There comes a time in all our lives where the tables are turned and we become the caregiver for our parents.
My mom pointed this out to me a few days ago as I fed her in the hospital. She’s listless while suffering from illness, and it’s just easier for me to help her out.
Tonight, not surprisingly, while spooning in ice cream and watermelon, I couldn’t help but think of The Clockwork Orange as she opened her mouth for food.
I’ve been back in my childhood home for more than two weeks now, an unexpected turn of events. But I have the flexibility my sister doesn’t. I don’t have children; I have friends helping me out back home. I have a job that is mostly on the interwebz so whether I’m working with a mask on in room 1413 or in my office matters little.
My mom’s 86. I know I won’t have her forever. But I fight to stave off death and grief just one more year. One more year, I tell myself. Give me that. Next year, I’ll say the same.
The truth is I know I can’t hold it back. The last five years have been a cycle of grief: from my dad to Bailey, the dog to Chance the cat, to Adam. All of those in the span of two years, and then it’s just recovery. I wonder, once this hits you, are you always in recovery? Is it the best you can do to hold off grief as long as you can so you only have to be in recovery for a few years, not half your life?
This house, tucked away on a beautiful cul-de-sac, is a reminder of all I’ve lost… pictures of dad, well, fuck his URN is here! Plus, of course ,mom has many pics of my wedding up. They loved Adam, too. Everyone did.
I don’t look too hard behind the dark corners of this home. I don’t want to find many memories (well, or spiders). But I don’t have to go far because they scream at me.
I turn back to writing when my grief is strong, when I can’t stand to go another minute without putting something down. I guess it is now. Grief is a bitch. Recovery is a never-ending battle. You push back against life and say “just stop, please. Leave me alone.”
So I wrote this emotional Facebook post on the death-versary of the loss of my dad. I was determined. I was stalwart. I was going to LIVE. Yessirree Bob, I sure was. But that evil piece of shit Mr. Grief was right there, just like Patton Oswalt said. Just when you think you see a spot of light, that greedy bastard attacks.
I tried to watch a movie. It was bad. I went to bed and started thinking about pain and death. I did some Googling on “why do people try and keep others from killing themselves?” Mostly, I just found selfish reasons. It seems you keep others from killing themselves so YOU don’t have to feel pain and guilt. It doesn’t matter that “I” have to keep feeling that way as long as YOU don’t have to feel that way.
I texted Brenna and asked her the question. I think she responded something like… “um, Okaaaaaay, first I have to ask, are you thinking of committing suicide?”
Me: “Not tonight. I don’t want to let Mike down.”
Brenna: “Am I going to have to ask Mike to host a tournament every weekend from now on?”
That was funny (Mike is Brenna’s husband, the hockey coach at school. I volunteer for his games because he has my great respect. Can’t let him down by doing something like killing myself.).
Anyway. That’s how grief goes. You want me to live even though 75% of the time I’m in unbearable pain. Even when you think I look happy, I’m probably not. Doesn’t that seem unfair to me, to have this pressure to live along with the grief?
But I had a long dream about Adam anyway last night, which doesn’t happen very much. I had to wait through two games before writing it down.
Adam returned in this dream. He had been in the morgue for a few days and suddenly woke up; he was still sick but his organs were all working. I couldn’t believe it, because I had his ashes on my fireplace. I went to the morgue and it turned out there was a mix-up. They had this other lady to cremate and send her ashes to Mexico, and they put those in my urn thinking it was done. Adam wasn’t cremated and thus he had time to recover.
We were back at Anschutz Hospital in Denver. Adam wasn’t feeling well because they had embalmed him and all, so his stomach hurt a little, and he was hungry as usual. We were in the ER waiting room, and I had his backpack. He pulled a giant iguana out of it. I said, “why didn’t you tell me you had an iguana in your backpack? He could have starved in there.”
Adam had come back from the dead and survived a major bleed. The doctors asked him “What can’t you do?” He was still confused because he had embalming fluid in his ears, and all he could say was “not drink tequila.” The doctors told me they weren’t convinced.
But then I was given the opportunity to make my case as to why Adam should be on the transplant list. The opportunity I wasn’t allowed officially before, because after all, I’m just the wife, what would I know or understand? I spoke passionately for five minutes. The doctors were impressed. They believed me when I said Adam was on the right path. They were amazed he had such a will to live to survive in the morgue; that his heart just kept beating.
He was on the road to the transplant. And then I held him before he was wheeled away. I asked “Is it OK, Adam, for me to go on? Now that you have already died once I think we should talk about this.”
He laughed at me and mumbled like he did in real life “We’re going to be OK, honey. But of course.”
He was wheeled away. My alarm went off.
I suppose it’s obvious with what I am wrestling with. What do I do now in life?
I had a lot of thoughts about blog posts for tonight. This has been a long week as I try to rebuild my life and
Nothing in my life has changed except there is one less person to help me. I am far from being the only person managing life on her own. There are millions of singletons, whether they have chosen to be single, are divorced or widowed, or whatever. Some of them have to manage their lives with kids.
I get it. I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m just trying to adjust to a “new normal.” That term really is meaningful, if cliche. I have to learn how to live alone and handle everything while also being in significant grief. I try to get things done and then am sidetracked by an ugly crying fit (oh, and there have been a few of those this week). Then I go work basketball or hockey to make an extra long day, and grief is so exhausting that just the normal day-to-day stuff is extra exhausting. I’m always tired and I still can’t go to bed early.
Tonight, though, I am just experiencing anger.
I am angry at Adam for leaving me.
I’m angry that the whole world can’t figure out how to deal with addiction and help people.
I’m angry that the world seems to have lost compassion in general.
I’m angry that I have to find paperwork to get anything done.
I’m angry that I need to sort through this paperwork and it would be helpful if I threw some away, but I can’t seem to throw them away. So the piles get bigger.
I’m angry I allowed him to do things that I knew nothing about. For instance, I’ve never bought a fucking cell phone. I don’t know anything about our plans. I don’t know how to use the FoodSaver.
I’m angry he didn’t write down all his 401K and stock information.
I’m angry I have had to search and search for paperwork for his business so I can access our money because he put OUR money in HIS business account.
I’m angry that it’s like no one has ever died because businesses are inept.
I’m angry he can’t help me take Bixby to the vet because Bixby is so protective of me there. It was better when Adam did it.
I’m angry he’s making me start over in life. He promised me he wouldn’t leave.
I’m angry I’ll never ever be the same person. I’ll never be 100% again. I can hope for 90%. That’s a shitty way to look at the next 40 years.
I’m angry that I keep saying “it’s not fair” like I’m a 5-year-old.
I’m angry I have to keep so much inside now.
I’m angry I have no passion for anything anymore.
I’m angry I have a cold and have to make my own chicken broth. And, I can’t really whine to anyone that I’m sick.
I’m just angry. Angry and sad.
But pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. So that’s something. I guess.
Well, I definitely get that whole thing about grief coming in waves now.
I thought I was on a good trajectory, but man did this week hit me hard. Many people asked what triggered it, but there isn’t a trigger; it just is. I had trouble getting out of bed again; I had breakdowns at work; I had to fight through crying through a basketball game I was working (and it wasn’t even a bad game!). I wanted friends to come to help me clean up; instead all I could manage was fried food and changing the bedsheets.
Maybe it’s because I’m having new realizations all the time. Among these revelations:
I realized while leaving work that my car was just about out of gas (one of the many things I don’t notice anymore). I thought about waiting to get home so I could go to King Sooper for the discount. Then, I realized I don’t shop anymore; I don’t have double points from Adam’s prescriptions. I can get gas anywhere I want for the same price. So, I went to Diamond Shamrock.
I never have to buy cabernet sauvignon if I don’t want to anymore.
All shows being recorded on the DVR are his. I just delete them, but I haven’t got the heart to cancel the series recordings (you know, in case he comes back and is pissed that I deleted every episode of every mediocre SyFy show).
I joined a closed Facebook group for the upcoming Star Wars Celebration. I wanted to see if it would help me make a decision on what to do with my four-day passes which have sold out (sell both? go alone and sell the other? find someone who loves Star Wars I could tolerate for four days?). All the group does is make me sad. Adam and I had the massive convention game down to a science. We bought a few items only and knew what was worth waiting in line for (and getting there when the doors open ain’t one of them).
I had to hire a dog walker in advance for those 12-hour days. I had relied on Adam.
I can now choose to watch horror movies 24/7, but I’ve sadly lost my taste for them now.
I think I can’t go to the grocery store anymore. I cry every single fucking time. This is no joke. Everything reminds me of Adam. King Sooper delivers, though, and it’s not like I need a lot. I could eat at school for every meal if I wanted to.
I think a lot about this Patton Oswalt quote: “Grief is an attack on life. It’s not a seducer. It’s an ambush or worse. It stands right out there and says: ‘The minute you try something, I’m waiting for you.’”
I went to a presentation today from a guy who focused on resilience. I’m sure it was great for the kids, still struggling with how to bounce back from poor grades, relationship breakups, not getting into their chosen college. I just wanted to laugh, and say to the guy “you asshole, until you lose a spouse, fuck your resilience advice. You have no fucking clue.”
The newscaster just finished his report on the death of Debbie Reynolds, calling it “mind-boggling” that she died just one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher.
Hey, doofus, don’t go off your teleprompter. Only someone who has never experienced massive grief would ever think this was mind-boggling.
For me, it was not surprising. I have spoken about this before. Ms. Reynolds’ son said that his mother was under a lot of stress since her daughter’s death, and she “just wanted to be with her.”
Been there, done that. Sometimes still am there. I am so sorry for Ms. Reynolds’ loss, so sorry for her son and her granddaughter who are still living and now must grieve doubly. Are she and her daughter together in the afterlife? That’s nothing we can know. Trust me, if I thought death would mean Adam and I would be reunited, you would not be reading this blog.
There is a real phenomenon called the Widowhood Effect. Others have written about it more eloquently. Here’s the gist: one definitive study says that a widow or widower has a 66 percent greater chance of dying than a person with a living spouse in the first three months after a spouse’s death. This study only looked at people over 50, but the researchers (in this article at least) suggested that percentage may be greater with younger widows (jury is still out because there is less of a sample size).
Of course, the researchers also couldn’t account for what causes this increase.
Obviously, those researchers have never lost a spouse. Based on my own experience, this death can happen from any of the following:
Car accidents because we simply aren’t paying attention like we used to
Tripping on cords, stairs and pebbles
Bleeding to death from chewing on your cuticles too much
Dehydration due to tears; malnourishment due to not eating; obesity due to too many chips and pop-tarts
Leaving appliances on and dying in a house fire
Serious illnesses because we haven’t taken care of ourselves; been to the doctor; or given a flying fuck about ourselves
Broken-heart syndrome (I suspect this might more likely happen to older spouses, but it’s real. Read the link).
Although Ms. Reynolds had a stroke, I do not doubt it was related to broken-heart syndrome.
You know what lessens the chance of bereaved people dying?
“You” meaning friends, family and any support system available. This is why you can’t stop thinking about me and helping me … I NEED IT. I am thinking about Adam and my sadness just about every minute of every day. But you guys can help me move forward. You guys can keep me from being a statistic.
You don’t have to believe in god to understand the winter holiday spirit. It’s one of love, memory, gratitude.
This is my gratitude post. I know I’ve done this a little already. I know you have made it clear that I don’t have to say thank you. But I want to. Because I don’t feel I have much else to give.
Because, the thing is, you all have saved my life. This is not an exaggeration. In fact, it’s not over yet … you are saving my life still. To use the most overused word— you are “literally” saving my life. I would not be here anymore without you. The pain is too great, but you help lighten it. I feel like somewhere along the line I did things right in my own life because there are so many of you who have cared.
Every text, call, email, hug, card, gift, bit of help is keeping me alive. Keeping me from giving up. If you have experienced what I have, you understand the truth here.
There’s another reason I’m writing this. To share what is needed in times like this. You want to know what helps a woman whose life has been irrevocably altered? It’s all the things below. The gestures you think are worthless are not. They are everything.
I know on Adam’s last night, he asked some friends to take care of me. You have done that, and he would be happy. I miss him so much.
These are in no particular order. There are people I am forgetting. I am sorry.
To Buckley, for helping me change an air filter and plugging in a new microwave. And for introducing me to carne asada fries at El Super Taco.
To Czopper, for taking the old microwave, helping me clean and buying a new Swiffer.
To Jeanne, for going above and beyond by taking over my job, for giving me a safe place to cry in our new shared office.
To the Coffee Club, for making me get out of the house six days after Adam died. For keeping their promises to always be there. For making me laugh. For never pressuring me to drink.
To Kathy Drevs, for organizing the help in the first weeks. To Tom and Christian and Sean for coming over to help on the deck and fix up other things.
To Lisa Johnson Belesky, who didn’t know her trip to Denver would coincide with the worst week of my life. Can you imagine having your best friend magically be there during this time? You were a calming presence. I love you so much.
To Webb, for always checking in.
To Paul and Michelle Harvath, for sending me multiple notes, and for the ring, which I am already wearing down because I touch it so much.
To Brenna Payne, for continuing to organize the folks, for always listening, to offering to keep your phone on so I could text you at 2 am if I felt suicidal. For never forgetting #mh370 (I had to).
To Christy Punches Resmondo, who simply said “Call me” when I reached out. You are the first person to give me hope that I can make it through this, and I have held on to your words every day since then. Cal Poly softball forever. We are always still there for each other.
To Andy Nelson, for stopping by and offering me hope from your own experiences.
To Shane, for quietly sitting with me while I stared at the TV.
To Andy Gipe, Laurie and Pete, for making sure I keep coming to Tuesday Movie Night. Laurie and Pete, you were just beginning to know Adam, and hardly knew me, but you have helped keep me afloat with your inclusion.
To Laurie again for making the quilt and getting me much needed coffee.
To Andy G. again for listening to some horrible things I’ve said and understanding them.
To Mike Carsten, for leaving a thermos of coffee outside my door and helping me find a place for Adam’s party. For bringing Bixby up.
To all of Adam’s friends I’ve never met but who have thought of him, shared a spot with him for Rogue One.
For Carrie Hansen, and fellow Central City choir members who sang in his honor.
To Cristen, someone I have never met, who reached out through FB to give me an ear and understanding.
To the Kimlickos, who just moved to sit with me during Winter Celebration when I broke down.
To Amy Windham, shit you have gotten me through a lot. Without you I’d have really high blood pressure and be so depressed, and I would never have made it to Texas for Thanksgiving. Plus, you are you.
To Kallie, who texts me once a week to check in. And also, how lucky am I that one of my AFA cadets from 20 years ago is now my friend?
To everyone at Fountain Valley School. You have no idea the gift that this place is. This is why I am passionate about it. If I could bottle this feeling, there wouldn’t be a family in the world who wouldn’t want to send their kid to FVS. These people love. These people care. They are a safe haven.
To the folks from my time at U.S. Figure Skating … people I have not spoken to in more than 10 years … your notes of condolence, gifts to the Liver Foundation. I have felt so much love from you.
To Jessica Patterson, who convinced me to go to grief and yoga therapy, where I learned how far I am from being alone. You have given me so much wisdom in these few weeks.
To everyone who has ever read this blog, liked a status, listened to me share another story about Adam. He lives on when we talk about him.
To my nieces, who keep checking in on me as I sit alone with my computer, too anxious to join the celebration in the next room. They have been raised well. They have let me cry, they have said Uncle Adam’s name.
To Avery, who has listened patiently as I rambled on, helped me sift through cards, who moved everything from one refrigerator to the next when I thought mine was broken (and to Brenna again who just suggested I unplug it and then plug it back in!)
To everyone who sent me cards, food, flowers, plants, gifts of any kind. I have broken down with each one because the thoughtfulness in the world can be overwhelming at times. You don’t know the beauty of the world until grief hits you. I have eaten more cookies, chips and pop-tarts that I thought were possible.
To Hollie, for her help with my thank-you notes.
To Alea, who has given so much love to Bixby and kept him calm through the stress.
To Charlie, who sadly shares trauma of her own, but has opened up so I feel less alone.
To Erin and Aaron, I don’t know what I would have done without you two at all. For everything, but mostly for the night I had to come over and cry hysterically in your house. But also for Rogue One, Iris, and a million other things. I feel like part of the family.
To Kathy Curry, who is helping me navigate this grief, even as she tackles her own. Amazing woman.
To Steve and Bev Curry, who opened their home for Thanksgiving and let me be the worst guest imaginable. To my brother- and sisters-in-laws for letting me still be part of the family.
To my sister, my brother in law, my nieces, my uncle, my cousins, my mom …you all most of all,… you are the ones I know who will always be there.
Somewhere, I read that losing a spouse is like losing your language. Suddenly, you have no one to speak it with.
I feel that way now while sitting in the Denver airport, people-watching while waiting to fly home for the holidays. I watch, and I want to roll my eyes at Adam, give him that knowing look as the rich blonde woman, dressed head to toe in pink headed to Sun Valley for a skiing holiday, thinks everyone wants to hear her rat dog bark in the terminal. I can see Adam’s face right now as she gets down on her knees in front of another dog to publicly coo.
I have no one to look at and share my language with. No more inside jokes, except those inside my head.
I watch couples who are together yet seem so distant. I wonder if that’s why I always spent so much time in the airport with Adam giving him kisses. The terminal often seems to be a place of coldness now; everyone on their phones, snapping at each other; too much carry-on luggage because god-forbid you fucking check it.
I have walked through the over crowded airport trying to keep a smile on my face today; saying “please,” “excuse me” and “thank you” despite having a veil of grief no one should experience. And yet I see wives exasperated with their husbands, yelling at their kids; frustration with gate agents.
Don’t get me wrong. I have done of all of this. In fact, I could be such a bitch that I was banned by Adam from being in eyesight of gate agents if we had flight trouble. I handled things badly while he could smooth talk us on to the next flight just by being him. He charmed everyone.
It’s just with death, it all seems so pointless now. I hope I can hold on to this feeling for a long time, the full realization that our pettiness is a waste of time. I suspect it won’t happen; that years from now I will be once again like the masses. I think that’s the way our brain works.
But for right now, I am sad for those who haven’t realized the full preciousness of what they have.
My wish for you … take a deep breath when you get frustrated this holiday season. It can be gone in an instant. It really can.