Closing In On Christmas

I remember that at this time last year we were starting to get desperate.  Ben was sleeping about 18 hours a day and it was clear that time was running out.  Barb was researching like crazy as to where we might be able to go to try to find some better treatment (not to knock the treatment he received here) and I felt Christmas looming over me like a giant hand ready to squash me like a bug.

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Once again, as we head towards that season, I am at a loss for what to do.  I honestly have no idea how I envision Christmas going this year, since Ben and I created traditions that we have carried forward for almost a quarter century.  When we were young we started cooking steak and having champagne on Christmas Eve.  It was a big deal because we really couldn’t afford either.  We continued that for several years by putting the kids to bed early and then enjoying our dinner together followed by a Christmas movie.  When the kids got older we let them partake in the steak dinner, although Ben bought cheap cuts for them since they didn’t know the difference anyway.  I will never forget the first time one of the kids had a bite of a good cut and wondered why their Christmas steak never tasted that good.

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Dinner was always followed by a Christmas Eve Service, followed by a visit from the Pajama Elf, followed by a reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” performed by Ben using ridiculous voices.  Last year he skipped the voices, but still did the reading.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  I guess the point is that I really don’t know how to handle this season without him.  I asked Zak how he envisioned Christmas and he said “I don’t know.”  Me too.  I don’t know if I want to be here, don’t know if I want to go away, and I don’t know what is best for Raegan who clearly wants to carry on status quo because she is big on tradition and would like everything to remain the same.

As for Jaime … well, she doesn’t really know if she’s coming or going.  She is struggling with the same thing everyone does as they reach the end of high school.  What do I do? I don’t know what I want to do with my life.  Etc etc.  It’s causing her a lot of stress and I’m not quite sure how to help her with that.

I think the first signs of the upcoming Christmas season are starting to get to all of us.  It has been rather tense around here of late.  I am trying to take it easy myself and help to lower everyone’s stress levels but I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of it, especially as I feel my own stress levels rising.

I read this quote the other day.  “Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a tear.”  Isn’t that true.

Shower Doors

Dear Ben,

Remember how annoyed you would get at all the water that constantly leaked out of the girls’ shower onto the bathroom floor?  Week after week, month after month, year after year you asked the girls to please be careful to not let the water drip on the floor while they showered.  Sometimes you yelled about it.  You finally went out and bought that little plastic thing that sat on the side of the tub in an effort to keep the water in.  But teens being teens they didn’t pay too much attention to your request, and now exactly what you said would happen has indeed happened. The bathroom floor is squishy and water logged and clearly in need of repair.  Except I can’t do that myself.

However, it just so happened that when Raegan discovered the squishy floor Lisa and Murray were in town, so I didn’t need to have another of the massive meltdowns that come so easily since you died.   Murray pulled back the floor, took off some baseboards and dried it all out.  Then he installed glass shower doors on the tub and took down the stupid shower curtain that never stayed in place.  We are now left with a shower that does not leak.  Thank God for Murray.

Do you know what I was thinking while Murray took on that not-so-small job for me?  I was thinking that it was my lucky day 24 years ago when I landed up in the same troop as him in Regina.  I was thinking how it was my lucky day not so long afterwards when I heard Lisa’s voice over the radio, dispatching me to calls in Sechelt.  I was thinking how strange life is that the two of them eventually met, and then years later how they met up again and started a life together.  I was thinking about how unpredictable life is.  I was thinking about the fact that 20 years ago you and I never could have possibly imagined that all these years later Lisa would be happily in love with my troopmate,  you would be dead, and they would be repairing our house.

Oh yes Ben, they did so much more then the glass doors.  Murray cleaned the gutters, they hung curtain rods, they patched the holes in the walls, they moved our fridge, and Lisa fixed both the gates so they actually close now, and even stay closed.  (Remember how many times I asked you to fix those gates?  I was pissed when you died without fixing them, but I forgive you now because I’m suspicious that you may have had a hand in directing Murray and Lisa to me at the right time.)

Do you want to know what else I thought about?  I thought about all the years you tried to stop water from leaking out of the bathtub, and how you will never get to see those glass shower doors that finally stopped the leak.  I thought about how you will never see the new fridge I had to get because the old one is half dead with broken seals that apparently cost close to $400 and must be ordered out of province.  You will never see the new dishwasher that replaced ours when the door of the old one kept breaking and you weren’t here to fix it.  You will never see the finished rec room.  You will never see your guitars on display in our bedroom.  You will never get to park your truck in the garage I cleaned out, or see the empty space where the tree used to be in the back yard.  (And speaking of trees, Murray says that damn tree in the front garden needs to come down because it’s too close to the house and all the leaves fall in the gutters and clog them up.  And by the way, Murray fixed the leak in the gutter too. The one you never quite got around to doing, but I’m over that now since it’s fixed.)

Today I had a coffee with Al Tranminh. I think I have only seen him twice since we were in training together.  The last time was right before you got sick.  I don’t know how or when he found out you were sick, or if he even knew anything about what was going on before reading the email announcement in January.  He was at your funeral though.  Today he sat with me for pretty close to an hour while I talked about you.  I told him how I missed you.  I told him how I couldn’t believe that five minutes ago we were all in training together and now you are dead.

D-E-A-D.  I try not to say “gone.”  When I say “gone” it tricks me into thinking you might come back.  So I say dead.  Dead.  Dead.  You would say “dead” too, because you always called a spade a spade.  Anyway, I have barely seen Al over the last quarter century but today he sat with me and listened, and I felt like no time at all had gone by.  He asked me questions.  And I cried again right in the cafeteria but I loved that he asked me about our last year.  He told me he remembered you as big and strong, and I told him you remained that way for so long.  I told him how badly you wanted to live, and how terrible I feel that you didn’t.

Today I also ran right into Mike Procyk at the elevator, and immediately thought about the last time you were able to make it into work and how the three of us had a conversation together beside Tim Horton’s.  Did you know he was at your funeral too?  I didn’t know that until I watched the video … or maybe I did at the time but I had forgotten.  And since today seemed to be the day for running into the oldest of our old friends, I also ran into Craig McKenzie.  Incase you didn’t know, he was at your funeral too, and I do remember him being there.  I love running into people who have known you for almost as long as me. People who remember The Titan in the early days, back when we were young.  Before kids, before life, before cancer with a small “c” and before death.

I am off now to take the dog you never met to puppy class.  Marley.  Named after Bob Marley, which you would love.  I actually wanted to call him “Ben” so that I could call “Beeeennnnn” and my call would be answered.  The kids vetoed that idea.  Marley was the next best name.

One more thing … I love you dearly but today was a rough one and so right now I am feeling pretty angry at you for dying.  You promised me you would not die until after me so I never, ever worried about your health.  Not until the day you cried “I have cancer” anyway.  Never before that day.  So I’m feeling a little let down.  Just saying.

Missing you.

Love,

Your Bride

I Wish

I wish I could go back.  I’m not even talking about going right back to better, pre cancer healthy times.  That would be lovely, but I feel as though I’d be wishing for too much if I wished for that.  I feel like that would be greedy.  I kind of feel as though I understand that it is not possible to go back too far, but maybe if I wish to just go back to last December, or even January, that might just be possible. I feel like that would not be asking for too much if I were just to ask for that because Ben was so sick by that time….how could it be asking for too much if I just want to go back to that?

I’m laying here in bed as I write this, looking at the framed picture of Ben and I hanging on the wall (it’s not even my favourite.  Why in the world did I choose that one to be blown up and framed for Ben’s service?) and thinking about how he lay right here in our bed at the very end.  

I remember the weekend right before he passed away.  A lot of people came to visit and say goodbye without really saying goodbye. Ben was still talking, albeit between bouts of falling asleep mid sentence. But he managed to have conversations with everyone and he waited for Jeff to arrive on Sunday night.  (The more time that passes, the more grateful I am to Jeff for getting on that plane to make it here for his best friend in the nick of time.  I believe Ben hung on to see him).  Ben smiled at Jeff and they exchanged a few words before Ben fell asleep, and those were essentially the last coherent words he spoke except for a weak “I love you” to the kids the next day.

I wish I could go back to just before those last moments. I wish I could tell him that in a few days I would lay beside him when he drew his last breath, and I would hold his hand, and I would comfort him.  I wish I had known before his mind went elsewhere that I had one last opportunity to have a conversation with him.  I wish I had asked him if he was scared.  I wish I had known that he would end up thinking he was drowning, and that he would panic and be desperate for some type of help that no one could give. If I had known that was going to happen I could have talked about it with him and prepared for it as we always did. I could have let him know that I would keep him safe, even though he wouldn’t feel safe. And then maybe on some level deep down, amidst the drug haze and the crazy things that bodies do when they are shutting down, he might have known on some level that he was safe.  If I had just known. If I had just talked about it.  I wish I had talked about it.

I feel so terrible for not addressing the elephant in the room with him directly. I should have addressed it.  I should have asked him.  I should have assured him I would be there with him.  That the kids would be there, and our family and friends.  I should have let him know, and if he said he was scared I should have told him I would be holding his hand. I should have told him that Jeff would be with him.  That we wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. (You know what I mean).  That we would give him all the drugs he wanted to be comfortable and to not suffer.  He did not want to suffer.  That much I do know.

I recall how one evening last summer Ben looked at me and with shock he said, “You don’t think I’m going to die do you?”  And I couldn’t get any words out.  I couldn’t say “no”, and I couldn’t say “yes.”  I just sat on the floor at his feet and cried.  At the time I thought he was asking me if I was going to a dark place in my head that he didn’t want to go to.  But now I wonder if he was just simply asking me if he was going to die.  And if that’s what he was asking, then I let him down because I didn’t answer him.  He asked me a question and I did not answer.

I wish I could have a do-over.  One more chance to go on that limo ride where Ben was too weak to get out at each stop, but seemed so content to watch the rest of us get out and marvel at the lights.  I wonder if he was scared that night.  I wonder if he rode around in that limo thinking about how it was his last Christmas, his last limo ride, the last time he would look at the lights with the kids and I, the last time he would sit in the parking lot of a McDonalds restaurant.  All the boring, mundane, beautiful things in this life.   I wish I had forgone looking at the lights and just stayed in the limo with him and held his hand, and whispered that I would never leave him. That he need not be scared.  That he would forever be surrounded by beauty.  That we would be together again one day.

The next day the doctor told him he had 3 weeks.  She was just about bang on.

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Jaime took this picture of us on the way home that day.  She sent it to me the other day.  I don’t even recall any of us speaking on the way home, but I do recall us holding hands.

I was a bit of a coward, I think, and I wish I could go back and try again.  To tell him when he had a clear mind that I would be beside him until the very end.  That I wouldn’t let him down.  That I wouldn’t leave him.  And maybe if I had talked about that when he was clear headed he might have known it on some level when his mind wasn’t working properly anymore.  I wish I knew whether or not he knew that as he was panicking in the two days before he died.

I joined a grief group.  I started last Tuesday and I attend with my friend Lisa.  Her husband died suddenly last May. There are eight of us in this grief group, and all the other women are much older except one.  She has a six year old son, and she woke up one morning a few days after Ben died to find her own husband dead beside her in bed.  I feel so sad for her, but at the same time I’m a bit jealous over the fact that her husband didn’t have to suffer and she doesn’t have to wonder if she did enough to let him know she would stay by his side.

Anyway, we were there for two hours and we did a lot of listening to the counsellors. Most of the things the counsellors had to say are things I already know, because I had nine months before Ben died to research grief, and now I’ve had nine months since he died to do the same.  I’m very well read on the subject, actually, although that doesn’t seem to lessen the pain.  

I have read (and have now been told in person) that grief is like a pounding, relentless surf, kicking and clawing at your soul and knocking you down for TWO to FIVE years.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen … two to five years.  I have barely yet begun.  But I am also told that the pain eases and the pounding of the “mourning” waves slows between punches.  The knowledge that the pain will ease should bring me some peace but it does not, because I don’t actually want to live in a time when Ben is not foremost in my thoughts.  I don’t want him to be forgotten.  I am scared that one day I might wake up in the morning and actually not think of him first thing. I’m scared that I might wake up and think of him as a passing thought and a quick smile.  I feel like if that happens then he didn’t exist.  And what of all those years he put in standing in the pouring rain at soccer?  What of all the years he worked to support us?  What of all the years he spent cooking for us, taking us on vacation, laughing and loving us?  What was it all for if we just continue to live our lives without him foremost in our thoughts?

Anyway, apparently I don’t have to worry about that any time soon because the experts tell me I have anywhere between one year and three months to four years and three months before that happens.  So it appears I will continue to randomly burst into tears in my office on occasion, talk about Ben endlessly to anyone I come in contact with for hours on end until no one wants to be around me anymore, and I will continue to reach out for him when I wake up in the morning for awhile longer yet. I’m ok with that.

I’ll end with this …. Ben doesn’t have a headstone on his grave.  That is because I am scared to make that final decision on what it should say.  What few words can adequately describe the man he was?  I don’t want to make a mistake.  So I thought I’d put this question out there to the universe and the one or two people who may read this blog.  Whether you knew him and loved him in person, or whether you just got to know him by reading our words on this blog …. I would love to have your input / suggestions on what I could write on his headstone.  A word, a quote … anything really.  Just something that might help inspire me to find the right words.

I’ll leave you with Ben’s favourite quote from Bruce Lee …”Don’t pray for an easy life.  Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”  And boy did he endure.

Fart Stories Are Funnier, But You Get My Heart

I finally took the leap and called someone in to fix my computers. They have all been quite a mess since Ben died. Anyway, he had to haul them away and it is hard to use my phone to write blog posts … hence my silence.

Today, as usual, I was flipping through my calendar and the blog to see what I was doing this day last year. It’s how I keep Ben close and trick myself into thinking he’s still here. (I live in this weird place somewhere in the middle of reality and wishful thinking.) I found this post from last year. I remember my fingers on the keyboard as I typed it out. Chris had also been recently diagnosed and Ben was suffering through that heartbreak too.

I wrote out my hope that Ben and I would be living in the moment together 50 years in the future, but I knew it wasn’t true. Like every other day that passed, I knew that Thanksgiving 2015 was to be our last Thanksgiving together. I embraced it at that moment but I wasn’t able to hang onto it. Thanksgiving has always been my favourite holiday and last year was no different. Our family was together and Ben was still reasonably strong, but I knew our last moments were ticking away.

I’m so sorry that I couldn’t save you, Ben. I think that thought every day. I’m just so sorry.

Yesterday we gathered together as a family once again – this year with one new boyfriend and one new girlfriend in the mix. Neither of them had the pleasure of knowing The Titan, but they joined us in a shot of Kracken to remember him.

Here’s hoping everyone enjoyed the day and gave their family a little extra love. Here’s to Ben.

Mom is a widow

As Dan pointed out in my previous post, fart stories are funnier then my musings about watching Ben suffer.  I agree … they are.  I laughed when I read Ben’s post too.

I do want to tell funny stories of how we are getting through this, and in fact there are some.  Our life is not all doom and gloom and I don’t want anyone to think it is.  I smile and laugh with Ben every day (mostly when he farts, ironically), and although we tend to avoid actual discussions about “living in the moment” and “mindfulness” it is clear that is where we both are.  Thats a good thing, I think.  Everyone talks about doing it but then gets carried away with life and the years pass without anyone knowing where they went.  Well, we are really doing it.  We are living and loving in the moment.  Hopefully we will…

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