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:
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:
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.
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.