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!!

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.

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.

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