The week following my return home is a blur. It’s funny how the first 24 hours are so clear in my mind but everything after that is just a jumble. There are some milestones throughout the last five months but otherwise it’s just one big mess of thoughts, emotions, small victories and big mistakes.
I sent an email off to my work letting them know what was going on. Then I announced Christine’s passing on social media. The response was intense. My family and friends mobilized on my behalf, putting together a meal signup, creating a gofundme to help with immediate expenses, taking care of all the details of the service. B was able to get some time off and stay with us for the month.
No, that’s too fast of an explanation. There’s some things I need to touch on before continuing. First, and it’s so weird that this stands out so clearly, if you offer to bring a grieving family dinner, please, for the love of everything holy, do not bring them pasta. For days on end we had pasta delivered to us. Lasagna the first two nights, then some other random pasta, then pasta with shrimp two nights in a row. I’m sure this comes across as ungrateful to some but after the first couple nights we either went out to dinner or tore the delivered dinner apart. I took the shrimp out and made a frittata, I pulled the noodles out of the lasagna and fried what was left… Which was delicious, FYI.
It was also interesting to see the response from people. It’s amazing how many try to empathize by telling you their sad story. ‘My grandpa died’ ‘My sister died’ ‘My cousin died’ ‘I know someone from high school that took their own life’. Every one of these statements came from a distant family member, an acquaintance, a co-worker. Someone I wasn’t close to. Each time it was preceded or followed by ‘I know it’s not the same as what you’re going through’. And they were right. It isn’t the same. It’s not even fucking close.
Next thing I heard from the same group of people, ie., people I don’t know, was ‘let me know what I can do to help’. Can you invent a time machine? Bring my wife back to life? No? Then you can’t do anything. You’re worthless. Go away.
I know. That sounds cruel, but after the 300th time hearing this from some random person that went to school with Christine, that knew me from a previous job, that neither of us had ever met I just wanted to scream in their stupid faces that they didn’t matter. I didn’t of course. I told them all the same thing ‘thank you, I appreciate it’ and left it at that.
Look, I know there aren’t words to describe how you feel when you interact with someone in my situation. I get it. Maybe there aren’t words because all you’re supposed to say is ‘I’m sorry’.
The other thing that stands out is how many people I discovered really did care. Some of the people who took time out of their day to attend the service, deliver a meal (even if it was pasta), share a memory of Christine, surprised me. We weren’t close, but there was something about my/their/her relationship that compelled them to deliver comfort in a real way. These were coworkers, friends of friends, people I’ve played soccer with. They never asked me a damn thing, just let me know in the most gentle way that Christine and I are loved.
At the same time my closest friends stepped back from me. This isn’t because they’re cruel people, but because they know me the very best. Despite what I’m trying to do with this blog, I’m a generally a very private person. I don’t like people doing things for me, I don’t like asking for help. I do like time to think. These people knew this. They checked on me, they brought dinners (lasagna!), they made sure I knew I could talk to them, but for the most part they left me alone and for that I am eternally grateful.
My larger family began to get details together. They spoke to Christine’s work on my behalf about how to get life insurance and collect her things and claim her 401k (I still haven’t done this). My mom made lists of things she needed input on from me while trying to get the service put together. It’s amazing how overwhelming answering a single question can be. I’d look at this list and close the app, putting it off until later.
The gofundme my aunt had started was growing rapidly. This was weird to me. I didn’t need the money, and yet it kept coming. I think more than anything else this was a way for people who didn’t know what to do to help in some way. It’s appreciated, it was uncomfortable. We used the money to buy tickets to Disney World.
I spent days with my kids, or tried to. Nothing held my interest for long. I would try and watch TV, play a video game, read. Restlessness would overcome me and I’d usually end up in my bedroom because I didn’t know where else to be. Except at night. I stayed out of my bedroom at night for a week, until B arrived. I spent most of my thoughts on all the things I could have done differently. I could have been more kind, I could have called the police, I could have stopped her from walking out of that fucking hotel room. I barely slept at all.
I also started unpacking her luggage. This was a slow process, but one of the first things I found was her room key. Room 212. That’s where it happened. That’s where she spent her last hours. Just one floor away. Until that moment I hadn’t known where she went next, not for sure. She was so close to me. Why didn’t I go to the front desk and ask? Why didn’t I call down to be connected? Why did I just sit in my room, angrily hoping she would get her shit together and come back? I burned the key card.
The other thing I got from a lot of people during this time was ‘What happened?’. Well, for anyone reading this that is curious, she took her own life. I don’t care if you want closure, I don’t care if you want details, I don’t care at all how you feel and what you think you need. All you need to know is she was so sad, felt so terrible that she thought the world would be better without her. This bright, shiny, beautiful woman couldn’t recognize her worth and left us all. Don’t ever ask a suicide survivor ‘What happened?’. They’ll tell you if they want you to know.
Furthermore, at the time I had no idea. I didn’t want to know. She was my wife and she was gone. That was already more than enough for me to handle.
Concurrent to this I was working with Norwegian authorities to try and find out what the hell was happening with her remains and belongings (they wouldn’t release her phone and they still had any jewelry she was wearing). I won’t say I was very dogged in my work. It was exhausting. It could wait another day. Everything could.
T’s birthday was on Wednesday. The entire family came together. It was a huge turnout. I warned everyone beforehand this should be about T, not about Christine. We shouldn’t cry, we should celebrate my little daughter. It went well. Shockingly well. And then we got in the car and I handed T the last present she had asked me for. It was a picture of her and her mom together. She began crying immediately. ‘I miss her’.
Like I’ve mentioned, B showed up on Thursday. I also went out with friends that night. The first half went pretty well. I talked a little about the trip, we ignored the elephant in the room. Then it just all came out. We cried, we struggled through the night, we won a surprising amount of money playing pulltabs and they gave it to me so I could do something with the kids. Some woman in the bar thought we were speaking poorly of her gender and confronted us. I told her what we were talking about and she offered to take me home with her. I declined.
I don’t know what happened Friday. No recollection at all. I’m pretty sure it was more of the same cycle of guilt and sadness. I think I might have walked down to the bar.
Saturday came and we had her service. There was a slideshow. Some songs. T read her mother’s day card. E said some things. I choked my way through some words. People said nice things to me afterwards and hugged me. It was nice, it was awful.
We went to my mom’s house, just some family and our very closest friends. We drank, I got drunk. My friends gave me a ride home and we stood in front of my house drinking while I told them the story of Christine and I’s last night.
I went inside my house, fell into my bed and told Christine how much I missed her. Then I fell asleep and dreamed of her.