Stockings: To Hang Or Not To Hang

I reluctantly started pulling out Christmas decorations.  My nearest and dearest will be here Friday to help me set up Christmas, but I thought I’d get a head start because (knowing myself well) I will want to get rid of plenty of the old Christmas decor.  Why? (you ask).  I don’t really know, actually.  Partly because we have a lot of Christmas decorations and quite frankly I’m just not that into it anymore.  Partly because I have found that I like to change things just enough that it helps ward off the bad memories of 2015 but still allows me to retain the good ones.  I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone reading this, but it does to me.

In any case, I pulled out most of the decorations and started separating them into two piles.  The I-don’t-want-to-see-this-anymore pile and the I-always-loved-this pile.  In doing so, I opened the box that holds our Christmas stockings.  I looked at them for about half an hour, switching my attention between the actual stockings and the mantle on which Ben installed five hooks to hang them.  And I cried.

Ben and I loved Christmas stockings.  Really for the last several years it was pretty much what we did for each other for Christmas.  Just the stockings.  Let me tell you, Ben was a great stocking stuffer.  He stuffed such a good stocking that I generally looked forward to it all year.  Truthfully, the reason he was so good at it was because he would tend to leave it until the last minute and then, out of desperation, he would spend far too much money on everything I had ever mentioned that I wanted throughout the year.  Gift cards, expensive underwear, sometimes new electronics, and all the latest and greatest gadgets.  I loved it. And Ben loved it too.

Every Christmas morning I would wait for the kids to open their stockings and for Ben to open his, just so that I could concentrate on what I knew would be a very exciting stocking. Those five minutes pretty much put me on a high through the next two months.  Sometimes three months if a new Iphone or Apple gadget had come out.

So when I pulled the stockings out this year I realized that on top of having to spend Christmas without My Love, I will never again get to experience his thoughtfulness in creating my yearly high.  Never.  Ever.  Again.  And so I cried.  Isn’t it enough that I lost one of the best parts of my life?  Isn’t it enough that I can’t hear his laugh anymore unless I filter through all my video clips and replay them over and over again?  Isn’t it enough that every morning I wake up and once again remember that he isn’t here?  Now I don’t get my stocking.  And while I would obviously give up every gift, every stocking for just five more minutes with him, I’m still sad that I won’t see that stocking again.  And I’m sad that I don’t get the opportunity to stuff his stocking either.

Which leaves me with the question …. how many stockings do I hang?  Where does Ben’s stocking go?  Where does my stocking go?  Is it sadder to hang them up and see them remain in the same spot on Christmas morning …. empty … or just to not hang them at all?

I don’t have an answer to that question yet.  I’m hoping it will come to me.

While I was filtering through the decorations I came upon this:


This is the book in which I faithfully recorded every Christmas we had together from the early 90’s until 2014 when the book was finally full.  The irony is not lost on me that the last Christmas I was able to record was the last Christmas we were all together – happy and healthy.  I’m not so sure I would have wanted to record any memories from last Christmas.

I opened just the first few pages of the book, and every year I found one of these:

I sure will miss those cards.

I ordered a candle for Ben.  Specially made.  Inscribed.  It will remain lit every year. He deserves to be remembered.

On another note,  I have finally done what I promised to do last January.  I have managed to post the video clip of Zak honouring his Dad at Ben’s Celebration Of A Life Well Lived.  And so while I ponder the stocking question, here it is for your viewing pleasure.  This was actually one of the proudest moments of my life.



And The Grief Goes On…

I’m sure this is the longest I have gone without blogging since the day we started writing about this fun fest called cancer.  With a small ‘c’.  I’ve thought about writing lately, but when the mood has hit I have looked warily at my computer and have ultimately decided that I would rather bury my head under the covers and try to find some solace in sleep.  I wonder if I am “over” blogging.  I’m not sure.  I suspect it is more about the blanket of grief hanging over our lives that seems to get heavier as we approach Christmas. As we approach the anniversary of Ben’s death.  As we approach a time where every first without Ben has passed.

I believe I mentioned that I recently joined a Grief Group.  I hate that name, by the way.  I find myself embarrassed to say “Just heading off to Grief Group now.”  In any case, I did join a Grief Group because that is what I’m doing right now.  I’m grieving.  And it takes a shit load of energy, believe me.  Grieving is not for the faint of heart, and I recommend trying to avoid it at all costs.  Make sure your loved ones wear their seat belts, look both ways before crossing the road, eat their vegetables, and ask them to try to not get old.


Anyway, I joined the Grief Group and I quite like the ladies I have met, although I find myself wanting to throw my arms around them and say “I’m so sorry” about a dozen times a night.  None of them are whiners, but their stories are just so sad.  I suppose mine is sad too. (Fucking cancer.  Fucking bad hearts.)  We get handouts at the end of each night … and one of them was an article published in the Globe and Mail in 2014.  The article resonated with me, and I will share some of the author’s words here in this blog post.  But before I do, I would like to state for the record that we here in the west do grieving WRONG. In fact, we do it terribly.  I now understand why, back in the day, people wore all black for a year or wore black bands around their arms to signify their grief. We should revert back to those days.  (Perhaps just the arm bands rather then the all black clothing.  All black clothing in 2016 simply means Goth.  So that would be confusing.)

Do you know why people once wore black arm bands?  Because they were fucking grieving and the world needed to know it.  Wearing black arm bands probably prevented people from directing questions to the bereaved like “Hey chick!  How ya doin’?!”  Or comments like “Er Mah Gawd I cannot wait for Christmas!!!! Aren’t you so excited for the holidays?!”  Yes, I am aware that people mean well and that it is easy for them to forget that I probably don’t give a flying shit that Christmas is coming.  And I know that asking someone how they’re doing is just something we say out of habit as we pass by each other in the hall at work or in the grocery store.  But that is really my whole point about the arm bands.  If we lived in a society where everyone around us could easily see when someone is grieving, we could better avoid comments that accidently make the bereaved want to punch a screwdriver through their own head.

I currently live about 70% of my time in a very sad world.  Because I’m grieving.  And while I’m grieving, I’m also still trying to be a parent.  Not only am I trying to be a parent, I’m trying to be TWO parents.  Think about that shit for a moment.  I would prefer to spend my every moment watching video clips of Ben and I in better days.  Failing that, I like to pass the time by researching how to cure Collecting Duct Carcinoma on the off chance I can also figure out how to time travel. Then I will be prepared with a cure before we even receive the diagnosis.  Instead, I not only have to be the Mom but I also have to be the Dad.  And not just any Dad … one of the best Dads.  One of the most hands on Dads there could have ever been.  That is some hard shit to do, let me tell you.  And so I live 70% of my time in a sad world right now and that is quite alright, thankyouverymuch.  Don’t you think it would be a bit odd if I didn’t?  I’m moving through it though, but slowly.

Living in a sad world doesn’t mean I never again see the sun.  It doesn’t mean I assume I’ll never be happy again.  I will.  I know I will.  That’s kind of a given because that is who I am. I like to be happy.  I prefer to be happy.  But right now I’m grieving.  I can still go from happy to sad in .05 seconds and you won’t have a clue how or why it happened.  It could be a song, a smell, a word … it doesn’t matter.  It just happens.  Every single place I go on any given day, I have been there before with Ben.  So it is easy for moments to hit where I have to remind myself to breathe.

I happen to appreciate the fact that I am allowing myself to grieve properly.  I believe it will make it easier for me live however many years I have left in whatever form of happiness I am able to find.  I believe that if I let myself grieve as I need to that I will ultimately be a better mom.  A better daughter.  A better sister and a better friend.  Maybe one day a better partner to another man.  Who knows.  But I do know what I need to do right now, which is to just grieve without time limits being placed on me.  I’m working through some heavy shit.

Here’s a few of my favourite lines out of the article in The Globe and Mail.

“With spousal bereavement, things don’t get better, just different.  Everything feels wrong.  A rift exists between us, as I go on and he doesn’t.  Time comes between us.  When sutures refuse to hold, the wound opens unpredictably.  So it is for the widow or widower: The world assumes that time has done its proverbial work and “healed” us.  No.  We bleed still, our amputation aches.  The wound never heals because our partner is gone, forever.  Time heals nothing.”

“In the first fresh agonies of separation I howled like a distressed animal (which I was).  Sanity receded.  My centre gutted, mindless chores helped to ground me.  I struggled against the desire to call out for help, not wanting to trouble others, sensing even early on that few would understand the depths in which I floundered.”

And finally, after making reference to the Victorians’ shield of mourning dress, she said “Today, many deny death’s reality by doling out advice (“keep busy” or “take a trip”) with more enthusiasm than logic, as if all the bereaved need is a distraction.”

I like those last words.  “As if all the bereaved need is a distraction.”  That is a common theme amongst those who love me and want me to hurt less.  I get it.  I don’t want to watch those I love suffer either.  But it is for our own sake that we don’t want the people we love to hurt, because watching someone we love go through pain is unbearable. It hurts.  So if we can just convince them that they are happy, then we too can be happy again.  If only it were that simple.

I often think about how my parents must feel.  They loved Ben as much as anyone could love a son, and they lost him.  Oh, how that must hurt.  But in addition to the pain they feel from having Ben ripped from their lives, they also have to watch their daughter suffer without any clear end date to the suffering.  That has to hurt even more.

My husband died.  I have to check the box that says ‘widow’ on government forms.  I really resent that.  I probably always will.  Which means that five years from now, or ten years from now when I am forced to check off that box, I will be sad.  Again.  Do you know why? Because Ben is dead.  That’s why.  I think that’s a pretty acceptable reason.

I still want to talk to Ben every single day.  I want to tell him that Chris got promoted and has transferred from Ottawa to Green Timbers. I want to tell him that Dennis retired.  I want to tell him that Jeff will be coming back this summer.  The other day I wanted to tell him about the guy who came into my office perturbed about something that I thought was ridiculously insignificant.  I wanted to text Ben and tell him the story, and say “Can you believe that you are dead, and this guy wanted me to care about who should repair the cars?”  I want to tell him that I miss him, and I love him, and I want him to come home.

The kids and I finished the design for the marker for Ben’s grave.  For 12 years Ben and I regularly walked through the graveyard and I often wondered if one of us would actually end up there.  I guess now I know the answer to that question.  Ben’s picture will be placed where the white oval is in the drawing: