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:

IMG_9949

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.

IMG_9946

(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.

IMG_9933

 

Greys Anatomy – A Trainwreck For My Soul

I watch Greys Anatomy every Thursday night with four friends and a glass of wine.  We have done this for several seasons now, and I look forward to it every week.  But lately … lately I find that watching Greys Anatomy feels similar to watching a train wreck.  It hurts my soul but I can’t look away.  Every single week the show seems to focus on cancer diagnosis’ or cancer deaths.  It’s like a drum pounding in my head over and over.  I walk into the evening excited for the chatter and wine, and within about five minutes of the show starting all I can think is, “Again?”

And so for the last few days I have asked myself this question … are these weekly dates with my girls feeding my soul, or are they robbing me of any semblance of peace?

The most recent episode involved a pregnant woman who was dying of … wait for it …. cancer.   (Surprise!) She refused treatment in order to save her baby.  How noble of her. Blah blah blah. Before she went into surgery she secretly told the doctors she wanted to sign her own DNR.  She did not want them to take extraordinary measures to keep her alive if something went wrong.  Well, something went wrong as it usually does, and I’m sure you can figure out what happened in the end.

religious-clipart-free-graphics-images-and-pictures-of-nativity-wbdAxV-clipart

As I was watching that episode it made me think about this … I signed the DNR.  I signed that DNR.  I signed it while I sat right beside Ben in the hospital.  A doctor finally had the kahunas to broach the subject with Ben, and Ben promptly shut him down hard and fast.  “Talk to Wendy about that” he said. “She’ll know.”  I remember that he used tone with the doctor.  Angry tone.

“She’ll know.”

Well apparently, in fact, I did know.  Or at least I thought I knew at the time, because I signed it.  Ben apparently did not know so I made that decision for him.  That shitty, crappy, assholish decision that I never imagined I would actually have to make in my lifetime.   I signed that DNR, tucked it into the green plastic envelope they give you with a magnet on the back and slapped it onto our fridge for all to see. (That’s what you do with it, you know.  I’m told that EHS attendants always look on the fridge for that green envelope.  A quarter century in emergency services and I never knew that DNRs are kept in green envelopes on the fridge.  Now you know too.)  I signed that DNR.  I stuck it on the fridge and it sat there right through the Christmas holidays while everyone from both families were here “celebrating” the season, and I think I was the only one who knew it was there.  (It’s possible I could be wrong about that … there is a lot I don’t remember so maybe my sisters did know.)  But what I do indeed remember is that I signed the fucking DNR.  It was the right thing to do, and it kind of haunts me.

Not only did I sign the DNR and stick it on the fridge, but I also chose a funeral hall and signed some forms about body removal at a time when Ben was still chatting people up and taking visitors.  Everyone around him was planning for Ben’s death except Ben.  He wanted to live.  He trusted me with his life and death decisions.

I signed the DNR.  It somehow seems so businesslike … so wrong, so completely casual in hindsight.  “Sign this receipt, please.”  “Sign for the package, please.”  “Sign your husband’s DNR, please.”  Funny how it didn’t seem so wrong at the time.  At the time it seemed important to plan, to prepare, and to save Ben from the agony of possibly being brought back to life only to surely die soon after.  Now it just seems surreal, and even though it was the right thing to do, I don’t really know how I managed to do it.

I had a landscaping complication this week with the neighbour, and when I brought her flowers the next day to try to calm her ruffled feathers she went on and on and on about how she had had a bad day.  That was her reason for her bad behaviour … everything had gone wrong for her.  And I smiled and handed her the flowers and mumbled, “Oh, I’m sorry your day was so tough” while I thought about how I wanted to tell her that I wish that I could have her bad days.  I also wanted to beat her a little bit but I refrained.

(On a side note, I tend to have regular Ally McBeal moments where I envision doing exactly what I want to do when people say things that I consider absolute wastes of time and breath.  It makes me feel better to fantasize.  I try to put smile therapy into practice.)

I spent some time with Ben these last few days and I was surprised to find that someone else had been visiting him too.  They left flowers. I love that.

flowers

The bottom bunch is from someone else who must have loved him.  Can’t say as I blame them.  He was easy to love.

I asked the question earlier about whether these weekly Greys Anatomy dates are feeding my soul (the friendships) or sucking it dry (the storyline of the show).  The truth is that I could probably do without the constant cancer reminders, but then again those reminders are everywhere, every day.  I don’t need Greys Anatomy to remind me that Ben died.

On the plus side I also get at least an hour of chat before the show and I’m always guaranteed a laugh as we recount what we read on the local community Facebook page throughout the week.  (Those of you who live in this area will understand what I mean.) Those hours are worth more to me.  I couldn’t have gotten part way through this mess of Ben’s life and death without them.

Anyway, who am I kidding?  I couldn’t stop watching the 37th season of Greys Anatomy even if I was kicked out of the club.  (I don’t think they can kick me out.  I’m the original founder.)

imgres

The First Birthday. Da da DA!

The “Da da DA” was supposed to be the dramatic music played in the movies.

Today I am officially the same age as Ben.  He’s never going to get older but I am.  That is odd.  I always used to tell him that he could have one extra year on earth so that we could die at the same time.  He in turn always said he was going to live to be 100, but I said I’d be happy to make it anywhere into my 90’s so he’d be on his own after that.  I was always pretty sure he’d enjoy a couple of years of being able to just play guitar without being interrupted anyway.

I definitely missed our Saint-Onge Family Birthday BBQ of steak and caesar salad tonight, and I missed Ben as always, but in fact I had a happy day. The weather has been miserable lately but today the sun shone through.  A gift from Ben perhaps.

I spent the day enjoying a pedicure with Mom and Barb (how could a day ever go bad when it starts with a pedi?) …

IMG_6219

… followed by lunch with my family (sans Lisa and Brett unfortunately) and dinner with Connie and Kirby, Nancy and Jeremy, and Lisa and Darren.  AND, miracle of all miracles, I did not even cry once until right this moment when I received this text from Connie in response to my “thank you for the lovely evening” text.  I hope she won’t mind me posting it here.

IMG_6235 (1)

They miss Ben too.  That probably shouldn’t make me happy, but it does.  I like that I am not the only one that misses him.  He was worth missing.  Knowing that he had a positive impact on other people’s lives, and knowing that they will remember him too makes me happy.  I like knowing that my life is not the only one impacted by his loss.  Ben would like knowing that too.  I hope he does.

Anyway, today was evidence to me that joy can still be had in conjunction with the pain, and it allows me to imagine that more joy could possibly follow.  I think there may be a day when the joy will outweigh the pain, and perhaps the pain will fade into memories that mostly make me smile. Especially when I hear the memories that others have of Ben.  

The other day I was driving to an appointment when I noticed that the car in front of me had a sticker on it with a sweet saying followed by the name “Cassidy Briggs.”  I was immediately brought back to six years ago, when a little girl named Cassidy was in all the local papers because she was fighting cancer, and I remember when she passed away.  Ben and I talked about her a lot at the time.

I drove behind that car all the way to my appointment.  Every turn the driver made was the same turn I had to make, and eventually the car pulled into a parking stall exactly where I was going.  I stopped my car and waited until the driver got out, and before I could change my mind I walked up to the driver (who probably thought I was a crazy stalker) and asked her if she was Cassidy’s mother.  When she said “yes” I told her that I remembered her daughter, even though I had never met her.  I told her that our hearts broke all those years ago when we read their story in the news, and that I had never forgotten it.  I told her that I wanted her to know that her daughter’s life impacted people who had never met her, and that I had never forgotten her and I never would. And then I said goodbye and went on to my appointment.

I hope it made that mother happy to know that her daughter is not forgotten.

Missing you every minute of every day, Ben, but I hope you know that today I smiled and laughed. You are not forgotten.  Never forgotten.  xox

Saint-Onge family on Bens birthday Mar 13 2006

A Parable For Mothers

I was cleaning out some things last night, and being as nostalgic as I am right now I started opening old letters and cards.  What I found brought a smile to my face.

The first thing I found was “A Parable For Mothers.”  I had made a note on it to remind myself that Ben had sent it to me at work around Mothers Day, 1998.  (It was particularly funny that I noted that “Ben forwarded this to my computer at work.”  Computers were new to us and I’m sure I thought they wouldn’t be around long and I might wonder how it was that Ben had sent it to me.  Lol.)

This is what he sent:

A PARABLE FOR MOTHERS

The young mother set her foot on the path of Life. “Is the way long?” she asked. And her Guide said: “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.”

But the young mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years. So she played with her children, and gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed with them in the streams, and the sun shone on them, and life was good, and the young mother cried: “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this”.

Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle and the children said: “Oh, Mother, we are not afraid for you are near, and no harm can come.” And the mother said: “This is better than the brightest of days, for I have taught my children courage.”

And the morning came and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children: “A little patience and we are there.” So the children climbed, and when they reached the top, they said: “We could not have done it without you, Mother.” And the mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said: “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of difficulty. Yesterday I gave them courage, Today I have given them strength.”

And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth – clouds of war and hate and evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said: “Look up! Lift your eyes to the light.” And the children looked and saw above the clouds an Everlasting Glory, and it guided them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said: “This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.”

And the days went on, and the months and the years, and the mother grew old, and she was small and bent. But her children were strong and tall and walked with courage. And when the way was hard, they helped their mother; and when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the mother said: “I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them.”

And the children said: “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.”

And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said: “We cannot see her, but she is with us. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence.”

— Temple Bailey — 

Ah … sweet Ben.  He really, truly believed that my job as a Mother was the most important job in the world.  Not in a sexist way, but in the way that he wanted our kids to feel a sense of security, love, and safety that he believed was so important.  He believed that everyone had a specific role in other people’s lives, and that a mother has it within her power to provide her children with a sense of nurture that no one else truly can.  He didn’t think that responsibility should be taken lightly.  More important, he really believed that I was up to the task.

Then I found this … a note written by Jaime to Ben 10 years ago, in the way that kids used to write “Will you go out with me?  Check this box if ‘yes’ and this box if ‘no’.”  I love the way she left room for his answers, and I love how he answered her, especially where he said “yes yes” when she asked him if he thought it would be fun…

IMG_5065

The responses Ben gave sum up exactly how he was as a father.  Involved.  Present. Enthusiastic. Always making time for his kids.

And then I found this.  The first card he ever gave me.  It was for my 23rd birthday, and we were both still in Regina at the Training Academy but he had been posted to Gibsons and was about to head west.  I don’t remember what he bought me for my birthday, but I do remember the card.  I’m so glad I saved it all these years.

Here’s the front:

IMG_5068

Here’s the inside:

IMG_5069

And this is what my sweetheart and best friend wrote to me.  When I read the words he wrote to me back in 1993, I’m reminded of why we worked so well for so long … because we were best friends.  We understood each other.  We were friends first, and that friendship sustained us through so many trials over the years.

We found each other when Ben was just coming out of a dark time in his life, and he felt very alone.  We made each other laugh.  We were great, great friends and we made a fantastic team that sustained through Ben’s life and would have sustained through many, many more years.  Our time was too short, but man, was it ever good.

Here’s what he wrote, all those years ago:

IMG_5070

Thank God I was also posted on the Sunshine Coast a few months later, where our friendship picked right up where it left off, and never quit.  Destiny.

I hope all three of my kids are so lucky to meet a steadfast, true and honourable life partner just like their Dad.

How we all miss him.

IMG_5067

“We cannot see him, but he is with us. A husband / father like ours is more than a memory. He is a living presence.”