Living On – Living Less

Since Kevin’s death I wonder if I have been living less.  Is it possible to live less?  My heart still beats, I breathe and eat and sleep – and I still love; but I feel somehow that I am doing it less.  Maybe I am just not doing it as well.  I don’t greet each day with anticipation.  My new normal is waking up to emptiness, filling the void during the daylight hours through work or chores, and then ending the day with emptiness.  I talk to myself quite often, especially when I wake up. I give myself a little pep talk and then start my day.  Likewise at night, I talk, but not to myself. At night I talk to Kevin, just like before.  I work through the things that are bothering me or that I am unsure of and I ask him for help.  You see, I didn’t choose this situation, it chose me. It will take a very long time for me to accept it and to adapt to it.

I’ve never lived on my own, not that it is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just that it wasn’t part of the grand plan.  Friends that live on their own tell me that once I get used to it I will guard my privacy and freedom fiercely. Now here I am on my own and trying to figure it out.  I’m not afraid of living alone, fact is, I couldn’t care less.  It’s the extreme shift in my home environment that is crippling me.  I miss the energy and interest and diversity that Kevin brought to my life. If he were alive right now we’d be planning his next art exhibit submission; we’d be planning his summer; he’d be scheming about something because it gave him a thrill to think he’d pulled a fast one; and, I’d be frazzled because he wore me out.  So is it hard to live alone? For me it’s brutal.

When we moved into our house over 20 years ago we had a neighbour who was a widow.  In the summer we’d see her tirelessly working in her flower gardens day in and day out.  Old Lady Hunchback the kids called her.  She stayed in her house until the day she died.  Her gardens were gentle, understated and peaceful; they welcomed you not overwhelmed you. I suspect they were the product of love and loss; resignation but not unhappiness.  I think about her and the circle of life and, as I tend to my own gardens, how primal our response is to it.

The Darkness Suits Me

It’s been almost two months since my husband died. Like most traumatic incidents the event itself has the ability to feel close and distant at the same time. Some days it feels like Kevin’s been gone for a long time, other days it feels like it just happened. It can feel so raw that it pains my heart and I find it hard to swallow; even holding my head up is an effort. The pain is very, very real. It settles deep the centre of my chest, behind my ribcage and throbs in time with the beat of my heart – separate but the same. I would likely be diagnosed as suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome. It is real and it exists, and it is a major factor in why I continue to be under a doctor’s care

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Kevin, wonder what he would think or say. Some days are better than others. On good days I may find humour in something and I can imagine him hiss-laughing, he’d sound like a snake, sharing my laughter. On other days I don’t imagine his response at all – I can’t get past my own sorrow. On these low days I may find myself in his closet touching his sweaters, smelling his clothes, hugging one of his favorite tee-shirts. On these occasions I wonder if he can see me, if he is still here in some shape or form, and so I plead with the universe in general, to send me a sign to let me know he’s here with me.

Tomorrow my daughter and my sister-in-law will go see a psychic, medium, sensitive – I am actually not sure what she is. I hope it proves to be a comforting experience. I was offered the opportunity to go as well, but I am just not ready. I am still dwelling in the darkness and shadows, but unexpectedly there is a degree of comfort in this. I am not moving forward very fast and darkness seems to encourage caution and care; it’s okay to move slowly when you can’t see where you are going. So, for now, I passed on the opportunity.

It’s almost two months and I have been back at work part time for about a month. It has been a push, but my coworkers tell me that I appear to be improving.  Maybe on the outside, however, the reality is that his death is never out of my mind.

This first, no that first …

I haven’t posted lately because I’ve been spinning out of control.  I have reached a point where the things I have to do have simply overwhelmed me.  They have all become important, equally important, in my mind.  Consequently, I haven’t been able to determine what to do first, what should be done first.  This is the reality of functioning on my own.

Throughout the more than 30 years of my marriage I was the primary decision-maker and accountant for the family. I made the decisions and did the follow through.  So why then, do I feel like I am drowning in the sea of responsibility?

I realize now, that although I may have made the decisions, there almost always was some sort of discussion between Kevin and me, at least for big decisions.  Kevin always had an opinion (sometimes completely off the wall) and he was never bashful about expressing it.  As a father and husband, Kevin didn’t fret about the small stuff; as long as we were safe, fed, happy and having fun, that was all that mattered.  His role in our marriage, he would often state, was to socialize and protect and mine was everything else (as long as he didn’t disagree with it).  He had little tolerance for inaction and indecisiveness, any decision was better than no decision.

After years of this type of conditioning I have become quite used to ploughing through the things that have to be done. However, it’s different with this, with settling an estate.  It’s not something that is easy or straightforward, it’s emotional and heartbreaking and relentless – there are so many things that have to be done: burial arrangements; transfers of title; changing my own Will; dealing with the various utility companies, credit card companies; and all sorts of other little one-offs that come up as the days go by.

Things have to be done, yes, but not right away.  I was reminded of this again today by my lawyer and by my sister-in-law.  I’m spinning but it’s because I’ve wound myself too tight.  I am my own worst enemy, trying to do everything and get everything settled in record time.  There’s no rush and this is something that I need to recognize for my own peace of mind, since the only one pressuring me is me. Old habits die hard.

The Order of Grief

I never considered that there was a hierarchy in the grieving process until just recently.  A good friend’s brother died and I called to offer my condolences.  This is a friend who, along with her husband, has supported me unreservedly since Kevin’s death.  This couple has been part of my life for 35 years; her husband was my husband’s best friend for far longer – since the age of two. I called to check in and see how things were.  It is inconceivable how she must be feeling and I said so.  She stated simply, “I’m sad, but don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.  You’ve lost Kevin.  You lost your husband.  You loved him so much.”  I hadn’t called to talk to her about Kevin. I called to talk to her about how she was feeling.

We ended up talking about sorrow and loss and how consuming it could be.  She explained to me that her role was to support me regardless of how much pain or sadness she felt resulting from Kevin’s death, and now from her brother’s death  That her grief would never ever be as much as my grief; she had relegated her grief to mine.  It was astounding to me, that with the death of her brother, she still felt my loss was greater than hers.  I wondered if she felt this way due to her perception of my grief, or had I developed a sense of entitlement to grief that everyone accepted and which influenced her thinking.

The initial shock of Kevin’s death leveled me, no doubt.  Then the grief settled over me and decisions and rational thought became too difficult. I learned to lean on my friends and family. Leaning on others did not come easily to me, but I don’t think it comes easily to most people.  I had hoped to guide and support my children through this loss but I wasn’t able to and I fell hard and flat. Consequently, I let myself and my family down. This disappointment and self-doubt further complicated the grieving process by adding additional stress; more strands to add to my braid of grief, sorrow, confusion and fear.  Where was my strength when I needed it most?  My husband’s death was a humbling experience and I am thankful for all those friends who have helped me throughout.

I suspect that my friend is using avoidance tactics to suppress her own sense of loss. Grief is an unordered chaotic emotion. It is pervasive; deny it at your peril.  I worry that this good friend is not on a healthy path and emotionally she is stretched too thin. Her brother has now died and she’s still grieving a good friend.  There is no classification system that can be applied to grief. Relationships on paper or blood lines don’t determine the amount or degree of grief to which you are entitled. ‘Be brave, soldier on’ doesn’t work here.

Birthday Hugs and Tears

Today was my grandson’s second birthday.  Seems funny saying ‘my’ but there it is, Kevin’s gone so now it is ‘my’ grandson.  I have three grandsons, two live about 500 kilometres away and one, a newborn, lives about 3 kilometres away.  Gareth, who turned two today, lives far away.  That distance always made Kevin sad.  After the grandkids would visit, Kevin would always retreat within himself, lost in thought, filled with ‘what-ifs’ and ‘whens’; he so wanted to be a big part of those little boys’ lives.  We would joke that the boys were probably shocked when they saw us full size; they were used to seeing us the size of a cellphone screen.  This reflection of our relationship with our grandsons is not a criticism or a guilt thing; it’s just the way life is. It is a reality that work, life or love can result in a family spreading farther and farther afield.  You learn to take advantage of what you have, when you have it.

Gareth will celebrate his birthday with me and his Aunt on Saturday, after my son and his family make the long journey to my house for a visit.  It will be a wonderful occasion but also a sad one, since it is the first event in our immediate family since Kevin died.  Birthdays were truly celebrations in his world, Kevin’s own birthday would last a week when he was healthy and well.  I wonder what he would have wanted to get Gareth for his 2nd birthday?

I spent this afternoon with my daughter and her son, Lennox, who is now almost 12 weeks old.  Lennox was born on February 28th, Kevin would die a month later on March 29th.  All the spoiling rights he wanted arrived too late for him.  I was holding Lennox today and imagining that Kevin was holding him with me.  It’s an emotional thing, holding a new baby.  They are so soft and sweet, all the promise in the world ahead of them. I imagined Kevin gently whispering promises to a grandchild he would never know.  It seemed so real and close to me that I could smell him, Kevin, that he was there with me.

I know that on the weekend when we celebrate Gareth’s birthday there will be tears.  All three of our grandsons will be together in our house, lovely little boys to celebrate and love.  We will reminisce about their grandfather whether we want to or not.  There will be sorrow as well as joy.  The family will be together but there will be one vacant chair that is just glaring in its emptiness, one voice missing in the conversation.   I wish that there weren’t overtones to this birthday but there are.  Fortunately, Gareth is only two and far too young to understand that his birthday is the first marker in a long line of many to come since Kevin’s death.