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Saturday, April 05, 2014

It's been six months already
Posted by Jill | 11:48 AM

Time goes much faster when you get older. Both winters and summers seem shorter (this past winter notwithstanding). Every time you turn around, you're having another birthday. At 12:10 PM today it will be exactly six months since Mr. Brilliant took his last breath.

It's going to be 60 degrees out today here in New Jersey, and while there have been blizzards in April before, it does look like this horrible winter of 2013-2014 is finally over. The crocuses have been eaten by the bunnies (who are as big as Buicks this year) and the hyacinths are starting to come up. It's mostly sunny, breezy, and while there's still a touch of winter in the air, it's clear that spring has finally arrived.

Mr. B. used to love this first week of April. For all that his pagan soul should have celebrated the Vernal Equinox as the first day of spring, the eternal baseball fan in him knew that Opening Day was really when spring began. He never really got over his winter funk until the beginning of May, but at least with the arrival of baseball, balmy days were definitely within reach. This week is doubly poignant because Game of Thrones' fourth season starts tomorrow night and there's a marathon of the first three seasons on HBO2 this weekend. If he were here, he'd be sitting and watching all day, with the windows thrown open, enjoying both the dark universe of Westeros and the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is winter in New Jersey.

Other things are different too. The little cat sitting on the windowsill is now named Sammy, and he's grey instead of white, Maggie having left to join her dad on January 28. Eli, the soulful bi-color cat who joined us after Jenny died last summer and is now a tenuous link to that life that is no longer mine, is in the Jenny-spot on the sofa. He's adjusted just fine, especially after I got him a new friend whom he can groom and cuddle.

At first I was sure I would be all right. I had family visiting for the first two weeks. I started jettisoning junk almost immediately. Mr. B. had wanted his guitar and bass to go to Mike the Vet Tech in appreciation for how much he loved Maggie, never knowing just how much Mike would help in Maggie's final weeks. He had left instructions for some of his spiritual stuff to be sent to his longtime friend in St. Louis. I worked in the man-cave for about three weeks, holding everything from CDs and books to outright trash in my hands, waiting for them to either speak to me (keep) or not (toss). I took bags of trash to the dump. I had a garage sale. I donated clothes. Friends kept me so busy with dinners out that I was rarely at home. I went back to work after a week. I joined a social group for widows and widowers, whereupon I was told at the first meeting that I was still numb, that it hadn't hit me yet. I scoffed at that. I was strong and I would not be like my mother, playing the newly bereaved widow for the next decade.

And then Maggie died and the grief hit. Hard. Because when the vet took Maggie's still, lifeless little body out the door, the last real tie to that old life was gone. Ever since then I've felt like a fraud. Oh, I go through the motions. I go to work, where everyone thinks I am doing great. Some of them, who had let me rant when Mr. B. would lash out at me, or forget to do things he needed to do, or was just irritating, no doubt thought I was doing too well, that I had to be HAPPY that he was gone. I lied at work about how he died, telling most people it was cardiac arrest while in the ICU, because I didn't want a repeat of the scene last March when one colleague, upon hearing about his bladder cancer diagnosis and knowing that the last five years or so had been difficult, said "Well this must make you happy." No one who hasn't been in a marriage for over a quarter of a century really gets that you can sit in the car screaming with frustration, you can sit and crunch numbers to see how badly you'd get clobbered financially if you left, you can wonder how on earth you can be with this person one more day, let alone the rest of your life, and still love that person with a ferocity that you don't even know you have until there's a threat to him and you go into Tiger Wife mode.

Because what no one who listened to me bitch about how I could never rely on him holding down a job, or helping out around the house, or remembering to do things I needed him to do -- all annoyances that may very well have, unbeknownst to either of us at the time, been due to what was happening inside his brain -- understands is that I would have taken him anywhere in the world, seen any doctor, spent every penny left to me by my mother, to make him well -- even if that meant more futile job searches and coping by playing Windows Solitaire for hours on end. Because when you have that kind of a bond, the thought of doing anything else is unthinkable.It's a bond that transcends how you may feel on any given day or week, or even those times when you feel like a caged bird, trapped in your own life. You forget that it's there during those times, but then catastrophe hits and you remember why you were there in the first place, what brought you to this place thirty years later and you know that your place is with that person, come what may.

There's a scene in the movie One True Thing, where Meryl Streep's character is telling Renee Zellweger's why she put up with her philandering husband. I've never forgotten this scene because even if you are not dealing with a philanderer and even if you don't have kids, this scene describes perfectly what it's about when you have been with someone a long time. Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of this part of the scene, so here's the text from the screenplay:

You make concessions when you're married a long time...that you don't believe you'll make when you're beginning. When you're young, you say, "Oh, I'll never tolerate...this or that or the other thing. But time goes by, darling. And when you've slept together a thousand nights...and you've smelled like spit-up from the babies when they're sick...and you've seen your body droop and get soft...and some nights you just think, "Oh, God, I'm not gonna put up with it another minute".

But you wake up in the next morning...and the kitchen smells like coffee...and the kids have their hair brushed all by themselves...and you look at your husband, and no...he's not the person you thought he was. But he's your life. And the kids and the house and everything that you do is built around him.

And that's your life. That's your history too. And if you take him out, that's like cutting his face out of all the pictures. It just makes a big hole and it ruins everything.

So you rant to your friends and you send e-mails and you crunch the numbers because it helps you get through those bad times. But you know in your heart that you are in it for the long haul. And when the long haul comes, you're amazed at how easy it is to rise to the occasion...and how much you WANT to.

Between the numbness' end and the arrival of the Grief Monster is the "woulda shoulda coulda" phase. This is where you re-live those last few weeks over and over and over again. I should have called his neurosurgeon on our anniversary when his incision site looked bruised and his speech was slurring and his hands were shaking, and if he got angry with me for doing it, he'd have to suck it up and deal. I should have insisted that we send his scans to Dr. Gary Steinberg at Stanford, who is the ONE real go-to guy for moyamoya in the entire country, even though he wanted to stay with his team at Sloan-Kettering and Weill-Cornell. I should never have gone home to strip the bed in an effort to save the mattress and stayed with him until they got him into his room in the ICU at Valley Hospital. I should have remembered to take the Movado watch I bought him off his wrist so someone on staff there wouldn't have stolen it en route. I should have read up on what seizures following a stroke meant, so that when they kept saying they had to find the right dose of anti-seizure meds I would have known what status epilepticus was and screamed at them to intubate and sedate earlier. I should have called Dr. Chess Club as many times as I needed to feel reassured, because Mr. B. was deteriorating every hour and I knew by Sunday night that whatever they were doing at Death Valley Hospital wasn't working. I should have talked to him more after he was moved to Weill Cornell even though he didn't hear me.

For months I played that tape over and over and over in my head trying to find the point at which doing something different would have changed the outcome. Finally, I was able to put it together that the alternative scripts involved either a) weeks, months, or possibly years in a nursing home with a trache and PEG, neither fully alive nor dead; b) weeks or months in a nursing home with a trache and PEG followed by learning how to walk, speak, feed himself -- and not having had his chemoradiation for months; or c) painful death from bladder cancer, probably within five years under the BEST of circumstances. Once I got to that point, I was able to stop the second-guessing.

But as I've written before, it's as if the earth is off its axis. My world is wobbling and it takes every effort I have to keep it from tumbling out of control. It's spring in New Jersey. It's a time of change...of rebirth and renewal. Soon the Christians will celebrate a resurrection. The kids will eat Cadbury cream eggs and not think about the Easter symbols' pagan origins. The sweaters will be put away and the brightly-colored tops will come out. For me it's a time of change and renewal too. I just don't know yet what that change is going to look like. I met Mr. Brilliant towards the end of the first third of my life. We were together for the second third. And I'm still trying to find a balance between a sense of loss and one of anticipation for this last third.


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Blogger jurassicpork said...
I began noticing back in my 30s that the older one gets, the faster time speeds by. I could never understand why but then decades ago I saw a quote by Freud. I'm paraphrasing him here but he says, "Time goes by faster as we get older because the older one gets, the more there is that needs to be done." (In fact, I'd used that in Freud's letter to Arthur Conan-Doyle in TATTERDEMALION.) We accrete responsibilities as surely as we accumulate property and weight around our midsections.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. Sure, being a blob once in a while and reveling in one's own laziness and inertia is great for short periods of time. But it's wonderful to stay busy, to always keep irons in the fire, to always have another novel to work on, to have people depending on you to do one thing or another.

Because when the day comes when no one can depend on you to do the smallest, simplest thing, even if it's not shitting or pissing your pants, then you're completely finished and you go to that one way trip to the nursing home.

So that's why it's always important to stay busy. Time really doesn't go by faster and we do not accelerate towards our deaths. It only seems that way. There's still 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes to an hour.

So enjoy your vitality and your responsibilities because the day will come for all of us when no one will depend on us for anything. And that, as far as I'm concerned, is true death.

Anonymous Syrbal/Labrys said...
So well and honestly said. I am never glad about loss, even tho' there have been some that left me with a guilty sense of relief. A pox on anyone suggesting such "gladness".

Blogger The New York Crank said...
I just read this post today. I have shared some experiences similar to yours – from being haunted (and unwilling to let go of) some physical reminders of the life I had with her, to the replaying of events in my head, preceded by a number of "if only I had..." thoughts.

In my case, almost three and a half years have gone by since I lost her. I don't know if this brings you any comfort, but I can tell you that it recedes in time, very slowly, and in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back manner. But it becomes bearable.

Yes, occasionally I still talk to the tiny urn that contains perhaps a teaspoonful of her ashes that her kids gave me at my request. Yes, I still feel guilty now that I've begun dating, as if somehow I'm cheating on her. Yes, I still sometimes have a sense of rage over what was done, or not done, in the neuro-ICU. And most of all yes, I miss her and the life we had together. But generally all this happens less intensely, and with a bit less frequency, than before.

The hardest part is letting go. People we love often leave behind powerful ghosts that relentlessly cling to us.

But what other choice to we have except to let go?