Don’t Take The Boy

Last Monday was just an average day. I had some running around to do and appointments to attend. A pre Vegas hair colour, a dentist appointment… that sort of thing. Nothing too crazy or anxiety inducing, and the panic I tend to experience on the daily remained at a reasonable low for the most part.

I ended the day by attending a relaxing yoga class with a friend of mine. It was exactly what I needed to wind down and I was well on my way to feeling the zen when, for no reason at all, a most unwelcome memory popped into my mind.

The memory was one I have written about before, of a text Ben sent me from the hospital shortly before he died. Death was inevitable and it coming fast, and every moment felt like we were staring down the barrel of a shotgun. I had spent the entire day with him and had gone home in the middle of the night to be with the kids and make sure they were safe. I crawled into bed, texted Ben “I love you” and he texted back saying “I don’t want to die.  I have so much to live for.”

At that moment I felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest and thrown across the room. I texted back and told him that I didn’t want him to die, but i did not say “You aren’t going to die.” To deny his pending death seemed wrong to me. It just seemed so dismissive to say “oh, don’t be silly…you aren’t going to die.” He was indeed going to die.  So many people had spent the nine months after his diagnosis in denial, and that had angered me to no end. There was nothing helpful about denying what was to come, because denial has not been proven to be an effective method of curing cancer. So instead I told him that he was leaving a legacy in his three kids. And he responded that “legacy or not” he still didn’t want to die, he wanted to fight. He didn’t want to die.

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Ben died eight days later, and my mind still cannot fathom how we could be texting on January 5th and yet he was dead on the 13th.

And oh my God, that moment in time is one of the most agonizing memories I have. It will never leave me. It is burned into my memory permanently and will remain there until the day I die. Maybe longer. It is nothing short of torturous to remember that My Ben lay in the hospital not wanting to die and when he told me, I couldn’t help him. I look back on that text now and think “what the fuck was I thinking?” Why didn’t I go back? Why didn’t I crawl into that hospital bed with him, wrap my arms around him and tell him I didn’t want him to die? Beg him to please not leave me?

I know why. The inevitability of his death had become my norm. I was exhausted. Achingly exhausted. It was 4:43 am and I had been with him all day and half the night. I had kids at home that needed to be cared for, and my body cried out for sleep. I was so fucking tired. But none of that matters. It doesn’t matter how tired I was, or how much I was needed at home. All that matters is that I did not go back to him in that moment. I offered to but he said “no” and so I didn’t. How could I not go back? How could I leave him all alone with those thoughts? I would NEVER want to be alone with those thoughts, that fear, that pain. All alone in the hospital.

I hate myself when I recall that night, and those are the types of thoughts and memories that invade my mind space at the most inconvenient of times. For anyone who believes that “time heals all wounds,” you should know that is far from the truth. As long as you have the ability to remember, not even time can heal a pain so great. I don’t go seeking those particularly painful memories, but they come and find me at the most inopportune moments and they take my breath away. They make me cry. They make me feel like it is happening all over again. They make me feel like a terrible wife, and a less than adequate human. They make me want a do over. I want a do over.

When we left yoga on Monday night we pulled out of the parking lot and a song that Ben and I used to listen to almost 25 years ago came on the radio. “Don’t Take The Girl” by Tim McGraw. 1994. (click here to listen.) I remember listening to it with him 100 times, and then we stopped listening to country music and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it since. And there it was, suddenly playing on the radio in 2017 and I was transported right back to 1994. Back to when Ben was a boy, and I was a girl, and our lives stretched out endlessly before us.

Now it’s 2017 and the girl wasn’t taken but the boy was. I miss that boy, and the memories hurt me and haunt me. His pain ended, but mine did not.

I am finishing this blog post on a flight home from Vegas, and I feel that familiar panic coming over me. It is taking every ounce of my strength to not scream out loud that Ben Saint-Onge once existed and that he didn’t want to die. I want to feel Ben’s calming presence and I want to hear his voice talk me down from this ledge, but instead I am alone on this plane beside a stranger taking up too much of my breathing room, trying to calm myself.

I didn’t want that boy to be taken. I want him back.

 

 

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.

Happy Anniversary to Us

Dear Ben,

Happy Anniversary.  Twenty three years.

In hindsight we probably should have invested some money in a proper videographer.

That day was definitely not the wedding we had planned, was it?  It was hot, we were sweaty, the limo broke down on the side of the road, my hair wasn’t looking it’s best and the DJ at the reception (aka: our limo driver) used records instead of cd’s.  Records, Ben. It was like we were back in the late 80’s again!  Do you remember what you said?  You said, “It can only get better from here.”  You were right.

We had a lot of change between September 24, 1994 and September 24, 1995, didn’t we?  That may have been the most change crammed into one year that we ever experienced over the twenty to follow.  Do you remember how we planned and built our first home together?  How we stayed up late and drew it out on graph paper so we could plan out where to put the furniture we couldn’t afford.  I remember you made little couches out of graph paper so we could move them around.  Do you remember how we carved our initials in the sidewalk when it was finally finished?

Do you remember how, shortly after our house was built and we moved in, that we discovered we were having a baby?  In fact we found out the day before our first anniversary.  We had a secret as you went off to work that afternoon.

The 20 years between that video and this picture were quite the ride, weren’t they?

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That was us on the plane in 2015, on September 23rd, on our way to LA to spend our 21st anniversary watching Doyle Bramhall jam on his guitar.  Your dream.  I am so fucking glad you got to experience that.  I am so fucking glad we had that time.  And I’m sorry for using the word “fucking” so emphatically, but it’s appropriate, don’t you think?  I also miss you so fucking badly.

Here you are, on our 21st anniversary:

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Here you are, on our 22nd anniversary:

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I am tempted to dig that up so I can refill your bottle of Kracken.  I feel like you need a fresh bottle so you can raise a glass with me, but then again, I suspect you probably have full access to all the Kracken you want up there in Heaven.  Or at least all the wine you want, for sure.

Here’s the link (click here) to some of the video from our anniversary last year, in case you want to revisit how we all finished off that bottle in your honour.  Even Dad, who was sick.

Ben, I miss you terribly.  I think you know that though.  I feel you around a lot, so I think you must know.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of our lives together.  None of it.  We didn’t really have the easiest twenty one years, but the challenges we faced certainly made us a stronger couple and I’m really grateful to have known that kind of love.  The honest kind.  The kind where we could admit that there were times we couldn’t stand each other but we pushed through and came out the other side stronger and happier.  I think we set a good example for the kids, with our marriage.  I didn’t always think that, but now I do.  They have now been taught what real love looks like in real life, not on Face Book.  And they have seen the most honest, true and profound love they ever could as they watched us navigate the last months of your life here on earth.

Thanks for being my partner.  I wish I had thirty more anniversaries with you here together, but I am grateful for the twenty one we had.  I know that’s more than most.

I know that anniversary gifts weren’t really our thing, but if you’re feeling extra generous this year then there is one thing I would really love and it won’t cost you a dime.  I want to see you in my dreams tonight.  Please.  I want to talk to you again for five minutes.  I want to see you when I tell you I love you, and I want to hear you say, “And ‘oo”.  Please.  Please.  

Happy anniversary Ben, as they say.  I will search for you today.

With everlasting, eternal love and gratitude for the time I had with you,

Your bride.

 

 

It Must Have Super Powers

On the post I wrote for Soaring Spirits this week, I put forth this question to all the widows reading that blog:

Did you ever feel so consumed by your own grief that you have forgotten that others grieve too?  That they grieve not only for the loss of your spouse, who may have been a friend to them, but possibly they grieve also for other people that you may know absolutely nothing about?  Do you find that during this time of all consuming grief, you have forgotten that other people have suffered loss too?

My reason for proposing that question was because recently, the realization that others grieve too has hit me hard.

For the last 19 months I have been consumed by my own grief and I didn’t have room to consider the possibility that anyone else in my life could be carrying around a similar, agonizing grief from their own past.  That wasn’t on my radar at all.  Lately though … lately my eyes have opened a bit to the world around me as I have slowly started to awaken from my drugged slumber (figuratively drugged, not literally), and I have been surprised to discover that others – not random strangers but actual people who are a part of my life – have suffered their own agonizing losses that I knew nothing about.  How could I have not known??

Years ago I had a colleague who became a friend.  We worked together for a brief period of time before I was transferred, and although we didn’t work together for long, she was one of those people I have always considered a friend regardless of time and distance.  She’s someone you don’t forget.

The day after Ben died I had to go into my office building to meet with the Chaplain and I walked right into her for the first time in years.  I recall that she called out my name, burst into tears and hugged me long and hard.  I was moved by how much compassion she had for my situation, although I was far too deep into my own devastation to give it much more than a passing thought.  On some vague level I recall being a little surprised by how upset she was on my behalf, but we are about the same age and have kids the same age so I guess I assumed that she could imagine on some level the difficulties I was about to face.  It never occurred to me to consider that the reason she was able to feel my pain so deeply could be due to a past significant loss of her own.  After all, her husband was alive and well, and although I knew her dad had passed away she was a middle aged adult by the time it happened and (although terribly sad and not something I want to even think about happening for many many years) it is just not quite the same thing.  Anyway, I went on to my meeting with the Chaplain and pushed the thoughts of her and everyone else out of my mind.

Fast forward 19 months and this old friend contacted me recently to see if I wanted to have coffee with her and catch up.  She came over and we visited for a couple of hours, and she let me ramble on endlessly about Ben.  Fresh ears, you know?  It was nice to talk about Ben to someone who hadn’t already heard all the stories about the nightmare we lived.  I like to tell those stories because talking about it takes away some of the power that those memories have to hurt me, and of course I just like to discuss Ben in any way, shape or form.  She was very compassionate and she was visibly moved by my loss, and I found that so touching.  I mean, naturally I think there is no greater loss in the world than that of losing Ben, but to see someone else who never met him be so touched made me feel like she cares about living in a world where Ben does not exist.  She made me feel as though she wished she knew him, and that made me feel good.

After having an emotional conversation for a couple of hours she eventually needed to leave (or escape), and as she was leaving she mentioned that her brother had been killed in an accident when they were teens.  Just like that. She said she thinks about him every day.  And in that instant I realized that not only had she lived a terrible, aching loss of her own, but she relived it through me because our conversation brought back memories of all that pain.  For the first time in a long time I was overcome with an emotion that was not my own grief.  I’m not even sure what it was.  Compassion?  Understanding? Guilt, shame or embarrassment over not having known and never having asked?  Probably a bit of all of those.  I recognized that she had lived through pain that was similar to my own.  A terrible, life altering loss.  The kind from which one never fully recovers.  A kind of loss like mine.  And although I had clearly understood on some subconscious level that there was more going on for her than just consoling an old, casual friend from the past, I had never stopped to ask her.  I had never asked her why she seemed to understand so well, or why she clearly felt my pain so deeply.  I should have asked.  It never occurred to me that she could have ever had reason to grieve like I do.

Over the last 19 months I have never paused to ask her, or any of the other unexpected and random people who showed up to help for reasons unknown, why they seemed to understand just a little bit more than everyone else.  I know why most people showed up.  It was because they loved Ben, or they love me, or both, and we have close, ongoing relationships.  But why had certain people, some almost strangers, shown up unexpectedly and knowing exactly how to help or exactly what to say?  After all, these people didn’t know me well and couldn’t possibly know a pain like mine, right?

Clearly, I was wrong.

With regards to my friend who disclosed that her brother had been killed, I could probably use the excuse that we had never had the opportunity to develop and nurture a close relationship, so how could I have been expected to ask her if she had reason to know my pain?  But the thing is … on some level I did know.  I knew because her overt sadness on my behalf was more than most others felt.  I could inherently feel that it was different, and I have felt that difference on a couple of other occasions.  I’ve felt the difference from people who were merely acquaintances in my ‘real life’ but who felt compelled to reach out to me in a way that was subtly different from the rest.  One of them, I later learned, had lost her sister when she was a teen.  Three others had lost their fathers when they were kids, and therefore knew the pain that my children would be enduring.  I had not known, but I feel like I should have.  I feel like I should have asked.

So basically, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.  I’ve been acknowledging that my pain is great, but there are others out there who experience it also.  (Although, as I’ve mentioned before, my pain is most certainly greater than those who lost a pet.  I will stand behind that statement forever.)  There are hurting hearts out there all over the place, and I never knew it.  Somehow, all these people managed pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward, and then use what they learned to be able to help people in need, like myself.  They understand how much it hurts to have your heart broken, but they demonstrate how to be brave enough to allow it to break all over again for someone else, just so they can help that person.

A local Mountie was killed in an accident within the last couple of weeks, and he left behind his wife and two young boys. My heart hurts because I know what is in store for her.  A mutual friend sent me a text assuring me that he and several other coworkers will take care of that family always.  When I read those words I couldn’t help but think, “I know you mean it.  I know you really, really mean it.  I believe you mean it.  But unfortunately, it’s just not true.  It’s not true because all of your lives will go on, just as they should, yet her husband will remain dead.  You may help her with the insurance paperwork, you may collect her husband’s uniform, and you may text or call her or drop in once in awhile.  And all those things are nice and so well intentioned, but every Christmas you will be with your own family.  You will not be with her on her wedding anniversary.  You will not be waking up beside her in the morning.  She has to do all those things and more on her own. ”

I sent the member’s wife a message and let her know that I know.  She has, most unfortunately, just become an unwilling member of the exclusive club that no one wants to join.  So if she needs me, if she needs someone who really knows, I will try to be the person for her that other ‘almost strangers’ have been for me.  Because they knew.  And I know too.

Recently I was reading through my blog and I came across a comment that was written by my friend two years ago in response to the pain I was suffering.  She wrote, “Oh my woman … how can a heart break so many times and still we live?  It must have superpowers.”  How true those words ring to me now, as I recognize all those hearts out there that have been shattered in the past, and still they put themselves back out there to help the next one.  To be able to not only live after heartbreak but to use that pain to help ease the suffering of others is indeed a great, great superpower.  I will not close my eyes to the pain of others any more.  I choose that superpower.

 

My Mother Was Right

The last time I wrote a blog post I was in an anxious and annoyed state over the seemingly endless list of things I thought I could not do without Ben.  At the time, the top of the list of annoyances was the fact that I was headed off to Camp Widow where I would be attending a Saturday night Masquerade Ball and there was no one to zip up my dress.  It sent me into a full blown panic.

Well, one week-ish later and I’m here to tell you that I survived.  Not only did I survive, but I thrived.  Yes, I said it … I thrived.  And I’ll let you in on a secret I have always known on some level but often refused to admit …

My Mother Was Right.

Yup.  I’m writing it in this blog and I’ll never again be able to deny it.  My. Mother. Was. Right.  She told me I wasted too much time worrying and it turns out she knows exactly what she’s talking about.  Zipping up my dress turned out to be a non issue.

I arrived at the San Diego airport and discovered that I am perfectly capable of retrieving my own luggage and finding my way to a hotel without Ben.  Who knew?  (Apparently my mother knew).  I asked a few questions around the airport and made my way right to the area where the ride pick up is, AND …. I used a Lyft.  That’s kind of a big deal considering we do not have Lyft or Uber in BC, and yet still I figured it out.  Imagine that.

I was aware that there was a bit of a gathering at the hotel bar on Thursday evening, and as much as I wanted to hide in my room and stress out in anticipation of the next morning, I didn’t.  I forced myself to go downstairs all by myself and find the bar.

You may be wondering how one finds the rest of the Widows in a strange town, in a packed bar, with no signs pointing out which way to go and no one wearing a black veil.

 

I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances.  I walked over to a group of women and said something to the effect of, “Are you all widows?”  Class act #1 for the weekend.

I guess I now have a radar for widows because it turns out I asked the right people. They were indeed widows and they welcomed me with smiles, and in return I promptly burst into tears.  Class act #2.  There I was, standing at a packed bar and all I could do was cry.  Not because Ben is dead, although that reason is never too far away, but because it was such a relief to realize for certain that I wasn’t alone.  There were so many of us, and every single other person there appeared to be smiling.  By the looks of it, it seemed there may indeed be life after loss.

The next morning I made my way down to registration and the first thing I saw on my way in was this:

An entire wall of loved ones, and mine was front and centre. Ben The Titan.

The second thing I saw that morning was Amanda.  She was standing right behind me in line.  Alone.  So I said “hi” and guess what?  She said “hi” right back.  Imagine that.

A bit later in the morning Amanda and I met up again after attending our seminars of choice, and she walked out with Mary.  So I said “hi” to Mary too, and Mary said “hi” right back.

That evening we all went to dinner and somehow I ended up standing next to Lynessa.  So I said “hi” to Lynessa, and Lynessa said “hi” right back.

And then this happened:

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And that, folks, is how you do it in Widow World.  You say “hi” and they say “hi” and the next thing you know you are dressing up in weird outfits and hanging out together late into the evening.  And then you hook up on FB and spend a lot of time sending ridiculous videos to each other and making plans for how they will pick you up at the airport when you arrive in Vegas in November.

Saturday night was the Masquerade Ball and you may recall that I wrote this paragraph (below) before I went to San Diego, when I did a “dress up practice run” at home:

There was no one to zip me up. I was enraged.  Did you ever watch the Friends episode where someone stole Ross’ sandwich at work and he turned into Red Ross? I turned into Red Wendy.  Maybe Whacko Wendy.  I lost my sanity, upstairs in my bathroom that day.  I went into a frenzy of twisting and turning and trying to reach behind me and push the zipper up, and when that didn’t work I tried to reach down to grab it.  I am not that flexible.  Nothing worked, and I was furious.”

After all that angst would you like to know how it turned out?  You probably think one of my new found friends zipped me up, but you’d be wrong.  I could have asked them and I’m quite sure they would have helped me out, but it turns out that I didn’t need to.  It seems I had discovered my widow comfort zone and I found myself walking up to a complete stranger at the elevator and asking, “Would you mind doing up the clasp on my dress?”  Guess what she said?  “Sure.”  And that’s all it took.  (Also, it turns out that Camp Widow offers a “Zip Up” service, but in my defence I didn’t realize that until after I was back home).

I learned a lot this weekend.  I learned how to support and be supported by strangers who became friends.  I learned how to laugh at some of the crazy things that happen to everyone when their person dies.  (Turns out pretty much everyone has been told “I know exactly how you feel.  My dog died.”  Don’t even get me going on that one … that’s for a whole other post.)  I learned that there are people way, way worse off than me and they are still smiling.  I learned that widows have a dark sense of humour and I am not the only one who thought it was hilarious that the hotel put the signs for a wedding reception and a widows camp right next to each other.

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(I cannot tell you how many widows I overheard saying things like “Should we give the bride a business card?”)

And finally, I learned that My Mother Was Right.  Everything has a way of working itself out just like she always says, and worrying is a big fat waste of time.  It turns out, after all, that I am in fact brave.

So, if anyone out there has experienced a loss and has considered going to Camp Widow in the past but was held back by fear … you should go.  Trust me on this one.  I wouldn’t steer another widow wrong.

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