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!!

Forgetting

Hey Babe,

I’m having a hard time remembering you. Not you in general but the little things. I can’t remember your favorite foods, your favorite songs, your favorite movies. It’s hard for me to remember your face without pictures. I don’t remember the things we laughed at as easily. My memories are becoming more abstract and you haven’t been in my dreams for a really long time.

I feel like I’m losing you. Again.

And I feel like a terrible person because of it.

I’m sorry.

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?

Closer

I haven’t written for a while. A lot of things have happened. Some good, some bad. I’ll get back to that in the coming days.

I took time off because I felt like writing all these things had begun to put me in grief spiral where I kept concentrating on feeling bad instead of processing my feelings. I didn’t want to wallow in that place.

But now I’m back there regardless. Today is the anniversary of the day we left for Norway. The trip Christine didn’t come back from. These next two weeks are going to be tough. Really really tough.

I’m scared. Terrified of what’s coming. Of the things I will feel. I want to stop time. I want to pull myself out of this and reappear in the future. I don’t want this experience.

Feelings and feeling and feelings.

But I have to live it. There’s no choice. And so I’m back to writing, to processing, to working through all these damn feelings.

Here we go.

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.

Seven

Hey Babe,

It’s been seven months since I lost you. Since you left me and the kids alone. I can’t believe that. Seven months. It seems like yesterday and forever.

At first I counted in days and it didn’t seem like I’d make it to the next one. Then it was weeks. Every Saturday I would be on edge, another reminder of your absence. At some point I started counting in months. And here it is again. Another month gone by. I guess I’ll eventually be counting in years.

That’s fucking awful to think of. Years. Years without you. Years of feeling so empty some days I just want my heart to stop beating.

I read an article after GH Bush died. It talked about the increased likelihood of a person dying 6-8 months after their spouse due to cardiovascular issues. Turns out you really can die of a broken heart.

This last month has been particularly tough.

Ha. Like all the other ones weren’t.

But all this holiday shit all over the place is really really difficult. I still haven’t managed to drag the stocking out of storage and put them up. Should I even put one up this year? I don’t know why I would. That’s another first, an empty stocking.

Is there anything sadder than that? I mean, not the stocking itself, but what it signifies.

Everything is taking so much effort. I’m totally exhausted. Like, completely wiped out.

I’m sorry I’m complaining so much. This is just so hard. It’s so much harder than I imagined it could be. I’m trying to come up with positive thoughts and remember you fondly but it keeps coming back to me never seeing you again.

7 months.

I learned denial isn’t what I thought it was. I just assumed it meant I would think you’d walk back through the door any moment. That isn’t denial.

Denial is my heart and brain not connecting. I know I won’t get to see you again, but my heart is confused and doesn’t accept it. There’s this part of me that doesn’t understand you’re gone forever.

I honestly don’t know what to do. I’m so miserable. I want you back so badly.

I’m such a mess.

There isn’t much to say. I just wanted you to know you’re all I think about, day in and day out. I wish so much I had known how little time we’d have together, how important each moment was. I could have done so much better. I could have put aside life’s little struggles and just known it was OK because I was with you and been totally content. Happy.

I love you, babe. I miss you so much.

– B

Untethered

One of the effects of being suddenly alone is finding myself with a particularly awful new freedom. I hate using that word, because freedom usually denotes a positive experience, but when lacking vocabulary what other choice does one have than to attach an incorrect but nearly appropriate word to the experience.

Freedom. What do I mean by that?

More than anything else it’s been a freedom to make mistakes. I’ve lost my check and my balance. I believe I mentioned previously that I am nothing if not impulsive. In some ways this has treated me well. At work I’ve found myself to be among the risk-takers and it has generally paid off.

The same could be said to be true in some situations in life. After all, I asked Christine to marry me just a few months after we met. We were wed less than 12 months from our introduction. This allowed me the best 18 years of my life.

However, there are times the opposite is true. Buying a house on a whim, a new car. Walking into Costco to get food for school lunches and walking out with a TV and a new computer. Staying out too late. Drinking too much.

Freedom.

I met with a group of ‘wids’ recently, both men and women. We got together to play pub trivia. It was fun, but it was also strange. Not strange in an uncomfortable way. It was the first time I’d been in a group of people who could totally empathize with me.

We came in second place, won some money. Talk about our spouses was sprinkled throughout the conversation, but it was light in tone. However, when the game was over and there was still some beer in our glasses we reached the Shit Gets Real moment.

We all took turns telling our stories, or a least some small tidbit of it. We also took part in one of the strangest contests humans regularly take part in, especially people in great pain, the contest of telling another person their pain is much worse than our own. I don’t get that. Why do we try so hard to validate someone’s pain by downplaying our own, especially in a club like this one?

Eventually I brought up this terrible freedom. One of the people at the table suggested another word.

Him: It’s not freedom. It’s being untethered.

I immediately agreed, thankful for a better, more descriptive word.

However, that night I gave it more thought. What does that word really mean? To be untethered means one must have at one time been constrained. An image came into my mind of Christine holding a leash attached to a collar around my neck (get your mind out of the gutter).

But that wasn’t right. Christine was not afraid to let her opinion be known, but she did not work to coerce me or control me. She trusted me to make the right choice and I love her for that.

And there it was. I wasn’t chained to her, under her control. I was captive by choice, to serve her in love. To make her happy.

When I would be out, and my impulsive tendencies would threaten to overwhelm me I would think to myself ‘would Christine be happy with this decision?’

I was tethered. I was held to her, attached to her. My love for her kept me close and controlled. Anything for her happiness.

And although the love remains, the reason to bring myself to heel, the ability to make her happy, is gone.

I’m untethered.