January Pt 2

I had made the choice to extend my trip in South Africa past the end of my meetings to take a few days in Cape Town and then head to Krueger National Park for a safari.

I spent mornings and afternoons bumming around the city, finding things to keep me busy and spent evenings with friends eating insanely good food and laughing until the early hours of the next day.

On the second morning I woke up determined to climb Table Mountain. I took the bus to the departure point and picked the route at the lower gondola platform.

This is one of those things a person should research first.

I started walking up steps cut into the rocky hillside before turning a corner, finding myself faced with a sheer cliff. There were rungs cut into it and I started pulling myself up, ignoring the signs warning me not to attempt this alone.

What’s the worst that could happen?

The trail split a few times and I had to backtrack more than once before rounding a corner that gave me a breathtaking view of Camps Bay and the endless ocean. I continued to inch forward, hugging the cliffside in a few places. The trail finally widened as it entered a boulder choked gully, marked by the occasional painted footprint.

When I finally crested the top, drenched in sweat, there was a sign stating “This is not an easy way down”… maybe a warning at the bottom would have been worthwhile? Also, lies. That trail had several very fast, very easy ways down.

I had also made the decision to relaunch dating apps a week before I left for SA so I was spending time talking with people while I was away. And it was booooooring.

Except for one person, a wid I had met through one of the widow Facebook groups. She and I were chatting a lot and it was a great distraction from traveling alone.

I left early one morning for Krueger on a 737. It was a quick 1.5 hour flight that ended with us touching down on a clay tarmac that had public road crossings, only marked by a stop sign to stop cars from being run over by a jet.

From my seat I watched hawks soaring above the Savannah and saw a family of wild boars rush to escape the plane as we taxied, finally ending up at a terminal with mud walls and a thatch roof.

My driver was waiting for me with a sign “Mr Johnson Ben”. I jumped in and we drove about an hour to the park. A massive gate awaited us and as it opened and I couldn’t help but think of John Hammond “Welcome… to Krueger National Park”

January Pt 1

The new year came on. I had a feeling… freedom? That isn’t the right word. I don’t think there is one. Acceptance isn’t correct. I wasn’t settled. I wasn’t ok with losing Christine. But things were different. I made it through the holidays.

Made it through… drank my way through. I’m pretty sure I almost lost my job. But I came out the other side and knew if I could do that, I could do anything. Maybe hope? I don’t know.

I knew going into January that it would be tough. Work is overwhelming in January. I had review season, a work trip in Cape Town, and all the prep that comes with that.

But something WAS different.

I prepped, I showed up, I delivered my work. It wasn’t easy, I still felt like shit. But I could think for the first time in months.

I spoke up. I gave my opinion. I worked hard. There was a meeting where I was excluded from where my review was being discussed and I had to sit and think through what might be going on in that room.

It was painful. Knowing I’d failed, knowing I missed things, knowing I didn’t know how to do anything else or anyway to be better.

I was pissed.

Then I got through the week. The last night we went for dinner and went to the beach. It was January in Cape Town, the middle of their summer. I pulled off my shoes, rolled up my pants and ran into the cold Atlantic surf. The moon broke above Lionshead and lit the evening sky.

I stood there as waves crashed over me, at once stunned by the amazing life I had and furious at the shitty existence I have to deal with everyday.

I looked up at that stupid rock and thought “Fuck”

Did you expect something deeper? Sorry (in the most Canadian accent ever). I looked up, I saw the mountain and the moon. This is THE MOMENT!! in every movie when the protagonist finds his way and knows his future. He has direction.

Didn’t happen. FUCK!!

Living

I haven’t been very good at writing for several months. There’s plenty of reasons for this, work, kids, lots of adventures. But more than anything else I honestly haven’t had a good way of describing what has been happening in my life.

You see, I started this project to help me pause and listen to myself. To dive into how I’m feeling. Sharing these stories also forces me to stop and think about my life. About what’s happening to me and what I’m doing. It was never about suicide, not directly. It’s about what comes next. It’s about the life I’ve been forced to live after Christine left me alone. Those first months were so full of raw, painful emotion. Every minute was consumed with thoughts of what I could have done differently, of all the mistakes I made as a husband. My failures. Suicide is the antagonist, but I’m the protagonist in my story. I’m sometimes the hero and sometimes the villain, but it’s about me and the choices I’ve made.

I sound like a textbook narcissist. I don’t care.

I’ve written a few posts so far this year, but I haven’t really broken down what’s happened since I made the decision to live. That is a weird thing to say because unless I was planning to take my own life wouldn’t I have defaulted to life? But I’ve discovered that living is a choice. And living in this case is not the opposite of dying. It’s the opposite of existing. On January 1st I drew a line in the sand and told myself NO MORE. No more letting days pass around me while I did little more than moving forward, one breath at a time. No more escaping to my room and hiding from the world. I’m done with that idea of life.

As I wrote before, I died. Or rather, who I was died. That guy is gone. Poof. There’s a lot I miss about him. Dude really didn’t give a shit about anything. He was invincible. Or so he thought. He was also so twisted by insecurities. He hated himself. He wasn’t the best dad. He wasn’t the best husband. Not as good as he could have been. But damn he was good at putting on a good face and smiling his way through all the problems he was hiding.

That stuff was really hard to think through. I made mistakes I didn’t even know I was making. I was so lost in my little world I thought I understood that I never took the time to think about how my actions might be affecting others.

RIP that guy.

So it’s time to catch you up on what happened next. There is some good, some bad. There are things I’m proud of and things I’m sorry for. I’ve won some and lost some. There was a black mamba that jumped at me, and spiders, I almost lost my job, I learned what friendship really means, I’ve become a better dad than I’ve ever been. I’ve lived. And I’m not done.

So here’s what happened next.

The Things People Say

I’ve written before about the weird grief comments people have, whether it’s the optometrist telling me how bad she felt when Anthony Bourdain killed himself or the bizarre need strangers have to tell me about the death of their pets. And I get it, I really do. We all want to show empathy and as experiential beings we do that by sharing stories we believe gives us common ground. It’s stupid, but it’s why we do it and I usually laugh it off.

However, there is one particular group that I can’t handle.

Divorcees.

Not those people in general. Getting a divorce does not make you a bad person. Not even a little.

It’s a very specific sub-group of divorced people: the ones who want to compare their divorce to becoming widowed.

I understand that divorce can be very painful and it could lead to a deep emptiness, a longing, sadness, depression, guilt, self-loathing and a plethora of other hurtful feelings.

But I only understand this in an academic sense. I don’t know what going through a divorce is like because I’ve never been through one. Because I’ve never been through a divorce I have to trust the reports of those who have. I would never in a million years compare my wife dying to someone’s divorce.

Because they’re incomparable.

They can’t be compared because they are not the same thing.

Since this shitty chapter of my life begun I’ve heard from people that they’d prefer to have had their spouse dead than be divorced because it would have been easier.

I want to break that down for a second because here’s what these people are saying:

“I know you are grieving the death of your spouse, I know you’ve told me of the unimaginable pain it’s brought to your life, but I would have preferred your experience than divorce because it’s would have been so much more simple.”

Fuck you.

And this hasn’t only happened once. This is a regular occurrence. I’ve heard it from acquaintances, from near strangers, friends. Usually it’s in a dismissive way, sometimes with deep emotion.

I don’t care.

Look, own your pain. Please. If you want to talk to me about how painful your divorce was/is I’m hear to listen. Really. It was a terrible experience for you and I will absolutely be there in any way I can.

We can even talk about both experiences. We can both talk through our pain.

But I will not allow you to compare your divorce to my very very very different experience.

And why would you want to?

Living

With the new year I’ve decided to move this blog in a different direction.

2018 post-love was about surviving and existing. Just getting out of bed and finding my way through each day. I made mistakes, I hurt people, I failed at so much.

But I made it.

I could keep dwelling on grief forever. I could stay in my hole, wallowing in the sickeningly bitter feeling of loss. Or I can look forward.

This doesn’t mean I’m forgetting Christine. I learned from that. I won’t ignore her ever again. I will still have horrible, terrible days filled with pain, loneliness and grief. I will cry, I will wail. I will have days of numbness.

I’m sure I’ll still write about those days as they come.

But I’m choosing to live.

I’m living for my kids, my friends, my family.

I’m living for me.

So what does that really mean?

Not entirely sure. I’m still not planning on rushing out to find a partner. I’m not trying to fill that hole with a replacement. I’m not ready. I’m also not going to go out and solve all of my problems. I’ll keep going to counseling, I’ll keep reflecting on who I am and who I should be.

But I have made a list of goals, resolutions for the new year.

I resolve to:

⁃ Forgive myself

⁃ Be more present in my children’s lives

⁃ Run a marathon

⁃ Climb a mountain

⁃ Cook at least 4 healthy dinners for my family each week

⁃ Go out of my way to be kind to at least one person every day

⁃ Visit a country for the first time

⁃ Commit an act of service every week and involve the kids when possible

⁃ Keep Christine present in my life by living each day striving to be the man she would want me to be

⁃ Raise/donate $10000 for suicide prevention

⁃ Meet new people and learn from them

⁃ Start a podcast

⁃ Love fiercely

⁃ Become a companion for a suicide widow(er)

⁃ Ask for help when I need it

⁃ Be mindful of how my words and actions can be perceived by others, regardless of my intent

And if I don’t finish everything on this list it’s OK because my final resolution for 2019 is the only non-negotiable.

In 2019 I will learn to give myself grace.

That last one is so important. I’ve had so many people tell me that ‘You need to give yourself grace’. It’s a trend, a theme. I tend to take the world on my shoulders and blame myself for every misstep. I don’t want to live like that anymore.

I don’t want to live under a blanket of stress and guilt.

I was married so young that I never took the opportunity to learn to know myself, relying on Christine to make me whole. Now I’m without her. I’ll never be whole again, but I can decide who I am without her and using guilt to drive my direction is not healthy. I’m going to learn to forgive myself, be gentle when I fail, choose to learn from mistakes to make myself a better man.

In my first post I wrote ‘welcome to the shit show’. At the time it was true. I was (am) a mess.

But 2019 is about life. My kids, mine, ours. How I impact others.

So welcome to my life. I’m glad you’re here.

– B

Guilt

This is going to be a hard one to read. It’s been almost impossible to write.

At 6:30am on January 1st 2018 my alarm went off. I had set it so I could get up and call the hospital to check on Christine’s status.

The days leading up to New Year’s Eve had been horrible. She had gotten mad at me about something and it escalated into a full blown attack.

She spent a night in the car, and then locked herself in the bedroom, not coming out except to go to the store.

I tried to reach out to her on several occasions but it was always the same response.

Her: You ruined everything.

I canceled our plans, telling our friends Christine was sick and we couldn’t celebrate with them. I tried to make the best of a bad situation, getting games out and playing with the kids. I invited her to join us.

Her: I’m going out

She came out of the bedroom around 10. She looked amazing. A sequin dress, hair done up, heels. She made her way through the house and out the front door.

My heart dropped. I didn’t know where she was going, but trying to find out wasn’t worth the screaming that would follow.

I let her go.

About an hour later the texts started.

She was alone. Her car had died. It was cold. She was just going to die in the car. It didn’t matter.

I begged her to tell me where she was but she refused. Just saying she was going to go to sleep and not wake up.

This went on for a while. Her saying she would die, me begging her to live. I promised her anything she wanted. I said I’d leave if that would make her come home safely. Her life was more important than my happiness.

She wanted to die. She just wanted me to find someone who made me happy.

Finally, in a panic, I called 911. I gave them a description of the car, told them what was happening.

I told her the police were looking for her. She became enraged again.

Then she walked through the front door. She had only been parked a couple streets over. She was furious at me for calling the police.

I tried to call them back and tell them she was OK but they said they would come by the house anyway to check on her. They refused to stay away.

I told her they were coming. She flew into a rage unlike any I’d ever seen. She grabbed a kitchen knife. I was still on the phone with the police, they heard me ask her to put the knife down.

She swung it at me. I got between her and the kids, got them into a back bedroom. She threw the knife at me. Missed.

She lunged for it and took it to our bedroom.

When the police arrived they kicked down the door to our room and found her there, bleeding from the wrists. Superficial cuts. Not too deep, but deep enough to bleed a lot.

The kids were in the other room, crying. I went to them and we sat together while the EMTs treated her. They took her to a local hospital for observation.

I took the kids to the store. We bought ice cream and stuffed animals and rented a movie. We all slept together in the family room.

When I called the hospital the next morning they said I could get there at 8am but they weren’t sure when she’d be released.

I cleaned the bedroom, threw away the bloody sheets. I wanted her to have a relaxing place to stay when she got home.

The hospital was nearly empty that morning. They wouldn’t let me see her at first. I had to talk to a social worker. Then the social worker talked to her.

Finally they let me into the room. I didn’t know what to expect. She was lying in bed, her wrists bandaged. She looked at me.

Me: Hi

Her: Hi. I’m sorry.

Me: Me too. For everything.

We sat together and talked. Not about anything important. She told me about how she had been screaming at the nurses. I laughed because it’s just so much like her.

Her: Why are you being nice to me?

Me: Because I love you. I love you so fucking much.

That was one year ago today. One year from the day I saved her. I am often told by people ‘what happened isn’t your fault’ ‘you couldn’t have saved her’.

But that night I did. I did everything right.

I called the police. I loved her when she was better. I told her I’d never leave her.

I could have saved her again. But I didn’t. I didn’t think she would actually do it. I didn’t think she’d really leave us.

And worst of all I was so mad at her for trying to manipulate me with her threats.

And now I’m alone. I’m without her. Because I didn’t take her seriously and pick up the fucking phone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get out from under this guilt.

I miss you babe. I’m so fucking sorry.