Selfish

As I approach the anniversary of the day I lost Christine I’m finding myself experiencing thoughts and emotions I went through months ago, but with new a perspective, through a lens of forced grace and forgiveness toward myself.

Because this is all old and new I’m also a bit better at being honest with myself. Several months ago I wrote about my realization that I could be a selfish person. Or rather, thoughtless. I often took Christine for granted, trusting she’s be just fine when I left the country for several weeks, explaining away her sacrifice as justified for my work. Or going out with friends, leaving her at home with the kids on short notice. Soccer games, rugby tickets. She never complained. I’ve had so much guilt.

Not that I was a total asshole. I gave her absolutely anything she asked. She complained about cooking when I was out of town so I’d prep a week’s worth of meals. I’d drop everything and run to help if she asked and I’d buy her anything she wanted (except for a horse and I was already researching costs to make that happen).

I never tried to be self-centered. I just didn’t see it well when I was doing it.

Now, nearly a year into my post-love era I can confidentially call myself selfish. And idgaf.

What’s that look like? It’s manifested in many ways, but primarily my unwillingness to put others first in some circumstances.

For instance, there was a woman I was seeing. Nothing serious, but we were spending some time together. I noticed she was starting to ask things of me. Nothing big, nothing life changing. Just letting preferences be known but stating them more like demands. Things she expected from a man she was seeing.

And I totally get it. She’s come out of a relationship where she lost herself, doing everything for her partner and she wasn’t going to do that again.

With Christine I always took on more. More work, more rides to soccer practice, more dinners cooked, especially as she began to spiral. Then when I was seeing A I found myself doing the same thing, trying to be exactly what she wanted me to be, particularly bad timing as I was also trying to find out who I was without Christine (although I didn’t know it at the time).

What’s the point? I’ve realized I don’t want to be what someone else wants me to be. And I won’t.

This doesn’t mean I can’t compromise or find middle ground with people. It just means I’m not going to be the person they want me to be for the sake of it.

And this isn’t just in relationships. In life I’ve taken similar stances. I used to do a lot I didn’t want to do. I’m learning how to say no. Even better, learning how to say no and not feel guilty about it later.

Is this selfish? Putting my interests first like this instead of being afraid to be anything other than selfless? Selfish maybe. Bad? No.

In retrospect it was reasonable to expect my wife to watch my kids while we built my career. It was ok for me to spend time with friends. Just because she didn’t do the same things didn’t mean it was bad I did.

And I’m ok with that.

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

Peace and Hope

I entered this holiday season with a spirit of defiance and anger. And it’s not been easy. At first, seeing all the happy messages and Santa pictures and Christmas cards infuriated me. I hated everyone for having something I could not.

But slowly over the course of the last several weeks my heart has softened. I reflected upon my loss, but also my response, or rather how Christine would want me to respond. It was my job to be the calm and thoughtful person in our relationship and that hasn’t changed. I also thought about the man I want to be in her absence and decided it isn’t someone who responds to love and joy with anger and spite.

I awoke this morning with a feeling of… not contentment, but peace. I also feel the budding growth of hope. It’s in its infancy, just pushing against the surface, trying to break free and blossom, but it’s there.

That’s weird to think about. Hope and peace. This month has been so incredibly turbulent and difficult. I’ve struggled at work, the kids have been more sensitive than usual. Add the extra work involved in the holidays, shopping, getting to events, all while the absence of her is brought into hyper focus.

So it’s been hard. I’ve dreaded the Big Day since Thanksgiving. How was I going to make it through this while carrying my kids through it? Anxiety has been through the roof. I’ve been more forgetful than ever before. And then I got here. I got to the Christmas Eve.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house;

Not a single present was wrapped. Fuck.

I hate wrapping presents and I’ve been putting it off. I knew time was up, there wasn’t any more wiggle room. Then something great happened. A friend of mine texted me and asked if I wanted to keep her company while she wrapped her gifts. I said yes as long as I could bring mine over and do the same. We hung out, played with her dog, shared stories and got the presents wrapped.

And then she gave me a stocking.

I was so touched. It meant so much to have a friend I’ve only recently met think of me and go out of their way like that.

It’s funny how incredibly powerful a small kindness can be. I want to be more purposeful about that in my life. Just letting people know they matter, that they’re important.

I went home, tucked the presents under the tree, got the stockings filled and sat on the couch. It was shortly after 3:00 AM at that point and I should have gone to bed but I couldn’t rest my mind.

She wasn’t going to be here. No matter what we did, no matter how the day went, we would be constantly reminded Christine wasn’t there.

I talked to her, told her how I felt, how much I missed her and how much I wish I could feel some closeness to her. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I woke up on my couch at six after dreaming about Christine. She was upset with me, she was dismissive of my feelings. I had wronged her somehow and she didn’t want anything to do with me.

Sleep found me again, but I was sure this was a sign of how the day would go. And then I woke to my kids coming down the stairs… and there was that peace and that hope.

We tore through our stockings and then followed our tradition of taking turns opening each present one at a time, youngest to oldest. Then the kids cleaned while I started breakfast.

That part was hard. I made the same Irish food we had the year before and I needed help I didn’t have. It turned out OK. It’s hard to cook through tears.

So we had our food. The kids were playing with their new toys and I dressed for a run. Off I went. I made it a couple miles between breakdowns. I let off a few blocks from home to compose myself again.

You can do this. You can do this for the kids. Game face.

And I did. We took it easy, we spent time together. I felt that peace again.

I messaged people, telling them Merry Christmas. I messaged widows and family and friends old and new. Merry Christmas. Peace and hope.

We left the house around 2 for dinner at my parent’s. We arrived to find a giant pile of snow my uncle brought down from the pass so we could have a snowball fight. It was so much fun. The neighborhood kids joined in, and a few parents.

And then dinner. It was great.

We opened a few small gifts and talked about the past. My uncle cried when he picked up a Santa mug that had been owned by my great grandma. We laughed about getting hit by the grief train. I talked with my aunt and her new fiance. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried quietly. We had dessert. I got a ‘Merry Christmas’ text from someone I hadn’t talked to in a while. My family shared a drink, and then we went home.

More peace. More hope. Why??

I took a nap, E played video games. We all kind of did our thing. My friend texted me around 9 and asked if I wanted to watch Daddy’s Home. I said yes and went over to her house but we just played fetch with her dog instead. She gave me a stuffed unicorn to replace one of the ridiculous, oversized throw pillows for my new couch (the one I keep falling asleep on). I don’t know why I find this so important to point out but she is a friend. We hang out. It’s so nice. I don’t want to say ‘just a friend’ because that means a friend is less important than a spouse or girlfriend. It isn’t always that way. Sometimes we all just really need a friend.

And then home.

Now I’m trying to write about my day to work through these feelings. Peace and hope. Hope and peace. And I think I got it.

The day wasn’t easy. I thought about her a lot. I cried a lot. I’m thinking about her now. I don’t miss her any less today than I did yesterday. Probably more.

But here’s the thing. I made it through the day. I did it. I did it with the help of the people I know reaching out today telling me Merry Christmas. I did it with the help of my kids who were just amazing to be around. I did it with the help of my family. I did it with the help of my friends.

The peace and hope I feel is the realization that as hard as it is and as hard as it will continue to be… I can do this. WE can do this. And we’re going to.

Merry Christmas,

-B

 

Normal

I’ve been making friends. This is something new for me, something I haven’t really done in years. The majority of my long standing friendship are still intact but they all live about 20 minutes away (or a lot further). Not insurmountable by any means, but not always easy to make work either. In the past I had Christine to keep me company, now I sometimes feel like I’m alone on a island.

So I’ve been going out and talking to people. It’s not very comfortable, and I’m not very good at it, but it’s getting easier and I finally know a few locals.

Last Saturday I went out with one of these people to hunt down a Christmas tree and it turned into a full day. We met around 10:30 for breakfast and left to find a U-Cut farm that is still open in the Great Christmas Tree Shortage of 2018. After a couple misses we found one. The old guy running the place informed us it was the only U-cut open for dozens of miles so we got to work.

It was pretty bleak, having been harvested heavily in previous weeks, but after hunting around a bit we found a nice one and murdered it.

The person I was hanging out with decided she wanted to check on another farm her friend worked at just down the road. When we got there it was open and she was incensed, but upon further inspection we found there were only pre-cut trees available. We got some cider and left.

I thought that was it for the day and we’d go our separate ways but she grew up in the area and offered to take me on a tour. We visited an old mining town now owned by a single person who resides in what used to be the local school. We explored a couple abandoned houses, one of them housing a rat as big as a raccoon. Then it was off to a bar I never knew existed and a drive to the top of a mountain.

We drove through country roads, under the canopy of huge trees. In between each unscheduled stop our conversation drifted. She talked about growing up in the area, how different it used to be before the Microsofts and Amazons grew Seattle to the breaking point, forcing up real estate, causing people to move to what had once been rural areas. I learned about her upbringing and her family life.

She told me about the people that have come and gone from her life. I named them strays and included myself in that number.

Her: Yeah, but you’re the normal one.

I was taken aback. Me? The guy who has spent the last several months falling apart? How could I be the normal one?

Me: That’s because you haven’t been around for my breakdowns.

Her: That’s what normal people do. They have breakdowns away from everyone else.

Me: I used to feel normal. I don’t anymore.

Her: All the stuff you’re going through is normal. You’re feeling the same things anyone would who went through the things you’re going through. You’re normal.

I dropped it.

We had a few more stops including hiking a trail in the dark along a ravine before we finally reached a waterfall we couldn’t see because it was pitch black by the time we arrived. She took me to a scarf party and then we found a cover band that wasn’t terrible. Finally it was back to the place we started our day for a nightcap  before parting ways. In the most platonic way possible. Settle down, I’m still on the no dating train.

It was a fun day.

When I got home I thought about what she said, about me being normal.

Wait, that’s a lie. When I got home I had a double Jameson and passed out.

The next morning was when I did my thinking. Normal.

I’ll admit to being a little bit upset by the tag at first, especially because I feel so incredibly abnormal right now. And I am. I’m not the person I was. I never will be again. So in that sense I’m not ‘normal’.

But that’s my normal, or it used to be (and for the love of God don’t you dare think or say ‘you’re finding your new normal’. I hate that one).

Now I’m learning to live in a post-love era. It’s different. It’s awful. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I think back a few years ago when we were broke and times were hard. How awful I thought life was, how difficult. But I always had her. I wish I could find 2011 Ben and shake him, scream at him ‘enjoy every second, you idiot’.

But that reaction and all the feeling and pain and heartache and tears, it’s normal to feel that way when faced with traumatic loss. I think I lost that somewhere. Or just never thought about it. While this is terrible, absolutely horrible, there are countless people who came before me that felt exactly the same way.

There’s something comforting in that. I’m not sure how else to say it. It’s comforting that as lonely as I feel, I’m not alone in my response to grief.

I’m normal.

I’ll Tell You in Ten Years

There are several phrases I hear from people with stunning regularity. Depending on the person and my mood my response varies greatly. I’ve had this discussion with some other people who have recently lost their spouse and found that responses to trauma are incredibly cliche.

And I get it. There really is nothing to say that can help, but people’s instinct is to say something, anything to show empathy and caring and helpfulness. I mean, it backfires constantly in horrible and sometimes hilarious ways.

Is it weird to find humor in this stuff? It’s not because any of it is actually funny, of course. It’s all just so insanely ridiculous and…wrong.

Here are a few of my favorites:

How are you? – The ‘are’ is dragged out so it’s more like ‘How arrrrrrrrrre you?’ often with a slight tilt of the head and a little frown. They’re trying to show sympathy, but I don’t think they usually want to hear an honest answer because it inevitably means they have to come up with something, anything to say. Something like:

I don’t know how you do it – Do what? Be a dad, keep working, keep moving? I mean… I wasn’t given a fucking choice. That’s how I do it.

You’re so strong – Can you help me understand ‘strong’? Like, what do you mean by that? What is strong about laying in bed until 1 in the afternoon, so crippled by emotions you feel unable to get up. Or is it my daily breakdown in the car?

Here’s a few synonyms for ‘strong’. Well built (OK, that one’s true. I’m hot af). Sturdy. Durable. Indestructible.

…I guess the word works in a certain kind of way but only if by ‘strong’ you’re saying I’ve been getting my ass kicked but haven’t decided to join Christine. Otherwise I’m just existing. I am not strong.

And here’s the one the guts me every time.

How are the kids? – The best response to this question is one a friend shared with me ‘I’ll tell you in ten years’. I really don’t know how they’re doing. But here’s what I’ve seen so far:

E is more moody and argumentative. He spends every moment I’ll allow in front of electronics. He’s more awkward, and nervous around people. His grades are getting worse. He also got in his first fist fight at school the other day. He broke down pretty hard at the graveside service. He and I have always had a somewhat strained relationship because he is the most willful of the kids. I’m softer now but I don’t feel any closer to him. I don’t know how to give him what he needs.

T is probably the one who has adapted the best. The only real uncontrollable break down she’s had was when we were driving home after her birthday party. It was May 23rd, just 4 days after she found out she would never see her mom again. T had asked for a picture of her with her mom. I gave it to her in the car because I couldn’t handle doing it with an audience.

T: I MISS HER!!!!

And she fell apart. Since then she has done mostly positive things. She told me her mom and her had a saying, ‘I love you to the moon and back’. I didn’t know that. T found a light up sign with that saying on it. She told me she some times feels like Christine is close, like a cloud and at night when she turns the light on that she’s actually in the room. T will tell her about her day, how soccer is going, etc. She also told me she leaves the light off some nights because she wants to share her mom’s presence with the rest of us.

The angriest one is K. She is pretty pissed off at her mom. They already had a rocky relationship and K is upset that Christine would put us all through this much pain. She is the one that talks the very least about it, doesn’t share memories often and tries to avoid any conversation about how she feels.

Then there’s B. This one is killing me. She’s so far away. She doesn’t get to be around us and is stuck in grief alone. Similar to me, things don’t seem to be getting better for her. She got a tattoo, a bushel of forget-me-nots, Christine’s favorite flowers. Her and I have spend a few nights texting our sadness to each other. She feels like a lot of people dismiss her because Christine was her step mom and it shouldn’t hurt as much. She’s coming for Christmas and I’m so looking forward to seeing her.

So what are you supposed to say? What’s the right thing? A lot of time, it’s nothing at all. No, that’s not right. It’s just some affirmation that you care. My friends who know me best get it. ‘I love you, man’. That’s really it. It’s all that’s needed. Because there’s no right answer.

Sometimes I don’t even need anything. Just being there for me to talk to means so incredibly much. I can’t fix this, you can’t fix this. Why would we use words like we’re trying?

Even better? The thing I appreciate the most? It’s when someone shares a story about her with me. It’s been almost seven months since that day. When a person takes some time to tell me they’re still thinking about her it means so fucking much.

So so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait of a Day

When you lose a spouse you lose so much. Dreams, hopes, future, companion, lover, friend, confidant, all gone.

Something else you lose, especially if you’re a parent, is time.

I don’t have much to write about so I thought I would capture a day in the life of a solo-parent and share it with you all.

6:15AM Wake up, brush teeth, get dressed. I worked from home so I got to sleep in an hour!

6:30AM Dialed into first meeting and got T and E up and ready while talking through team strategy in 2019.

7:15AM T and E out the door.

7:30AM Second meeting, acting as a proxy for my director in front of a partner org’s VP. And I made coffee.

9:00AM Meeting ends, finally looking at my emails.

10:00AM Pre-meeting meeting to discuss another meeting.

10:20AM Excuse myself from the last few minutes of that meeting. Rush to the car, realize I hadn’t eaten yet. Run back inside, grab a protein drink, back to the car.

10:35AM Get to T and E’s school to pick E up for his counseling appointment.

10:45AM Still waiting for E, the meeting the pre-meeting was about starts.

10:55AM E finally shows up, we get to the car using only hand signals because I’m on the call. He’s gotten good at this game.

11:05AM Drop E off 5 minutes late, drive back to the school.

11:40AM Still on the call, go into the school to pick up T and get her to counseling.

12:00PM Got T there on time! Pick up E and take him back to his school.

12:22PM Arrive at the optometrist. Fill out the paperwork at record speed. Have to fill out ‘widowed’ for martial status. During the appointment she asks how long ago it happened. Then how it happened. Then gave me advice on how to deal with suicide. Thanks for the tips.

1:10PM Pick up T, ten minutes late. Back to her school.

1:30PM Driving home, next meeting starts, a two hour preparation meeting.

3:00PM T and E get home. I forgot T was having a friend over. I feed them a snack while I finish up the meeting.

3:45PM Go to the gym for a quick run (it’s raining and cold and I just don’t feel an outdoors run today). One of my asshole friends convinced me to sign up to run a marathon with him in June and I just started training. I hope he’s reading this. Asshole.

4:45PM I get home. T wants a pick up at the store and her friend needs a ride home.

5:15PM Back home. Preheat the oven and get the rib roast in. Take E to a scouting event.

6:30PM Pull the roast out and let it rest. Go pick up E.

7:00PM Dinner. It was bomb.

7:30PM Clean the house.

8:30PM Finally hit the couch and start writing with a John Oliver rerun in the background.

I did a lot. I did it well. I did it by myself. I’m a freaking super hero!

See? I’m recovering, right? Things are looking up. I can do this.

But then there’s the day before to think about. On Monday I got up at 5:15 and went to work. Checked Facebook when I got to the office.

Facebook let’s me know Christine’s account had been memorialized (my request) and my relationship status is now ‘widowed’. I break down and nearly turn around and head home.

My schedule was packed. I just float through the day, trying to pay some attention to what’s going on but I feel totally disconnected.

The 3 o’clock meeting was cancelled so I went home.

I walked in the door at about 4:30. Went upstairs and stared at my bedroom ceiling for 1.5 hours until I realize I need to feed the kids. T has already called a friend for a ride to soccer. She knows the drill.

Dinner was leftover pizza. I laid on the couch with the Seahawks on in the background. Kind of watching.

At 8 I went to the store and bought a bottle of wine. I drank it all, then hit the whiskey cabinet while listening to sad music. I finally head upstairs and crawl into bed fully clothed. No idea what time.

Remember at the beginning of this when I said you lose time? When you’re in it, when you’re awake and aware, time flies. When you’re down and hurting it’s the opposite. It moves so slowly. I beg the clock to move but it feels stuck, trapped. Like me.

I don’t know who I am. Am I the dude that’s rocking this shit or am I the guy who can barely make it through a day?

It’s like a real life Two-Face. Fate flips the coin and decides what my day will be.

Guess we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Tilting at Windmills

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

                           ― Cervantes, Don Quixote

My dad hung a lithograph displaying the above quote in our basement bathroom when I was young. I must have read it thousands of times. It’s ingrained in my memory. I come back to it constantly when things seem out of control. I’ve thought of it often the past months.

When I was a boy I didn’t know anything about the source material. It wasn’t until I had to read it in a lit class did I get the reference. Christine and I also attended the musical years later.

The story is about a noble who reads so many chivalrous romance stories he loses his mind and becomes a knight-errant, a hero in the tradition of King Arthur in a world moved on from such ‘antiquated notions’.

In one famous scene he falls under the belief that windmills are in fact giants attacking the countryside and rushes to face them.

Since the book was written the phrase ’tilting at windmills’ has come to mean attacking perceived but imaginary enemies.

I think I do that. I think I have become so ready for something new and painful to come along that my first instinct is often to fly into battle, attack before I can be attacked.

That might be a poor description though, because just as often I flee. Flee from feelings. I also tend to take an imaginary issue and find my way to the worst possible outcome and assume life will become what I’ve just dreamed up.

Overthinking. Fantasizing. Imagining. Expecting. Worrying. Doubting. This is how I tilt at windmills.

Back to the quote at the top of the page. It’s been on repeat in my head for months, especially the last bit.

‘And the maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!’

This is the moment when Don Quixote realizes his madness, when he realizes he’s been fighting the imaginary. It’s poignant prose.

As he’s recovering, as he’s raising himself from the depths of mental illness, his conclusion is that life, by its very structure, is mad. It doesn’t make sense.

And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s why we wonder, it’s why we think to ourselves ‘How can this be happening?’.

How the fuck can my wife have killed herself?

She should be at work as I write this, finishing lunch, thinking about our evening plans, stressing about her holiday party coming together. But she’s not. She’s dead.

It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense.

And there, in essence, is my windmill. Trying to find reason, logic, anything that will bring me some type of understanding of how she could do this.

The answer is simple, of course. It doesn’t make sense. Not to me. It never will. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a place so bleak you see no escape. To be unable to recognize how loved you are, how incredibly important you are to so many people and how much you’ll be missed when you’re gone.

It doesn’t make sense.

And so I tilt.