My standard solution to our big arguments was, go ahead and leave, I’ll do just fine on my own. I was pretty positive I could live by myself in a nice little condo close to work. I had a well-paying job, knew how to cook, and paid all the bills; I could take care of myself. I’ve never been, nor am I now, a very social person but I have lots of hobbies that require just me. Yup, I would do just fine on my own. For almost four years those words were the reason he died. It was my fault; I got exactly what I asked for. Remembering the day he died and blaming myself drove my deepest agonies. I could not bring myself to tell anyone because I thought I was being punished and I deserved it. I’m a very rational person but even that failed me; there was never any thought that this was absolutely ridiculous, that it was no one’s fault. When I finally told my daughter, it felt like I tore my heart in two, which is just the opposite of how healing this confession was. Blame is pointless; it doesn’t fix anything.
I rarely ask for help. Instead I expect others to notice I need help and give it, therefore, I try to notice and offer help. It’s not that I don’t need or want help because I think I’m so self-sufficient I can do it all. I just can’t seem to make myself say, I need help. It’s no wonder I’m often angry and resentful toward the people I think should be offering without being asked. I realized recently that just as there are people like me who don’t ask, but rather expect, there are people who ask and don’t expect, so they don’t notice and offer help. Put these two people together and it’s a disaster; no one is asking, no one is offering, and the only person frustrated is the one not asking. Expecting anything of another person is futile because this is basically requiring a certain behavior without communicating what behavior is desired. Since not asking and not offering are two different paths that will never meet, I’m working on how to ask. In the meantime I’ve determined not to be resentful towards those who don’t help me without being asked, because I can only change me.
It’s my belief that everyone needs at least one friend they can say anything to, who can comment or not without passing judgement. They don’t have to understand or agree; they just need to listen. I’ve experienced tough assignments at work that I couldn’t quite figure out until I talked through them. If talking worked for these situations why wouldn’t it work for personal thoughts that churn around and around in my head? I might be trying to figure something out, express frustrations, or rid myself of guilt, and these detrimental thoughts keep repeating over and over in my mind. I’ve tried to stop this kind of thinking, but it’s a tough battle. It’s doesn’t work to talk to an empty room either; talking is required, but to someone is the key. I found if I express these thoughts, whether in person, on the phone, or through an e-mail, it frees them from my mind and they don’t come back. I don’t want to make it sound like expressing myself is easy. For one very difficult thought, regarding my husband’s death, I waited years. We clean kitchen cupboards, closets, and basements, why not our minds.
I’ve been asked the question “How are you?” many times. My answer is often the word good, which is the expected answer. What if the reply was something other than good, like it’s not been a good day or I’m tired? First, would something other than the standard answer be heard, and if it was, would it be overlooked because it’s now an uncomfortable situation? The answer good, might not be the truth, but it doesn’t require a reply, which is why it’s used so often. Instead of always saying good, indicating how courageous I am, how about giving a simple but honest reply and maybe receive a moment of kindness in return like a touch on the arm, kind eyes, or being told it’ll be better tomorrow. I don’t think it’s necessary to give a lengthy explanation why I’m not good or for the response to fix everything that’s wrong. For me, receiving the smallest amount of kindness means someone has recognized I’m hurting and they care, even if they can’t understand or fix it. Of course they can’t give me any kindness if I hide behind the word good. It’s OK not to be brave.
I went back to work a little more than two weeks later, after my son went home; working three half days and then full time. Keep-busy mode, auto-pilot, survival-mode, whatever you want to call it, provided the only way I was going to survive living on my own. Doesn’t it postpone dealing with the grief and anger? Thankfully, yes. Thinking back on the first few days when sadness and reality was pouring in, I realize now, were that process to continue unchecked, I wouldn’t have been able to function at all. Getting back to the same routine and letting my mind do what it knows how to do was the only way I made it through each day. Making my brain focus on routine and work let sadness and reality leak in over time. The arrival of big leaks was very hard to predict at first, so leaking isn’t a smooth or consistent process and it’s taking years, but leaking in is how it needs to get done. How many years before the leaks stop? I don’t know; as many as I need. Maybe they’ll never stop and as I write this I’m thinking that’s OK; it has to be.
The need to tell people was overwhelming. We called parents and family. I think telling my children was harder than learning he was dead. Someone from the hospital had to tell me I needed to make arrangements with a funeral home and I had no clue which one. We were met by the school principal as we were leaving. She was the one who found him, in the snow, when he didn’t show up for class or answer his phone; his truck was in the parking lot and the sap truck missing. The ride home; tears and feeling utterly alone. Two of my close friends were at the house shortly after we arrived; tears and hugs. I stared numbly, for long periods of time before keep-busy mode kicked in for the first time. People came; some I remember, others must have been there, but I can’t quite recall. Renewed grief upon each arrival. Someone picked up my son in Boston but I don’t remember his, or my daughter’s, arrival at the house. There are a few events I don’t remember at all. For me, extreme grief blocked most of the saddest memories, leaving me just enough room to breathe.
I wrote this poem titled No More on January 7, 2012: You’ll never walk this earth again or stand upon a mountain top to gaze at your beloved Adirondacks. There’ll be no more paddles in your hand or fishing rods to cast for six pound bass or rainbow trout. You’ll never create another lamp or carve another burl to rest upon an antler found in the snow. You snowshoes will be silent. Your rifles will ring out no more. But you’ll walk with me in my heart. Your life will stand in my memory. I will live in your beloved Adirondacks. I will pass on your paddles and love for fishing. I will finish the lamp and burls. Your creations that surround me shout “I was here”. The ring I wear around my neck, a reminder that I’ll love you forever. ~ It’s been five years today and these words still bring a great sadness and tears as I read them. He was a good husband, an amazing father, a talented rustic woodworker, guitarist and singer, a skilled hunter and fisherman, a gifted teacher and mentor, and my best friend. His chocolate cream pies were incredible!