I Shouldn’t Have Come Alone

I wrote this last week, at the time it happened.  Just making that clear, lest anyone read this and think I’m not OK.  I’m ok.  Ok? 🙂

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As I write this I have just pulled into the parking lot at the office of my urologist, Dr A. I have parked in stall number 61 and I find myself frozen in the drivers seat of my car as unwanted memories come flooding back into my brain. I remember the day I pulled into this parking lot with Ben. I don’t recall what stall number we parked in that day, but I do recall repeating the number out loud and saying “that’s our good luck number today.”

On that particular day in April 2015, two and half years ago but feels, smells and tastes like yesterday, we thought we were coming to find out how Dr A was going to help save Ben.  How he was going to operate on Ben’s kidney in conjunction with another (as yet unknown but definitely brilliant) surgeon who would simultaneously remove the tumour on Ben’s sacrum. ON, being the operative word.

Sadly, that’s not how that day turned out.

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This is a picture of Ben that day, waiting to be called into Dr A’s office.

On that day particular day, any good luck we may have had ran out about 5 minutes later as we found out for certain that Ben’s cancer was IN his bones. IN. A far cry from ON. Up until that moment we had sort of envisioned a tumour that was resting gently on his tailbone waiting to be plucked off by a skilled surgeon. We would hear “All done, thank you very much for coming out and have a happy life.” It was not to be.

(If you want to read about that shitty day as written by me at the time in 2015, you can get all the gory details by clicking right here.  Forgive the language.  I was not exactly grace under pressure that day.)

When we left Dr. A’s office on that day we hopped back into our car somewhere around stall 61 and Ben burst into tears. He cried and shook, and I felt like a child who doesn’t know what to do when they see their mom or dad cry. Ben doesn’t (didn’t) cry. Ever. Period. But on that day he cried, and if I hadn’t known before then I certainly  knew then that we were in for an ugly ride with no happy ending.

In 2016 I had to come back to this office, and I remember being hit hard with the same emotions and memories. As it turns out, those reactions don’t lessen with time, and I realize now that I shouldn’t have come here alone. Apparently I do not learn my lesson the first time.  I feel like I’m walking back into the war zone as I gather up the strength to get out of my car and go in there.

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Well, here I am.  I have just stepped off the elevator I am struck by the empty chairs in the hallway.

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Those chairs are the same chairs we sat in on that day. That day when Ben existed and all our hope hadn’t been stolen from us. As I stand here I want to scream out loud …  “My Ben sat there when he existed!!” But I won’t. Instead I will walk inside and quietly take a seat, and wait to see Dr A.

My visit today is to review the results of my recent kidney CT. My kidney has been aching and I generally haven’t been feeling well, or at least I hadn’t been feeling well at the time this appointment was made. Dr A didn’t want to mess around and so I went for a CT. Today I will get the results.

I’m not freaking out. The truth is that I already know the results and this visit is just a formality. I know the ct was clear. I know this because I was losing my mind with anxiety and so my GP checked for me over a week ago. He said all was fine.  Still, it’s funny … even though I know that I’m ok I am still a bit nervous.

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I’ve just been moved into Dr A’s inner office and I expect to see him any minute.

Even though I know, there is still some crazy, far off corner of my mind that is whispering, “what if…”  I can’t help but always be acutely aware that one day Ben went trotting into the doctor to find out whether he needed surgery or a cortisone shot for his injured back, and he left the office knowing he had cancer. And he was all alone when he found out. I remember the exact day…the exact moment… because I hounded him via text for the results until he finally responded “no surgery.” I said “yay” and went back to work, without a care in the world. I now know he was on the phone to Jeff, telling him the news that would irrevocably alter and destroy so many peoples lives, and none of them even knew it. I didn’t know it.

I’m oddly grateful that I had two extra days of blissful ignorance, and at the same time I am horrified that Ben had to carry that alone for 48 hours.

I can hear Dr A now. He’s obviously done with the previous patient and is on his way in. My God, I shouldn’t have come alone. Here we go …

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As expected, that was uneventful.  The CT was clear and the pain I feel around my kidney is likely muscular.  I’m sad that Ben didn’t get that relief.

I have just walked out of the inner office and again I am struck by what I see:

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There’s the chair Ben sat in on that day.  Ben sat there.  Ben once existed, and he sat there.  I think there should be a gold plaque hanging on the wall above:  Ben The Titan Once Sat Here.  Those Who Sit Here Should Feel Privileged.
I really shouldn’t have come alone.

Missing Those Hugs

I wrote this post a few days ago when all of this took place, but debated until now whether or not to actually publish it.  I don’t want people getting all freaked out and thinking I’m not coping.  I am coping.  Writing helps.  So please remember that I generally write as a means to get through something that is happening at the moment, and by the time you read it the problem has passed.  Which is exactly what happened in this case.  I. Am. Fine.

Here’s the post I wrote in the middle of the night:

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I think I must be the only person in the world to experience anxiety attacks while I am actually asleep. Seriously. It can be 4 am and I can be in the middle of what I would hope to be a solid 8 hours, when suddenly I find myself awake and gasping for air. Gasping. No joke.

Such was the case this early morning around 4 am. I woke up suddenly with a tight chest and a disconcerting inability to take in air no matter how hard I tried to inhale deeply through my nose AND mouth. Technically I was able to get the air in, but it just didn’t feel like it was enough and that sent me into panic mode.  By 5am I was trying to sleep sitting up in the hopes that it would help me breathe. By 6:20 am (the current time right now as I write this) I am in two Ativan deep and soaking in a tub while trying to talk myself down from the proverbial ledge.

I have no idea why this happens to me.

Someone reading this post right now is probably shaking their head and saying “Seriously? You watched your husband fade from the strongest man in the world … a TITAN … to a mere shell of his former self in nine short months. You seriously don’t know why you have panic attacks?” All that is true, for sure, but I don’t really think that’s the whole reason.

After many months of soul searching I think it’s a combination of three things … the nightmares I continue to have about work that unfortunately did not fade with retirement, the constant memories of the real life nightmare I lived through while Ben was sick, and the fact that there is actually something wrong with my nose (medically) that inhibits my breathing at times. I’m having the nose issue surgically corrected soon (leading to a whole different set of anxiety issues) but the other two reasons, well, they are a bit trickier to deal with.  If anyone out there has any answers, do send them my way.

I’ve done everything that is reasonably possible for someone to do and still this anxiety wakes me up and keeps me up. I hate it. In an attempt to cope over the years I have spent time in a yoga studio, I’ve exercised, I’ve seen a psychologist, I’ve tried golf (I heard that it was a relaxing sport and might calm my mind while I focussed) and I’ve also tried shopping (that is the most enjoyable solution), drinking copious amounts of wine and downing Ativan when necessary.  (I don’t combine the Ativan with wine, so no worries there).  And of course, sometimes I write.  And when all of those things fail I go on a full frenzy around the house – cleaning, reorganizing, moving furniture.

Such was the case last evening as I felt the anxiety coming on and I decided that it was urgently important to start moving furniture right at that moment. And I don’t mean “move furniture” in the way you probably imagine I that mean it. I’m not talking about sliding a chair and a couch around to see which looks better in the limited spaces I have. I mean I MOVED furniture. I physically moved a love seat and two chairs straight out of the house and into the garage. (My car has lost it’s home). I moved one full sized chair from the basement (where my son had struggled to place it a mere few hours earlier) all the way back upstairs, and I lugged it’s mate back in from the garage to sit beside it. I moved a coffee table and a rug out into the garage and I carried a very heavy trunk all the way to the basement from the top floor. I hung pictures, I moved pictures, and I hung more pictures. It was exhausting and I was dripping in sweat, not to mention having to endure the death stares of daughter #2 because her friend Liam was the “lucky” person who happened to be here at the time this urge struck and he “volunteered” to help me. (You didn’t think I did all that alone, did you? Not possible). Yes, they were right in the middle of watching a movie and enjoying their own down time when he “volunteered”, but when Anxiety comes a knockin’ one has to do what one has to do to keep it at bay. And this mama needed to move herself some furniture.

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Unfortunately the moving plan was a partial fail.  I say partial because the living room now looks lovely, but it didn’t send Anxiety packing. I was left dripping in sweat and exhausted yet apparently unable to sleep, so that part was clearly a fail. Liam is likely at home right now wondering why he ever thought it was a good idea to try to spend a quiet evening at the Saint-Onge’s.

Having been awoken at this ungodly hour, my final idea of the night was threefold. It involved the aforementioned ativan, this trip to the tub and the writing of this blog post while I soak. That combination may have had some effect … my eyes are currently getting droopy and if I leave the tub now I may actually be able to catch a few quick zzzzz’s. And quick it will be, since it is now 7:06 am and I am due to be up shortly. (Insert tired sigh here.)

You know what would have worked for me right from the very start? A hug from Ben. It didn’t even need to be a good one … it could have just been one of those “I’m tolerating your crazy and I want to sleep so I will hug you if it helps” kind of hugs. But it would have helped. Because as long as Ben was there it all would have been OK.

But now he’s not here and I am reduced to a person who now gets woken by anxiety.

That’s not ok.

However, knowing that there is always a bright side to every situation, here is a picture of the bright side:

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The living room now looks much nicer.  So there’s that.

Warrior on, people.  I will if you will.

Live Life

Live life.

Good advice, right?  I have always liked to pass that piece of advice onto my kids whenever I had the opportunity.  “Take time off before University.  Go see the world.  Live your life while you can.”  That’s what we used to say to them. We had all sorts of tidbits of advice which included, “Happiness is a choice, so choose it.”  “Be a good person.” “Work hard.” “Be kind” and “Live Your Life.  We only get one of them.”

But then Ben died, and everything changed.  I became torn between wanting my kids to live their lives and wanting them home with me every second.  I became obsessed with controlling everything they did, even when I knew I was being ridiculous.  Even when a little voice inside my head told me to lay off or they would say “Sayonara Mama” and move right out of this house so that they no longer had me breathing down their necks.  Even when I caused my son immense frustration (sorry Zak).  Even when I made my daughter cry.

It seems that after Ben died I no longer wanted them to live the life they wanted … I wanted them to live the life that I wanted.  And I wanted them home, safe, and with me every minute.

I got a bit of a wake up call last April.  It was Jaime’s 18th birthday.  Her second birthday without her Dad, even though he’d barely been gone a year. We found out he was dying just a few days before her 16th birthday, and he died right before her 17th birthday.  (And here’s an odd little fact, if I may digress for a moment. We had to actually look at a calendar to pick the right day to tell the kids that their Dad was dying. Strange, huh?  It reminded me of choosing a date for a birthday party.  “No, we can’t do it on that Saturday because there’s a soccer game.”  “The next one won’t work either because we have that work thing.”  “OK, lets do it mid week, after school, but before my evening meeting.”  We didn’t want to tell the kids before Zak could take his cake to celebrate his one year of sobriety, and we didn’t want to ruin Jaime’s 16th birthday, so we found a date right in the middle.  It was odd to sit back and pick a day to ruin everyone’s lives, but now, two years later,  nobody needs to think about how their special day was ruined by the shittiest news ever.  So that’s good, I suppose.)

Anyway, back to my point.  Last April Jaime celebrated her 18th birthday.  She had clearly had a couple of super shitty years filled with sickness and death, followed by intense grieving and everything that was the opposite of living.  And on her 18th birthday, she and her boyfriend decided that she should live life, so he bought her the future opportunity to go sky diving.  WHAT???!!!

I lost my shit.  Lost it.  The mother who had always wanted her kids to lead full and exciting lives completely lost her shit over the possibility of her daughter living an exciting life.  I screamed and yelled and complained about how terrible it was that her boyfriend was causing me to suffer more stress and anxiety.  Hadn’t I already suffered enough??  I actually said that.  Yelled it, really.  I told Jaime that it was selfish and inconsiderate to cause me further distress. I ranted and raved and I may have even cried.  I know for sure that I made Jaime cry.

If I hadn’t already lost my Mother Of The Year award, and I probably had, I certainly lost it that day.

I recall spending the next few days thinking about how Ben would have reacted.  I was tempted to believe that he wouldn’t have wanted his precious little peanut to risk her life and he would have emphatically said “NO.” (Followed by laying a beating on the boyfriend for purchasing this gift.)  I really tried to convince myself that is how it would have gone down.  Eventually I gave up, because I knew it wasn’t true.  That’s not what Ben would have said at all.

He would have said, “Live your life.”  Well, actually he first would have turned to me and said (insert tone and sarcasm here), “In 25 years of Emergency Service, how many people do you know of that fell out of the sky when their parachute didn’t open?”  I would have then taken him by surprise by answering, “One” (because it’s true.  There actually was one), but he would have said “Well, that’s still pretty good odds it’s not going to happen to Jaime.”  Then he would have told Jaime, “Live your life.”

After all, this was the Dad who raised his daughters to not only believe, but to know without a doubt that there was nothing they couldn’t do in this life.  Ben was not the Dad who coddled and babied his little girls.  In fact, when they occasionally tried to bat their eyelashes to get something out of him it would actually piss him off.  He did not dig manipulation and he made that quite clear.  If one of the girls wanted to be sure of being told “NO” from their Dad, batting eyelashes and twirling hair was a sure way to make it happen.  Ben raised his girls to be strong.  To be independent.  To be straight forward.  To be the kind of woman that said, “I would like to try sky diving.”

We worked hard to raise strong girls with an enthusiasm for all that life could offer.  Was it really reasonable for me to be surprised that Jaime listened and actually learned from that?  Was it so hard to believe, that after two years of death, sadness, and grieving, that she might want to feel alive again?  And wasn’t that probably a good thing?

I was scared shitless for her to follow through with this idea of skydiving.  I imagined the impossibility of having to suffer through another unimaginable loss.  And then I wondered if it would really make me happy for Jaime to live in a bubble and never take any risks, just so that I wouldn’t have to suffer again.  And I realized that to ask her to live like that was to ask her to sacrifice her life and her happiness.  For me.  That is not something the mother in me wants for my kids.

Meet Jaime.  This is what she did last week.  Look at her smile.

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She lives her life.

I will try to remember to live mine, too.