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.

To the Warrior Women

It is possible that I may have been sitting around feeling sorry for myself today.  I was tidying up the office and rehanging some pictures of Ben and just generally feeling ripped off.  When the kids were very young it was always Ben who helped them plan for Mother’s Day.  I clearly remember my very first Mother’s Day when Ben wrote a card to me.  He tried to make his printing look like a child’s (not hard for him … ever see his handwriting?) and signed it from Zak.  Every year after he would arrange for the kids to do something special for me, usually involving money and a trip to the nursery to start picking flowers for the upcoming gardening season.

Ben thought my job as a Mother was the most important job there could be.

So I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself and thinking about my own loss when it occurred to me that my Mom doesn’t have her mom here anymore.  Neither does my Dad.

Late last year when I attended a grief group I came out of it with an understanding that it doesn’t matter how old someone is when they lose their spouse, the pain is just as intense.  My pain was no greater than the woman in her eighties who had lost her spouse of over fifty years.  So it stands to reason that on the eve of this Mother’s Day, my mom and dad must miss their own mothers terribly.  I don’t know if I ever really thought about that before.

Both my Grandmothers were amazing women.  I’m so lucky I got to know them and spend time with them until I was well into adulthood.  When they died they weren’t old, but they weren’t young either.  I guess I thought on some level that it was natural and therefore must be less painful to my parents.  I now know I was wrong.

I am sorry that I don’t have Ben here with me this Mother’s Day, but I am sorrier for my parents that they don’t have their own Mothers with them.  I still have my Mom, thank God.  I cannot imagine a day without my own Mom (you too, Dad), and I doubt it matters how old one is on Mothers Day when they can’t give their own mom a kiss.  It must hurt, and I am grateful that I don’t know that pain myself.

So, on this eve of Mother’s Day 2017 I will put away my own sadness to remember how lucky I am.  I still have my Mom.  Not only do I still have her but I also live close to her and I get to see her and spend time with her whenever I want.  She is an amazing woman.  She is a strong woman.  She is a dependable woman.  She is a devoted Mom. The best.  I should tell her more often.

mom

I am also extremely grateful that I get to be a Mom this Mother’s Day.  That all three of my children are happy and thriving and alive.  That they love me enough to not only change their schedules tomorrow to be around for me, but to want to also take me out alone the next evening for some Saint-Onge Mom and Young Adults Time.  Just us.  Not everyone gets that.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there.  To the ones who grieve the loss of their own moms.  To the ones who grieve the loss of those who used to call them Mom.  To all the Women Warriors who fought a battle to hear someone call them Mom.  Happy Mothers Day.  You are all awesome.

Mostly, Happy Mother’s Day to My Mom, Maureen.  A beautiful, kind and loving Mother. The greatest Woman Warrior I know.

mama

How lucky am I?!

 

Spring Has Sprung

I’ve always thought of Spring as a new beginning, and this one is no different.  In fact, as I write these words I am counting down the last of (approximately) eleven hours to another new beginning.  At midnight tonight I will be officially retired from the RCMP.  A pensioner.  HA!  You have no idea how much that word makes me laugh.  If I close my eyes for 30 seconds I can literally see, hear and feel those early days where I privately thought of the “Over 40’s” in the RCMP as “Dinosaurs.” I “tolerated” them but thought it was time for them to move over and let the new blood in.  Good grief.

When I close my eyes I can see these Training days as if they happened moments ago:

… and the first post …

It’s true that the older you get, the faster time passes.  I am now acutely aware that every day is, in some way, a “last time.”  Today it is the “last day I am a police officer.”  I’m moving over and making room for this …

Hahahahaha!

Starting this new life without Ben is not something I ever thought I’d be doing, and yet here I am.  The other day I read this:

“You are living without the person you can’t possibly have lost. The loneliness can not be captured in any word, phrase or song. It’s palpable, breathtaking and seemingly void of all reality. It’s cold, cruel and takes your heart to a level of pain you didn’t even realize existed before death laid its cold hand on your barely beating heart.”

Those words capture the way I have felt since the moment Ben took his last breath, and it will remain the way I feel on some level until the day I die.  But I am also acutely aware of the fact that I am not dead.  Ben’s body is dead.  Mine is not.  Fair or unfair, that’s just the way it is.  Sometimes I have to say the words out loud to myself to both believe them and to remind myself that my life does, indeed, go on.  And Ben would want it to.

So, in the spirit of continuing to move forward, I whisked Raegan off to New York for a week of sightseeing … just the two of us.  Unfortunately, I was super sick the whole time we were there, but I loved every second of being with her one on one.  I love that we have New York all to ourselves.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the 911 Memorial Museum.  We were there for several hours and I could have stayed several more.  This art covers one of the walls, and I loved it so much I now have the saying on my key chain beside the guitar pick with “The Titan” on it.

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No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time.  Damn right.

Raegan and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and, as usual, left a little piece of Ben there until the end of time.  Or until the bridge is replaced, anyway.  This time it was Raegan who whipped out the marker before I had even thought of it …

While Raegan and I explored New York, and Zak attended classes at school (sorry Zak … that is the life of a student), Jaime explored Australia and New Zealand with her classmates.

 

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She had a great time, by all accounts, and now is prepping for the big day … GRADUATION!!  (Well, first her birthday … can’t believe she’s almost 18 … and then grad).

Despite the fact that Zak didn’t travel over Spring Break, what he has done is far more inspiring.  Today my boy celebrates three years of sobriety!  I am thrilled.  Ben is thrilled for sure.  You may recall how that first sobriety anniversary was bittersweet for us.  (You can read Ben’s post about it here. )  Zak hit his one year sober-versary a mere two days before Ben received his death sentence.  Talk about sobering (pun intended).  But as Ben wrote, Zak was a source of inspiration for him, and I love that both of them got to experience it. And since I’m in a bragging mood … here is my inspirational man-child with his equally inspirational girl friend.

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Ahhhhh …. my pride cup runneth over.

And so, despite the fact that my grief continues to haunt me every moment, it now does so at a lower volume.  Low enough between waves that I find I can enjoy some of what life has to offer again.

One last thing … while I was going through some photos I rediscovered these two.  The one of Ben was taken in Hollywood on our honeymoon in 1994.  The one of the girls was taken in the exact same spot just weeks shy of 22 years later.  Funny how life works.  I sometimes imagine it as this continual reel of film where you can see all the things that happen in one spot over the years.  Perhaps our grandchildren will visit this same spot one day.

Happy April 6th.  Happy Spring.  Happy birthday, Lelita.  Happy sober-versary, Zak. Happy retirement, me.

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Forever missing you Ben. #BenTheTitan

I Wrote A Blog Post

 

I wrote a blog post.  And then I deleted it due to a temper tantrum.

It has been a year since we celebrated Ben’s life.  I miss that day because it was the last time I got to talk about Ben for as long as I wanted and no one could say one damn thing about it.  So instead of a writing a blog post I have opted to repeat what I said about Ben on January 22nd, 2016.  The day when the only topic in the world of any importance, was Ben.

This was my eulogy to Ben.  You will have to turn the volume up.

There’s an online grief group I follow.  Today someone wrote this:

“It’s really hard to explain the level of grief to someone who has not lost a spouse . It’s is so complicated and has so many different layers . Not only did I Iose my husband, I lost my best friend. I lost my confidant. I lost my security. I lost the joy and interest of activities we used to share. I lost the father of my children. And I lost the future we would have shared .

The journey of grief has so many twists and turns . And everyone’s journey is different, so the road that I take is mine alone.  All that I can do is keep going. I don’t know where I’m going , or how to get there, but someday I hope to get to the place where I can find some peace and acceptance.”

So there you go.

Keeping Grief Quiet

If you are walking alongside someone who is experiencing grief, read this.  Or send it to someone else who needs to read it.

There seems to be a prevailing thought out there (“there” being in our western world) that smiling, keeping quiet, and consciously making an outward appearance of moving on is a sign that one is coping with their grief.  I am here to tell you that is not true, and if you don’t believe me now you will one day.  You too will either experience your own version of what I’m feeling or you will be the reason that someone else is feeling it.  A sobering thought but it is the indisputable truth.  No one is getting out alive.

I have no idea if “fake it til you make it” works for some.  Maybe.  I wouldn’t know because I’m not some. I’m me, and that path would not work for me. I can assure you of that.  For me, the above is not not not not not NOT true.  I can assure you that the exact opposite is true …. that in fact wailing, anger, frustration, talking, remembering, honouring Ben, ugly cry face and yes, snot, are all on the path to my recovery.  I’m ok with that.

Here is a truth for all those out there who love someone who is grieving.  Read it and absorb it.  If you are grieving you inherently know it is true.  If you have a degree in psychology you have learned that it is true.  This is a hard truth to swallow but it is, well, the truth.

You need to know that your reason for wanting to see a grieving person smile and make an outward appearance of moving forward is actually for your benefit.  It’s not for their benefit.  You want them to make an effort towards happy because it makes you feel better.

It hurts you to see them in pain.  I get that. They get that.  You don’t want to see them in pain.  They get that too. They understand that you think you want them to feel better for their sake, and you tell yourself that is true.  We all do it.  You aren’t alone.  You mean well.  But try to look in the mirror and tell yourself that your grieving loved one’s happiness or unhappiness doesn’t affect you at all.  I dare you. Of course it affects you.

You cannot honestly tell yourself that all those things you want for your loved one (happiness, peace etc) are solely for them alone.  You love them, and when we love someone we want to see them happy. We want to see them laugh and live and enjoy life. Obviously. I certainly understand that. It makes perfect sense.  But what you need to understand is that their grief is not really about you.   A person coping with their grief in the way that makes you most comfortable is not going to get them through this.

Do not ask them to cope with their grief in the way that brings you the least amount of pain. Do not assume that you know best.  You do not know what is best for them, I promise you that.  You know what is best for you. Do not assume they are not moving through their pain simply because it does not look the way you want it to.  Grief is ugly. That is a fact.

From my personal perspective and for my own loved ones, I wish that the way I need to grieve was the way that looks the prettiest and brings the most relief to you.  I sincerely mean that.  I would like to do that for you because I love you.  But know this … if I cave to that invisible pressure and I do that for you, I will be sacrificing my own recovery.

If I do that for you I will be sacrificing my own recovery.  

For all those out there walking alongside someone you love who is grieving, take a moment to ask yourself if you would like them to do that for you.  Ask yourself …. do you want them to make you feel better or do you want them to heal?  If you want them to heal then you need to start by understanding that they will not heal by doing it your way.

Personally, and I can only speak for myself, I feel I am doing a marvellous job of recovering as best as one can when their spouse is ruthlessly ripped from their life and from their children’s lives.  I am doing such a good job of processing and walking slowly through my grief towards happiness that it has been mentioned to me that someday I may wish to consider helping to facilitate the grief group I attended.  Why?  Because I deal with shit as it comes up.  I don’t shove it away and bury it so that it can rear it’s ugly head ten or twenty years later and destroy other relationships.  I don’t want to ruin my life in the future as a result of refusing to deal with my grief now.

If the way that someone you love is working through their grief does not please you, that is (and I say this gently and with love) your problem. Not theirs.

Your loved one is not the same person you knew before Grief reached out and wrapped its ugly fingers around their neck and started squeezing.  S/he is gone.  S/he is not coming back. S/he is dead.  No matter how much you wish that wasn’t true, it is.

Speaking for only myself again, my own loved ones should know that I actually like myself right now.  I appreciate the fact that my need to heal supercedes my need to please others, which means I now feel freer to express myself. For me that is a good thing.  I happen to like the part of my personality that refuses to conform to others’ ideas of what I need to do to heal.  I love that I am becoming brave.  I am proud of my new found strength.  I am beginning to feel that I have more to offer the world than I used to believe, and that makes me feel more worthy.  I am not as afraid to disappoint others when I know that I am staying true to myself.  None of that would have happened if I hadn’t had to go through all that I have gone through, so thank you, Ben.  I will always appreciate that you had a strong hand in helping to shape me into the person I was always trying to become. 

I refuse to keep my grief quiet – that feels similar to shame.  I assure you all, I am doing just fine.  I am quite proud of how I am dealing.  Listen to my words and hear them.

I know you grieve too.  I won’t judge your grief, don’t judge mine.

2017 – Living With Joy

On January 1st last year I wrote “Welcome 2016” which was interesting considering that I knew what 2016 would bring.  The year wasn’t really “welcome” at all because I knew that every moment was a final moment, and it was the last time I would ring in a new year with My Ben.

2016 was not my best year, but I hesitate to say it was all bad because it wasn’t.  We no longer have Ben and that is one change that we will never be OK with, but we are slowly adjusting.  I am grateful for the fact that Ben has now been pain free for longer than he suffered.  I am grateful for the growth in my relationships with my kids.  I am grateful that 2016 brought with it an acute awareness that life is short and needs to be grabbed onto and really experienced, not just survived.  After all, none of us are going to come out of it alive.

At some point over the last year, someone sent me this:

stages_of_grief

The picture on the right sums up my experience fairly well thus far.  So far I’ve covered every stage from the top left down to the bottom and slightly up the right side to depression.  A lot of my year has been spent stuck in the anger stage, and I have stopped short of the “re-entry troubles.”  (Not sure what I am supposed to re-enter into.)  I also think I have skipped a few stages because I have moved up the right hand side of the picture and developed a few new relationships, found new strengths, and created new patterns.  However, Hope, Affirmation, Helping Others and Loss Adjustment elude me still. Something to look forward to in 2017.

Tonight was supposed to be our wedding anniversary.  We really wanted to get married on New Years Eve so that we’d always have something to celebrate, and it just so happened that December 31st, 1994 was a Saturday.  (Go ahead.  Look it up).  We were forced to change the date due to some travel issues, and for the first time in 22 years I’m glad we didn’t say our vows on New Years Eve.  I don’t think I could bear tonight without Ben if it was also our anniversary.

I spent a lot of the day today thinking about how fleeting life is, and how we get one shot to fulfill our dreams, to find daily joy, to really live life.  A lot of snippets of various media clips jumped out at me today as though Ben was forcing them upon me.  “What is life if it isn’t lived with joy?” was one of them.  “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” was another.  Thank you Hedley.  One that really made me pause was something to the effect of “you will never be truly happy if you continue to live your life the way others think you should.”  Well now.  That one really hit home.

I have spent the last year wrestling with the question “to retire or not to retire.”  In my job a person can retire with a pension penalty at 20 years of service, but a person’s earliest retirement date without any penalty is 24 years plus 1 day.  I started my chosen career on March 1st, 1993.  You do the math. (Funny side note here, I can specifically remember the day I was in training when I found out my first possible retirement date.  I clearly remember calling my Mom from Saskatchewan and saying “You will not believe this … I will only be 46 years old when I can retire with full pension!”  I also remember thinking how far in the future that was….silly young girl that I was.)

In actual fact I have been thinking about leaving my job for many more years than just this last one.  Ben and I first planned for me to leave around 2007 when I had 14 years of service so that I could be home full time with the kids, where we both really believed I was needed.  That plan was thwarted when Ben was unexpectedly in a bad car accident at work that sidelined him and resulted in a loss of the overtime pay that we counted on. So I kept working, and by the time that whole mess was straightened out I suddenly had 18 years of service.  With that much service it seemed foolish to leave before attaining my 20 year pension, so onward I went.  As my 20 year mark approached we were waiting for Raegan’s braces to go on, and the orthodontist kept delaying them due to problems with her jaw. Since we are rather thrifty (ok, more Ben than I) we wanted to take advantage of our dual insurance coverage, so again we waited. Finally Raegan got her braces on and our insurance kicked in, however our insurer reimbursed us monthly until the coverage ran out as opposed to paying everything up front.  I continued to work in order for those insurance payments to come in.

Ben died on January 13th, 2015.  We received the last insurance payment for Raegan’s braces the same month.

In 2016 I continued to work because “everyone” says you shouldn’t make any changes for a year after a serious loss.  I thought that was probably decent advice for the most part, but recently I met someone who (gasp) decided to sell her house and make a move back east before the full 365 days had passed.  She is still alive and kicking.  So is her son.  I know this because I follow her on Facebook.  So what exactly is the worst thing that can happen if I make a change that I have wanted for so long?”  Death?  Doubtful.  Regret?  Maybe.  But regret is really a choice I think.  After all, don’t we teach our kids to be resilient?  Don’t we tell them that if something doesn’t work out, get back up and try something else?  And in any case I find it hard to believe that I will regret a decision I have consistently wanted for the last decade.

You want to know what I really regret?  I regret not leaving my job ten years ago, despite Ben’s accident and loss of overtime, and instead moving to a smaller and more affordable home and devoting my time to my husband and kids like they deserved.  I regret not being a full time mother and a wife, which is a job that both Ben and I believed was the most important job there could ever be.  I regret that we placed too much importance on the need to provide “things” for our kids, although it was done with the best of intentions. But despite the best of intentions it was definitely a mistake.  And while I cannot change the past I can certainly change the future while I still have time to do so.

I am afraid to make this big leap without Ben by my side to tell me it’s the right thing to do.  I am not sure that I am brave enough to do it and I spent the majority of each day of the holidays talking to myself and going over numbers, and trying to convince myself to be brave enough to take that leap.  I am scared because I don’t really know what I want to do from here, but I also know that I will probably never figure that out if I don’t just make the leap.  I think I need to be forced to discover what I really want to do to bring purpose and fulfillment to my life.  Before it is too late.  I want to live my life happily on my terms, for myself.  And I want to do it for Ben too.  He would want me to be brave, and to push myself, and to move outside my comfort zone.  He would want me to be happy.  To regret nothing.

If anyone has a little courage they can pass my way, please send it.  I need a little push to take this leap (and possibly an idea for a new job.)

If this were a “normal” year, Ben and I would have written down our goals for the next 365 days, because a goal that isn’t written down is just a wish.  (Thanks for that, Ben.) So here I write for all to read, that my goal for this next year is to be brave, to step outside my comfort zone, and to live life on my own terms.  I am going to search for bits of joy to take away from our tragedy.

As I sign off I can hear the neighbourhood erupting in noise.  Happy New Year.

 

Dear Kathy … You Are Not Alone

Dear Kathy.

This morning I woke to find the comment you wrote on my post entitled “I Still Look For Him.”  I could see that today was a particularly painful day for you and I started to write a response. My words went like this …. “how I wish I could help ease the pain you suffer.” But as I wrote those words I realized that wishing alone does nothing, and so instead I have chosen to write this: “Let me help ease the pain you suffer.   It is a pain I know intimately well, and I think I can help you.”

The burning question in your mind must be “How?  How can you help me?  Can you bring my husband back?”  I know that question well because I ask it all the time.  When people say “how can I help?” I think to myself – and sometimes say out loud – “Can you bring Ben back?  Because that would be most helpful.”  It makes for awkward conversations at times but at least it gives me a chuckle when I see someone stumbling for words after hearing my honest response.  People don’t expect honesty, I think.  Or they don’t want it. They prefer to hear “everything is fine, thank you for asking.”

Anyway, back to how I can help.  I think I can help you by continuing to share my own story with you.  (Sorry … no magic answer there.  I know you were hoping for more). I think I can help you by reminding you that you are not alone.  By reminding you that, most sadly, others do suffer with you / us and do know our pain.  And others do move through the pain toward a brighter future.

I have come to know that it is a fallacy that people “get over it,” but I believe people do “move through it.”  I am moving through it, Kathy.  So are you, whether you realize it or not.  I move through a little bit more every day, sometimes with two steps backwards, but I do move through it and so do you.

For me, I am doing it by just being as honest and true to myself as I possibly can.  I am doing it by trying to make sure that I do exactly what feels right at any given moment. Sometimes that isn’t pretty.  Sometimes it involves tears and snot and making other people feel very awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes it means avoiding people when I have no idea why.  Sometimes it means hurt feelings – both mine and others’.   I try to be kind to everyone, but if other people’s feelings get hurt simply because I feel this odd need to re-enter the real world at a snail’s pace by dipping one toe in the water at a time, so be it.  I cannot and will not worry about their hurt feelings, because my need to do what I need to do supersedes their needs, quite frankly. I’m being selfish and I’m glad I am, because I strongly believe it will help me in the long run.  I believe it already has.  If it takes me 18 months or 24 months or 36 months or longer to fully immerse myself back in the real world of visiting with people and doing some of the things I “used to do,” then I say so be it. People will just have to patiently wait for me or move on without me.  The hurt feelings of others are irrelevant compared to my pain, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. As you and I are intimately aware … life is too short to waste time worrying about the trivialities.

I do not believe that you or I will ever find anyone who understands us like another person who has lost their own spouse. There is no loss that is the same as losing your life partner. Regardless of how fiercely one may love their child / parent / sibling / friend they simply cannot understand the pain of losing their spouse until it happens.  All loss is not the same.  All loss is painful, yes, and nowhere will you ever find me saying that my loss is more or less painful than anyone else’s loss.  But all loss is not the same.  I hope to never understand the pain of losing a child, and I will not pretend to know what it feels like to lose a child just because I have experienced my own extreme and unrelenting loss that began the day Ben cried “I have cancer.  It’s in my kidney and my bones.”  So I don’t want anyone who hasn’t lost their own spouse to presume they understand my pain.  On the day your spouse dies you are thrust unwillingly into an exclusive club that you never asked to join, and only other members of this shitty “Dead Spouse” club can truly understand.

As you know, aside from the fact that you lost the one person you had pledged to grow old beside, you also lost so much more.  You lost the security you felt in knowing he would be there when you got home at the end of the day. He was supposed to be there always. When you struggle with raising your kids, he was supposed to be there struggling alongside you. When your dishwasher broke, he was there. When you got the flu, he was there. When all the kids were out for the evening, or gone for the weekend, he was there. When he wasn’t there, you knew how to reach him. Perhaps you even relished in the free time because you knew he was coming home eventually.

Being alone back then did not mean staring out at the vast “alone years” ahead, it meant being alone for an hour, or a weekend.  It did not mean forever.

Losing a spouse robs you of the person who promised to hold you as you watch your children leave the nest and move across the city, or the country, or the world. Losing a spouse forces you to look around and say “Now what do I do with the next 40 years?” Losing a spouse forces you to acknowledge that when you send your babies out into the world, you will be doing it alone. There will be no one there to hold you and cry with you as you wave goodbye to your baby. Losing a spouse means there is now no one in the entire world who loves your children as much as you do.  Losing a spouse is lonely. A kind of lonely like no other. A kind of lonely that can never be filled.  Losing a spouse robs you of the person you immediately turn to, to tell them something trivial that no one else in the world would really care about.  Losing a spouse robs so many people of financial security. Losing a spouse robs many of the health care benefits that covered their children through their spouse’s employment. Losing a spouse robs many of their homes.  Losing a spouse means you have to figure out how to change your own tires, buy your own cars, kill your own spiders, find someone to fix your roof, and eventually maybe even pack all your belongings by yourself to move houses.  The last time I checked, there was no friend, child, sibling or parent who filled all those roles. Just your spouse.  And they are gone.  Forever. So no, there is no loss the same as losing a spouse.

I have found that people tend to say “There is no greater loss than that of losing a child.” (Someone actually wrote that in an email to me shortly after Ben died.  Seriously???)  Well, I beg to differ.  And anyway, do we really need to put loss on a scale?  Which type of loss we presume to be greater? Unless one actually loses a child, a spouse, a best friend, a sibling and a parent all at the same time, it would be safe to say that a person can never truly know which one feels like the greatest loss to them, right? And thank God for that.

I do know for sure that from the moment your child is born, you know somewhere in the back of your mind that they are not your life partner. You borrow them for 18 years and then you hope that each of you mutually love and respect each other enough to be friends for life. But inevitably we turn our children over to their own love with whom they can share their life. They will belong to someone else. Someone else will,and should, come first to them, and you will still not have your spouse.

Anyway, Kathy, I do understand. I understand so well, and I hope it helps you to know that. But I will also say this, and I believe it too, that life is a gift that was robbed from our loved ones. It was not robbed from us, even though I know that sometimes you may wish it was. I know that some days I certainly do.  But for whatever reason, you and I have still been left with the gift of living life, and your husband and mine would want us to live it. It is not a gift worth having if it is not lived and appreciated fully. Maybe not today, and maybe not for the next while, but eventually you must live it.  They gave their gift up unwillingly – there is no way they would want us to waste ours.

I believe the best thing I did for myself was to ignore everyone who had opinions on what I should do to heal. “Get back to work” was a big one. I caved to that pressure initially and it was a terrible mistake. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe without crying. It added to my torture, and so I left. I took time with my kids but mostly I took time for me to figure out what I needed in order to breathe, and live. I don’t regret it.

I still haven’t fully gotten to that place of breathing and living easily, and I probably never will. I get hit by waves of grief and I go with them. No shame. I do what I feel I need to do to get me through the next wave and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because they are not living my life. I’m living it. And Ben would want me to.  So I need to do what I need to do in order to get where Ben would want me to be.

Ben would not grieve in the same way I am, which is ok. Neither would my sisters, my parents or my friends because they are not me. My kids do not grieve the same way I do because they are teens and quite frankly they are annoyingly resilient.  Thank God for that. As my doctor recently reminded me, that’s the way it is supposed to be. But right now I need to do what is right for me. I am feeling my way through life carefully and if something doesn’t feel right then I try to honour myself and Ben by not doing it. I am no longer afraid to say “No.”  Usually I succeed in doing what I need to do. Sometimes I cave to the pressure of others who think they know better, but not often. I get stronger at doing what I need to do the more often I do it. And I remind myself, “They do NOT know. They do NOT understand.” Despite their love and compassion, they don’t get it. They can’t get it. And that is a good thing. That’s ok.  I think I’m doing an OK job anyway.

Kathy, I wish you a peaceful Christmas. Maybe a quiet Christmas. Maybe a loud Christmas. Maybe a Christmas buried in helping others which can possibly be a help to yourself. Whatever feels right for you. Just know that there are others who do know your pain, and although those people may not be directly present in your immediate circle of family and friends, they are there. Reach out if you need to and tell someone you need a shoulder. Reach out to someone who actually knows your pain.  Consider joining me at Camp Widow in the New Year.

One thing Ben said early on (and wrote about in this blog) was that he knew there was someone out there in the world who had it worse than him. And he was right. Even as he drew his last breath there was someone out there who had it worse than him. And even though we all still need to cope with our own pain, I do try to remember there are people out there who have it worse than I.  Remembering that helps me.  Maybe it will help you too.  Or maybe not.

I promised Ben I would not crumble, and I won’t. I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and some days I will only be doing it just to get to the end of the day. Other days I will be doing it because I want to actually go somewhere.  My own levels of agony are getting to a point where I no longer want to rip out what is left of my heart out and throw it at the disease that took my Ben (I tend to think of cancer as something tangible in my odd brain) and scream “why don’t you just take what’s left, too!”  I consider that progress.

Lastly, besides actively seeking out people who know my pain, the other thing that helps me through is by finding very specific ways to honour Ben.  Carving ‘Ben The Titan’ everywhere I go is one of them.

Toasting Ben with Kracken on special occasions is another.  The next time I do it I will yell “Release the Kracken!” just as he did.  And I will ask others to do so too!

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Having a candle holder engraved so that we can light a candle in Ben’s memory is a way we can remember him on all our “occasions.”

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This year I had our final traditional Saint-Onge Five Christmas ornament made, after countless years of hanging family ornaments on the tree.  These are only some of them:

And the final / last one made this year, where the 5th snowman has angel wings …

I created a headstone that honours Ben and tells the world a bit about what kind of man we lost. (Below is the computer rendition that is being engraved in granite as I write this post. Ben’s photo will go in the white oval)

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My kids and I have decided that going forward we will forever find a way to gather together (even if it needs to be via Face Time) every single year on two specific days … Ben’s birthday and the anniversary of his death.  (I will keep our wedding anniversary to myself.) We will take the time to remember the man he was, the husband I had, the father my kids had.  And then we will go about our business of living our lives the way he would have wanted, and the way I promised him we would.  At least, that is the plan.

Kathy, I know you’re tired.  I am tired too, but I don’t believe that will last forever.  The pain you feel is the price you are paying for intense love.  I bet you wouldn’t trade the pain if the other option had meant loving your husband less deeply.

I hope that something I said was helpful to you.  If not, I hope that you are comforted by simply knowing that I understand.  I really understand.  But I wish I didn’t.

Wishing you peace and love and a desire to move through.

Your friend,

Wendy