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.
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.