Yes, it’s early for another interlude, but I think it’s important after some of the messages of concern I’ve received that I catch everyone up on what’s happening today. Also, the song I mention in the title is 100% for the lyrics. The music is terrible.
Yesterday I arrived early into Dublin and walked off the plane. It was two years to the day that Christine and I took our very belated honeymoon in Ireland. We had spent two weeks circling the island. The best two weeks of my life.
The halls of the airport haven’t changed since Christine and I visited, and the stark recollection began to overwhelm me. As I stood in line at customs discomfort turned to anxiety and anxiety began to turn to panic. I had to get out of there. I needed to escape.
Something I haven’t shared with a lot of people is that I was diagnosed with PTSD following Christine’s passing. I thought it was a joke. PTSD is for people who were in a war, not for guys like me. Sure I got anxious when I saw a blue Subaru like the one Christine used to drive, but that was just because for a fleeting moment I would think it might be her heading home and then I’d experience a piece of loss. So if I knew a neighbor had a similar car I’d take another route to avoid that feeling.
I’ve been doing that a lot. Avoiding people, places and things that remind me of Christine. As long as I wasn’t reminded of her I could continue to move forward. As first it wasn’t bad. Just little things. I traded in her car, got rid of a lot of her clothes. But things kept reminding me of her and I kept trying hide from these reminders. I stopped wearing clothing that reminded me of her, hid things she had purchased for me, got new sheets, a new bed, a new house.
The more things I avoided the more things reminded me of her and the worse the anxiety got. When a commercial comes on TV asking me to visit Norway I panic. Shit, if someone says ‘Norway’ my stomach drops and the itchy, terrible feeling of being trapped in skin I want to escape starts to take over.
This all came to a head over the past two weeks. There was an event that finally forced me to look at myself and admit I wasn’t OK. I mean, I knew I wasn’t OK, but just like I hid from reminders of Christine I was also hiding from admitting I needed to do something different. That’s also a lie I suppose. It wasn’t one single event. It was a snowball of emotions and realizations. It was an avalanche, and I was being crushed.
I’m not going to go into what happened, not now. It doesn’t fit with the point of this post.
I’d love to say I immediately made changes but instead I began to cling to all things Christine. I’d obsessively check Facebook memories. I’d hold a pillow at night and hope I’d dream of her. And none of that helped. It made things worse. I was triggered by everything. Second floor hotel rooms, airplanes, Bellevue, text messages. There is a bar I frequent that was preparing to hold a charity event in Christine’s memory. The flyers with her picture on it raised panic in my chest.
I was closing in on a total meltdown.
Anyways, back to Ireland. I made it through customs but that feeling of panic, like I was holding onto sanity by my fingernails, didn’t subside. I got a cab and made my way to the hotel. The cab driver asked me about my family, and of course about my wife.
Me: She passed away earlier this year.
Cabbie: I’m so sorry. Was it sudden?
Cabbie: What happened?
God I hate that question. No matter how many times I tell people, and no matter how often people tell me I’m ‘so brave’ to talk about it, it doesn’t get easier. A lot of the reason is people really don’t want to hear my answer. It’s like instant leprosy.
By some miracle the hotel had a room available at 9:00AM. Thank God. I fumbled with the key and crashed onto the bed. I lay there, trying to breath. What the hell was I doing? Why did I come to a place that is one massive reminder of her? Panic (I’m using that word a lot today) welled up inside me. I was alone again. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, no confidant to reach out to.
I know writing that last sentence will upset some people. I know I have friends I can call at anytime. I’m not discounting you guys. I love you all… you just aren’t what I need when this happens. I need ‘my person’. A person I can trust to bring comfort, but I don’t have one of those.
Somehow I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke I felt… different. I felt better. I was also hungry. My first thought was that I wanted to order in and stay holed up in my room the entire day. Here I was, in the place I regularly tout as my favorite place in the world and I wanted to hide from it because I might feel.
I was really at a crossroads. I could continue to avoid the issue, the fact that Christine is gone, or I could go and try and experience this place again.
I put on my shoes and I started walking. I didn’t know where I was going at first, just walking in the general direction of downtown. The Dublin marathon was going and the streets were full. I went this way and that, through the winding streets, avoiding the closed routes. I looked to my right at one point and I saw the Guinness Storehouse. Here was a place we went, a place we had enjoyed together. Anxiety started to build. I was about to feel… and I just let it happen. I cried a bit, I felt sad, and then I walked inside.
I did the tour. Not a single thing has changed since I was there last and each turn was more of a reminder of our past together.
And then I realized something, something so obvious, but in that moment it hit me hard. Hard enough to make my vision swim and my head light. I wasn’t avoiding memories of Christine. I was avoiding admitting that she was gone.
You see, there isn’t anything scary about the second floor of a hotel. There isn’t anything scary about blue Subarus. My old house isn’t scary. The photos I’ve refused to put up around my house aren’t scary. What was scaring me was saying goodbye.
So I went to the top of the Guinness building and stood where we stood and looked out over this city we had loved to explore so much… and I said goodbye.
Geez that’s hard to write. It hurt yesterday and it hurts today thinking about it again.
I stood there like a total weirdo, with wet cheeks, drinking a pint of stout and said goodbye.
Then I made my way around the city. I walked streets we walked together and I said goodbye. I went past the apartment we had shared and said goodbye. Along the canal, a pub we enjoyed, through the grounds of Trinity College, and the Temple Bar, I said goodbye. I sought out everything I could fit into my day yesterday that we shared and said goodbye.
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun, but something about it was reassuring and beautiful. I miss her so fucking much it hurts, but I needed to start saying goodbye.
It was getting dark and cold so I started heading back toward the hotel. Like I said, the streets are windy and there is never a clear path to anything in this city. I turned a corner and stood staring at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
In the dark, the cathedral lit up in front of me, I stared at it and thought about the day we had, when Christine let me drag her to yet another old church. I thought about the laughter we shared, our tears, our kids, our life. I wept, and I said goodbye.
I don’t think this part of my life is done. I think I’ll be saying goodbye for a very long time, maybe the rest of my life. But it’s a start. It’s a start.