Reliving the trauma – a year without your voice

My dearest Tim,

I had told myself this time was going to be hard.  This week especially, but mostly the time between Mother’s day and Father’s day when I’d re-live the worst 26 days of my life… the memories of the hospital… when all of the sudden I’d flip the switch, and Facebook would no longer share “1 year ago” memories that you had posted…. all of YOUR posts would all be older than that…. putting you just a little further away from us.

I thought I had prepared myself for how hard this was going to be.  But I had no idea.  Similar to what I said in my Pain post, its hard to imagine that it’s real – the physical manifestation of grief, or that you have no control over it… much as you may WANT to be happy, to live in the present, the past has a way of sneaking up and taking the wind out of you.  Even just seeing May 16th or June 11th on the calendar, or on a meeting notice that I am sent… it takes my breath away.   I sometimes think that you would laugh at this… call it my obsession with dates… but I mostly think this was all so beyond your realm of imagination, that you would accept whatever I think/feel/experience as fact.

I’ll tell you what I have planned for tomorrow.  Because it will make you laugh.  You will shake your head because you think its ridiculous, and smile because it’s so me….

I remember what I wore that day.  May 16, 2017.  It was a Tuesday.  I went into work my regular time after taking A to the bus stop, and taking R and D to daycare. I left work like a bat out of hell after lunchtime because you told me you had vomited and you still had a fever and were sweating through your clothes.  But I often wonder, why did I even go to work that day?  What if I had realized how sick you were, and simply stayed home and just lay in bed with you… sleeping while all the kids were at school or watching Netflix.  What if I had had those final, quiet, peaceful moments with you?  Moments I can never get back…. but I rushed to work because we were working a Task Order proposal… because I would have felt so much guilt to send the kids to school and lay in bed with you…so much guilt to not be contributing at work…  I remember what I wore because I remember looking down at the skirt in the hospital.  A long, flowery skirt.  After that day I would look at that skirt and it would remind me that I went to work that day, instead of reading the signs and staying home with you… I couldn’t take seeing it much less wearing it so I put it at the back of the closet.  So I wouldn’t have to see it, and feel that guilt and heartbreak.  I will wear it again tomorrow.  Because let’s be honest, I’m going to feel the guilt and the heartbreak tomorrow no matter what.

A year since I heard your voice.  Since you teased me. Since I heard your laugh. Since I told you not to pull out your catheter and freaked out your nurses… who I then had to explain about my bad-patient-father who you, my rule-follower, are nothing like… who told me they thought girls married men like their fathers… and I said, not my sister and I!

So often I hate how things went down.  That I never got to ask you… so many things.  That I never got to hear directly from you what you’d want me to do on my own… But mostly I don’t hate it.  You would have hated to face your own mortality.  Better that all you knew was that you had pnemonia.

Here’s a really fun fact about the disease that you got:

Median age at diagnosis of SMZL is 69 years. The overall age-adjusted incidence is 0.13/100,000 habitants per year. The percentage change in age-adjusted incidence is 4.81%, with most of the patients being White. Gender prevalence is controversial, but there is an increasing trend to male predominance. – from the NIH at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5457460/

Seriously.  69 years.  You had literally JUST turned 37. What. the. fuck?

I had a dream last night in which you and Colleen were playing golf… I can’t imagine Colleen playing golf…and I don’t think you played at all since A was born… Maybe a trip or two to Top Golf with friends?… But you were in this little stretch with strips of green grass… and I had the impression that you guys were growing tomatoes in the patches of dirt in between…the area was small but it overlooked the ocean…like you guys were hitting balls out into the ocean. The kids were up a bunch last night so I was in and out of sleep… I dreamed this scene and later I dreamed it again like I was watching it on TV… with other people… remembering you and Colleen… and I told the people with me “its how I imagine them in paradise.” (Though I’m not sure if that’s true?) You were both facing away from me so I never saw your faces….but I heard your laughter...and I can hear it still.

I had another dream too, which was so much worse. All of the sudden I was at your side as you took your last breaths again.  Only this time it wasn’t your dad there with me, it was my sister.  And she wasn’t on the other side of you, she was behind me.  I remember looking down and both your legs had been amputated at the knee.  There were just two silver plus signs.  I asked the nurse why and she said because you didn’t need them any more, you couldn’t walk.  They told me you were gone… I was lying on your chest again, feeling the last of your warmth, the lack of machine-breathing that there was at the very end. The silence when they turned off all the beeps on all the machines for me…. I forget why but Jean said to me then that you were gone, you were not suffering…  And she said that dad was suffering more, so much worse…(in fairness, I know she’d never actually say that to me, but it probably is true)… and my response was “there is nothing worse than this” and I sobbed and fell to the floor.  I woke then to D calling for me, in my bed with R asleep beside me.  My eyes were dry but squinting, and my whole body was still shaking from those wracking dream-sobs.

Damn, that was a terrible way to start the day. This Tuesday-after-Mother’s-day.  You would tell me not to celebrate anniversaries of sadness, but I can’t help it, Tim.  I can’t control my dreams.  I can’t control re-living the trauma.  All I can do is survive it.  And keep our kids alive and thriving.  I don’t know that I am doing this dead parent child raising thing right, but I’m doing my best.
I have low moments.  I have low lows.  Sometimes I think they would have been so much better off to have had you rather than me.  But I chase away the lows, I chase away the “what ifs” as you would want me to… I don’t make you proud every moment, but damn, I am trying.  I miss you as my love, my husband, my partner, my co-parent, but more than anything else, I miss you as my best friend.  Isn’t that a funny thing about life?

I don’t know if paradise is playing golf into the ocean and growing tomatoes with Colleen, but I can imagine it to be the sound of your laughter.  This morning I heard your son laughing in the other room.  It was the most amazing sound of baby giggles.  But it was also solid,  joyous, sustained laughter, and I thought of you.  Wherever you are, Tim, keep laughing, keep Col laughing, and I’ll do the best I can to keep your legacies laughing, until we are reunited.

All my love, always,

MaryBeth

Mother’s Day

The village is amazing, and many people reached out to me regarding Mother’s day plans and for this I am so incredibly grateful…

I answered them mostly in much the same way, “I have very complicated feelings about mother’s day.”

And that’s the truth.  I do.  My feelings about mother’s day are very complicated.  Mostly, maybe because they are overwhelmingly negative.  And no one is supposed to feel negatively about mother’s day, right?  Especially not when you are a mother, right?

So at the simplest level there is this: Mother’s day is the day when my husband got sick… and never got better.  And that was last year.

But there’s more.  We spent many mother’s days at the winery where we got married.  In 2015 we had a great day there.  I had a bit too much to drink, and that night, after we got the girls to bed, Tim and I had the worst fight of our marriage, or our friendship, of all the years we’d known each other.  I was very willing to move on from the memory of that low moment.  But Mother’s day 2016, when I was 8 months pregnant, he “had to work” and I took the girls there alone, and met my friends with my pregnant belly for a day at the vineyard.  Last year, even before he got sick, he told me he didn’t want to go…. that he couldn’t go there on Mother’s day and remember the lowest point of our relationship. And I was incredibly moved.  I was a little bitter, that he was making my holiday about his feelings… but I was also moved that that lowest point in our relationship had such an effect on him.

So last year, I didn’t have a lot planned.  Maybe Peterson’s (ice cream) in the afternoon. The girls had swim lessons in the morning.. When he asked me what I wanted for Mother’s day I said…. to sleep in, to get time in the bathroom alone.
I was running low on my perfume. If he could order some more on Amazon that would be great.  Maybe it would be great to get another family photo shoot, since the last was in October when Declan was only 3 months old… but it was probably too late for that… He told me I’d get a Mother’s day do-over.  He was so incredibly sorry for being sick and not helping with the kids at all all weekend.

But I will never get that Mother’d day do-over.  Although honestly, people take a lot of the logistics off my hands. And I have often thought, I’d take all the hard stuff and the exhaustion of the day-to-day, for just one more day with my Tim.  But that is not meant to be.

And I often wonder – was I bitter?  Or did he think I was?  I’d hate for him to have thought that…. there was a text from him that weekend where he thought I was ignoring him and said “I know you’re mad at me but..”  And in telegram there is no response to that… but I know I went up to our bedroom and saw him and said “I’m not mad, hun, I’m just tired, and busy. with the kids.. what do you need?”  It just makes me hope I wasn’t bitter.

And maybe there’e also the what-ifs.   The what-ifs that I try my best to chase away but creep in.  What if it wasn’t mothers day but a regular weekend – maybe then he would have given me more details?  What if not wanting to burden me on Mother’s Day weekend made him hold back details of how he was feeling that would have raised my red flags sooner, or given me critical information to help the doctors make a diagnosis sooner?  What if it being Mother’s day was the problem?

Tonight I went to see the movie Tully with two mom-friends.  And in the end, it made me feel better.  I don’t remember feeling bitter exactly, but if I did, it was no more than the average new mother with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night.  I loved him.  He knew that.  No matter if I was exhausted that weekend, no matter if we had that terrible fight in 2015.  He knew how much I loved and was dedicated to him, always.  I showed it in life, and I show it now.

Maybe some day I will feel differently about Mother’s day, but for now,  and for my children, I will grin and survive it, just like I do every day.

 

Daddy’s Girl #2

By the nature of more time together, and being the oldest, and their love of watching sports, there are infinitely more photos of Tim with A.  She was the quintessential Daddy’s girl.  R has always been attached to me, and it seemed whenever dividing and conquering was necessary, Tim took A, and I took R.  He did a lot of fun daddy-daughter things with them both on Sunday mornings when D was first born, including an adventure where he printed out a map and they followed it all over the county… to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Barnes and Noble, Target….

Despite there being less total photos, R was daddy’s  girl too.  He adored her. And she adored her daddy.  I love the picture I have of them in the hammock on her 4th birthday where he posted “chilling like April birthdays do.” The shared birthday month and astrological sign was a special connection for them.

She is our sensitive flower, and I know she struggles with her grief.  She sometimes tells me she can’t remember his face.  We have pictures all over so I don’t point this out.  I don’t think a picture will help.  She is getting her little heart and head around her grief and her loss, and she has poignant words for it sometimes.  These have included “I can remember daddy’s glasses, but I can’t remember his face.”

These photos were from a year ago today.  A Sunday afternoon when Tim returned from a brew tour weekend in Richmond with 5 of his best friends.  He walked in and told me he was tired.  I was like um, right, but you know I had all 3 kids all weekend, right?!?  D was down for his nap, and Tim asked R if she wanted to go nap with him in the hammock.  “Yes!” and they both fell asleep.  I took the photo below of them in the backyard from our window.  Then I brought the monitor outside.  A had run down to play at a neighbor’s house, and I was sneaking off for a quick pedicure with one of my friends (and a wife of one of his friends from the brew tour!) The other two photos he took, their view from the hammock, and of course  – a selfie of he and R.

I am grateful for the photos.  I can always tell her how much he adored her, but a picture speaks a thousand words.

The memories are hitting me hard right now.  I am marching steadily towards the anniversaries of those traumatic days, and I feel them coming like a freight train.  Each day I can remember with more precision what we were doing last year, because they were his last days with us.  How crazy to think we had no idea.  But again, how glad I am for his sake that we had no idea.

Pain

“On November 7th 2015, almost a year to Aaron’s deathaversary, I woke up so stiff and sore I couldn’t even move my head and glancing through my diary from that day one year earlier I saw that I had found Aaron alone on the floor of the bathroom after coming home from the gym………. it was a year later and my body remembered this… It remembered all of the horror to follow and it was bracing me to lose Aaron again.” – Nora McInerny

The above quote is from my absolute favorite widow, Nora McInerny.  That’s saying something because its an elite club… Katie Couric, who is a “sister” of mine through Tri Delta, and Sheryl Sandberg who I adore… add to the list so many widows I’ve now met in real life through the support group I did, and the Hot Young Widows Club.  Nora said this in the Podcast Terrible Thanks for asking – the Chapter 2 episode, which is likely also my favorite episode.

I have definitely read that loss and grief can manifest into real, true physical pain.  I think if I’d read that a year ago, I’d have believed it… but with some skepticism.  Like… is that really a thing?

It manifests itself differently in everyone.  In all sorts of different ways.  For me, it was this incredible upper back, neck, back of my head excruciating pain.  Pain so bad that only consistent heat and ibuprofen could make me functional.  This started slowly, almost without me realizing it right after Tim died.   And took a long time to go away.

This week, that pain is back with a vengeance.  I suspect it started due to my dad being admitted to the ICU on Sunday.  Even just that word – ICU… all the memories it brings back.  I can’t seem to quite get the pain in check yet.  And I realize I probably just have to manage it the best I can through the coming weeks/months.

I write this not for an answer, a fix, or even for any sympathy.  But simply as someone who might have previously been a skeptic to put down in writing: I am here to tell you its real.  It’s definitely a thing. The physical pain that can be manifested in the aftermath of trauma is absolutely a thing.  My body is remembering this time last year… the horror to follow, and is bracing me to lose Tim again.

 

Milestones

April, May, June.  They feel big.  Full of big milestones.  Full of firsts.  Full of anniversaries of lasts.   And then I start year two.  Year two which everyone says is worse than year one.  Which I get.  I get it – people expect you to be ok now.  You’ve already experienced the first one of those without him, so… you’re ok now, right?  Or, you’ve moved on.  Even when you see us moving forward, my friends, we do not “move on” from this kind of loss.  I will carry this loss with me… I will carry Tim with me.  Always.

April came crashing in with Easter.  Easter was April 1st this year.  I planned big Easter bunny plans.  No family was going to be in town, so I made other plans and had a big, busy, exhausting weekend.  Which was wonderful.  And then I had a moment when I took out the trash and I saw cardinals in the trees and I burst into tears.  These are just moments I have.  And Easter night was… interesting.  A story for a later post.  But April came in with a bang.

April 4th would have been Tim’s 38th birthday.  I took the day off.  I knew I’d need it.  I made an appointment at a friend of A’s mother’s tattoo shop.  I’d been considering this tattoo a while and knew I wanted it, and felt his birthday was the right day for it.  The day he should have turned 38.  But he did not.  Because he will forever be 37 years old.  I also bought orange star balloons and a Happy Birthday balloon at the dollar store.  And I made a cake.  With orange frosting.  I planned to make red velvet but both girls asked me not to.  I drove out to Veramar to pick up my wine and sit on the bench I bought him there.  I put candles on the cake and sang with the kids, and we wrote on the balloons, and went outside and let them go.  During the cake, R said, “I wish Daddy could come back.” I do too, my love. I do too.  As the balloons drifted out of sight A shouted “I love you, daddy!!”  Handling their grief and my own is often overwhelming.

The tattoo I got is his signature from my last Valentine’s Day card in 2017.

MVIMG_20180404_124446.jpg

A friend asked me on April 5th if I’d get any more tattoos.  He didn’t know this was my second.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably.  When I got the first, I thought it could be my only.  Maybe.  But I’d be open.  Tim wanted to get one involving the kids.  But he never formulated exactly what he wanted.  This one came to me easily.  I asked one colleague what he thought about its relative visibility regarding professionalism, really just out of curiosity.   Nothing was going to change my mind.  He told me his wife advised against it for professional reasons.  I get it.  I would have done the same, a year ago.  But it was too obvious to me that this was something I had to do.  I didn’t want it on my wrist where it was very easily visible… but this seemed the right place.

All the decisions I’ve made lately are challenging.  But I do my best to always do what seems like the right place… or what simply feels right.  I’ve gone with my gut most lately.

On Thursday night, we celebrated our dog’s birthday.  His adoption day really.  10 years since when Tim and I took him home. Tim loved that dog so much.  He was really our first baby.  When I started traveling for work a lot in 2008-09, Tim started letting him sleep in our bed and getting on the couch!  In 2015, my in-laws took him for the summer while we prepped and sold our condo, bought and moved into our current home… Tim told me he thought maybe we should leave him in New York… because it would be so hard on all of us when he dies!  He was literally afraid of the grief we would all experience when our dog inevitably dies.  I can’t believe our dog outlived him.  That fact was not lost on me as we celebrated the dog’s “birthday” on Thursday.  I felt the loss.

This past weekend, I took off Friday.  I took my son to get ear tubes.  I was constantly reminded that Tim would have been there for that.  Forms and people asked me where Tim was… who else was coming…  there was a little boy (older than D) who got out of surgery just after he did who had something done on his eyes who was really hysterical.  His dad was called back and I swear they asked him a half-dozen times about Mom.  I was close to saying “He said she’s not here!!!”  English wasn’t this family’s first language, and I know there could have been a million reasons this poor child’s mother was not there, but my heart went out to this boy and his father in such a big way.  D was a trooper, and yet, doing this without Tim felt big.  I felt the loss.  I then went to R’s classroom to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Something we had done together last year.  I then took R to Kindergarten Orientation… which I attended 2 years ago with Tim, on a day where I had an ultrasound (that he also went to with me) in the morning.  I felt the loss… that he wasn’t there… for R and for me.  I also had a 5th birthday extravaganza at my house on Saturday… and bought her a big gift, that nearly wasn’t ready on time… and  pretty much emotionally shut down at that point.  It all just became too much and my brain shut down.  My sister and my sister-in-law and my two college friends who flew in for the event took over, and simply did.  And everything got done.  And I think R had fun.  All the kids had fun.  That night, my father-in-law took A to the father-daughter dance with her girl scout troop.  It was lovely.  Beautiful.  And yet what Tim wouldn’t have given to go to that with his girl?  And I felt the loss.

I guess the point is that it’s impossible not to feel the loss in the big milestones.  Sometimes its crippling.  Sometimes less so.  But its unavoidable.  All I can do is let myself feel it.  Feel the loss.  And try to feel less of the guilt.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them” – Leo Tolstoy

Terrible, thanks for asking – Perfectly

I’ve mentioned before in my What Grief looks like post how much I love the podcast American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny, Yesterday, they put out a new episode and it hit home to me in such a profound way.

While I was at the hospital, the infectious disease physician was one I often really liked to see.  She seemed to understand what I was thinking sometimes, even when I couldn’t say it.  I asked a LOT of questions.  She felt my guilt over whether I should have gotten him in earlier.  She told me that she was a physician, her husband was a physician, and she doesn’t think she would have brought him as early as I did.  That was immeasurably comforting and yet… a part of you has to wonder if that’s true.  That same physician described to me what happened to Tim as a “perfect storm” of negative occurrences with a disastrous outcome.

And here was a story about a woman who’s life fell apart suddenly very similarly to mine… a woman who’s husband had a very similar set of circumstances also come together “perfectly” and lead to his death.  His death, essentially from sepsis, on the table in her ER.,, because she was an ER doctor! I can’t imagine it happening at your work.  And yet, on the whole, I can imagine,  I lived it. And her guilt over whether she brought him in sooner… but she and I could have easily traded places for any of it,  She even talked about being jealous of a family who got the chance to prepare for the end.

And I certainly get that.

The emotions in all of this are so complex.  Some days, I think I’n doing great.  And then a song, or a memory, or an issue with a kiddo – or a podcast – will bring the pain and the loss to the surface.  And all I can do is sit in it for a while.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” Albus Dumbledore through J.K. Rowling

The half year mark

I knew it was coming.  Coming at me like a freight train.  And yet I had promised him.  Bedside, when I accepted that it was happening… that it would happen within the hour, certainly it would happen that day.  His last breaths.  That June 11th would be the date… I told him, “I promise you I won’t make a big deal about the date.  You don’t understand why people do that… you don’t understand my thing with dates.  I won’t make a big deal about this date.”

But deep down, I know, he would not have held me to that promise.  He would have told me to do whatever I need to do.  To take care of the kids first.  Then, to take care of myself, since he couldn’t be here to do it.  Sometimes, it’s so hard to me that we never had the chance to talk about these things.  I never got to ask him what he would want me to do about <insert anything at all> after he was gone.  But I search my heart, and I know what he would say.

Last weekend I took the kids to Longwood Gardens for their Christmas lights display.  I had gone to Longwood growing up in the summer, but he had visited PA a few times at Christmas and gone then and it always stuck with him.  He absolutely loved it.  We went together for the first time in 2007, and then every year since except when we bailed last minute last year due to D having a really bad cold.  I took the kids this year, and it snowed.  That brought logistical challenges, but my family showed up for me, and we went, both my sister and then my brother driving for me in the poor visibility.  But, wow, how beautiful it was in the snow.  How much he would have loved that.  On the way out, with D on my back and the girls with their aunt and uncle, I walked through the beautiful scenery and I just cried.   The tears just streamed down my face.

On Sunday, we had a lovely Christmas brunch with my family.  The kids got too many gifts, had fun and got to make a snowman with their cousin’s, and we returned to VA with my sister-in-law’s help.

I had honestly briefly considered taking off December 11th in advance.  Taking a mental health day.  I’ve already acknowledged to myself how impossible this month is going to be.  This holiday that he loved so much, so much more than me.  That if I could, I would escape… but of course, that is not an option.  This month that includes my first birthday without him.  And then, add to that the half hear mark.  A half a year that I’ve been breathing, and he has not.  But of course, I am me.  And I said no, I will go to work as usual.  I have a couple meetings that day.  I have so little vacation time after this summer…

Every Thursday, I drive the girls to play therapy.  And every week we drive by the ER I took Tim to last May.  Some weeks, A points it out.  Then, inevitably, R gets sad/mad that she didn’t get to go there with Daddy, to take Daddy there like A.  That A got to see Daddy there, and R did not.  And I realize, some day I will have to go there again.  Last May may have been the only time I took Tim, but he and I had taken R.  And I had taken myself when I got very sick and dehydrated and my OB told me to when I was pregnant with D.

Then at 3 am on December 11th, I find myself rushing to that ER with R.  It was the exact scenario I had envisioned as worst-case when I was planning for childcare assistance after Tim died.  And almost exactly 6 months to when I rushed back to the hospital to be with him when he took his last breaths, I was rushing back to the ER, I had first taken him to with our middle child.  I was up all night.  There in the ER I realized, there was no way I could go to work that day.

But I survived.  I didn’t turn into a blubbering mess and tell anyone  at the ER that I had walked my husband in there and he never came home.  I knew what I had to do for R, and I did it.

This week, I’ve had to make big decisions.  Medical, financial, professional and personal.  I hate every one I have to make without discussing with Tim.  And yet I am doing it.  And yet, I can hear him.   I can find him in my heart.  I’ll take it.

The half year mark did, in fact, hit me like a freight train.  All I can say is:  I’m still breathing.

“The ones that love us never really leave us.  We can always find them… in here. <3” – Sirius Black (J.K. Rowling)