A Letter Left At My Front Door

Well, I made it.  While the season is not yet over, I have made it through my first Christmas.  I’m told (from those more seasoned than I) that the second Christmas / year is harder than the first.  Perhaps that’s true, but for now I will allow myself a little bit of self satisfaction knowing that I made through number one.  And I’m still here to tell the story.

Every day is a mixture of good and bad, but in honour of Christmas I’ll start with the good part.

Back in November I wrote this post about Christmas stockings  (click here) and I mused over the fact that I would never again open a stocking from Ben.  He did great stockings, and that is honestly something I will miss so much. So you can imagine my surprise this morning when I wandered downstairs and discovered that my empty stocking had been moved from the fireplace onto the chair, and it was stuffed. Full.  It was overflowing. And I will confess to getting a bit teary eyed as I realized (thought) that my sweet parents had stuffed my stocking after I had gone to bed.

When my Mom came into the family room for our morning coffee I moved my stocking and all the contents (everything was wrapped individually so I couldn’t peek) onto the floor so I could sit on the chair, and I said to my Mom “You didn’t have to do that.”  I was referring to the fact that she and Dad did not have to fill the empty space in my Christmas by taking over the stuffing of my stocking.  Mom didn’t answer me but I assumed that was because her hearing is a little less than it once was (sorry Mom), or because sometimes we all just don’t know what to say in those moments where you find yourself trying to stem the waterworks.

Anyway, I was distracted from the full stocking because everyone wandered downstairs and I was busy taking the yearly Kids-On-The-Stairs photo….

2016-stairs

…. and we all went into the family room as per tradition to open our stockings.  When the kids were finished, I started in on mine.  I forget exactly what I said but at some point while unwrapping the many gifts I said something that made my mom respond, “I didn’t give you that.”  Whaaaattt???  I assumed she was joking but she insisted that she had not stuffed my stocking.  At least not with all those wrapped gifts.

I looked at the kids and asked them who stuffed my stocking, and each of them denied it. Zak said that if he had done it he would have taken the kudos for it (haha) so I knew it wasn’t him.  A Christmas miracle, it seems.  It certainly did appear as though Santa had popped down the chimney after we all went to bed, and I was briefly creeped out as I thought about the fact that an unknown person appeared to have been in the house. (Then I thought we had the makings for a made for tv Christmas movie.)  Anyway, after much prodding I managed to get a teeny confession from Jaime …. she knew who had filled my stocking and she had helped by getting the gifts into it, but she refused to tell me who it was.  She still will not say, and I swear I have no idea at all.

This is what I unwrapped …

stocking1

It is possible that a few items were left out when I took this picture, but let me just say to whomever is my Santa … thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I am so moved that someone would do that for me…to try to fill in where Ben is not able.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciated your efforts to try to ease my pain.  Thank you.

Christmas morning continued …

…. and there were smiles amongst the underlying sadness.

Eventually we were finishing up with the gifts and for some reason (I forget exactly) I ended up opening the front door and discovered a note.  Well, technically I did not discover the note immediately.  I actually discovered this:

stocking

I discovered this gigantic Santa sack sitting on my front porch, overflowing with gifts. What the heck?  After hiring a crew to lift it into the family room, I opened the note that came with it:

note

I am not often rendered speechless as my nearest and dearest are well aware, but today I was.  As I write this I am teary over the love that flowed from that Santa sack.  I know it was put together to try to help ease the pain of not having My Ben here to be my “Santa”, but in fact what it actually did was serve to remind me, once again, that there is still love in my life.

Paula (Kathy), Connie, Susan, Lelita, Teresa, Christine, Nancy, Lisa, Beth, Jackie, Barb and Lisa … what can I possibly say to you?  There is nothing adequate.  Thank you.  Thank you for thinking of me, and of the kids, when you all have your own families and your own things going on. Thank you for walking with Ben and I every minute of his last nine months.  Thank you for your constant love and support.  Thank you for your kindness.  Thank you for being gentle with my heart.  Thank you for your understanding when my head is not in the game.   Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.  Thank you for knowing how much it hurts. Thank you for being there for me when Ben died. Thank you for still being there for me a year later, and for being a constant reminder that all is not lost forever in my world. Thank you for your friendship. Thank your for the coffees, the shopping, the laughs, the tears, the dinners, the quiet company, the hugs, the workouts, the pep talks, the yoga, the texts.  Thank you for the insanely overstuffed stocking that made me smile, that I loved so much, and not one bit of that love was due to the actual gifts (although….come on you crazy ladies … who could not love all that?!) but because I was reminded that even when I’m alone, I’m not alone. So … just … thank you.

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When the house was quiet and everyone had left for a bit, I had time to do this …

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It was a nice visit.  I didn’t cry.  But I did do a shot of Kracken while I stood there. 🙂

Tonight there was this:

table

That is the table I worked on for weeks.  Napkins folded courtesy of Jaime.  Shot glasses to release the Kracken (why couldn’t he have loved a nice white wine?). Empty spot at the head of the table for Ben.  And there was this:

candle

And then there was this …

And although Chase wasn’t at our dinner table, I stole this picture taken today from Raegan’s Instagram, because his presence was missed tonight:

rae-chase

So there you have it.  That was our Christmas.  The first without Ben, but I never really felt alone.

Mom and Dad … if I failed to mention it while you were here (and I think I did), thank you for staying here with us.  Your presence made it easier.  And thank you to all the others out there who came by over the last week to drop off baking and the champagne – because there is really nothing that can’t be helped by deliciously unhealthy eating and some bubbly, am I right?

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that every day is a mix of good and bad.  I started with the good, and honestly I do not have anything bad to follow.  Sad?  Yes.  Lonely?  Yes. I don’t anticipate that ever changing because Ben is never coming back, but I did not feel alone.  Life without Ben is sad, and there’s no getting around it.  Ever. But I did not feel alone.

So thank you.  And Merry Christmas.

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Best Random Comment Ever

I received this email today.  From John Buckley of Belfast Ireland. I have never met him, but Ben used to speak of him often. Ben worked with him on the course  in Ottawa.  Ben wanted to visit him in Ireland one day.

It’s interesting to become aware of the positive impact that someone has in the world, and just how far it reaches.  Anyway, receiving this email gave my heart a little hug today.  (Also, I have no idea why emails to me show up in Raegan’s name.  Disregard that part. He wasn’t emailing my daughter.  That would be weird)

He is not forgotten. How could he be?  Not The Titan.  I’m smiling tonight as I go to sleep. 🙂

No More Fucks To Give

Over the last twenty months there have been several things that have made me angry. Finding out My Love was dying was second on the list.  Watching him die tops out as number one.

But there were other things that have ranked pretty high on my anger list too.  One of them was when the crazy neighbour kid with the behaviour problems spewed hatred in front of Raegan and yelled at me “why don’t you just go die and join your husband!”  That little incident took place when I came upon him in the street screaming in fury at his mother. When I stopped to try to talk him down, he screamed out that horrifying and hearltless comment and made Raegan cry.  A mere two months after my (then) fourteen year old daughter watched her beloved Dad die right in front of her, some asshole kid with anger issues and a violent temper knocks her down further.  I  wrote about that in this post.

Interspersed over the last (almost) two years were some other anger-causing incidents. There were the various times when Ben writhed in an agony that no one else in the world could ever tolerate.  There was the time when he no longer knew who I was and he believed he was drowning, and the time when his daughters patiently cleaned up after him and tried to save his dignity.  All those things and more made me angry.  I was angry when, shortly after my beloved husband died, someone dared to say to me “there is no greater loss than that of a child.” Was that was supposed to  be soothing and remind me that something worse could have happened?

Over the last (almost) two years I remained as calm and composed as I could, for Ben’s sake and for the kids.  I have done my best to be understanding when people have unknowingly said insensitive things, and I have reminded myself that they can’t possibly know what I’m going through so I have always tried to cut them some slack and just let it go.

But tonight …. tonight I am done.  Tonight I no longer have any fucks to give.  (Paula is going to love that I just said that.  Right Paula?!  It’s our favourite line.  Well, that and douchetard).  Anyway, tonight I simply don’t have it in me to find an excuse for what just happened.  And since the kids and I are the ONLY people who matter in our world right now, and since I write this blog for the purpose of relieving myself of some of the agony that goes on in my head, I am going to tell you what just happened.  Because I don’t give a fuck about making excuses for idiots any longer and I don’t give a fuck about being polite.

Tonight I received a text from a number I didn’t recognize, but as I began reading it I became aware that it was from someone I once knew.  Someone I have not been friends with for several years, for a very specific reason that doesn’t need rehashing right now since that is not why I am angry.  Mother  of the delightful neighbor boy previously mentioned.

The background of this story tonight (and what the person who sent the text to me had no knowledge of) was that I came home from work the other day feeling particularly sad. Christmas is around the corner, and My Love is gone.  The kids have suffered so terribly and I fear how I will make it through the holidays without crumbling into a ball of nothingness.  I am sad.  So sad.  I miss Ben terribly.  So terribly that I physically feel it in my heart.  That is how I was feeling on this particular day when I arrived home from work.

My thoughts were on Ben as I got out of my car and walked towards the mailbox.  I was completely preoccupied with trying to hold down the vomit and the pain I was feeling at the same time as I thought about Ben, as I constantly do.   And as I was walking to the mailbox I was vaguely aware that the boyfriend of the woman I was once friends with in another lifetime was also walking to the same mailbox.  The thought barely registered with me … I just walked there, waited my turn, got my mail and walked home.  He did the same.  At least I think he did …. like I said, I was preoccupied and didn’t pay him any attention.  In theory he could have danced naked in front of me and I still wouldn’t have noticed.  Ben.  Ben.  Ben.  That’s all I was thinking. That’s all I ever think.

I haven’t given that little “incident” another thought.  Can walking to the mailbox, not saying a word, and walking home even be called an “incident”???  In any case, out of the blue tonight I received this random text:

text1

Lets treat each other with respect and compassion?  WTF?  I actually had to re-read that text because I literally couldn’t believe that walking quietly to the mailbox and back without a word resulted in being accused of avoiding eye contact, ignoring, and an implied lack of compassion.  On my part.  (Wait … wasn’t it my husband that just died?  Wasn’t it my world that fell apart?) So again I say WTF?!!! Could it actually be possible that someone would think there was anything ok about that text?  It’s almost fascinating to know that someone can be so fucking out of touch with reality that they could think that I wouldn’t have anything bigger on my mind then whether or not I made fucking eye contact with their boyfriend!!!!  Could another human being actually be that ridiculously self absorbed???  Is that even possible?

fucking-kidding

Well yes, apparently it is.  And after I stared at the text in disbelief and quickly sifted through all the horror I have witnessed over the last slightly-less-than-two-years, I responded with this:

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And then, just to ensure it ended I wrote:

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That should be enough, right?  That would surely make this sod pause and think “oops … yeah, duh.  I guess watching the love of your life wither away in front of your eyes, scream in pain, cry and beg and plead for pain relief and lose all hope might take a higher spot on her list of priorities over striking up a chitty-chat at the mailbox with a man she barely knows and isn’t particularly fond of.  I suppose that maybe it takes every ounce of her energy to get up every day and put on a smile for her kids.  Oh, AND, I also guess it’s possible that this time of year might be exceptionally difficult for her, and might even get worse soon as Christmas will be followed by the anniversary of her Love’s death.”

Right? That text I sent might wake her up, right?  Wrong.  She then sent this:

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Whaaaaatttttt?????  Wrath?  Wait …. what??  Reached out countless times?  I can count them, actually. You showed up at the door once without any notice at a time when Ben was in a lot of pain, and you wanted to come in for tea.  I said it wasn’t a good time.  Then there was a FB message to which I responded quite nicely, and then there was some flowers when Ben died. That’s three times.  So …. thank you again for sending flowers when my Love died in our bed.  Apparently thanking you once at the time was not enough.  I should have put more thought into that.  Thinking about you and your thoughtfulness probably should have been more at the forefront of my thoughts rather then “how the fuck will I survive without Ben.”  Deepest apologies.

And of course I should have noticed (even though we haven’t seen each other in years) that you are now trying to live a good life.  I definitely should have noticed that and sent you some recognition for that.  Maybe a good time for doing that would have been while body removal was taking Ben away?  After all, I was outside at the time anyway.  Or I could have made a pit stop at your place on my way to the funeral.  Terribly thoughtless of me …. I have had so much free time over this year.

I stared at that and wondered what to say.  There was just so much I could have said in response.  I’m a decent writer.  I could have come up with something eloquent.  Instead, all I had in me in was this:

text4

Th-th-th-th-that’s all folks.  That all I had to say.  That’s still all I have to say.  I have nothing left.  I’m depleted.  All out of fucks to give.  

By the way…that wasn’t the end for her.  Nope.  She thought she’d add a little passive aggressive note for good measure.  Maybe just to put me in my place, right?  How dare I say “fuck off.”  She is a now a good person, and damn it I should know that.  Since I clearly was not aware of that, of course she should remind me in the most passive aggressive way possible.

Wait for it …..

text5

Merry FUCKING Christmas to you!  And a jolly fucking Ho Ho Ho!

Suck it, you inconsiderate, self absorbed, ri-fucking-diculous moron.  Suck it, I say.

And. I. Do. Not. Give. A. Fuck.

I’ve Had Better Days, For Sure

This is a tough day for me.  Last year on this day I wrote this post:  Weeks?

Last year on this day, the Saint-Onge Five and the ever present Barb sat in a room together while we were told that the miracle drug did not appear to be working, and that if it wasn’t working then Ben had three weeks to live.  Three weeks.  Ever think about what you would do if you were told you had three weeks to live?

We did this, because what else was there to do?

fullsizerender

He held my hand.  The kids sat in the back and if memory serves, none of us spoke.  What is there to say when you are given news like that?  Turns out, as I’ve mentioned, that no matter how much you say, you will never say enough.

So today I find myself angry.  A few things of late have set me off as Christmas approaches, aside from the fact that I have to stare at Ben’s ashes instead of his face. Writing about specifics won’t make me feel better.  (Chalk one up for Ben who used to tell me that vomiting angry feelings wrapped up in the word “venting” does not make things better. He would say “Venting does not serve any purpose except to make you feel angrier.”  He was right.)

So instead I will simply say this … if you need to fix some wrongs or mend some past problems surrounding Ben and by extension his beloved wife and kids, then fix them. Reach out and fix them.  Address that God damn elephant in the room.   Have you learned nothing from Ben’s death?  Fixing things will actually entail you taking both responsibility and some tangible action.  If you don’t, it’s all on you.  If you feel this advice was not meant for you, it probably wasn’t.  If you feel it was meant for you, you are right.

Today I will confess that on this day last year, when Dr. H told Ben he had about three weeks to live (she pretty much nailed it, as we later found out), I already knew about the three weeks before going into that meeting. At that time I had spent just over 8 months trying to find the balance between hope for Ben and a need to ease the kids into what was inevitably going to happen.  (Let me tell you, that is a terribly shitty place to be stuck.  Terrible.)  But the evening before we got this worst of the worse news, as we cruised the streets of Surrey in a limo looking out at the Christmas lights, my cell phone rang.  It was Dr H, and I knew what she was calling for because she had told me she would call when the time came.  And it was around 9pm when she called, so it couldn’t be good news.

In a falsely cheery voice I said, “Oh, hey, yeah, so we’re just out for a limo ride with the kids right now!” and she quietly said, “Please call me on my personal phone when you get home.”

I phoned her when I got home.  She told me it wasn’t good.  I asked her “how long” and she said “Three weeks.”  And I told her that it was time for her to tell Ben and the kids this news herself.  I told her that he deserved to know incase he needed time to take care of anything unfinished.  I told her that I had enough burden to carry and I could not forever be that person.  That my job was to be his wife and to love him as hard as I could for as long as I could, and her job was to do these crap jobs like telling the most wonderful man in the world he did not have long to live. She agreed, and told me to bring everyone down tomorrow and she would fit us in.

That was really good of her, but the problem is that a specialist doesn’t just “fit you in.” Nor do they tell you to bring your kids.  So now I had a problem.  How did I tell Ben what she wanted without scaring him and making it impossible to allow him just one more night of peace?  How did I convince the kids to come without alarming them too?  And I was angry to have to carry that burden, and I am angry now remembering it.

When I went downstairs and told Ben about the next day appointment, Ben pushed it a bit. I wasn’t easily able to blow him off but I was vague.  “She wanted to talk about the MRI that had been done that morning and yes, there was a bit of bad news about how it spread BUT we still have a Nivolumab treatment on Dec 24th so that’s great!  Oh, and, um, she thought it would be good for all of us to come down and see her.”

Ben was not a stupid man, and of all times, this was the one where he started pressing for detail.  “Why do the kids need to come?  They are busy.”  “No, they’re not, and they WANT to come, Ben. Its Christmas holidays.  They like to be with you.”  (And off I went to try to gently explain to the kids why it was so important they come and be with their Dad the next day, and why they could not for one second make him think they had anything else to do or he would jump all over it.  I don’t remember what I told them.)  “It can’t be good when she wants the kids to come.”  “Well honey, I think she just knows we’re all off on holidays together and she’d like to get them up to speed.  Let’s just wait until tomorrow and we’ll have a drive down there.  Maybe some lunch.”  Sigh.  I went upstairs and cried. And I frantically told Barb that she must find a fake way to meet us there, because if he knew she was coming to this “casual” appointment he would know, and that would rob him of any tiny bit of peace he still had before that appointment.  I think she came up with “a meeting” in the area and a well timed break where she wanted to bring us coffee, if memory serves.  Good one, Barb.

So, at noon on December 17, 2015, The Saint-Onge Five and Barb squished into a room where Dr H went over the results of the MRI.  And then, as gently as she could, she told us that Ben would likely die in three weeks.  And to be honest, I don’t really remember anything after that.

At about this moment last year I was clinging to Ben’s hand.

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This would be one of those random grief waves that tend to hit.

“And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief”

Muerto

Dear Ben,

It has been eleven months and two days since you died.  (I hate it when people say they “lost” someone.  WTF is that supposed to mean?  They misplaced their loved one?  I didn’t lose you.  You aren’t missing ….you died. Dead. Muerto, as you would have said to me in an accent that would have made me crack right up.  Mmmm-werrrrr-to!)

I’ve learned a few things since you died … a few more since the last time I noticed that I had learned a few things.  I decided to write them down because (a) I can look at this list when I’m feeling a little bummed out and it will serve as a reminder that I actually can get things done by myself, and (b) I want you to know that I know these things about myself. Somehow I feel like you might actually hear me if I speak them out loud or you might be able to read them if I write them down.  Since the kids are home I have opted not to speak them out loud lest they think I’m losing my mind.  (Which is also possible.) Here goes.

I have learned that I am inherently strong.  I handle things.  I am resilient.  I can do things even when I don’t want to, even when I think I don’t know how, even when I think I’m too tired.  I can still do things.  When I don’t know how to do something I hear you say, “You know, there’s this really cool new thing called GOOGLE. You should try it.” When an electronic doesn’t work and I start to think about picking it up and throwing it across the room I hear you say, “Wendy.  First line of defence is to unplug and plug it back in.  When in doubt, reboot.”  (And for the record, I also hear you say it in a sarcastic tone.) Overall I think you would be proud of my strength.  In fact, I think you knew I was strong long before I did.  I think that you knew I would take care of the kids and myself and not crumble, and I think that is why you didn’t have to ask me not to melt down and hide in bed.  You already knew I wouldn’t, even when I didn’t know it.

I have learned that life is too short to do shit you don’t want to do.  Not all shit, mind you. Some shit needs to be done or else you just fall into the lazy category.  People need to work.  Paid or unpaid, working at homemaking or doing volunteer work outside of the house – people need to contribute in some way and not lay in bed all day. But I think that life is too short to waste any time feeling trapped every day in a job you don’t love.  I don’t think people should spend time doing shit they don’t want to do.  If you don’t love what you do, change it.  Be the change you wish to see.  Isn’t that what you always told me?  (I know you stole that quote from Ghandi, by the way.  I just didn’t want to call you out on it at the time.)

I have learned that while you can (and should) prepare for death in practical ways like insurance and guardianship for your kids, you cannot prepare for it emotionally no matter how much you try.  I had 266 days to prepare for your death.  266 days in which I approached your death like I approach work – methodically and with planning.  I researched online, I sought out people who had been through it before, I spoke to counsellors and various medical professionals, I followed blogs … you name it and I did it. I planned your funeral.  Yes, I did.  While you sat in your chair beside me and while we quietly kept each other company night after night I was actually preparing the slide show for your service. When you asked me for my laptop so that you could see if you could get it running any faster I made an excuse about why you didn’t have to.  In fact, I didn’t want you to see the slide show I was making.  I checked out venues for your funeral.  I ordered a dress for your funeral (which I regret wearing, by the way.  I should have worn pants to be comfortable.  I don’t think you would have cared.)  I took countless numbers of photos so that the kids and I would have something to hold on to.  (I also learned you can never take enough photos.  No matter how many you take, the time will come when you have looked at every single one so many times that you still long for new ones.) I took notes in preparation for writing your obituary.  For 266 days I prepared, all the while knowing that no matter what I did practically, I could never prepare emotionally.  And I was right. (Being right was not something I learned because you died.  I already knew that before you ever got sick. Haha.)

I have learned that no matter how much advance notice one has of their loved one dying, they will still never say all that needs to be said.  There will still be regret, even when you spend 266 days trying to ensure that you would not have any regret at all.  You will.  You won’t take enough pictures, you won’t take enough video, and you won’t say everything you want to say.

I have learned that my brain simply cannot wrap itself around the fact that you are dead. It just can’t.  I understand you are dead.  I know you are dead.  You died laying right beside me.  I saw you die.  Barb saw you die.  Jeff saw you die.  Raegan saw you die.  Jaime saw you die.  Zak saw you die.  Emalee saw you die.  Mom saw you die.  Dad saw you die.  Leanne saw you die. Marlene saw you die.  Julie saw you die.  I watched them take your body away.  Jeff stood by you while your body was cremated. I could ask any one of those people and they would tell me that you are dead, but still it is not real for me.  Eleven months and one day later and it still does not feel real.  Still I feel that you will come home, and I often think about all the things I will tell you when I see you.  I’m not making a word of that up – that is what my brain thinks will happen.  I wonder if that will ever stop.

I have learned that I am capable of managing our finances.  It took all year, but I can do it. And it’s kind of fun, especially since I get to decide how the money is spent.  (You would be slightly pissed off at some of the things I have done with our money, but then again, you should not have gone and died on me so you can’t really complain.) And also, for the record, I am better at budgeting than you were.  I think you may take exception to that comment, and to be fair I now know that it would be very frustrating to try to budget when someone else (possibly me) would just buy whatever was necessary (new boots) on occasion without pre-planning.  BUT, overall I am still better at budgeting.

I have learned how to do some of your jobs.  Get the tires changed.  Maintain my car (I still don’t wash it). Stay up late to make sure the kids come home (sometimes). Lay down some rules about boyfriends / girlfriends and actually enforce them. Drive to Vancouver (still hate it). Salt the driveway in the snow. Make your Caesar salad dressing.  Cook a steak. Choose new appliances (that was a big one). Buy a new mattress all by myself.  Give good pep talks to the kids.  Be more positive.  Be less scared. Worry less (just a little bit less. I’m still a hypochondriac.) Care a bit less about what others think. Be alone a lot. Be more patient (sometimes).

I have learned that no matter how much someone loves you, life goes on.  I already knew that, actually, but it is one thing to know it as an idea out there somewhere and an entirely different thing to actually experience it.  To watch other people move forward as though you were never here is a tough one. (And also that is not true, I know, but it’s easy to feel that way.  I know they don’t do it as though you were never here, but rather because they have no choice. None of us do, but still watching everyone move on and knowing they are not thinking of you every second of the day is hard.)

I have learned that I loved you more than I ever actually realized while you were alive.  I know this because my heart still aches so badly.  Because I still wait for you.  Because I still talk to you.  Because I miss you constantly. Because I still cannot imagine a future without you.  Because I still want to know your opinion on everything.  Because I still want to celebrate your life any chance I get, and because doing so makes me feel good.  Well, better.  For a minute.

I have learned that you were the source of most of the mess in this house. I was always pretty sure it was true, but now I know for sure.

I have learned what I thought was always true but never really had to find out … I hate cooking and I hate grocery shopping.  Let me just say that I feel sorry for the kids.  I try to keep a can of soup in the cupboard.

I miss you.  I love you.  I hope you hear me when I talk to you.  I hope you know how much you were loved.  I hope you pay us a visit at Christmas and I hope I feel your hug on New Years Eve.  I am glad that we never really made a big deal out of New Years Eve, because I think that would make this one even lonelier.  I am rather ambivalent about Christmas. I’m not excited but I don’t feel overwhelmingly sad yet, either.  I made a plan to keep myself occupied, so hopefully it’s enough.

Your headstone will be set at your grave this Friday.  1pm.  Zak and I will be there, and we (I) will release the Kracken.

I love you Ben.

Love,

Your Bride

Dear Kathy … You Are Not Alone

Dear Kathy.

This morning I woke to find the comment you wrote on my post entitled “I Still Look For Him.”  I could see that today was a particularly painful day for you and I started to write a response. My words went like this …. “how I wish I could help ease the pain you suffer.” But as I wrote those words I realized that wishing alone does nothing, and so instead I have chosen to write this: “Let me help ease the pain you suffer.   It is a pain I know intimately well, and I think I can help you.”

The burning question in your mind must be “How?  How can you help me?  Can you bring my husband back?”  I know that question well because I ask it all the time.  When people say “how can I help?” I think to myself – and sometimes say out loud – “Can you bring Ben back?  Because that would be most helpful.”  It makes for awkward conversations at times but at least it gives me a chuckle when I see someone stumbling for words after hearing my honest response.  People don’t expect honesty, I think.  Or they don’t want it. They prefer to hear “everything is fine, thank you for asking.”

Anyway, back to how I can help.  I think I can help you by continuing to share my own story with you.  (Sorry … no magic answer there.  I know you were hoping for more). I think I can help you by reminding you that you are not alone.  By reminding you that, most sadly, others do suffer with you / us and do know our pain.  And others do move through the pain toward a brighter future.

I have come to know that it is a fallacy that people “get over it,” but I believe people do “move through it.”  I am moving through it, Kathy.  So are you, whether you realize it or not.  I move through a little bit more every day, sometimes with two steps backwards, but I do move through it and so do you.

For me, I am doing it by just being as honest and true to myself as I possibly can.  I am doing it by trying to make sure that I do exactly what feels right at any given moment. Sometimes that isn’t pretty.  Sometimes it involves tears and snot and making other people feel very awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes it means avoiding people when I have no idea why.  Sometimes it means hurt feelings – both mine and others’.   I try to be kind to everyone, but if other people’s feelings get hurt simply because I feel this odd need to re-enter the real world at a snail’s pace by dipping one toe in the water at a time, so be it.  I cannot and will not worry about their hurt feelings, because my need to do what I need to do supersedes their needs, quite frankly. I’m being selfish and I’m glad I am, because I strongly believe it will help me in the long run.  I believe it already has.  If it takes me 18 months or 24 months or 36 months or longer to fully immerse myself back in the real world of visiting with people and doing some of the things I “used to do,” then I say so be it. People will just have to patiently wait for me or move on without me.  The hurt feelings of others are irrelevant compared to my pain, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. As you and I are intimately aware … life is too short to waste time worrying about the trivialities.

I do not believe that you or I will ever find anyone who understands us like another person who has lost their own spouse. There is no loss that is the same as losing your life partner. Regardless of how fiercely one may love their child / parent / sibling / friend they simply cannot understand the pain of losing their spouse until it happens.  All loss is not the same.  All loss is painful, yes, and nowhere will you ever find me saying that my loss is more or less painful than anyone else’s loss.  But all loss is not the same.  I hope to never understand the pain of losing a child, and I will not pretend to know what it feels like to lose a child just because I have experienced my own extreme and unrelenting loss that began the day Ben cried “I have cancer.  It’s in my kidney and my bones.”  So I don’t want anyone who hasn’t lost their own spouse to presume they understand my pain.  On the day your spouse dies you are thrust unwillingly into an exclusive club that you never asked to join, and only other members of this shitty “Dead Spouse” club can truly understand.

As you know, aside from the fact that you lost the one person you had pledged to grow old beside, you also lost so much more.  You lost the security you felt in knowing he would be there when you got home at the end of the day. He was supposed to be there always. When you struggle with raising your kids, he was supposed to be there struggling alongside you. When your dishwasher broke, he was there. When you got the flu, he was there. When all the kids were out for the evening, or gone for the weekend, he was there. When he wasn’t there, you knew how to reach him. Perhaps you even relished in the free time because you knew he was coming home eventually.

Being alone back then did not mean staring out at the vast “alone years” ahead, it meant being alone for an hour, or a weekend.  It did not mean forever.

Losing a spouse robs you of the person who promised to hold you as you watch your children leave the nest and move across the city, or the country, or the world. Losing a spouse forces you to look around and say “Now what do I do with the next 40 years?” Losing a spouse forces you to acknowledge that when you send your babies out into the world, you will be doing it alone. There will be no one there to hold you and cry with you as you wave goodbye to your baby. Losing a spouse means there is now no one in the entire world who loves your children as much as you do.  Losing a spouse is lonely. A kind of lonely like no other. A kind of lonely that can never be filled.  Losing a spouse robs you of the person you immediately turn to, to tell them something trivial that no one else in the world would really care about.  Losing a spouse robs so many people of financial security. Losing a spouse robs many of the health care benefits that covered their children through their spouse’s employment. Losing a spouse robs many of their homes.  Losing a spouse means you have to figure out how to change your own tires, buy your own cars, kill your own spiders, find someone to fix your roof, and eventually maybe even pack all your belongings by yourself to move houses.  The last time I checked, there was no friend, child, sibling or parent who filled all those roles. Just your spouse.  And they are gone.  Forever. So no, there is no loss the same as losing a spouse.

I have found that people tend to say “There is no greater loss than that of losing a child.” (Someone actually wrote that in an email to me shortly after Ben died.  Seriously???)  Well, I beg to differ.  And anyway, do we really need to put loss on a scale?  Which type of loss we presume to be greater? Unless one actually loses a child, a spouse, a best friend, a sibling and a parent all at the same time, it would be safe to say that a person can never truly know which one feels like the greatest loss to them, right? And thank God for that.

I do know for sure that from the moment your child is born, you know somewhere in the back of your mind that they are not your life partner. You borrow them for 18 years and then you hope that each of you mutually love and respect each other enough to be friends for life. But inevitably we turn our children over to their own love with whom they can share their life. They will belong to someone else. Someone else will,and should, come first to them, and you will still not have your spouse.

Anyway, Kathy, I do understand. I understand so well, and I hope it helps you to know that. But I will also say this, and I believe it too, that life is a gift that was robbed from our loved ones. It was not robbed from us, even though I know that sometimes you may wish it was. I know that some days I certainly do.  But for whatever reason, you and I have still been left with the gift of living life, and your husband and mine would want us to live it. It is not a gift worth having if it is not lived and appreciated fully. Maybe not today, and maybe not for the next while, but eventually you must live it.  They gave their gift up unwillingly – there is no way they would want us to waste ours.

I believe the best thing I did for myself was to ignore everyone who had opinions on what I should do to heal. “Get back to work” was a big one. I caved to that pressure initially and it was a terrible mistake. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe without crying. It added to my torture, and so I left. I took time with my kids but mostly I took time for me to figure out what I needed in order to breathe, and live. I don’t regret it.

I still haven’t fully gotten to that place of breathing and living easily, and I probably never will. I get hit by waves of grief and I go with them. No shame. I do what I feel I need to do to get me through the next wave and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because they are not living my life. I’m living it. And Ben would want me to.  So I need to do what I need to do in order to get where Ben would want me to be.

Ben would not grieve in the same way I am, which is ok. Neither would my sisters, my parents or my friends because they are not me. My kids do not grieve the same way I do because they are teens and quite frankly they are annoyingly resilient.  Thank God for that. As my doctor recently reminded me, that’s the way it is supposed to be. But right now I need to do what is right for me. I am feeling my way through life carefully and if something doesn’t feel right then I try to honour myself and Ben by not doing it. I am no longer afraid to say “No.”  Usually I succeed in doing what I need to do. Sometimes I cave to the pressure of others who think they know better, but not often. I get stronger at doing what I need to do the more often I do it. And I remind myself, “They do NOT know. They do NOT understand.” Despite their love and compassion, they don’t get it. They can’t get it. And that is a good thing. That’s ok.  I think I’m doing an OK job anyway.

Kathy, I wish you a peaceful Christmas. Maybe a quiet Christmas. Maybe a loud Christmas. Maybe a Christmas buried in helping others which can possibly be a help to yourself. Whatever feels right for you. Just know that there are others who do know your pain, and although those people may not be directly present in your immediate circle of family and friends, they are there. Reach out if you need to and tell someone you need a shoulder. Reach out to someone who actually knows your pain.  Consider joining me at Camp Widow in the New Year.

One thing Ben said early on (and wrote about in this blog) was that he knew there was someone out there in the world who had it worse than him. And he was right. Even as he drew his last breath there was someone out there who had it worse than him. And even though we all still need to cope with our own pain, I do try to remember there are people out there who have it worse than I.  Remembering that helps me.  Maybe it will help you too.  Or maybe not.

I promised Ben I would not crumble, and I won’t. I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and some days I will only be doing it just to get to the end of the day. Other days I will be doing it because I want to actually go somewhere.  My own levels of agony are getting to a point where I no longer want to rip out what is left of my heart out and throw it at the disease that took my Ben (I tend to think of cancer as something tangible in my odd brain) and scream “why don’t you just take what’s left, too!”  I consider that progress.

Lastly, besides actively seeking out people who know my pain, the other thing that helps me through is by finding very specific ways to honour Ben.  Carving ‘Ben The Titan’ everywhere I go is one of them.

Toasting Ben with Kracken on special occasions is another.  The next time I do it I will yell “Release the Kracken!” just as he did.  And I will ask others to do so too!

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Having a candle holder engraved so that we can light a candle in Ben’s memory is a way we can remember him on all our “occasions.”

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This year I had our final traditional Saint-Onge Five Christmas ornament made, after countless years of hanging family ornaments on the tree.  These are only some of them:

And the final / last one made this year, where the 5th snowman has angel wings …

I created a headstone that honours Ben and tells the world a bit about what kind of man we lost. (Below is the computer rendition that is being engraved in granite as I write this post. Ben’s photo will go in the white oval)

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My kids and I have decided that going forward we will forever find a way to gather together (even if it needs to be via Face Time) every single year on two specific days … Ben’s birthday and the anniversary of his death.  (I will keep our wedding anniversary to myself.) We will take the time to remember the man he was, the husband I had, the father my kids had.  And then we will go about our business of living our lives the way he would have wanted, and the way I promised him we would.  At least, that is the plan.

Kathy, I know you’re tired.  I am tired too, but I don’t believe that will last forever.  The pain you feel is the price you are paying for intense love.  I bet you wouldn’t trade the pain if the other option had meant loving your husband less deeply.

I hope that something I said was helpful to you.  If not, I hope that you are comforted by simply knowing that I understand.  I really understand.  But I wish I didn’t.

Wishing you peace and love and a desire to move through.

Your friend,

Wendy

The Last Blog Post

Not my last blog post. Ben’s last blog post.

Once again I have come around to another one of those “one year” markers.  One year ago today, on December 5, 2015, Ben put pen to paper for the last time. Or fingers to keyboard, to be more exact.  He was scared.  In hindsight I now realize he was even stronger than I was aware of at the time.  Fear had to have been consuming his every thought and yet, with the exception of this post that he wrote, he never really let it show.  My God he was a brave man.  How he loved us to try to keep that fear to himself and not burden us further.

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So here we are one year later and I am remembering when Ben wrote his last post.  I didn’t actually know it was the last one he would ever writeat the time.  I guess if I had put any thought into it I probably should have known, since I certainly knew that it wouldn’t be long before he would be drawing his last breath.

It was around this time that several “lasts” happened.  Ben had recently watched his daughters play the last volleyball games he would ever see.  When he was at that game I knew it would be the last one he would see, so thank God he was greeted by this special scene, if you recall:

By this time last year Ben had seen some of his friends for the last time.  He had played his guitar(s) downstairs in his “man room” for the last time.

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Over the last 11 months I have often thought about all the “last times” we had, and I’ve tried to pinpoint when they happened.  Its not something you normally think about each day.  You don’t generally pick out a new lipstick or buy some oranges and wonder “will this be the last time I buy a new lipstick / oranges?”  But I think about it now and I try to remember those “lasts” even if I didn’t know they were “lasts” at the time.

The last time Ben enjoyed the hot tub that he loved. (I don’t remember.) The last time we went for a walk together.  (I do remember, and I knew it was the last time when it was happening.) The last time we went to the grocery store together.  (Don’t remember).  The last time he cooked a meal.  (I do remember.  New Years Eve.  Gluten free pizza. I actually think in fact it may have also been the last real meal he ever ate.) The last time we shared a Starbucks. (Don’t remember). The last time we saw certain people. (I do remember.  Cal Traversy, Kevin Rolston, Joel Hunt, Sharon Woodburn.  I’m pretty sure they knew it too.) The last time he drove his truck.  (I do remember, because I was scared shitless.)

The last time Ben drove his truck was on December 31st, 2015.  A mere thirteen days before he died. He drove it in the middle of the night when he should not have been driving at all, and I laid awake praying that he would be able to make it safely back home and that it wouldn’t be the last time I would see him alive.  I knew that was coming soon enough and I wasn’t ready.  Not yet.

By the time December had rolled around I knew Ben shouldn’t be driving anymore at all. He was in too much pain and taking way too many drugs and I tried to gently stop him, but he insisted he would “know” when it was time to stop.  (Just like he said he would know if the time ever came that he would need to teach me the banking or how to take care of the hot tub.  And just as I knew would inevitably happen, my stubborn Ben never acknowledged when any of those times came.)

Ben told me he would never risk anyone’s life by driving when he shouldn’t, and I know that in his heart he meant what he said but he was no longer in a position where his judgement could be trusted.  That was a terrible dilemma, let me tell you, and in the end my love for Ben and my desire to see him happy won out over safety.  I simply couldn’t bear for him to be upset with me if I took away his keys like a child, so instead I made sure that our kids didn’t get in the truck again when Ben was driving.

This past weekend a brand new 2016 “last” occurred.  I watched Jaime play volleyball for the last time.  She played in the Provincials and then hung up her court shoes.  Here’s a couple of highlights …

I will admit to being hyper aware of every moment of the last game, and wondering if Ben too had been thinking the same thing as he watched his last volleyball game.

Life is full of lasts, I suppose.  The last time your child wears a diaper, the last day of school, the last day they tolerate you walking them to school, the last day they live in the family home.

It’s also full of firsts.  The first time you meet the person with whom you intend to spend the rest of your life.

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The first time you watch your life partner hold your new baby.

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The first time you dance on the beach.

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The first time your daughter says “tooted”

The first time one of your kids graduate.

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I guess that’s just the way life goes.  One day it’s a “first”, the next day a “last”, and on and on it goes.  That’s what keeps life interesting.  We never know what’s coming right around the corner.  And while that’s probably a good thing, let this serve as a reminder for you to really savour those sweet moments in life.  You just don’t know when it’s a “last.”

Hug your families.