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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Who Will Zip Me Up?

I have recently discovered the latest in a list of annoyances caused by being a … a … a … (I still choke on the word “widow”) … alone.

As I write this post I am preparing to board a plane this afternoon for San Diego … Widows Camp.  There.  I said it.  I am forcing myself to go despite the almost unbearable amount of anxiety it is causing me.  I know, I know … I am going to meet with people who may actually understand me and all the shit I’ve gone through, and I should not be anxious about it.  But sometimes knowing how I should feel is just not the way I actually do feel, and this is one of those times.

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(That is not me, btw.  But it demonstrates quite well how I feel right now.)

There are plenty of reasons why I am so anxious about attending the camp.  Where do I start?  Flying alone, finding my way from the airport to the hotel without my husband, having to walk into that first room by myself and feeling like all eyes are on me, worrying that I will spend the weekend silent because if I talk I may burst into tears.  The list goes on.  But the biggest reason for my anxiety is actually the part that is intended to be the most fun …. the Masquerade Ball.

The Masquerade Ball, so lovingly planned by the woman who founded the Soaring Spirits Organization and intended to provide everyone with an evening to dress up and get out and have some fun, is causing me untold amounts of anxiety.  I am not a dress up kind of girl at the best of times, although I would comb my hair and throw on a nice blouse for my anniversary dinner each year.  Basically I live in yoga pants and tank tops – they’re comfortable and quite frankly I don’t really have anywhere to go that requires anything fancier.  Until now.

The Masquerade Ball is on Saturday night, and while there are several reasons I am anxious about it, here’s the top four:

1. I don’t know how to dance.  Ben was an awesome dancer.  For a big, rough looking man he sure had some good moves on the dance floor.  “Ben” was synonymous with “rhythm.”  I, on the other hand, never managed to advance much beyond the old 1-2 side to side shuffle.  (Unless I am drunk and surrounded by those who have known me forever and will love me no matter what.  Under those circumstances I am an awesome dancer.  And singer. Just sayin’)

2. I don’t know anyone.  Not knowing anyone raises those old teen anxieties of standing on the sidelines at the high school dance.  Yes, I know that many people arrive at camp without knowing a soul and people get to know each other before the Saturday night event.  Knowing that does not ease my anxiety, because secretly I fear being the first person to attend this camp who doesn’t make any friends, and therefore will be the high school student standing alone on the sidelines at the dance.

3.  I don’t really know what to wear to a masquerade ball.  It involves a dress.  The last time I wore one was at Ben’s funeral, and I looked terrible.  Yes … terrible.  I’ve seen myself on video and it wasn’t pretty.

4.  I don’t own an appropriate dress.  I do have a sundress that I have worn on one occasion when it was simply too hot for anything else, but the only pair of shoes that go with it are flip flops.  I don’t imagine that flip flops are appropriate for a masquerade ball.

Ever the practical person, I decided to try to ease my anxieties by dealing with each one head on to see if I could find some solutions that might help me to relax.

–       Reason 1.   The only way to fix this problem would be to take some dance lessons, and there wasn’t enough time.  So, the answer to this problem?  Try to look busy on the sidelines for awhile until I can make a discreet exit.

–       Reason 2.  Literally cannot be fixed until I arrive.  No solution for the time being so I may as well put it out of my mind.  Or just keep worrying about it.  Either way.

–       Reason 3.  Google told me that people wear fancy costumes and hold masks up in front of their faces.  I love the mask part (no need to apply make up) but the dress part?  Oh my.  Still, now that I know the answer I suppose it is technically no longer a problem.

–       Reason 4.   The answer to this one was easy … go and buy an appropriate dress.

I decided I could not go and buy a fancy gown like the ones that Google says are worn at Masquerade Balls because it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, but I figured I could find something slightly fancier than a sundress.  I spent about 7 hours in two different stores trying on gown after gown after gown and gagging at myself in the mirror.  When I was finally sweating like I had just finished a 10K from all the changing of clothes, I happened to see a plain black dress hanging on a hook.  Long.  Simple.  Rather elegant.  Comfortable.  Affordable.  And, hopefully with a little help from a pair of Spanx (and possibly dimmed lights) … it would fit.  Hallelujah!

The sales lady packaged it up and off I went, stopping at one other store to buy out every pair of Spanx they had along with seven different bras that I thought may possibly work under this dress. (This was not cheap, I might add). Finally I arrived home, squeezed myself into some Spanx, pulled on the extremely awkward strapless bra and stepped (almost excitedly) into the dress to see how it all worked.

And ….

There was no one to zip me up. 

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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.  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.  I normally would have sat down and had a good cry, but I was just too mad.  I was mad at Ben for not being here and for leaving me to try to figure out how to get myself dressed for a Masquerade Ball all by myself.  (Not to mention that I wouldn’t have to attend this ball if he hadn’t gone and died on me.) I was mad at Ben for causing me to sweat so profusely in my efforts to practice zipping myself up that I left sweat stains on my brand new dress.  I was mad at Ben for dying.  Period.

When I finally sat down on the edge of the tub due to exhaustion from all my raging, it occurred to me that I clearly need this camp. 

Once I was calm I discovered that if I pull the dress over my head instead of stepping into it (thank God for jersey material), I only need the zipper to be down a few inches instead of all the way to my waist.  Then, if I sort of shimmy and pull at the same time I can manage to reach that last little bit of zipper and pull it up.  I felt like a bit of a warrior,  but I am still pissed in general that I no longer have anyone to zip me up.

Yes indeed, I do need this camp.  Hopefully my next post will not be about how the zipper burst during my crazy shimmying efforts to pull it up, and how I was left half naked at a Masquerade Ball standing on the sidelines.

Hug your family.

PS.  I also bought some pretty gold sandals to wear so I can ditch the flip flops.  Now I’m worried that I may be overdressed at the Ball.  😉

Memory Lane

This week Raegan and I caught the ferry over to The Sunshine Coast in southern BC and toured Gibsons and Sechelt. Gibsons was home to the filming of the television show “The Beachcombers” from 1972 to 1990.  It was also the first hometown to Wendy and Ben from 1993 to 1997.  It’s where we lived when we got married, it’s where we built our first home, and it’s where we had our first baby.

(L-R:  Rae at Molly’s Reach, the first house Ben lived in, the old Gibsons RCMP Det, the first house we rented together when we got married.)

Raegan and I played tourist and she humoured me while I drove around and told her a hundred stories that all started with “I remember one time, right in this very spot, Dad and I (insert memory here) …”  She was a good sport.  We ended up on the beach in Sechelt at the exact spot where Ben proposed to me.

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I felt my heart stop beating for a moment while I closed my eyes and let myself transport back to the very moment that Ben asked me to marry him.  I remembered it as vividly as if it were happening right then. The moment felt so close it was as though I could reach out to grab it, but it remained just beyond my outstretched fingertips.

Every step we took was filled with memories of the early days with Ben.  I had a memory for every street, every restaurant, every single place in town as though I was watching our lives play out in a movie.  I remembered the most mundane of times together, like walking home carrying a Costco sized package of toilet paper that was on sale and we wanted to stock up for cheap.  I could see us buying our first Christmas tree together and watching our first house being built, and I could smell the sod we rolled out together in the front yard. Being back in the place where it all started made the memories come to life. Everything was so familiar that it seemed if I listened hard enough I would hear his voice and his laugh. Not the voice of the man suffering in pain, but the voice of the boy I fell in love with when life was uncomplicated.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of my time with Ben, and I would do it all over even if I knew the ending before I started.  I want to say I regret nothing, but the truth is that I regret is not taking more time to slow down and appreciate our lives together just a little more than I did.  My parents always told me to appreciate the moments because life passes by faster and faster the older we get, but even as we age and realize that it’s true, something always seems to get in the way and prevent us from stopping and savouring in the simple things.

Work.  Schedules.  Sports.  Bills.  Mortgages.  Sometimes over the years I could feel my soul yelling “Stop!!” but my body just kept on plugging away.  There was always more work to do, more house to clean, more money to make to pay more bills that kept coming in.

Heading back over to the coast reminded me of a time with Ben when life was slower paced.  There was less to do in that small town and for two years we didn’t have kids to occupy our time.  It was just us.  Wendy and Ben.  Hanging out together on our days off,  watching movies late into the night and sleeping late into the mornings.  Hosting friends when we wanted, video taping each other just for fun and cracking each other up with our jokes.  Trying to learn how to cook in a kitchen so small that you could stand in the middle and touch the walls on each side if you reached your arms out.

When we moved over to the big city the size of our kitchens grew and the pace of our lives sped up.  It always felt as though we had to swim faster.  We forgot how to take the time to slow down and instead we dreamed of having that time in the future.  We forgot to shut the world out and just be Wendy and Ben, without any outside distraction, until the day came when we had no choice but to stop.

We had nine months to grab ahold of every moment just to be Wendy and Ben. That time was filled with appointments and pain and tears, but it was time we savoured. We remembered how to just be together.  We remembered how to shut the world out. And despite all the shitty things that happened during those nine months, I cherish every second of it because we were the only two people in the world who mattered.

Thank God for those trips down Memory Lane.  Long Live Love.