Bam! Pow!

The other day I had to pay a visit to a travel clinic for immunizations.   (Good news … I now have lifetime protection against yellow fever.)  I’ve never needed a travel clinic before, so when I made the appointment I discovered that the clinic happened to be in the same building as the office of a specialist I see every year.  I didn’t give it any other thought except to appreciate that I knew where the office was, which was a relief because I am geographically challenged and often have trouble navigating from Point A to Point B.  It was always Ben’s job to get us where we were going.

I arrived on time for my immunizations (a miracle), had four needles jammed in my arm and then walked out of the building whistling a jaunty tune as I made my way back to my car. (OK … I can’t whistle, but you get the picture.  Everything was fine in my life at that particular moment.)

But as I crossed the parking lot a memory suddenly jumped out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.

It wasn’t so much the exact memory in the video that punched me in the face, but rather it was the memory of what came immediately after I filmed Ben that day.

Just a few brief moments after Ben declared himself “The Shit,” the two of us walked into room 302 where we were promptly informed that in fact the cancer had indeed moved into Ben’s bones and spread to his lungs.

bam

Ben wrote about that visit in this blog post.  As always, he downplayed the news and forged ahead.

I do not remember leaving the office that day on April 22nd, 2015, but I do remember what happened immediately afterwards.  I remember turning the key in the ignition and thinking about how odd it was to just hear news like that and then drive home as though it were just another day.  I remember beginning to drive out of the parking space when Ben suddenly burst into tears.  He sobbed. His whole body shook. He was scared and he was caught off guard by his own emotion.

I remember feeling momentarily confused.  Ben didn’t get scared.  Ben was The Titan.  Ben handled things.  Ben coped.  Ben made lemonade out of lemons.  Ben always knew what to do.  Ben led the way.  But now My Ben was scared and oh my God how it hurt to watch.  It physically hurt me like a knife being jammed into my stomach and then savagely turned sideways before being yanked back out, like you might see in the movies.

Back to 2017.  As I walked out of the travel immunization office I made a discovery. I discovered that without even thinking about it or knowing it’s coming, I can still physically feel the pain of moments like that.  I don’t even have to be consciously thinking of a memory….it can just come barging in through my thoughts uninvited, whether I want it to or not.  In that moment I felt exactly the same as I felt 22 months ago as I watched Ben sob.  I did not just recall how I felt. I felt it all over again.  It hurt so badly that my knees shook as I tried to climb back into the same vehicle, in the same parking lot,  without My Ben.  And I wondered again, for the zillionth time, “How can this be?”

On April 22, 2015 as I watched Ben shake and cry, I felt helpless.  I felt scared.  I felt that there was no way to comfort him because no matter what I said or did it wasn’t going to change a thing.  Ben would never know how our story would play out over the years.  Ben was going to die.

On January 25, 2017, I managed to force myself to stay standing, climb into the car and take a few deep breaths.  And then I cried.

As I drove home I was acutely aware of all those people out there with PTSD who talk about how much their nightmares hurt them.  How much it affects their lives because the pain is as real today as it was in the actual moment.

Now I know.

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I Wrote A Blog Post

 

I wrote a blog post.  And then I deleted it due to a temper tantrum.

It has been a year since we celebrated Ben’s life.  I miss that day because it was the last time I got to talk about Ben for as long as I wanted and no one could say one damn thing about it.  So instead of a writing a blog post I have opted to repeat what I said about Ben on January 22nd, 2016.  The day when the only topic in the world of any importance, was Ben.

This was my eulogy to Ben.  You will have to turn the volume up.

There’s an online grief group I follow.  Today someone wrote this:

“It’s really hard to explain the level of grief to someone who has not lost a spouse . It’s is so complicated and has so many different layers . Not only did I Iose my husband, I lost my best friend. I lost my confidant. I lost my security. I lost the joy and interest of activities we used to share. I lost the father of my children. And I lost the future we would have shared .

The journey of grief has so many twists and turns . And everyone’s journey is different, so the road that I take is mine alone.  All that I can do is keep going. I don’t know where I’m going , or how to get there, but someday I hope to get to the place where I can find some peace and acceptance.”

So there you go.

ARGH! This Darn Blog

Not quite sure what has happened, but I started noticing some comments on old blog posts which, while fine, made me wonder what possessed people to go through the old posts.  So I came onto my blog in the way others would read it and discovered that many old posts have recently been re-posted.

I have no idea how that happened, and I can’t figure out how to delete them.  So, until I have a chance to figure it out … sorry for the constant email updates.

Wendy

PS.  Looks like I just figured it out.  Hopefully that worked.  Have a happy day

Keeping Grief Quiet

If you are walking alongside someone who is experiencing grief, read this.  Or send it to someone else who needs to read it.

There seems to be a prevailing thought out there (“there” being in our western world) that smiling, keeping quiet, and consciously making an outward appearance of moving on is a sign that one is coping with their grief.  I am here to tell you that is not true, and if you don’t believe me now you will one day.  You too will either experience your own version of what I’m feeling or you will be the reason that someone else is feeling it.  A sobering thought but it is the indisputable truth.  No one is getting out alive.

I have no idea if “fake it til you make it” works for some.  Maybe.  I wouldn’t know because I’m not some. I’m me, and that path would not work for me. I can assure you of that.  For me, the above is not not not not not NOT true.  I can assure you that the exact opposite is true …. that in fact wailing, anger, frustration, talking, remembering, honouring Ben, ugly cry face and yes, snot, are all on the path to my recovery.  I’m ok with that.

Here is a truth for all those out there who love someone who is grieving.  Read it and absorb it.  If you are grieving you inherently know it is true.  If you have a degree in psychology you have learned that it is true.  This is a hard truth to swallow but it is, well, the truth.

You need to know that your reason for wanting to see a grieving person smile and make an outward appearance of moving forward is actually for your benefit.  It’s not for their benefit.  You want them to make an effort towards happy because it makes you feel better.

It hurts you to see them in pain.  I get that. They get that.  You don’t want to see them in pain.  They get that too. They understand that you think you want them to feel better for their sake, and you tell yourself that is true.  We all do it.  You aren’t alone.  You mean well.  But try to look in the mirror and tell yourself that your grieving loved one’s happiness or unhappiness doesn’t affect you at all.  I dare you. Of course it affects you.

You cannot honestly tell yourself that all those things you want for your loved one (happiness, peace etc) are solely for them alone.  You love them, and when we love someone we want to see them happy. We want to see them laugh and live and enjoy life. Obviously. I certainly understand that. It makes perfect sense.  But what you need to understand is that their grief is not really about you.   A person coping with their grief in the way that makes you most comfortable is not going to get them through this.

Do not ask them to cope with their grief in the way that brings you the least amount of pain. Do not assume that you know best.  You do not know what is best for them, I promise you that.  You know what is best for you. Do not assume they are not moving through their pain simply because it does not look the way you want it to.  Grief is ugly. That is a fact.

From my personal perspective and for my own loved ones, I wish that the way I need to grieve was the way that looks the prettiest and brings the most relief to you.  I sincerely mean that.  I would like to do that for you because I love you.  But know this … if I cave to that invisible pressure and I do that for you, I will be sacrificing my own recovery.

If I do that for you I will be sacrificing my own recovery.  

For all those out there walking alongside someone you love who is grieving, take a moment to ask yourself if you would like them to do that for you.  Ask yourself …. do you want them to make you feel better or do you want them to heal?  If you want them to heal then you need to start by understanding that they will not heal by doing it your way.

Personally, and I can only speak for myself, I feel I am doing a marvellous job of recovering as best as one can when their spouse is ruthlessly ripped from their life and from their children’s lives.  I am doing such a good job of processing and walking slowly through my grief towards happiness that it has been mentioned to me that someday I may wish to consider helping to facilitate the grief group I attended.  Why?  Because I deal with shit as it comes up.  I don’t shove it away and bury it so that it can rear it’s ugly head ten or twenty years later and destroy other relationships.  I don’t want to ruin my life in the future as a result of refusing to deal with my grief now.

If the way that someone you love is working through their grief does not please you, that is (and I say this gently and with love) your problem. Not theirs.

Your loved one is not the same person you knew before Grief reached out and wrapped its ugly fingers around their neck and started squeezing.  S/he is gone.  S/he is not coming back. S/he is dead.  No matter how much you wish that wasn’t true, it is.

Speaking for only myself again, my own loved ones should know that I actually like myself right now.  I appreciate the fact that my need to heal supercedes my need to please others, which means I now feel freer to express myself. For me that is a good thing.  I happen to like the part of my personality that refuses to conform to others’ ideas of what I need to do to heal.  I love that I am becoming brave.  I am proud of my new found strength.  I am beginning to feel that I have more to offer the world than I used to believe, and that makes me feel more worthy.  I am not as afraid to disappoint others when I know that I am staying true to myself.  None of that would have happened if I hadn’t had to go through all that I have gone through, so thank you, Ben.  I will always appreciate that you had a strong hand in helping to shape me into the person I was always trying to become. 

I refuse to keep my grief quiet – that feels similar to shame.  I assure you all, I am doing just fine.  I am quite proud of how I am dealing.  Listen to my words and hear them.

I know you grieve too.  I won’t judge your grief, don’t judge mine.

Take Me Home

I vividly remember this day last year.  After nine months of traveling back and forth to hospitals and doctors, it was finally Ben’s last day in hospital.  Ever.

The day before (January 5th) while I was at home with the kids in the middle of the night, Ben texted me and said that he didn’t want to die.  I’ve been torn up about that text ever since. It hurts to know that he was awake while everyone else in the world slept peacefully, and he was thinking about how he didn’t want to die. How I wish I had gone right back to the hospital at that minute.  How I wish I had never left.

I know at the time it was impractical to think of staying at the hospital overnight.  By this time last year Ben slept far more than he was awake and there was nowhere for me to rest. Ben was not in hospice – he was just in a shared room with some guy who snored a lot.  Someone needed to be home for the kids and I stayed with Ben every second that I reasonably could.  But in hindsight I wish I had been there with him when he woke up that night and started reaching out to his loved ones via text and saying goodbye. That may be a peaceful thing to do for some who have accepted that they are going to die, but Ben had not accepted it and he had not made peace with it.  Ben was still fighting for his life, so the fact that he was saying goodbye “just incase” must have been terrifying for him.  I wish I had been there, but I do find some solace that despite having moments of clarity, Ben was predominately foggy due to medication, so he didn’t necessarily dwell on thoughts because he couldn’t retain them for long.  I’m glad for that.

On the 6th of January I stayed at the hospital with him.  Its funny because I remember some of that day well, but I have no recall of other parts.  I don’t remember where the kids were, but I remember that my parents and sister were there for what seemed like the entire day and night.  Of course they were.  They always were.  But they couldn’t have been there for the entire day because the room wasn’t big enough and I do recall there wasn’t enough seating.  Still, I recall them there for hours and hours.  Maybe it was.  Maybe that’s when Lisa came back over from the Island.  I’m not sure.

I remember Chris Thomas texting me on January 6th … scared because Ben had sent him a confusing text in the middle of the night and then when Chris responded he never heard from Ben again.  I remember telling Chris that Ben was dying.  That there was no more treatment for him and I was waiting to take him home.  How terrifying that must have been for Chris because he was also dying at the time.  He asked me for our address because he wanted to send something to us, but he died before he could.  I have no idea what it was.

I remember that Ben was speaking in a whisper this day last year and he slept a lot, but when he was awake he just wanted to leave.  He wanted to go home.  He asked me where his “stroller” was.  He was referring to his walker, and when I told him it was in the car he said “that’s not very convenient.”  Haha.  Even when he was dying, he was still funny.

He was frustrated by the fact that we had to wait for hours for any EHS attendants to be available to help bring him home, and I deeply regret that we waited.  I thought I needed their help to get Ben inside and get him upstairs, but instead I wish I had just called on several of his friends and asked them to come get him and bring him home.  I hate that he was stuck in hospital because he did not really understand why he was there.

In this video clip there was a nurse in the room.  When she turned her back, Ben mouthed the words “I want to go home,” followed with “This is ridiculous.  I love you too but I want to go home. I want you to drive me home NOW.”   At the end of the clip he is just making faces.  He still made me laugh.

It was after midnight before I got him home, and the EHS attendants were rather assholish.  They were clearly annoyed that they were being utilized to bring a dying patient home, and I wish very much that I had told them exactly what I thought of their lack of compassion.  I wish I had reminded them that someday, one way or another, they would be in exactly the same position.  But I didn’t have the energy at the time – I just wanted Ben home.  I knew he was coming home to die.

I don’t remember what happened on January 7th in the day time.  I imagine I just sat around with Ben and took care of him as best as I could.  The Home Care nurse probably came, and I remember Ben liking the attention of the first young one, although he did fall asleep while she was here.  I think my sisters were here.  I know my parents were.  I know that various friends came in and out and I know I just started keeping the front door unlocked so people could walk in and out freely when they wanted.  I didn’t have the energy to keep getting up.  I remember that Ben did not want to be stuck upstairs and so we helped him down to the family room.  I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to get him back upstairs where he could shower and sleep in the bed.  I remember Lisa saying, “If he has taken his last shower, so be it.”  So we helped him down.

I very clearly remember that Dr. B visited Ben at our home that night.  I remember that Ben had a coherent conversation with him and asked him, “Am I going to die?”  That was the moment Ben believed.  It was also the last time that he spoke of death.  He spent the rest of his remaining days having visitors come in and out to play crib, and talk, and laugh.  He fell asleep often while people were visiting, and he sometimes said strange things.  At one point he tried to show off for Lisa (my friend, not my sister) which startled us but it was funny.  He told one of our kids they were adopted. (Not sure if he was joking or if he believed it after all the years of joking that Raegan didn’t look like anyone in the family).  I don’t think he actively worried about dying anymore, once Dr. B said it was so.

As I rapidly approach one full year without My Ben, I am feeling a small sense of relief that I (hopefully) will no longer constantly find myself thinking “this time last year ….” Instead of wanting to slow time down, I now want to speed it up.  I want this year to be over despite the fact that time is pulling me further and further away from Ben.  But since I cannot stop time I want to experience some relief from having that first year over.  I want some freedom from the pain.  I don’t want to constantly remember that “this time last year the pain was terrible.”  I don’t want to remember that I was scared. That the kids were anguished.  I just want that part to be over.

This morning I woke up thinking about the number 13.  I have always said that 13 is a lucky number for us because it is the day that Ben was born and the day that Raegan was born.  I realize that it was also the day that Ben died, but that was also the day that Ben’s pain was left behind.  Which is good.  I wondered to myself if there was meaning behind all the 13’s,  and then I heard Ben say “stop looking for meaning where there is none.  It just is.” Ever practical Ben.  Maybe he’s right.  But then I went to add this song to this blog post and for the first time I watched the video open up.  Well, check out for yourself what it says at the beginning.  I think Ben was wrong this time.

 

 

2017 – Living With Joy

On January 1st last year I wrote “Welcome 2016” which was interesting considering that I knew what 2016 would bring.  The year wasn’t really “welcome” at all because I knew that every moment was a final moment, and it was the last time I would ring in a new year with My Ben.

2016 was not my best year, but I hesitate to say it was all bad because it wasn’t.  We no longer have Ben and that is one change that we will never be OK with, but we are slowly adjusting.  I am grateful for the fact that Ben has now been pain free for longer than he suffered.  I am grateful for the growth in my relationships with my kids.  I am grateful that 2016 brought with it an acute awareness that life is short and needs to be grabbed onto and really experienced, not just survived.  After all, none of us are going to come out of it alive.

At some point over the last year, someone sent me this:

stages_of_grief

The picture on the right sums up my experience fairly well thus far.  So far I’ve covered every stage from the top left down to the bottom and slightly up the right side to depression.  A lot of my year has been spent stuck in the anger stage, and I have stopped short of the “re-entry troubles.”  (Not sure what I am supposed to re-enter into.)  I also think I have skipped a few stages because I have moved up the right hand side of the picture and developed a few new relationships, found new strengths, and created new patterns.  However, Hope, Affirmation, Helping Others and Loss Adjustment elude me still. Something to look forward to in 2017.

Tonight was supposed to be our wedding anniversary.  We really wanted to get married on New Years Eve so that we’d always have something to celebrate, and it just so happened that December 31st, 1994 was a Saturday.  (Go ahead.  Look it up).  We were forced to change the date due to some travel issues, and for the first time in 22 years I’m glad we didn’t say our vows on New Years Eve.  I don’t think I could bear tonight without Ben if it was also our anniversary.

I spent a lot of the day today thinking about how fleeting life is, and how we get one shot to fulfill our dreams, to find daily joy, to really live life.  A lot of snippets of various media clips jumped out at me today as though Ben was forcing them upon me.  “What is life if it isn’t lived with joy?” was one of them.  “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” was another.  Thank you Hedley.  One that really made me pause was something to the effect of “you will never be truly happy if you continue to live your life the way others think you should.”  Well now.  That one really hit home.

I have spent the last year wrestling with the question “to retire or not to retire.”  In my job a person can retire with a pension penalty at 20 years of service, but a person’s earliest retirement date without any penalty is 24 years plus 1 day.  I started my chosen career on March 1st, 1993.  You do the math. (Funny side note here, I can specifically remember the day I was in training when I found out my first possible retirement date.  I clearly remember calling my Mom from Saskatchewan and saying “You will not believe this … I will only be 46 years old when I can retire with full pension!”  I also remember thinking how far in the future that was….silly young girl that I was.)

In actual fact I have been thinking about leaving my job for many more years than just this last one.  Ben and I first planned for me to leave around 2007 when I had 14 years of service so that I could be home full time with the kids, where we both really believed I was needed.  That plan was thwarted when Ben was unexpectedly in a bad car accident at work that sidelined him and resulted in a loss of the overtime pay that we counted on. So I kept working, and by the time that whole mess was straightened out I suddenly had 18 years of service.  With that much service it seemed foolish to leave before attaining my 20 year pension, so onward I went.  As my 20 year mark approached we were waiting for Raegan’s braces to go on, and the orthodontist kept delaying them due to problems with her jaw. Since we are rather thrifty (ok, more Ben than I) we wanted to take advantage of our dual insurance coverage, so again we waited. Finally Raegan got her braces on and our insurance kicked in, however our insurer reimbursed us monthly until the coverage ran out as opposed to paying everything up front.  I continued to work in order for those insurance payments to come in.

Ben died on January 13th, 2015.  We received the last insurance payment for Raegan’s braces the same month.

In 2016 I continued to work because “everyone” says you shouldn’t make any changes for a year after a serious loss.  I thought that was probably decent advice for the most part, but recently I met someone who (gasp) decided to sell her house and make a move back east before the full 365 days had passed.  She is still alive and kicking.  So is her son.  I know this because I follow her on Facebook.  So what exactly is the worst thing that can happen if I make a change that I have wanted for so long?”  Death?  Doubtful.  Regret?  Maybe.  But regret is really a choice I think.  After all, don’t we teach our kids to be resilient?  Don’t we tell them that if something doesn’t work out, get back up and try something else?  And in any case I find it hard to believe that I will regret a decision I have consistently wanted for the last decade.

You want to know what I really regret?  I regret not leaving my job ten years ago, despite Ben’s accident and loss of overtime, and instead moving to a smaller and more affordable home and devoting my time to my husband and kids like they deserved.  I regret not being a full time mother and a wife, which is a job that both Ben and I believed was the most important job there could ever be.  I regret that we placed too much importance on the need to provide “things” for our kids, although it was done with the best of intentions. But despite the best of intentions it was definitely a mistake.  And while I cannot change the past I can certainly change the future while I still have time to do so.

I am afraid to make this big leap without Ben by my side to tell me it’s the right thing to do.  I am not sure that I am brave enough to do it and I spent the majority of each day of the holidays talking to myself and going over numbers, and trying to convince myself to be brave enough to take that leap.  I am scared because I don’t really know what I want to do from here, but I also know that I will probably never figure that out if I don’t just make the leap.  I think I need to be forced to discover what I really want to do to bring purpose and fulfillment to my life.  Before it is too late.  I want to live my life happily on my terms, for myself.  And I want to do it for Ben too.  He would want me to be brave, and to push myself, and to move outside my comfort zone.  He would want me to be happy.  To regret nothing.

If anyone has a little courage they can pass my way, please send it.  I need a little push to take this leap (and possibly an idea for a new job.)

If this were a “normal” year, Ben and I would have written down our goals for the next 365 days, because a goal that isn’t written down is just a wish.  (Thanks for that, Ben.) So here I write for all to read, that my goal for this next year is to be brave, to step outside my comfort zone, and to live life on my own terms.  I am going to search for bits of joy to take away from our tragedy.

As I sign off I can hear the neighbourhood erupting in noise.  Happy New Year.