Happy Birthday my love. Every day you are missed, but days like today are even more of a reminder of the love that we shared and is yearned for again. But I know you are probably having one heck of a party today!
The following is a post that I wrote at the beginning of February. It’s just some of many thoughts I left unpublished, words I couldn’t even bring myself to say aloud.
Every day for the last ten weeks I’ve thought about what I was going to say to all of you. Every day, wondering how to put into words how I feel about experiencing such a tremendous loss. And I’ve been scared. Scared of opening myself up to show just how deep the pit of grief has been, afraid that if you knew how lost I’ve felt then you’d know how weak I am. You’d think- But she’s a Christian, she should just trust that God has a plan and it will all work out for good. Or- I thought she’d been dealing with it for so long that she had come to terms with this outcome. I worried about these things, because they are things that I had said myself. How could I go back on them?
Why don’t we let ourselves be vulnerable?
Truth is, I have never felt so many emotions on such diverse levels in my life. Feelings can change in the blink of an eye- one moment I’m fine, the next there are tears. Which, to be honest, feels better than no tears. For the three weeks or so after Steve’s death, I barely shed a drop. I actually think it helped me to deal with all of the arrangements and planning for the burial and memorial, but afterwards I started wondering what the heck is wrong with me? I was basically empty inside. Some would say numb, but truly, I was EMPTY. I felt nothing pretty much all of the time, aside from the guilt I had for feeling the emptiness in the first place- I mean, I have a daughter who really is true joy, I should in the very least be able to feel happiness with her, right? And as a Christian, shouldn’t I be taking comfort that Stephen’s suffering had ended and he was in a better place? Well, of that I am happy- I did feel relief that his earthly body was freed from the pain and discomfort he felt. But now my arms are empty of his embrace. And although I know that God will eventually bring peace to my spirit & soul, it’s impossible not to yearn for Stephen’s physical touch and it’s hard to come to terms that I will never experience that again. Really, my thoughts, words and feelings have pretty much been all over the place- I’ve gone in circles, changed my mind, and talked myself both in and out of so many moments of rest. It just shows how easy it is to let Satan steal away contentment, letting doubts and fears creep in and take over. I admit that although our faith carried us over the sixteen months of Steve’s illness, there is a disconnect right now. Yes I believe that I am still loved by God and I’m not angry at Him for letting this happen, but I have never felt such detachment from everything in life. It’s amazing how lonely one can feel, even when completely surrounded by many who love them.
I have never had to deal with death on such a personal level before, so I don’t know HOW to heal. Don’t get me wrong, people I have loved have died. But when it’s someone who makes up a part of your heart, it leaves a gaping hole that seems beyond repair. Whenever I think I’m doing okay, someone says something like, “You’re doing so well!” and I think to myself, “Are you freaking kidding me??? My life partner, the father of my child, is gone forever. Do you really think I’m okay with that?!” The rational part of my brain recognizes that they are trying to be positive and encouraging, but the irrational side of me wants to scream at them for being so negligent to the situation. It makes me feel that I’m obviously not grieving the “right” way, and then I’m realizing that I’m probably being over sensitive, or quite possibly not sensitive enough to how others are going through the grieving process. See? All over the place! It’s honestly so tiring.
I have no idea what it’s like to lose a child, a sibling, or a parent. These losses bring with them a grief unique to each relationship I’m sure. In most cases, members of a family are our past and our present. We share the memories of what was, and we live in what is with these people. You might say that our children are also our future, but really only immediately. Of course the bonds always remain, but at a certain point the time comes to let go as children become adults, and what will be is up to them. Ideally for most relationships, this means that again life is back to you and the one you love, your spouse. That is the one relationship that is always in your future. For most who loved Steve, they lost what was- they feel a fondness and love for who he was growing up, they hold funny memories and silly stories of Steve-isms close to their hearts, they treasure the man he became and how the relationship matured over the years. But what I lost was this plus the what will be. I don’t get to experience tomorrows with him- expanding our family as planned, watching all of the special milestones and events of our own children, enjoying life as a couple once more as the kids grow up and leave the nest. As a spouse, you deserve the whole package- past, present and future. It’s hard to come to terms with not having the future you planned for. Even after months of preparation.
Every day I relive the moment of Steve’s death. Every. Day. It’s like I’m watching a movie of my life. I see myself talking to the palliative doctors in the hall, waiting for the x-ray technicians to finish his chest scan. I follow myself into his hospital room, only to see him standing- STANDING- at the foot of his bed (this man who barely had enough breath or energy to reach for a sip of water). I run to him and enfold him in my arms, trying to lay him back into bed while simultaneously attempting to reach for the call button, unsuccessfully. His final words to me were an apology, and then he was gone. As I screamed for someone to help and a crowd rushed in, I remember having to let him go and step away. I collapsed to my knees in the hallway in tears, my face buried in my hands, only seconds later to be swept up into some loving arms who had just happened to come by for a visit right at that time. It really is like it happened on a screen or in a book- it’s so strange that something can feel so real yet unreal all at once. I’m thankful that the moments before his final breath were quiet, and that I was there holding him. The day before was spent with him and both of our families, reading him all of the emails, Facebook messages and texts that people had sent him. It was a really good time, being reminded of all of the amazing memories from over the years and getting a glimpse into how those felt about Steve as a friend and colleague. Even though he was on a very high dose of morphine, I know that he was trying his best to listen, there were definitely times that he responded to something that was read with a nod or laugh. So please know that these words brought all of us comfort that day, including Stephen. I know that I for one will remember it always.
Re-reading these words, I know that I sound pretty negative. I hope that I haven’t hurt, angered, or offended anyone- these are just my feelings, whether they be right or wrong. I needed authenticity, I’m hoping it will help to move the healing process forward. To be able to wake up each morning and look forward to what the day will hold. To not go through the hours on autopilot, basically just doing what I must to care for Roxie and make sure that at least she is happy (there are a lot of days that I feel that I fall short on that). To go to sleep at night feeling good at what was accomplished, instead of focusing on the fact that the other side of the bed is empty and cold. To recognize the joy that Roxie brings to my heart, and be happy with what the new “will be” is instead of resenting that I now don’t get what could have been. It will take time, but know that I haven’t lost faith that God will make a way.
And now here we are, just after the seven month mark. Reading these words again brings into the forefront the pain that I can tell you has so far never left. Not even lessened. It sits just below the surface every minute of my life, along with a wealth of emotion…waiting. On a constant simmer and ready to boil over at any given second. I wish I understood grief. You can talk to all kinds of people and read all sorts of books, but you really have no idea what it’s like until you’re in it. And even then, it’s impossible to figure out. You have to just trust that once you have waded through the worst of it, you will be able to look back and recognize how it was working in your life and where it has brought you now.
I can tell you what I’ve learned so far. I’ve learned that grief is like the ocean. Some days the waves are huge. Crashing against you uncontrollably and leaving you sputtering, trying desperately to catch your breath and a moments reprieve from its force. Other days the waves are small, washing over you more gently but still capable of pulling you down if you aren’t feeling strong enough to keep your feet planted. Eventually the waves calm completely and the surface is still, but underneath it never stops moving. It’s constantly changing. But I’ve realized this isn’t a bad thing. Even the tidal waves that take your legs right out from under you are capable of bringing you back to shore eventually. It really is part of the process, and as painful as it is, it’s necessary in order to come out on the other side.
I’ve learned that no matter how good of intentions people have to include you and try keep things “normal,” every relationship is affected in some way because you are and never will be the same person you were before. At times this means you withdraw from the world more, and other times you force yourself out of your shell to compensate for the space normally filled by the entertaining ramblings of your loved one who always talked more so you didn’t have to. Pretty much all of our friends are married or in a serious relationship, and it’s very strange being the lone wolf of the group. I’m finding myself having anxieties over things as silly as the fact that the teams will be odd for the post-dinner game night. There are truly so many random moments in life that we take being a couple for granted, and these are the times that the isolation can be felt most intensely. Again I’d like to state that I recognize that I know you have the best of intentions and probably never even entertain these notions when you invite me to do things, but that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how much I love you, being with you is the hardest thing I can be doing.
I wish that I could say that I have fully processed these last months, that I’ve learned so much about myself and I am better because of it. But in the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that I am still smack dab in the middle of it all and spend many moments feeling like I’m in a pit and can’t see the top. I think that a lot of people look at me and am proud of how far they believe I have come and the decisions that I have made. And I don’t blame anyone for seeing me that way, I have put a lot of energy into trying to keep it together for everyone else. I am fully aware that I have many folks in my life who truly care about how I am REALLY doing. But this path is a lonely one, no matter how many lights are shining along the way. Almost every letter, Facebook message, text, and even phone call over the last seven months has gone unanswered. For this I ask for forgiveness, it’s not because I don’t care about you or the fact that you took the time to make contact. It really is due to the fact that I feel like I have nothing to give. I really do hope that eventually, in the not so distant future I will be able to make those connections again. So please, bear with me.
Grief is negative. It is pain. It is loneliness, anger, confusion, tears and regrets. But it is necessary for healing, so I accept it. My worrisome nature brings apprehension about sharing these feelings with you, but it’s my reality at this time and my hope is that maybe sharing this may even help someone else who is dealing with their own loss. Because what has become so apparent is the fact that I am not alone in these thoughts and feelings. It is normal to feel a myriad of emotion, to have contradicting feelings raging a war within your heart and mind. And I truly believe that eventually this will get easier. The sun will shine brighter again and each day will begin and end with a breath of contentment.
I’m still grateful. I’m still blessed.