Never Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Today marks the start of year three without Ben.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Long Will I Love Him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

I Shouldn’t Have Come Alone

I wrote this last week, at the time it happened.  Just making that clear, lest anyone read this and think I’m not OK.  I’m ok.  Ok? 🙂

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As I write this I have just pulled into the parking lot at the office of my urologist, Dr A. I have parked in stall number 61 and I find myself frozen in the drivers seat of my car as unwanted memories come flooding back into my brain. I remember the day I pulled into this parking lot with Ben. I don’t recall what stall number we parked in that day, but I do recall repeating the number out loud and saying “that’s our good luck number today.”

On that particular day in April 2015, two and half years ago but feels, smells and tastes like yesterday, we thought we were coming to find out how Dr A was going to help save Ben.  How he was going to operate on Ben’s kidney in conjunction with another (as yet unknown but definitely brilliant) surgeon who would simultaneously remove the tumour on Ben’s sacrum. ON, being the operative word.

Sadly, that’s not how that day turned out.

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This is a picture of Ben that day, waiting to be called into Dr A’s office.

On that day particular day, any good luck we may have had ran out about 5 minutes later as we found out for certain that Ben’s cancer was IN his bones. IN. A far cry from ON. Up until that moment we had sort of envisioned a tumour that was resting gently on his tailbone waiting to be plucked off by a skilled surgeon. We would hear “All done, thank you very much for coming out and have a happy life.” It was not to be.

(If you want to read about that shitty day as written by me at the time in 2015, you can get all the gory details by clicking right here.  Forgive the language.  I was not exactly grace under pressure that day.)

When we left Dr. A’s office on that day we hopped back into our car somewhere around stall 61 and Ben burst into tears. He cried and shook, and I felt like a child who doesn’t know what to do when they see their mom or dad cry. Ben doesn’t (didn’t) cry. Ever. Period. But on that day he cried, and if I hadn’t known before then I certainly  knew then that we were in for an ugly ride with no happy ending.

In 2016 I had to come back to this office, and I remember being hit hard with the same emotions and memories. As it turns out, those reactions don’t lessen with time, and I realize now that I shouldn’t have come here alone. Apparently I do not learn my lesson the first time.  I feel like I’m walking back into the war zone as I gather up the strength to get out of my car and go in there.

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Well, here I am.  I have just stepped off the elevator I am struck by the empty chairs in the hallway.

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Those chairs are the same chairs we sat in on that day. That day when Ben existed and all our hope hadn’t been stolen from us. As I stand here I want to scream out loud …  “My Ben sat there when he existed!!” But I won’t. Instead I will walk inside and quietly take a seat, and wait to see Dr A.

My visit today is to review the results of my recent kidney CT. My kidney has been aching and I generally haven’t been feeling well, or at least I hadn’t been feeling well at the time this appointment was made. Dr A didn’t want to mess around and so I went for a CT. Today I will get the results.

I’m not freaking out. The truth is that I already know the results and this visit is just a formality. I know the ct was clear. I know this because I was losing my mind with anxiety and so my GP checked for me over a week ago. He said all was fine.  Still, it’s funny … even though I know that I’m ok I am still a bit nervous.

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I’ve just been moved into Dr A’s inner office and I expect to see him any minute.

Even though I know, there is still some crazy, far off corner of my mind that is whispering, “what if…”  I can’t help but always be acutely aware that one day Ben went trotting into the doctor to find out whether he needed surgery or a cortisone shot for his injured back, and he left the office knowing he had cancer. And he was all alone when he found out. I remember the exact day…the exact moment… because I hounded him via text for the results until he finally responded “no surgery.” I said “yay” and went back to work, without a care in the world. I now know he was on the phone to Jeff, telling him the news that would irrevocably alter and destroy so many peoples lives, and none of them even knew it. I didn’t know it.

I’m oddly grateful that I had two extra days of blissful ignorance, and at the same time I am horrified that Ben had to carry that alone for 48 hours.

I can hear Dr A now. He’s obviously done with the previous patient and is on his way in. My God, I shouldn’t have come alone. Here we go …

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As expected, that was uneventful.  The CT was clear and the pain I feel around my kidney is likely muscular.  I’m sad that Ben didn’t get that relief.

I have just walked out of the inner office and again I am struck by what I see:

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There’s the chair Ben sat in on that day.  Ben sat there.  Ben once existed, and he sat there.  I think there should be a gold plaque hanging on the wall above:  Ben The Titan Once Sat Here.  Those Who Sit Here Should Feel Privileged.
I really shouldn’t have come alone.

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.

Bam! Pow!

The other day I had to pay a visit to a travel clinic for immunizations.   (Good news … I now have lifetime protection against yellow fever.)  I’ve never needed a travel clinic before, so when I made the appointment I discovered that the clinic happened to be in the same building as the office of a specialist I see every year.  I didn’t give it any other thought except to appreciate that I knew where the office was, which was a relief because I am geographically challenged and often have trouble navigating from Point A to Point B.  It was always Ben’s job to get us where we were going.

I arrived on time for my immunizations (a miracle), had four needles jammed in my arm and then walked out of the building whistling a jaunty tune as I made my way back to my car. (OK … I can’t whistle, but you get the picture.  Everything was fine in my life at that particular moment.)

But as I crossed the parking lot a memory suddenly jumped out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.

It wasn’t so much the exact memory in the video that punched me in the face, but rather it was the memory of what came immediately after I filmed Ben that day.

Just a few brief moments after Ben declared himself “The Shit,” the two of us walked into room 302 where we were promptly informed that in fact the cancer had indeed moved into Ben’s bones and spread to his lungs.

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Ben wrote about that visit in this blog post.  As always, he downplayed the news and forged ahead.

I do not remember leaving the office that day on April 22nd, 2015, but I do remember what happened immediately afterwards.  I remember turning the key in the ignition and thinking about how odd it was to just hear news like that and then drive home as though it were just another day.  I remember beginning to drive out of the parking space when Ben suddenly burst into tears.  He sobbed. His whole body shook. He was scared and he was caught off guard by his own emotion.

I remember feeling momentarily confused.  Ben didn’t get scared.  Ben was The Titan.  Ben handled things.  Ben coped.  Ben made lemonade out of lemons.  Ben always knew what to do.  Ben led the way.  But now My Ben was scared and oh my God how it hurt to watch.  It physically hurt me like a knife being jammed into my stomach and then savagely turned sideways before being yanked back out, like you might see in the movies.

Back to 2017.  As I walked out of the travel immunization office I made a discovery. I discovered that without even thinking about it or knowing it’s coming, I can still physically feel the pain of moments like that.  I don’t even have to be consciously thinking of a memory….it can just come barging in through my thoughts uninvited, whether I want it to or not.  In that moment I felt exactly the same as I felt 22 months ago as I watched Ben sob.  I did not just recall how I felt. I felt it all over again.  It hurt so badly that my knees shook as I tried to climb back into the same vehicle, in the same parking lot,  without My Ben.  And I wondered again, for the zillionth time, “How can this be?”

On April 22, 2015 as I watched Ben shake and cry, I felt helpless.  I felt scared.  I felt that there was no way to comfort him because no matter what I said or did it wasn’t going to change a thing.  Ben would never know how our story would play out over the years.  Ben was going to die.

On January 25, 2017, I managed to force myself to stay standing, climb into the car and take a few deep breaths.  And then I cried.

As I drove home I was acutely aware of all those people out there with PTSD who talk about how much their nightmares hurt them.  How much it affects their lives because the pain is as real today as it was in the actual moment.

Now I know.

It’s Been Awhile – Part II

On August 31, 2015, Ben posted on this blog.  It had been awhile since he had written, hence the title of his post which was “It’s Been Awhile.”  (Clever man thinking up that title all by himself).  That day was one of the few times he acknowledged his pending death in a forum that he knew I could access.  He wrote “My visits to the BC Cancer Agency only serve to re-enforce my suspicions that by this time next year I’ll be nothing but a memory to everyone. A fond one perhaps, but only a memory.

How could a year have passed since that day? How is it that he has been gone 7 1/2 months?  He has been gone now for almost as long as he suffered with the knowledge that he had cancer.  I still cannot believe it is true.  I still wait for him to come home.  I have read that for some people, the waiting never ends.

In any case, other than that one post on this day last year, he never spoke of himself dying to the kids and I until the very end.  I know he thought he was protecting us all those months.  Even last December when we discussed what we wanted Christmas 2015 to be about I cried, “If this is our last Christmas together….” and he cut me off and said, “It won’t be. It won’t be.”  I know now he said it more for me than himself.

All year I thought he didn’t know what the ending would be.  I thought this post he wrote (click here) was a one off.  I honestly thought he forgot he wrote it.  But over the course of the past few months since his death I have read things Ben wrote where it is clear he knew what was happening.  And he was so sad.   My heart shatters all over again every time I think of him suffering emotionally in silence, with a smile on his face whenever he could manage it.

While it was all happening I consoled myself with the fact that he believed there would be a happy ending, so he didn’t have to live with the emotional torture in addition to the physical torture.  I thought it was better for that to be my burden, that it was better for me to carry that for him since he was already in so much physical pain.  I didn’t want him to carry the emotional pain of wondering if each day was his last.

Now sometimes I physically feel I may vomit when I think about the anguish he must have felt as he watched the rest of us sleep, because he knew.  Sometimes I love him for trying to protect the kids and I, and sometimes I hate that he never sat me down and told me what to do after he died. But mostly I am tortured by the fact that he carried that knowledge, and I pray every day that he really did forget because of all the meds.  I think sometimes at least, that may have been true.

Now one year has flown by and I find myself celebrating my Dad’s retirement from teaching.  I’m so proud of my Dad.  I’m also very lucky that I’m his favourite child.  (That’s right, Lisa and Barb.  As Dr. B once said when Ben was in a drug induced state and asked me if I had confessed to my crimes …. “the truth shall set you free.”)  I’m very happy that I was able to celebrate with my family tonight, despite my somewhat melancholy and a tad angry mood (which I do try daily to shake off, but some days are just harder than others). We raised a glass to Ben tonight …. he would have had a good laugh teasing my Dad about retirement.  There would have been a lot of digs about “How does one retire from a job they only went to for an hour a day?”  I think Ben was probably there drinking right along with us.

September 24th would have been our 22nd wedding anniversary.  We will inter his ashes that day.  The ending to our story, on the same day it began.  

I miss you Ben.  The world just isn’t the same without you.

 

An Honest Love Letter … Saint-Onge Style

This is my first attempt at reblogging. Not even quite sure what will happen when I hit “reblogging post.”  I originally wrote this post on September 8, 2015 and I re-read it this morning.  It reminded me that I told Ben that we would be OK. I said “Whatever may come, we will be Ok.” So I need to be Ok.

Mom is a widow

To my Groom,

I am sorry that you are in so much pain.  It truly, physically hurts my heart to watch you suffer.  I wish I could take all that pain away.

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(I bet this is the face you are making right now as you read this)

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “LIAR!  You would not agree to taking all the pain!”  Fine.  You caught me. You’re right.  That was, in fact, a lie … you know me too well.  But I would definitely agree to take half of it.  I would totally take half. Or at least 35%.  But probably half.  Asking me to take it all on would be a little much, don’t you think?  That would just be mean, to want me to take it all.  But I would agree to a solid 50%.

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My Dear Ben … you know I have loved you almost from…

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