Summer 2018

It’s been a long time since I wrote on this blog that used to be my lifeline. For a long time it was the only tie I had between sane and insane. It’s been so long that it seems the WordPress app has updated since I last used it, and I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to be successful publishing this post. We’ll see.

Anyway, there is so much I could write about when I consider all that has happened over the last few months. I could talk about how I decided to move, and so I listed and sold the home I shared with Ben. All by myself. And I cried about it, all by myself. I chose the realtor, the asking price and the sell date. I prepped the house for showings. I kept it clean. I ran around mowing lawns and weeding gardens and wiping down counters before people came in to see it. I threw dogs in the back of my car and clutter into the dishwasher. I panicked all by myself when the real estate market stalled as soon as I listed my house. I countered an offer and signed the papers. I bought myself a new home that is currently under construction. I made living arrangements for the 2 1/2 month interval where I’m homeless, and I said goodbye to years of memories in the house where Ben lived and where he drew his last breath. By myself.

I could also tell you that I went on a European vacation with my daughters and some friends, and that I planned a good part of it by myself while dealng with the stress of trying to sell my house. I could talk about the mistakes I made while I was booking it (wasted some money), the wonderful times I had with my girls and friends, how scary it was when my daughter needed a doctor overseas, and how I developed stomach problems that have not yet gone away. (If you know me, you know where my head goes when I have any pain or discomfort for any period of time. I have a dark mind, and even though I try to make light of it, it is neither fun nor easy to deal with.)

Instead of any of that, I’ll try posting some pictures of the good times, and I’ll add one interesting and related fact about widow-hood. Fact: I need photos because my brain still does not work properly. Without them I would not be able to remember my European visit, and in fact I do have some complete memory blanks regarding towns we visited. (These pics are out of order and rather random, but I’m writing this on my IPhone and it’s hard to see which pics I’m choosing).

Boat cruise. Amazing day
Love this lady!

The candle I lit for Ben
Jazz hands
I did not drink this beer. It was for show only 😉

Walked right into Harry Potter’s train station
The Acropolis

Nice, right? That’s my summer so far. I got back just in time to have a few days to pack, clean and move. Worked my ass off. It was a lot of work and I honestly have no idea how I got it all done. I could write about how I left wine, and a plant, and some candy for the new home owners. How I wrote them a note about how much I love my home and I hope they have a happy life there. I could tell you about how my efforts were apparently not satisfactory for the new home owners (it seems they would have liked me to take a class in how to fill in nail holes from hanging pictures and then do so) but I can’t be bothered to dwell on that nonsense. Some people are just unkind, and even though my feelings were actually quite hurt, I’m over it.

I could tell you about how I am writing this from the ferry while I travel to Vancouver Island for a couple of days to see my sister and her family. To enjoy a country music festival and relax in the sun.

But the truth is, all I want to write about is how much I miss Ben. Because we lived for years in a place where ferries were constantly a part of our lives, and I am not supposed to be on a ferry without him.

This is our thing.

Ben would park the car, I’d get in line at the cafeteria while he got a seat. Then we’d scout the gift shop, buy something to read and spend the rest of the trip people watching or chasing kids.

When I was waiting in the lineup to drive on, the line started moving but the guy in front of me didn’t. I honked once and then looked to the right where I saw this young man making a wild dash for his car. He was carrying a coffee in one hand, a baby in the other, and behind him was a little boy running as fast as he could while crying hysterically.

I started laughing, and then I started crying. Because that is exactly what Ben would have done. He would have left the car and taken too long in the coffee shop. And then the kids would have cried while he ran ahead, and I would have lost my shit because the kids were scared. And then we would have laughed.

I so want to tell Ben about the younger version of him I saw running today. But I can’t.

When I got up to the cafeteria I looked at the menu and was reminded that chicken and waffles is now a “thing.” Gross. That was not a “thing” when Ben was alive, and I really want to tell him about it. I also want to tell him about my stomach trouble and how I get so anxious about what possible dark and scary diagnosis’ (diagnoses??) could come. I want him to reassure me. But I can’t tell him and he can’t reassure me.

I haven’t cried in awhile, but today I sit on this stupid ferry with a tear in my eye because no one on here knows me. No one cares if I’m scared, or that my stomach hurts, or that some dad left his kid trailing behind while he ran for his car.

Sigh.

Just to be clear … I’m having a good summer. A great summer. More days are good than bad. There are more smiles than tears, and I know that my stomach problems are unlikely to be anything life threatening. But just at this moment, on this ferry where Ben should be, I feel like feeling sorry for myself.

I promise I will enjoy the sun and the concert and my sister and her fam. And I will try not to think too much about my stomach issues.

I miss Ben.

PS. If this post is riddled with typos it is entirely the fault of my iPhone. Just sayin’

Finding Hope

Certain days of the year are harder for me than others. Some of those days are obvious. March 13th is Ben’s birthday. January 13th is Ben’s death day. September 24th is our anniversary.  March 1st is the day we met.  Obviously those are difficult days, and every year until the end of my time I will not need a calendar to know they approach. I will feel them deep in my heart and soul before my mind catches up.

The month of April also brings with it two other days that will forever make my soul ache.

April 8th. The day that Ben went to the doctor to receive the results of his MRI. The day he was supposed to be told whether he needed surgery or a simple cortisone shot to fix all his back pain. The day he was given the most shocking and final news that in fact his life was actually ending, and the lives of all those around him would be forever changed.

It was the day he had to process that he would never walk his daughters down the aisle, or hold his own son’s child, or know what amazing things his children would do with their lives. It was the day that his heart shattered and there was no one there to hold his hand as he cried. No one to offer comfort to him in his agony at that moment. No one to offer hope, and no one to save him. It was also the day I came home from work and became annoyed that the dishes weren’t done. A trivial detail, normally, but in this case one that hurts my heart and brings me pain when I remember.

April 10th. The day that I could feel that something was wrong but didn’t know what it was. The day I pushed that fleeting thought aside and decided not to go to work so I could instead take a “Wendy Day” to hang out with a friend and enjoy life. It was the day Ben went to the hospital alone to determine, essentially, how quickly he would die.

It was the day I drove down to the U.S. by myself while Ben took on the evening taxi duties for soccer practice. It was the day I sat at the stop light on 168th Street talking to Ben on the phone. It was the day I heard something wrong in his voice that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but it told me that some shit was about to go down.

It was the day I arrived home and heard my doctor’s voice on our answering machine asking Ben to call him. It was the day I called Ben at the soccer field and raised my voice and insisted he tell me what was going on. Why was our doctor calling? It was the day I heard unbreakable Ben, break. It was the day I heard him say, “I have cancer. It’s in my kidney and my bones.” It was the day I broke and it was the day that Ben stayed calm and talked me through, on the phone, and forced me to pull it together and listen to his instructions. It was the last time he behaved like The Titan, giving me clear, concise instructions about who to call and what arrangements to make for our kids so that they wouldn’t see me break and so they wouldn’t be scared. There was time enough for that to come, and that wasn’t that time. April 10th was also the day that I broke my parents. Simple as that. I broke them.

Today is April 11th, three years later. This morning I woke up very aware of how I felt on this day three years ago. Terrified. I promptly opened my phone and saw a message from one of my many “Rocks” (as I privately refer to all the people who have held me up over the last three years). I don’t know if she realizes she’s one of my rocks, but from the very beginning this woman has had the freakishly unique ability to send the most random of messages at the exact time I need them, even if I don’t know I need them. She is a prominent piece in the puzzle of my life that continually presents itself in front of me in the moments where I am blind and cannot find what I’m looking for.  I turn around and there she is.

Today this rock arrived in the form of a Facebook Message. She sent a copy of a speech given by the pastor of the Humboldt Broncos entitled “Where Was God?”

(For anyone who may be reading this blog post wondering “Who are the Humboldt Broncos?” I encourage you to take a moment and google the team name. In a nutshell you only need to know this: April 6th. Hockey Team. Young people. Transport Truck. Intersection. Fifteen people dead. Countless people’s lives changed forever. Endless fallout that will ripple out amongst family, friends, relatives, the hockey community, the emergency services community (who own a piece of my heart and I desperately hope they don’t get forgotten in all of this or written off as “it’s their job”) and every human being in the country who cares that the lives of so many were snuffed out in one tragic instant.)

I read the words of Pastor Sean Brandow and I felt his pain, but there was one thing he said that stood out for me as though the paragraph had been highlighted for me to read. He said this:

“I told my church this, this morning. I’ve never felt so empty in my life. I needed to be reminded of Jesus, I needed to hear from God in this darkness. I didn’t have anything to give because I wasn’t full of hope myself. As the verse ends, you know, may God fill you with that. God can fill you up so that you can be a blessing to somebody else, but if you don’t have hope, you can’t be a blessing to anyone else.”

If you don’t have hope, you can’t be a blessing to anyone else.

That one paragraph, that one sentence, made me reflect.

Three years after my life changed so tragically in the month of April, so now have the lives of countless others. They too will never pass another April 6th without thinking “this was the day my son got on that bus and never came back home.” Or “this was the day my wife / husband / parent / friend received such tragic news that they have been unable to lift themselves out of the darkness.”  Today these people are currently without hope, in the same way that I was on this day three years ago.

But today, three years later, I now have hope.  Maybe not every day, but some days.

As tragic as some days are for me, I know I am not alone. And in fact, the way I have travelled through my own experiences may provide some hope to others. There are days when I feel empty and I suspect there always will be, but there are also days now when I have hope. Until now, I thought that was enough. I thought it was enough to allow myself to have hope some days and to bask in that hope for as long as it may last. But now I realize that keeping my hope to myself is not enough. I need to be an example of hope. I need to pass my hope forward. I need to show my hope to others who may not have any. I need to let them know that even in the darkest of times, when hope is nothing but lifeless letters in a word that exists only between the pages of a dictionary, that the meaning of the word can still be seen alive and well in others who also once had no hope. I, and others who now have hope, can share ours as an example to those without it, until they can find their own again.

Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows that I don’t believe in comparing pain. I think there are differences in pain, but one cannot compare whether it is a greater loss to lose your spouse or your child, to lose your loved one to disease or a sudden tragedy, to lose someone to violence or to nature. Pain is pain.

The differences, perhaps, lays in the time that has passed since the tragedy occurred. The difference is that (in my case) I have had time to learn to breathe again and to hope again, while hundreds of people are, at this very moment, completely without breath. Completely without hope. And if there is any way I can turn the tragedy in my life into something more than just a raw, gaping hole, it may just be within my own power to show to others that on some days, I have learned to breathe and hope. Then maybe they will know that someday they will be able to do the same.  Maybe I can give them hope. Maybe I can be a blessing to someone else.

This woman is my blessing today. Thanks, Christine, for being a freakishly unique Rock.

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Is It Grief, Or Is It Life?

Sometimes I have to ask myself … is it grief, or is it life?

I have nightmares, all the time. I dream of terrible things that could happen to my children.  I dream that I wake up and all my hair has fallen out, and I dream that I am blind and all alone. Or I dream all of them together and find myself bald, blind and alone.

Grief? Probably part of it. But I suspect that the nightmares about the kids are work related (one sees too much, hears too much, knows too much after 25 years of policing), and I suspect that the dreams of going blind are because I was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration.  The dreams of being alone are because, well, I AM alone, and the dreams of waking up bald are probably caused because my hair is indeed falling out.  See how grief and reality get all tangled up together?

This is currently my life. If you’re reading this, I’ll give you a little catch up.  It’s been awhile since I wrote.

I think it’s been about a year since I realized that my hair was falling out. For awhile I thought it could be my imagination, but then I paid a butt load of cash to go visit a private dermatologist who specializes in hair loss, and that money bought me an answer. The answer was essentially, “Yep. Your hair is falling out.” That was followed by a bunch of relatively useless information about how there is pretty much nothing that can be done about it. The hair loss that was caused by stress is apparently growing back, and the hair loss caused by some shitty form of alopecia will not. “I don’t expect it to get any worse for many years” said Dr. Super Expensive. Since that visit I have indeed lost more hair. Apparently Dr Super Expensive was wrong.  (On the upside, maybe his diagnosis was too.  We’ll see.)

Needless to say, my already fairly high stress levels were bumped up a solid notch or two, and I became completely obsessed. My hair was on my mind constantly … no pun intended. (Hair. Mind. Head. Get it? Anyway…). I will confess to having the self pitying thoughts of “Haven’t I lost enough? Do I have to lose my hair too?”

As my feel-sorry-for-myself meter rose, so did my anxiety. A lot. It has been a very challenging time for me. Every day the thought plagued me that I would be bald and alone. And while I’m sure that it sounds funny to some reading this, or that you may think it’s not a big deal when compared with what I’ve already been through, but I happen to think it’s a very big deal. Huge, in fact. And while I would have traded my hair in a heartbeat to save Ben’s life, the fact is that he will (most aggravatingly) remain dead whether I have hair or not. So I’d like to have my hair, thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, you know how it goes. Life kicks you down and then something great happens and you get back up again, right? Wrong. I went to the eye doctor who kindly informed me that I have macular degeneration. And just like that I was knocked down even further, and kicked around a bit too. Apparently now my destiny was to be alone, bald and blind.

Did you know that life isn’t fair?

When I am anxiety ridden, the only thing that eases my pain is to learn about whatever it is that is making me anxious. I know the general rule is to stay off the internet, but for me it’s all about finding something hopeful to ease my worries. Like, “it is possible for alopecia to reverse itself” or “it is possible for macular degeneration to never progress any further.” I need to know there’s hope.

For the last several weeks I have been immersed in hair loss information and macular degeneration information, but I just couldn’t find the info I needed to ease my anxiety. And so I have spent hours in the tub every night, trying to quiet my mind and just find a way to cope. The baths didn’t help the anxiety, but I am starting to grow gills.  Perhaps soon I will learn how to breathe under water.  That would be a snazzy party trick.

I finally did what I do best … I took matters into my own hands and did it my way. Despite our shitty medical system that takes months to move along, I got myself a referral to a retina specialist in a bit of an unconventional way.  And then I called an old friend who called his old friend who knows what’s what in the world of ophthalmology, and he was able to answer some questions and ease my mind a bit while I await my appointment with the retina specialist. (And in other good news, I found the conversations with my old friend very cathartic. I was able to cry and not feel like a burden because we don’t speak often so he wasn’t listening to the same shit on a different day. It was also nice to reminisce a bit.)

Around that time I finally saw my own GP, and by the time I walked out of his office my anxiety had seemed to level out. It’s quite possible that he may be a witch doctor.

As for the hair, his witch-doctorness cannot fix that. I haven’t figured that one out yet,  but I guess if worse comes to worst I could always shave my head and pretend like I am making a statement. I’m not sure what the statement will be, but hopefully I have some time to think about it. Hasn’t Sinead O’Connor rocked a shaved head for about 30 years now?

After I saw my GP I had a few days of relative peace and then it was gone.  I couldn’t quite figure out what the problem was this time, and then the answer came to me like someone had yelled it loudly in my ear.  The voice that shouted sounded like Ben’s, and this is what he said ..

“If I don’t do the chemo, I’ll be dead before my next birthday!” 

Ah, yes.  There we go.  That’s what Ben said to me in the late spring of 2015, when I told him he should refuse the “treatment” he was being offered.  I wanted to run off with him and the kids to Iceland, but he wanted to do what he did best … fight.  So we didn’t go to Iceland and he did do the chemo, but he still wasn’t alive on his 47th birthday.  Or his 48th.  And now here the kids and I are on his 49th birthday, remembering him and celebrating the day he arrived and made the world a little brighter.  But he isn’t here to shine his own light.

My heart knew this before my head remembered.

Saint-Onge family on Bens birthday Mar 13 2006

 

Happy 49th birthday, Ben.  You are so deeply loved and missed.  You are in big shit when I see you again.

Never Forgotten

I once read an article written by a woman after her husband died. During the time he was dying they had talked about what her future would look like after he was gone. The woman asked her husband how she would be able to survive after he died.  Her husband’s answer was that the first year would be terrible and the second one would also be hard, but by the third year she would begin coming out of the darkness. She would once again be able to see the possibility of a future for herself.

peeking

The thought of being able to surface from the darkness seemed like an impossibility to me at the time and yet here I am, seeing cracks of light in my future when I look hard enough.

By some miracle I have survived 730 days without Ben, and I find myself standing on the precipice of year three.

In my wildest dreams I never imagined that this would be my life. The death of your spouse is not something that is remotely fathomable until it is suddenly your most unwanted reality. This is not the life I asked for, but since I haven’t woken up from it yet I have to believe that it is apparently not a dream, but is in fact the actual hand of life that I was dealt.  What matters now is what I do with the rest of it.  I know that.

I miss Ben. I want to hold tightly to every moment and every memory I ever had with him, but the truth is that I can feel my past life moving a bit further behind. With each passing day I can feel my grip loosen slightly on the memories our 22 years together.

For those of you who haven’t experienced loss, let me tell you … discovering that any memories of your past life with your spouse (good or bad) are fading away is terrifying.  When I forget a detail (who was that red haired guy we were in training with?  What was the name of that kid who lived across the street from us in Sechelt? Who was at the hospital when Zak was born? … ) there is no longer anyone in the world who remembers and can fill in the gaps accurately.  That is rather frightening unless, of course, I want to re write the story of my life. (Remember the time in 1994 when I was crowned Miss Sunshine Coast?  Remember when I ran that marathon?  Remember when I saved that infant from a burning fire?) There is no one around to argue with my “recollection.” That part could be fun.  Maybe.

Loosening my grip on the memories of nine months of suffering is probably a good thing for my sanity, and I am finding more room for the happy memories as the painful ones fade.  But overall I find it terrifying that I’m starting to forget any part of our life together, as though a grip loosened on the past may mean that it never actually happened.  I am conflicted between feeling scared that forgotten pain means Ben’s memory is being left behind, and feelings of relief over not being able to feel that stabbing ache as intensely as I once did.  It’s hard to breathe when you’re holding onto all that pain and suffering.

I can’t release my grip on the pain until I ease my grip on the past.  There’s a lot of confliction going on for me right now.

 

hold on

The two years that have passed since Ben died have held a lot of heartbreak. Some relationships have been irreparably broken and some have just mysteriously faded away. (I hear that is common.  Who knows why.) But at the same time, some of my relationships have strengthened intensely and I have formed new ones that I value deeply. I have made more changes over the last two years than I have made over the entire duration of my life. I have discovered that I am able to cope and survive and sometimes even thrive. I owe a lot of that to Ben.

At times I desperately want to cling to the past but more often than not I now find myself looking to the future. I am starting to feel hopeful more often than I feel hopeless. Maybe there is something to the whole “year-three-will-bring-more-light” theory.

Today marks the start of year three without Ben.

I would not have chosen to go through life without him, but I wasn’t offered a choice. All I can do is the best I can with the time I’m given, and if there is one thing I have learned is that every single person needs to really live each day, not just merely exist.

Through the wonders of modern technology I can tell when strangers from various places around the world have found my blog. Last night I was sent five new alerts. Five new people found my blog, and it hurts my heart because the search terms they used to find it suggest they are probably suffering through much of the same that I went through. Or that I’m going through. If any of them come back to read again, I hope they read this:

It hurts so much, I know. Whether you are losing or whether you have lost, it hurts so fucking much.  And I know that right now it seems as though you will never feel peace again. The truth is, it will be quite some time before you do. But there is hope waiting for you when you’re ready, and in the meantime there is a tiny bit of peace that comes with knowing you do not suffer alone.  Reach out.  It helps.

To Ben The Titan … I miss you. I love you. I think about you every day and I am grateful for every moment we shared. You helped shape my life, and you are not forgotten. Never forgotten. Thank you, Ben. Xo

To my family and friends who have walked this path with me every moment and held me up when I could not hold myself … thank you.

To my kids … thank God for you.  I wouldn’t have made it one minute without you.  I hope I have held you up, too.

To the new people in my life … I’m sorry you never got to meet Ben, but thank you for being part of my future and recognizing that he existed.

How Long Will I Love Him?

Where did December come from? We are more than halfway through the month and I feel as though I’m on a fast moving train that is careening out of control towards 2018. I was looking forward to / expecting an easier December than last year, so I was caught surprisingly off guard by how hard it hit me. It is definitely not easier. Turns out, it’s even harder and far more lonely.

As the end of November rolled around I started to notice how angry I was getting, for no good reason at all. I don’t like feeling angry. It’s wasted energy that I don’t want to put out into the Universe. But after a few days of leaving bursts of angry words hanging out there in space it occurred to me that my whole body was awakening to the fact that December was approaching. It seems that without consciously thinking about it, my whole being instinctively knew that Christmas was coming – a time we traditionally enjoyed as a family and looked forward to, and now we face yet another without Ben. December now brings with it reminders of how much pain Ben was in by this time in 2015. It brings reminders of his utter disbelief that he could be dying, and that no one was going to step in and save his life. December brings reminders of our Last Christmas. The end of December brings about January, and January brought death.

Cancer stole peace from the month of December. Death stole possibility and wonder from every New Year.

Within the first few days of December I found myself exhausted from just living life, worn out with the realization that I have not seen My Love for almost two years. And for those who have created a vague, romantic idea of life after loss, let me tell you how it really goes. People move on. People who are not personally immersed in grief cannot spend their days allowing themselves to be sucked dry of all happiness, even if they love you. I think that is one part self preservation, one part boredom over constantly hearing the same stories of despair, and one part basic human nature to forget what is not technically yours. (ie: grief).

As for me, I am grateful for the fact that I am able to think rationally about situations and don’t allow myself to get sucked into the “nobody loves me or gives a shit” type of mentality that some others seem to unable to avoid. Logically, I know I am loved, I know Ben was loved, and I know that he is still missed. But I would venture to say that I am the only person in existence who has not gone one single day out of the last six hundred and ninety-ish days without thinking of him and physically aching over his loss.

For me, six hundred and ninety days have done nothing to diminish the surprise I feel that he is not walking through the door. The shock that he’s gone. The despair, the aching, the longing for him. And so, because I live with those feelings every single moment of every single day, it hurts me to watch life pass by without him and to watch everyone else do exactly what they are supposed to do with their lives … live them. The head and the heart don’t marry up sometimes, I suppose.

As I watched Raegan play soccer earlier in the month I was listening to the other parents talk and cheer, and despite the smile on my face I found myself angry over the fact that they could continue to enjoy soccer without Ben’s quiet presence on the sidelines. How dare they get to enjoy one of the things Ben loved most! When I was discussing the 2018 European vacation with my friends I lost my breath for a moment when I realized that Ben doesn’t get to come. How dare we all make these plans without him! Irrational? Yes. But that is what happens in my head every moment of every day and I cannot stop that train. Even in the car I look at every store, every turn in the road, every park around town and think “I remember when I was there with Ben.” I don’t think I will ever be able to escape that and so I am often only listening to people with half an ear as my mind wanders to “that one time Ben walked into that store, or pulled into that parking lot, or dropped me off at that front door, or walked down that street with me.”

This month brought about a long awaited surgery that I needed in a town we rarely went to, but as I entered the 10 block radius of the hospital for my pre surgery appointment I found my heart starting to beat a little faster and that old “frienemy” Anxiety began making an appearance. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling that way until I pulled up to the front of what I had thought was a completely unfamiliar hospital, and I saw Ben standing there. Right here:

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I could see him clear as day, standing at the side of my car. I watched myself folding up his walker to put in the trunk. He was weak and he had trouble walking, and he suddenly burst into tears of frustration, pain and despair. And it was in that moment that I remembered that it was at that hospital where Ben had received his Nivolumab. That was the hospital Ben thought would save his life. It did not.

As I walked through the hallways I saw Ben everywhere, and memories I had previously banished to the recesses of my mind came back full force. I wanted to lay down on the floor and cry. How dare this hospital continue to function after failing to save Ben’s life? How dare all the staff continue on with their work and fail to recognize that they had failed my Ben?

In 2015 this was My Ben, The Titan, in the hallway of this very hospital.  He was trying to get to his chemo but he was too tired to keep walking:

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On the day I was there for my own surgery the space where he once sat in front of the window to catch his breath was empty.  But I saw him.

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The young widow of a man who died in 2013 wrote this a few years back: “Those of us who have lost a spouse endure a particularly gutting kind of stress that eats away at our protective barriers. In 1949, two psychiatrists at the University of Washington set out to study stressful life events and the ways they contribute to illness. For 15 years, the duo studied 5,000 patients. At the end of the study period, death of a spouse topped their list of cataclysmic life events. The authors assigned it a value of 100. Far behind in second place, with 73 points, was divorce. Nearly 50 years have passed since they published that study, and the results still stand. The stress of losing a spouse permeates every part of one’s body, affecting each cell and manifesting tremendous physiological changes. Cortisol levels rise, and sleep is disrupted. Heart rate and blood pressure increases. Your neutrophils – a white blood cell that fights infection – become less effective, particularly in the elderly. Your cells begin to falter in their responsibilities, your immune system weakens, and you fall prey to countless illnesses that, under normal circumstances, would be held at bay.”

There is no escape from the side effects of losing Ben. My brain has not caught up and it plays nasty tricks on me about where Ben may be and when he is coming home. I still want to talk to him all the time, and I am saving things up to tell him when I see him. I want to ask him how he felt when he died. I want to know if he knew he was loved. I want to know if he knew we were all there, and if he heard the music we played, and if he felt peace or irritation over the fact that we wouldn’t shut up. I want to text him a play by play of Raegan’s soccer game on the days he can’t make it and I want to hear him ask me “What do you want for dinner?”  I want to hear him complain about me turning on the Christmas lights too early.

Life is complicated now, where it was once so simple. I am no longer very rational and my mood can change on a dime.  I waffle between four main feelings …. the agony of missing Ben, the understanding that life is for the living, an overwhelming sense of completely irrational anger when I observe others living life, and guilt on the days where I find glimpses of happiness or future potential.

How Long Will I Love Him?  In the words of Ellie Goulding … “As long as stars are above you.  And longer if I may.” Listen here.

 

 

Can’t Buy THAT Online

Back in my real world, when Ben existed, he managed all the money and did so with quite a bit of success.  He was very good at investing and made some smart moves when it came to stock picks (although it was I who insisted on purchasing Lululemon shares and I who insisted on purchasing FB shares).  When he was alive I didn’t think he was that great at sticking within a budget, but now that I have to do it I understand that it is not quite as easy as it sounds.

I have also discovered that my main vice / coping mechanism since Ben died is to try to buy myself happy.  In my mind I can hear an advertising voice asking the questions:

(Insert deep, rhythmic announcers voice here)

Are you sad because Ben isn’t here to help pull out the Christmas tree?  Well why not buy yourself some new shoes that will sit in the closet to help ease that pain? 

Are you climbing into bed alone for the six hundred and seventieth night in a row, wondering how you will cope when your practically adult children all fly the coop?  A little online shopping before falling asleep will probably make you feel better.  

Do  you find yourself less than inclined to cook because it was your husband’s job and he did it so well?   You should just go to a restaurant and buy your dinner. 

Are you worried sick about your upcoming surgery and the fact that Christmas is coming but you will be laid up with little time for shopping?  Why not just run out and spend copious amounts of money on the kids without thinking about it or looking for a good deal?

Sigh.

I wonder how many people develop addictions when their spouse dies?  When they find themselves staring at the empty chair, or wondering who in the world besides themselves  still thinks about their spouse,  how many turn to booze or drugs to ease that pain?  Or shopping.  It’s all the same, I suppose.

Christmas is coming.  Again.  I remember just before The Last Christmas I said to Ben, “What if this is our last Christmas?” and he cut me off before I finished speaking the last word and cried out “It won’t be.  It won’t be.”

But it was.

Another year has come and gone, and on countless occasions I have turned to him to tell him something and found empty air.  Empty air.  Another 365 days have passed in which he doesn’t know what is happening with the kids.  Another 365 days where I haven’t had anyone to turn to when they’ve made stupid life choices that could have serious repercussions in the future.  Another 365 days without a shoulder to lean on.

And so I have shopped.  As it turns out, it doesn’t help, but it sure does leave me broke.

I have met people who lost everything when their spouse died.  I lost my heart when Ben died, because Ben was my heart, but I didn’t lose our house, or the ability to provide life’s necessities to my kids,  send them to school, pay for their sports, or even lay hardwood floors in my home.  I lost everything that meant something to my heart, but I did not lose everything.  I know people who lost their homes, were forced to move, downsize, wonder how they would find the money to repair their vehicle or if they could even afford to keep one at all.  EVERYTHING.  So I fully understand how obnoxious it would sound to one of those people to hear me complaining about a need to control my spending when it comes to shoes, eating out and decorating my house.  I get it, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I am scared.  I’m scared of the fact that I can’t seem to figure out how to fill the empty air around me.  I suppose I should be somewhat relieved that I’m not filling that empty air with booze or drugs (although Justin Trudeau says it will be legal in 8 short months), but I do need to fill it with something more than shopping. I’m not talking about filling my time … I fill my time just fine.  I mean the air.  The space.  There’s a difference.

I need an adult to talk to.  I need hugs.  I need a shoulder to lean on.  I need my person. Apparently they don’t sell that online, but I sure keep looking.

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.

legacy.jpg

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.