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:
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.