BRB

One of the side effects of solo-parenting is there is no one there to catch your mistakes, no safety net. Yesterday morning I had the wrong flight time in my head and we barely made our flight to Orlando.

This is our first family trip since Christine left us. We had originally planned a trip, all of us, to Jamaica for Christmas. As B said:

B: Now we’re THAT family

After we lost her, we decided to cancel that trip and go to the happiest place on earth, Harry Potter at Universal.

We’ll go to Disney too.

I had brought my laptop to continue writing but it’s all about things that have already happened and it will wait while I put all my attention toward my kids (and give me a little more time to figure out how to convey the rest of the story so far).

Have a great weekend, everyone.

– Ben, House Slytherin

Literary Interlude – A Grief Observed, CS Lewis

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything’

Several months ago an acquaintance recommended I read A Grief Observed by CS Lewis, a short collection of his thoughts in the time following the death of his wife. It sounded dry, dull and completely lacking in lions, witches and wardrobes. I put in on my mental bookshelf, doomed to collect dust until it eventually disappeared from my cluttered mind altogether.

However, recent events conspired to bring this work to the front of my mind, compelling me to seek out the original recommendation (I could only remember it as ‘The Book With Grief In The Title”) and procuring a download of the book two days ago.

I’ve read it twice.

There’s a lot to unpack, and it’s going to be a while before I’ve mentally and emotionally processed all of the thoughts and feelings surfaced while studying the text, but there are a few items that struck an immediate chord.

CS Lewis took a pilgrimage shortly after the passing of his wife, ‘H’. Similar to my time in Ireland, he visited places important to them in life. His discovery, however was that she wasn’t any less absent in those locations than she was anywhere else.

In my race to escape Christine I avoided reminders of her. I went out of my way to avoid anything that would trigger feelings, thoughts and especially emotions related to her being gone.

But the thing is, it didn’t work. No matter what lengths I went to, she was always there. Or rather, she wasn’t there and her constant absence was a reason to remember her.

On the other hand, trying to escape her brought on anxiety and increased the impact of the PTSD I’ve been suffering from. The more I tried to avoid feeling the loss the more I was reminded of it.

I was in a state of near panic constantly.

Now, after finally facing my greatest fear and embracing Christine I have realized something else. She is absolutely everywhere. She is in everything I see, everything I do. There are reminders of her and us. It can be beautiful.

Sometimes.

However, as the above quote continues, there is one place she isn’t present in a way that is acute and jagged.

“But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”

I may be at the very beginning of learning to live without my beautiful, passionate, magnetic, vibrant, broken, beloved wife, but can I be whole again?

‘It will get better’

Will it? Should it? Lewis compares sharing this statement with a widower to sharing the same sentiment with an amputee, which seems to be the perfect example.

‘The leg you’ve lost will get better’

In one sense, yes. The wound will heal. An amputee will learn to become more ambulatory. Prosthetics will assist even more. You will live, and in time your life will be better than it was just after losing a limb.

But the limb will always be missing.

In the same way, I don’t believe I will ever be whole again. Not like I was with Christine.

Will I live? Yes. Will it get better? Of course. Could I meet someone and fall desperately in love with them? Yes. It’s entirely possible.

But I can’t imagine ever being whole again. Not all the way. There will always be a piece of me that is absent and can never be replaced.

And as much as it hurts, as painful as it is, maybe it’s also OK.

Maybe it’s right to let her have that part of me.

Hiding

Throughout all of these bad choices I’d been procrastinating my way through some things only I could do, mostly bringing Christine home.

All of this is going to get somewhat graphic. It’s hard to write about. I’m sorry if it’s hard to read. I want you all to know some of the external things that led to my need to escape the emotional roller coaster I was riding. This isn’t an excuse, not at all, but it is a reason.

Any suicide in Norway must undergo an autopsy. During the first week, when I was struggling through putting shoes on, I knew my wife was halfway around the world preparing to be… to be autopsied.

Correction. My wife’s body. I know she’s gone. But it was still terrible to think of. Her, going through this all alone. It’s still terrible to think of.

After the procedure was done I had to release her body to a funeral home for preparation to return to the states. The police helped me find one that would work with someone in the US. Then a couple weeks of back and forth as we worked out details.

Did I want her cremated? This was so hard for me. We had talked about cremation but I couldn’t remember for sure what she wanted. Also, if she was cremated in Norway I would never get to see her face again. This killed me. I would never see her again.

I finally decided to go with cremation but I asked them to send me a picture first. Just to see her one last time.

Them: We will do that, but I warn you, it isn’t like the US.

I received the email and opened the attachment. There she was. Kind of. She was wearing a white dress and her hair was spread out on a pillow. It looked thin and unkempt. Her mouth was slack and I could see her teeth through her lips.

It was terrible. This was the final proof Christine was gone, that she wouldn’t jump out from around a corner at any moment and shout ‘Surprise!’. She looked so lifeless. So totally opposite of the girl I knew. That passionate, beautiful, girl I loved so deeply and missed so much. I will never share that picture with another person. It isn’t her.

At the same time I had to take care of a lot of things that required a certificate of death, something I couldn’t get. I had to work with the American embassy in Norway to get a Certificate of Death Abroad. They were very nice.

Them: First, let me just tell you on behalf of the United States of America we’re sorry for your loss.

Thanks?

Then they told me it would take 8 weeks to get the certificates that were holding up closure on so many things. There’s still a lot of these things I haven’t taken care of.

I needed to figure out transportation for her remains and her belongings. They still had her phone and iPad and of course her wedding ring.

I wanted those pictures, those potential pictures from her phone. I had no idea what was on it, but I hoped it was something. You see, after she left me I spent hours obsessively looking at our pictures. Something I quickly discovered… I had no video of her. Or at least very little. I didn’t have many voice recordings. I’d deleted almost all of my voicemails. Why in the hell did I do that?

There were a couple recordings left that had somehow avoided the purge. One was her yelling at me, mid fight. Another was this:

Christine: Hey honey, I just wanted to say hi and that I love you and miss you and I hope you had a good flight annnnd hope I get to talk to you at some point. You can call me no matter how late it is just to say hi. Alright. Hope to talk to you later. Love you, bye.

I listened to this message obsessively, over and over and over again. It was one of the few places I could hear her voice and the only place I could hear her say she loved me.

So I hope this helps you understand where I was during all this. Not just facing grief, sadness, loneliness but also the horror (in my mind) of the manner of my wife’s death and being forced to face it every moment as I worked to bring her home.

This is when I really began hiding myself from Christine. Putting her in box to be taken out only when I needed something from her. Dehumanizing her, turning her memory into happy pictures and loving voicemails. Making her what I needed her to be.

It’s when I convinced myself it was OK to talk to other women. It would be fine, I was ready. Besides, Christine left me. Left me with a gaping wound and I needed someone to fill it.

This is where the first girl came in. As mentioned in the previous post we had been texting each other on a regular basis.

She messaged me at one point asking to facetime with me.

Her: OK, I just had to make sure you were real, not some weirdo that doesn’t look like their pictures.

She hung up. She was pretty. It was cute and funny.

We talked for a few more days. Now we were calling each other every night.

I hate talking to people on the phone as a rule, but during those few minutes each day I had someone. I could just talk. I mean, sure, she only wanted to talk about herself and the clothes she bought, but someone was talking to me.

She said she wanted to come up to Seattle and visit. We made some plans.

We spent a weekend together. I took her to a restaurant that was supposed to be awesome. She was wearing a small, tight red dress and tall heels and looked good. Really good.

Quick sidebar: I’m just a little bit pretentious. I like to dissect meals and talk about the food, both good and bad and everything I’d do to improve it. I also like to enjoy wine and be a bit of a D bag and swish it in my glass and pretend I know anything at all about what I’m drinking.

This girl didn’t do that at all. She was just… unrefined.

I know I sound like an asshole. Unrefined is OK. I’m not a super classy guy by any means and Christine was probably the most off color person I’ll ever meet, but we watched tons of Food Network and learned to cook together. We had so much fun diving into the ups and downs of every meal. It was a thing. This girl wasn’t Christine (#shocking).

This girl? No. She just wanted to talk about buying stuff. Her closet was so full she couldn’t fit anything else into it. She owned $800 shoes she had never worn outside. She liked to vacuum in her mink coat and wear those shoes around.

At the end of our weekend together she told me she liked me. I told her I liked her. We agreed to spend more time together but it would have to be weeks in the future. I was busy with kids and trips and couldn’t drop all that stuff and take weekends away. She was disappointed but said she understood.

We kept talking at night. Now she was making plans for the future. She would look for jobs in Seattle, move in with me, she wouldn’t date for more than a year without an engagement.

That came up a lot. She had never been married and really wanted that to change.

She pushed to come up again and see me. I relented, but it could only be for one day. I spent that time hearing about how my new house didn’t have enough room for her clothes and she would need the bonus room for additional storage.

There was a lot of communication between Christine and I during this time. Well, I talked to her a lot. I had come to the conclusion that this new woman was going to be a big part of my life because I needed someone and she was there. I was trying to convince my wife it was a good idea, which is ridiculous because Christine would have hated her.

We scheduled a third trip. Now she was talking wedding plans. Detailed wedding plans. Type of church, the service would be in Spanish, etc. I booked a trip to Hawaii for us a few months in the future. I was going all in.

In the days leading up to her next visit I realized something. I just didn’t really like spending time with her. I should be with my kids. Grieving with them. I didn’t have to marry anyone. Even if this is the last person to ever show interest in me (this is how I think) I didn’t have to be with them.

We still spent the day together and this only cemented my feelings. This person, while there was nothing wrong with her, was not for me. I needed to be with my children.

I told her this. I told her it wouldn’t work. She kept trying to contact me. Telling me she’d be in Seattle for the night or calling. She still reaches out to me today. I don’t respond anymore.

I felt somewhat renewed. I had purpose. I was going to be the best dad in the world and be there for my kids. This lasted a few days.

And then the loneliness set in again.

 

Bad Choices

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about what happens next and totally avoiding it. It’s painful and it sucks. I’m also dreading facing some people after explaining what I’ve been up to. I hate being judged. I know I shouldn’t live my life worrying about how other people feel, but I do. It’s a thing.

My decision making was at an all time low. I was absolutely face down and it was easy to convince myself that bad choices made sense in this situation.

I walked to the corner bar every night. I made a rule with myself I wouldn’t drink at home unless there was someone to drink with, so instead I sat alone drinking Rainier and shots of Jameson. I’d drink until I could go one minute without thinking about Christine, then I’d make my way home and try to sleep.

One night I scared the shit out of K and B, stumbling into the house drunk at around 1am. They were up watching YouTube videos and I came into the living room and just collapsed on the floor, sobbing.

Me: I’m so alone. I’m so fucking alone. (Rinse and repeat for a half hour or so)

There’s that loneliness theme again.

They sat and watched me in silence, not knowing what to do. To their credit they never brought it up again. Neither did I.

As mentioned in a previous post, I returned to work. This was two weeks and two days after my wife passed away. I was desperately seeking something to keep my mind distracted so I went back as early as I could. I didn’t belong there and shouldn’t have returned when I did. Even trying to read a few emails took hours. I had to rely more than normal on my team to pick up the slack and I remained distant.

Upon my return I had a conversation with a leader in the organization who told me something that felt like being slapped across the face.

Her: I’m lucky that I’ve worked with someone who went through the same situation so I know how to respond to yours. The one thing they told me was they didn’t want to be treated any differently.

You’re so lucky.

I began having high visibility escalations assigned to me right away. This helped push Christine further down. A lot of work was coming home with me too, giving me the excuse I needed to disappear and avoid my kids.

Returning to my job so early, another bad choice.

Bad choice number three:

I was lying in bed one night feeling absolutely alone. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Or rather, I didn’t have anyone I wanted to talk to. I didn’t have anyone to talk to like I could when I had Christine.

I probably scrolled through Facebook 10000 times over the previous weeks trying to distract myself. I had spent thousands of dollars on bullshit I didn’t need. I mean, I was buying a new house for no reason I could think of other than I didn’t want to be in our house anymore.

Sitting there, not wanting to feel, looking for anything to distract me from the pain (because that’s exactly what it is, pain) I opened the browser on my phone and clicked over to a dating site. It was OK to just look, right? I mean this is how people meet now so I was just checking out my future.

Then after a couple days of looking I downloaded the app. I put my info in. Just to see. Just to see if I could find someone to take the loneliness away.

I didn’t get a lot of attention, which might be normal, but it definitely played into theĀ  insecurity issues I have. I dwell on not being loved or being lovable. I don’t much like myself and don’t understand how others could like me. I was going to die alone.

This is going to come up again in a future post.

I talked to a few women via the app, struggling to communicate in a strange new (to me) world. I hadn’t dated anyone in 18 years, almost half of my life, and I had zero idea what I was doing.

Then one night after a few weeks someone from hundreds of miles away ‘liked’ me. Then she sent me a message. She was pretty. We started chatting a little bit. Then we exchanged numbers because ‘texting is easier’.

I had someone to talk to. I wasn’t alone.

To be clear, the bad choice theme has nothing to do with the choices themselves, not exactly. They’re pretty bad, but they’re a symptom, not the illness. It’s all about the root cause, all about avoiding pain. It’s about trying to stay away from the feelings associated with losing my wife to suicide after 18 years together. It’s about stuffing this down so far, walling it off, hiding it from others and myself.

It’s about refusing to face the emotional consequence of her being gone forever and me having to learn to live without her.

Musical Interlude – Some Nights, Fun (Entire Album)

I’m still struggling with how to express what happened after the first few weeks. It’s been very difficult to use language to paint a picture in a fair and thoughtful way without just writing a stream of consciousness mess. I’m also not looking forward to sharing this part of my survivor’s journey. I’ll get there. Just give me some time.

I’ve been listening to Some Nights by Fun constantly over the past week. It’s a beautiful album that touches a lot on loss of a loved one (to break up in this case) and dealing with that loss. Every song resonates with me in some way, especially Carry On and One Foot.

I arrived home from Dublin yesterday afternoon just in time to watch T play soccer in driving rain. When we got back to the house I found it was a total wreck. The kids hadn’t cleaned after themselves and I was so disappointed I told the little ones to clean and locked myself in my room. Then K showed up. When I asked her to clean she pushed back saying she had done more than the other two.

Me: We’re a team, we need to work together.

K: But I do so much and you never recognize it.

Me: You all need to clean until it’s done.

K: Fine. I guess I’ll just keep doing everything.

There was some more back and forth.

And I just lost it. Totally lost it on all three of them. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t deal with the attitudes, the push back, the way they felt so entitled. Don’t they know what I’m going through?

Because it’s not like they’re dealing with the same stuff. So dumb. So shameful.

I went back into my room and slammed the door. I crashed onto the bed, furious at them and at myself. I fell into a fitful sleep, maybe 30 minutes. I awoke to E telling me they had finished. It was an admittedly halfway job, but I didn’t care anymore. It was time to apologize. I handed out the presents I bought in Ireland and we went out for Chinese. My fortune read ‘Your wish is about to come true’.

Before finally falling asleep I thought about the last week alone in Ireland and how I had acted when I got back. I thought about some changes I needed to make. I thought about what kind of parent I wanted to be. I told Christine how upset I was with her and then asked the question I have asked so many times.

Why? Why would you do this to me? It’s just so fucking unfair.

Then I fell asleep.

My phone read 6am when I woke. I had some renewed purpose and committed to a few things. First, it was time to stop drinking at home. I’d started breaking my rules over the previous months and was to the point where I was drinking to feel anything more than loss. I felt terrible every morning. I was in a bad mood all the time and I was constantly exhausted. It might even be time to stop drinking. We’ll see how it goes.

Next, I went to church. There’s a whole background with me and church a lot of people reading this don’t know. I might touch on it later, but short story is I hadn’t attended regularly for a long time. When I got there the parking lot was full and I walked in about 10 minutes late after finally finding a spot in the back 40.

They were playing a song with the line ‘Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God’. This is the hardest thing about the whole church thing for me right now. Basically, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, GOD?

Faith has been very hard for me in general for a long time, and now this. I’m not finding any comfort. Nothing is getting better. Why would a loving God let something like this happen?

No response.

The pastor got up and started talking. They were doing a drive for money. Of course they were. I was getting ready to leave when they started talking about what they were going to do with the money. 100% of it was going to local, secular non-profits.

I had just been talking with someone whose opinion on the subject of church I respect very much. We had chatted about what the perfect one would look like. Two things we discussed related to money included open books and really giving, through works and cash, to the community. This place checked both boxes. I gave some money to the fund and told myself I’d come back next time I’m not traveling on Sunday.

Following church I went on another ‘saying goodbye’ pilgrimage, this time to a trail along the Cedar River we had walked together. On that day we wore our Norway waterproof clothing to test them out in the rain before our trip. My pants had failed the test, rain leaking into my pockets and drenching my underwear, making it look like I had wet myself. She laughed so hard at this.

We talked about a lot of things on our walk, her getting treatment when we return, spending more quality time with the kids, taking them on the same trail as a family activity. I thought about how none of those things happened and never would. I told her I missed her and that I wanted her there with me. I told her I wished I was holding her hand. And then for just a moment it felt like she was there and we were doing just that. I cried a lot. I said goodbye.

It was time for lunch so I stopped at Taco Time and ordered the same thing we always ordered, a taco salad with chicken. I wondered how many people have cried over a taco salad at Taco Time and laughed through my tears at the ridiculousness of the question.

K was working that day and T and E didn’t want to join me on my adventures, but I promised them a 1pm return to watch the Seahawks and Sounders. It was time to head home. We sat on the couch and watched both teams lose. Just another Sunday in rainy Seattle.

And then I had to do the final thing I’d put on my list for the day. I had to hang our family pictures.

I mentioned in another post I’d bought a new house to escape Christine. She was everywhere in the last place and I couldn’t handle seeing her around every corner. Since moving to the new home I’ve put off hanging our portraits. I didn’t want to see them. I didn’t want to see her. It was more reminder that she was gone forever and I’m without her. That I’m totally and completely alone.

So today I took some nails and a hammer and hung the pictures. I was teary eyed and sniffling the entire time, but I got through it.

And she’s finally part of our new home.

The Shittiest Fraternity

I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts together well enough to write the next chapter of this story so I thought I’d take a minute and talk about the people who have been there for me and brought me some amount of comfort.

First, there’s family. I feel bad sometimes. I don’t want to be around them often because they remind me so much of her. Or rather they remind me that’s it’s just me.

I also know they feel bad because there is absolutely nothing they can do to make me feel better. But they’re there, even when I don’t want them to be.

I also have friends. Seven of them. I mean, I have more than seven people I talk to regularly and consider friends, but I have close friends that are always there. I feel sorry for these guys because I just randomly ruin everyone’s good time.

One group of friends are spread all over the western US. Two in Seattle, one in LA and one in Phoenix. These four guys knew about the bad stuff going on before anyone else. Like, months before anyone else. I think the reason for this is that even though they knew Christine they didn’t see her often so I felt OK sharing her descent into mental illness and the impact it was having on our lives.

I talk with these guys everyday, all day via a group message that’s been going for years. They were there when Christine walked out and was sleeping in our car in the front yard, they were there when I was didn’t know what to do. They were there when I was at the airport panicking because I couldn’t find her anywhere and they were there when I left the police station and spent my first night alone.

I seriously shit all over them all the time. They’ll be swapping memes, talking about soccer, baseball, video games, Donald Trump, whatever and I just drop some heavy stuff on them. It’s like kicking the door down at a birthday party and announcing the punch they all just drank is actually piss.

But no matter what, they always stop whatever the hell they’re doing and let me verbally cry all over them. A couple nights ago I jumped in with this gem:

Me: I am sitting in my hotel room drinking crap wine straight from the bottle. I’m going to die alone.

And they’re there right away. Sure, they want to know if it was fortified wine, but they were there.

The other group are the poor bastards that have to see me in person. They weren’t aware of how bad things had gotten, mostly because Christine was also close friends with them and I thought I was protecting her by not telling them what was going on. Instead I just saw them less and less over the year or so before Christine took her own life as I tried to control the situation and be home for her.

This is the other group I informed while I was sitting in that terrible hotel room. They have also been there for me in everything afterwards. They’ve cried with me, stood and watched me cry and just been around. They’ve also watched me go through all the ups and downs since.

Then there are the other people. The ones you don’t know that come from nowhere with the most incredibly powerful words.

The other night a guy I know via social media but I’m not sure if I’ve ever met in person reached out to me to tell me the story of how he lost his girlfriend and his slow return back. He talked about how in his young widows group everyone was sad and it was agreed upon that anyone who lost someone had it bad. Anyone who lost someone to suicide had it worse and anyone that experienced the latter and had kids had it the very worst.

He ended his message with this:

‘It really is a club or fraternity. You’ll live, it’ll get better (after it gets worse for awhile).

Who knows why that resonated with me so much. I sure don’t know, but it did. It helped.

A former manager of mine posted a story about the suicide of Kate Spade. I don’t remember my response but he told me he had been thinking about me and my family that week. Again, why did that matter so much? It just did.

There are so many more people who have said or done something that truly touched me. Maybe I’ll cover that later.

I’m telling you all this because I feel like I’ve misrepresented the response from people. In my grief, I often don’t want to hear from others. I’m even mad at them because they can’t do anything to make me feel better. But they’re there.

Memories of a Happier Time – Halloween

It was the afternoon of Halloween, 2016. The day had been spent slowly traveling from Cork on our way to Castlemaine, stopping at anything that grabbed our interest. We descended from the highlands into a valley choked with the acrid smoke of peat fires, giving the hills an otherworldly purple glow. These fires have been burnt on October 31st for centuries, now as tradition but originally with a different intent.

The ancient origins of this holiday began in Ireland. Called Samhain at the time, it was the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. However, this day was also marked as the day the border between the other world and the human world were at their weakest, allowing free travel between realms for fairies, banshees, shape-shifters and the dead. Massive fires were built to ward off these spirits and attract departed family members from returning home.

I had spent the last several weeks telling Christine of the spooky goings-on of pagan Ireland, setting her up for a night of chills. Halloween was traditionally the only night of the year I could convince her to watch a scary movie with me. This year was different, this year we got to experience the land where so many of these tales were born.

We slowly ascended the long driveway (pictured) to the house we’d rented, about an hour before sunset. It was very rural, set apart from the nearest residence by hundreds of feet without a single commercial building in sight. The house was unlocked, the key on the kitchen counter. It only took a few minutes to freshen up and prepare for dinner and then it was back to a pub we had passed a couple kilometers back.

I had shepard’s pie and a pint of Tom Crean’s lager. Christine had a glass of pinot grigio and the first nacho disaster of our trip, a plate of chips and cheese microwaved to oblivion with a scoop of cold, canned salsa dropped on top. We laughed about this, promising each other we’d make ourselves a snack of cheese, crackers, and charcuterie when we got back to the house.

We had packed costumes. She was Black Widow and I was Iron Man. We returned to the house and changed but decided at the last minute to call the local bar to make sure they held the Halloween party promised by our host. They did, but it was the previous Saturday. We were all dressed up with no where to go. This was perfect. It had been a long day. Both of us were happy to pull a movie from the house’s collection and curl up on the couch together with the promised snacks and some brown bread, of course. She ate that with every meal while we were on our trip.

The movie ended. We were tired and decided to spend the rest of the night together in bed.

I lay there, holding Christine, slipping into sleep. And then

Tap

Tap Tap

Tap

Tap Tap Tap

The sounds were coming from the walls. They were coming from the windows.

Tap Tap

Tap

I got up and checked the locks. I tried to look out the windows.

Tap Tap Tap

Tap

It was so dark outside I couldn’t see anything so I lifted the window. Could it be the wind?

Nothing moved outside.

Tap

Tap Tap Tap

I shined a light around to see where the noise was coming from. Nothing.

Tap

Finally I crawled back into bed. I held her closer.

Me: Are you awake?

Christine: hmmmm?

Me: Where are these noises coming from?

And then I fell asleep.

The next morning I awoke to a beautiful day. The sun was shining through a few clouds. Cold, but perfect.

I made breakfast and coffee and brought them to her in bed.

Christine: Hey. You are such a jerk. I stayed up for hours listening to that noise last night. I hate you.

We kissed. We ate. We left the house and had the best day of our lives. It was our perfect day. She fell in love with Ireland. ‘My heart belongs in Dingle’ she would say anytime we thought about where we wanted to spend out last days together.

That night, same house, not a single sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Passes, Time Stands Still

I need to get to the part where I start making bad choices. I will soon. But I feel like I need to fill in some pieces that happened before then. Shouldn’t take too long.

Things weren’t easy at home. We were all off. Way off. The kids and I stayed home from school and work. Each night I would put the little ones to bed and walk to the bar. I’d come home a couple hours later and lay in bed thinking and thinking and thinking until I’d enter some half sleep.

At the same time I could tell something was really bothering B. She kept blowing it off, saying everything is OK until one night she broke down.

B: Everyone is telling me ‘I’m so glad you could be here for your family, like I’m not here because I love Christine. Like it doesn’t count because she’s my stepmom’.

And she was so right. I hadn’t realized this was happening but it broke my heart to hear her say it. She hadn’t traveled from Montana to be here for us, she had traveled to grieve someone she loved very much. To top it all off, she was holding in some brutal guilt.

B: I looked up to her so much and I never told her.

These are the thoughts after an unexpected death that truly hurt the survivors, especially after suicide. Coulda, woulda shoulda. What if I had said this one thing? Would that have saved them? Was it my fault?

The house kept getting dirtier. The grass kept getting longer. Less envelopes arrived from distant family and friends.

We sat in the living room almost all day, not talking about Christine. We’d try and make small talk. When B and K get together they are savage and the playful, sarcastic insults were everywhere but we all knew it was a show. You could feel it in everything we did. She was missing.

We started looking for a new house. I couldn’t stay where I was. I needed out so badly. I had to get away. She was around every corner and wouldn’t leave me alone.

We found a home. I put an offer in.

I dreamed about her. A lot of the time we were fighting. Once she wanted a divorce. I felt so empty, just completely used up.

I went out with friends, I sat around the house. I avoided my kids because I couldn’t handle being around them. I didn’t know what to do or say.

Two weeks passed since she left. The kids and I returned to school and work. Nothing was the same. Nothing was normal. It was all just sadness, emptiness and loneliness.

I was so incredibly alone.

Coming Home

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.

Musical Interlude – Learn to Say Goodbye, Dusty Springfield

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?

Me: Very.

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.