and thinking this for my life as it is now? These are honest questions I ask myself, adding these to a list of so many with no answers. I’m at the beginning of the second year since he died, 13 months ago as of November. Some would suggest, this time is still considered “early grief.” I suggest “grief is grief” and as Megan Devine says, “Grief cannot be fixed, it can only be carried.” Some would also suggest, I should not be so sad anymore, that I should be moving forward, and turn off the Grief Channel once in while. I suggest, that each person’s grief is different, and with all due respect, I am speaking as his spouse and partner of over 20 years, and this is how it is for me and what I feel. Others in my loss circle grieve him as their child, brother, father, nephew, cousin, and friend: each feeling his absence in their own way. I’ve often described where I am as a desert-like atmosphere with cracks and dust without relief. I’m bloodied and raw, and healing is an ongoing process. Sometimes I feel a little better, and then I cut myself on some unforeseen object and I’m back to bleeding all over again. If I lived in Ancient Greece or in the Middle Ages, I would be considered healthy from this constant cycle of blood-letting.
I close my eyes now and think that I gave everything I had to this man, to our life together, and yet it was not enough. Sometimes I think I killed him just by supporting his decisions in those final weeks of his life. The feeling of failure in Before and now in After is something I deal with every day. I needed and wanted to give more Before, but at its end, I was only able to help him die and to fulfill his wishes for HIS After. That’s all I could really do. Giving and receiving, wanting and needing: the timing and order in After is now all wrong, and it’s turned and skewed into a steady flow of taking from me and a constant being without. Life is at times now completely unsatisfying because he was the only one who crawled under my skin and who I truly trusted, and I have none of that in MY After. My “giving fully” died with him. What I fear most now is losing the desire of “giving” all-together subsequent of his death, and frankly, I feel more like “giving-up” and just saying “to hell with it all, I’m done.” I have moments and days like that when those very words escape my lips.
Inside dream-fueled thoughts is often where I find my escape to sort out what was Before and to cope with After, searching for visual ways in my mind to express my fears, frustration, sadness, and my wanting to feel a ‘happy’. I would like to be-and-feel happy, it’s in-part at the core of all of this writing. In My Reality, ‘happy’ isn’t here right now, and all my smiling and laughing is me trying to evoke it forward from muscle memory or out of thin air. My trip to Central America brought many realizations to me: mostly that anywhere I go, a grief bomb can and will happen. A sudden connection or memory that I can’t look away from pops up like an unexpected burp, or like a punch in the gut, take your pick. In these moments, if I hesitate or stand still, I feel things around me sadden, wither, and fade quickly like that transition from summer to fall when instead of the leaves slowly changing from green to vibrant fall colors for several weekends, in only a couple days time, the leaves just darken to muddy-browns, curl, and scatter in crispy, windswept swirls getting stuck in matted-wet piles. Whereas, If I keep in motion, things may stay a pale color, like on a cloudy day, but tiny growth happens wherever I step, however brief the moment. It is these steps that I am now trying to concentrate on, making each one as if it were my last.
Maybe now would be a good time to tell you why I seem so broken, so laden with extra weight. There are things about me that I haven’t yet talked about, but I will get some of it out now and “on the playing field.” In the summer of 2015, I was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer. This was a game-changer in my relationship with Jon. There were new challenges in supporting each other, more worry about our kids, and for me loads of guilt having to focus on myself more than him. Jon was originally diagnosed with cancer in January 2013, and had been treating its remnants after surgery with chemotherapy since that year. His actually being cured was unknown, but we stayed positive believing in “mind over matter.” He managed to be “stable” which in the cancer-world, is a win. The way we each dealt with our forms of cancer and outcomes had gashed a wide hole in between us and our children. Jon kept the knowing of his cancer from our kids until January of 2016. I was open in telling our kids and families about my diagnosis in real-time, partly because my cancer was seen as “curable.” I had a lumpectomy and radiation, but did not require chemotherapy. I’m still feeling the after-effects of radiation, and I take daily medication. The impact of these happenings and decisions is still rippling through our family. I couldn’t fix cancer then and I can’t fix grief now. I can go running, cycling, and surfing: going places and doing activities where my body can become physically strong to survive and to fill deep-emotional voids. Thoughts of more cancer, my own mortality, and hopes to rebuild the fragile trust with my kids, are mixed with and never far behind those grief bombs.
This time right now feels so empty. And the holiday season has only just begun. The ‘Season of Giving’ indeed: sorry-not-sorry I’m all out of my wanting to give to anyone right now. In many ways, I’m surrounded by dead things that are stuck, like the dust I see on this coffee table, or maybe more of a hard-frost that’s put things in a semi-frozen state, like what I see outside of my window. But all the while, I’m wanting something that just isn’t here in front of me — yet. Not yet. “Be patient” I reluctantly tell myself. For every step I take in this bleak landscape, I’m picking up those bits of growth at my feet, the somethings appearing out of nothing, and holding on to them. These micro-pieces I collect remind me of what I need to do now: stop fighting and be kind to myself and other people, focus on being present in the moment and looking to a new version of a future yet to take shape, and make peace with my body that needs special care if I’m going to be so active and in constant motion. My kids are grieving too, and I need to walk with them in life’s wreckage here and be their mom. If that means that they get all-day-crying mom, so be it, we will face this After together. I am that deep-green corduroy couch in pieces all over again. I’m determined now to pick up any small piece of green I find, some of the old-me, but a whole lot of new-me. I’m in the beginning of the making-of-me. I am figuring out how to be alone. Without him, after him. It’s a “building-up” that needs my hard work to stay focused. Not fixing, just doing. It’s time to be reconstructed, piece by piece, and I will fit just right in the space I choose to be. ~Paula
Recommended reading: It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine