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.

That Damn Toothbrush

One learns interesting things about themselves when they lose one fifth of their world. I have discovered that I have three predominant ways of coping.

  1. Purging
  2. Shopping / Spending Money
  3. Keeping Busy By Renovating

Ben’s Olympic Hoarding habit drove me to the edge of sanity.  I actually feel a little shudder go down my spine when I look around my home office where I sit to write this post and recall a short time ago when I actually had to cover the glass door and never cross the threshold lest I disappear into the abyss that was “Ben’s space.”  Looking into this office gave me a physical reaction that mimicked a heart attack.

Since Ben died I think it would be safe to say that I have emptied this residence of at least 50% of the “stuff” it contained.  My home is not small so that is a lot of “stuff.” Much of it had zero sentimental value to myself or the kids (if everything has sentimental value, doesn’t that contradict the actual intended meaning behind “sentimental value“??) and so I sold it for cold hard cash.  I’m nothing if not practical.   The kids and I quite easily filtered through the piles of impedimenta, accoutrement, paraphernalia – also known as crap – and quickly found what meant the most to us.  The rest went buh bye.  How many guitars is it reasonable for one to keep when it is not their own passion?  I know the answer to that question … TWO!!!  That’s right.  The one that started it all about a dozen years before this picture was taken …

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and the last one before it all ended …

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Almost everything else in here was history and I moved at a frenzied pace with the sole goal of being able to breathe.  I don’t regret any of it.  I found most things very easy to get rid of,  but I continue to be surprised at the small things I can not let go.

Our entire closet was emptied of all Ben’s clothes within days of him dying because practicality kicked in and I needed the space.  What girl doesn’t want more closet space, right?  I saw no practical point in waiting what some might consider to be a “decent” amount of time when it was clear that no one in this home would ever wear those clothes. What difference would it make if I left the closet stuffed full and overflowing with clothing that would never again be worn by anyone here?  Ben certainly wasn’t coming back to wear them or complain about them being gone.  So I purged, and yet I found myself needing to keep his t-shirts.  I tucked away about 40 of his “favorite” t-shirts to be transformed into something awesome when the time is right.  I also have every single one of his ties hanging neatly in a row, which is odd considering he rarely wore a tie.  His hot tubbing flip flops remain by our back door, waiting for him to step right back into them despite the fact that I am re-homing our hot tub.  His tooth brush remained on our bathroom counter.

I commented to a friend the other day about my ruthlessness in clearing out our house and how I found it odd that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out his damn toothbrush.  It just sat there and stared at me and taunted me, day after day.  Many times I picked it up to toss it out and then I put it back down.  The very next day after having the toothbrush talk, my cleaning lady was over and she asked “do you have an old toothbrush I could use to get some of this grime out of the sink?”  Without hesitation I walked straight over and handed her Ben’s toothbrush.  Apparently cleanliness wins.

Most things I got rid of had monetary value, and being the ever practical one I sold them for money to support coping mechanism #2 – Shopping.  First it was clothing and some shoes.  Since I had the room in the closet now I figured I’d fill it back up in ways that made me happy. One of my friends walked in one day and took a look into my newly filled closet and said “Stop.”  I stopped.  (Thanks, Lisa).  Some of the clothes still hang in there with the tags on, but mostly I don’t regret those purchases.

I have also done some redecorating courtesy of the sale of Ben’s truck.  I know that Ben would have a fit over the money I have spent on the house because he would have much rather had the truck, but I guess that’s my choice now since he is not here to drive said truck.  I like to think that Ben would be happy that I spent somewhat responsibly and have not gone outside the budget I set out for myself, and also because coping mechanism #2 (Shopping) which kind of morphed into coping mechanism #3 (Keeping busy by renovating) has helped keep me sane.  After all, he rudely left my world and clearly refuses to come back, so he has to expect that I must find something to do to occupy my time.

I do know for certain that Ben would be 100% supportive of the travel we’ve done and the travel we plan to do.  One of his regrets that he voiced quite clearly before he died (how it hurts to know he had regrets) was that he wished we had spent more money on travelling and less on the house.  So you see, he’d support half of what I’m doing.  I’ll take that as a win.  I don’t mind being a bit defiant of his wishes, since he was assholish enough to go and die on me.

I know not everyone agrees with my methods of coping, but in the words of Rhett Butler …

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At least I haven’t started drinking.  Well, at least I haven’t started drinking heavily.  I will admit to having had to walk home last night after a few glasses of wine in the company of friends who make me very happy because they meet both of my current friendship requirements

  1. they talk about Ben and
  2. they don’t judge my coping mechanisms.  (They also take care of my dog when I’m away and they always have wine).

(I suppose they also meet requirement #3 – they invite me.)

This week the girls and I are going to make Ben very happy by taking off on a healing journey.  We hope it involves hiking and exploring and being with nature.  Maybe it will end up involving Universal Studios and Alcatraz.  We’ll see.  We’re flying by the seat of our pants.  One of the girls is thrilled beyond words that we are doing this, and one of them hates me for it.  I’ll let you figure out which is which.  (Zak is staying home and working. Someone has to.  lol).  I am very pleased with myself for committing to taking this trip for multiple reasons that I can’t explain.  Considering the way I was feeling this time last year, I feel like I’ve come a long way.

Speaking of travel, here are a few pictures of Hawaii that I haven’t shown off yet.

And then there was this:

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One year ago I felt like this (click here) and I was desperate.  I cannot adequately explain what living in a constant state of fear, helplessness and desperation does to a person.  But one year later I feel like I’m ready to head off and seek some healing, and I think that is probably a good thing.  I feel like I’ve come a long way.  And so we are off.

We Are All A Year Older

The other day I was cleaning up and  I stopped for a moment to watch our digital photo album as it flipped through some photos.  I saw a few birthday pics flash by and I had to sit down and catch my breath as I suddenly realized that all four remaining Saint-Onge’s have had a birthday since Ben died.  I mean, obviously I knew this, but it really hit me hard at that moment.  The rest of us are all one year older.  And then I really thought about the fact that Ben will never know me at 46, Zak at 20, Jaime at 17, or Raegan at 15. Never.  How could he already have been gone long enough that we are all one year older and he wasn’t here to see it happen?  Time is stealing him further away from me.

It has occurred to me in the past that Ben and I are now officially the same age (he died at 46, I just turned 46), but I don’t recall really thinking hard about the fact that in a mere 6 1/2 months, all of us have changed ages and Ben doesn’t even know it.  Two of my kids have begun new romances since Ben died, and those new boyfriend / girlfriends don’t ever get to know Ben.  They don’t know the super cool dad of their current crush.  My kids have turned into the “girl/boyfriend-who’s-dad-died.”  Which is now the way it will always be, unless they are to date and marry someone from their early youth, which is unlikely. That means that my kids don’t get to reminisce about their Dad with their significant other, because that significant other will never have known him. (Well, of course they can reminisce, but the other person won’t have had that shared experience. You know what I mean.) How could that happen in such a short amount of time?

As life has moved along I find myself discovering that being a single parent is not fun. Before Ben and I ever had kids, we talked about how we saw our lives going as far as career vs kids.  We both felt very strongly that having a parental presence at home as much as possible was a priority, and so I have spent the majority of my career working part time.  (Don’t make the assumption here that it was a no brainer back in 2000 that I would be the one to reduce my hours – in fact, at one point in time we came very close to doing just the opposite.  Ben was very supportive of my career and was fully prepared to take on the role of primary care giver, but due to various things that happened around the time of making that decision we ultimately decided it would be me to spend more time at home.  So we ran with it and both of us have been reasonably satisfied with the way that worked out, except for the recent shitty ending to our story. Pretty sure I can speak for Ben here when I say that he was less than impressed with how everything turned out in the end.  But I digress….)

Back to single parenting … not so much fun.  There have been a few instances of late where Ben would have simply walked out of the home office and into the family room and given “the look.”  That usually solved whatever the problem of the moment was.  And if the “offence” was great enough and say, a phone or car was taken away, he would never, ever give in or renege on the original consequence.  Never.  And no one would dare to try to wear him down.

I’m discovering that even when a parent has died, teens still manage to be teens and there is no one I can fall back on for a break.  No one to step in with “the look.”  No one to say to the other parent “hold onto those car keys and don’t give them back for a week.  It’s the right thing to do.” Instead it’s just me, second guessing myself and getting worn out and run over at times. The last two days haven’t been the best, to put it mildly.  And amidst all the drama poor Raegan was hit with the worst migraine ever.  Nothing stopped this bad boy.  The poor girl vomited for hours until she was spitting up blood, holding her head and telling me how much it hurt.  It was horrible and I really needed Ben, but alas… well, you know.

Raegan is feeling better now and tomorrow night she goes for her MRI to see what, if anything, is going on in there.  I hope they find something very tiny, non life threatening and super easy to resolve.  I suspect that they will find nothing, which is good but frustrating because that doesn’t really help her pain.  Knowing you are “OK” doesn’t make the pain go away.

In other news in the Saint-Onge household, we were unable to secure our first pick of burial plot for Ben but we did get our second choice.  In hindsight, when Raegan and I went back to look at it, we actually preferred our second choice so I suppose it all worked out. The purchase of the plot etc is now being dealt with directly between the City of Surrey and the RCMP, so for once I just get to sit back and wait until it is all done.  Then I will start thinking about when is a good time to say that final farewell.  I’m not ready yet.

I had intended on writing about our recent trip to Hawaii, but since the girls and I are going on a further adventure down south in a few days, I think I’ll wait.  This pretty much sums up our next trip:

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OK, the truth is that I actually don’t feel like writing about Hawaii right now, because as I was putzing around here on Ben’s computer I found a post he wrote on a guitar forum about ten months ago.  I have read it before but I had forgotten about it, and now that I’ve read it again I don’t feel much like talking about sunshine and travel.  Instead I’m going to link the post he made.  Hopefully it works.  Hopefully I didn’t already post it sometime earlier.

In any case, reading his words made me both sad and proud.  What a man he was.  Click on the link below to read:

Bens post on guitar forum

Dear Ben

Dear Ben,

Yesterday was our son’s 20th birthday.  It seems like just yesterday that he was born, and we were young, and life was wide open before us.  In a million years I did not ever imagine that 20 short years later you would not be beside me to celebrate his day.

Over the last four-ish months various significant days have passed (your birthday, Jaime’s birthday, my birthday etc), and I have been able to remember exactly where you and I were on that day any number of years ago. As each event has passed I have found myself thinking “if I had known how much time was left, would I have done anything different?”

I have mulled that thought over countless times, and I have finally come to the conclusion that the answer lies somewhere in between a “yes” and a “no.” 

I wish that I was emphatically able to answer “No!  I would change nothing!  I was perfect. I loved you every minute of every day, and I treated you with gentleness, kindness and love at all times, and vice versa.”  But that isn’t the answer, because that isn’t the truth.  We did not do those things at all times, but we did do them most of the time.  (Some of the time?  No … over the span of 23 years I think we did them most of the time.)

The answer is also not an emphatic “Yes!  I would change everything! I would have loved you more and been kinder and more considerate at all times.  I would not have ever argued with you, and I would not have insisted on having my way, ever.  I would have given you exactly what you wanted every time you asked, I would have swallowed my frustrations and I would have spent every day telling you how perfect you were.”  That’s not the truth either, and I don’t wish I had done that.  I doubt you would wish that of me either. If I was the perfect partner it would have made your life easier for a short while, but it also would have bored you silly.  I know you were never looking for a partner who was just a “yes” person. Neither was I.

The truth is that I loved you fiercely, most of the time, and I know you did the same.  And I know you appreciated the ferocity with which I loved you, which sometimes meant I ferociously disliked you too.  But I always loved you.  And vice versa.  Some years were harder than others, but I always hung on and loved you when others may have let go. The same goes for you – you always hung on. That’s why we worked.

I do now know that most of our disagreements were a waste of time (life is just too short – you taught me that) and I do wish I could have a do-over and take some of them back, but not all of them. Because sometimes you were very wrong, and we both knew it.  🙂

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(You would have laughed at that.  I’m smiling now as I think of you laughing.)

If I had known on the day that our son was born that we would only get to celebrate 19 of his birthdays together, I would have cried and said “how will I be able to do this without you?” And you would have said, “You won’t have to. I will be by your side for 19 years and then you will continue on.”  You were very practical like that.

So I suppose that in the end, there is not a lot I would have done differently.  Who would have wanted to risk the possibility of doing things differently and ending up not having our kids?  Not you.  Not I.  There is no point in living with regret (as you were fond of saying), and truthfully we really had very little to regret and so much to appreciate.

I’m glad we did it our way.  I know you were too.

I do wish we had managed to travel more together.  I will never forget you saying that to me towards the end – that you wished we had travelled more.  Ben, I hope you have travelled the world by now and marvelled at all the wonders.  I promise you I will encourage the kids to do so. Carpe Diem, baby.  Carpe diem.

I miss you Ben.  Sometimes, like right now as I write you this letter, my whole body aches from missing you.  I miss your laugh so much. You had a great laugh.  Today someone from Ottawa emailed me to say they missed you (oh how I loved reading that), and they talked about what an infectious laugh you had.  You did. I hope you laugh every day now.

I am learning how to do some things around the house that I never had to do before, although I am constantly pissed off that I have to do it at all.  You’re in the dog house for that.  The computers frustrate me to no end. I still don’t have Netflix, although I pay for it every month.  That would piss you off!  Today the door on the dishwasher refused to close so now I have to wash by hand (whaaaat??), one of the kitchen drawers is broken, and those damn latches on both gates still don’t work. I’m pretty choked that you didn’t fix them.  Procrastination was not your best trait.

The kids are managing as well as any teenager could. They miss you, and truth be told, it hurts them to talk about you out loud.  I know this because I have asked, and I watch the quick flash of pain across their faces when I say I miss you. But you also taught them to laugh, and so that is what they try to do.

  

I bought him the same obscenely expensive frying pan that I bought you a year ago.  I figured you would think that was a good choice.

Raegan has been sick and was at home for several days last week. It turns out that she used her down time to google you, and she found our blog. I was a little anxious about that when she told me.  I did not ask her to stop reading it, although I was tempted (and she told me she wouldn’t read it any more if I didn’t want her to), but I did tell her that she might want to think about it first.  I told her it’s painful sometimes, but that’s because we loved you so much. Later on that day she sent me this text, which contained an excerpt from one of your blog posts last year:

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She was looking for reminders of how you loved her.  

Jaime has been suffering with the same stomach problems she has always had, although they are worse now.  I have tried to explain “gluten free” to her as I know you would want me to, but she is stubborn. I think she got that from you.

She has been concerned about telling her new boss that we are leaving for several weeks this summer.  She was afraid he wouldn’t understand.  Today she got to see once again that people are good, as he not only told her that she could go and there are more important things than work, but he let her know that he lost his own wife three years ago. He told her he understood.

She is managing better most nights now, but there is a hole in her heart like the rest of us have. You can take pride in the fact that you meant so much to all of us, but because we loved you so much it is hard to move through the pain.  One day at a time is all we can do. Sometimes one moment.

Last night I broke my finger. (I am writing this from Emergency at Surrey Memorial.  I didn’t go last night because I hoped it would fix itself.  That didn’t work out.) I saw the xray today – it doesn’t look pretty.  If you have any pull in the afterlife, could you please help me out with some quick healing?  I am particularly annoyed that I can now only get 9 fingers done when I get my manicure.

You are still the first person I want to tell when anything happens, so I was particularly unhappy to break my finger and find myself unable to commiserate with you.  I still reach for my phone daily to call you or text you.  What’s the deal with THAT?!  Sometimes I cave in and send you a text anyway.  You never answer, but on the upside I have yet to receive an angry text from whomever may now have your number, telling me I should stop texting him / her and go talk to a shrink instead. So that’s good.

I often wish I hadn’t been so quick to delete your online presence, even though I know you would have wanted that and quite frankly, I know you would think that’s part of what made me an awesome wife. Because I remembered stuff like that!  Still, it would be nice to go back through your accounts sometimes, I think, even though you weren’t much of a poster.  I’m glad I screen shot(ted) many of your texts.  

*********break while I talk to the doctor**********

Well, I have just walked out of the hospital with my finger nicely splinted, so I should sign off.  I want to get away from this place.  I hate being in the hospital because I see you everywhere, and I remember the shitty news we got in every room.

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I remember all the beds you layed in at Surrey Memorial while I tried to find that balance between getting pain relief for you but not being too assertive incase I pissed off the only people who could help.  (I still laugh when I recall you telling the nurse with pink lipstick that she talked too much and needed to learn to listen more.  Lol). 

The nurse who helped out today remembered me.  That was nice, and sad at the same time.  When I walked out of the hospital just now I refused to use the hand sanitizer in an act of defiance.  Not sure who I was defying, really, but as I walked past it I thought of the zillion times I stopped at that pump over the last year so that I wouldn’t make you sick.  Well, now my stubbornness means I can’t touch anything until I get home and wash my hands. I guess I didn’t teach anyone a lesson, did I? 

I miss you, Ben.  Your name is always on the tip of my tongue and at the forefront of my thoughts.  But I am managing, just like I promised, so you don’t need to worry.  One day at a time.

Someone put this online:

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Today, I’ll have a day.
Love,
Your bride
xoxox