Ahhh yes...the holidays. It is a constant ride of ups and downs, like the world’s most depressing roller coaster. Kicking off with Thanksgiving. Spending time with friends and family, circled around a hearty dinner and laughter, I get to remember that Megan died just a week before that day. I don’t get to remember the 33 prior enjoyable Thanksgiving dinners. It doesn’t work. All I can recall is sitting in my parents’ dining room, crying, and having to leave the room in the middle of dinner.
Then, following that Thursday comes the epitome of consumerism...Black Friday. I avoid anyplace that may sell something like the plague that day. “You’re not going to con me into buying your baubles, Mr. Scrooge!” as I shake my fist in the air. But it’s fruitless. Inevitably, I'll need to fuel up my car, and Christmas music will be playing everywhere, even at the gas station. Sure enough, “Blue Christmas”, or “I’ll be home for Christmas” will softly emanate from a tinny speaker somewhere. Done. You’ve succeeded, Ebeneezer, in depressing me.
Mike is everywhere, and nowhere. I feel him in my bones, like a part of my own body. He haunts my every waking hour. I never forget. It never slips my mind that my husband is dead. I can’t stop the memories that flood in. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. Shopping, celebrating a holiday, watching his birthday come and go, sorting through his old things, touching a spoon he used, looking out over the same view he loved.
He’s always there.
And yet he is not here. I can’t hear his voice reply to me. He can’t reach out and touch me. I can’t ride passenger in his truck. I can’t make plans with him, cook with him, or call for him on the phone. I can’t sit next to him on the couch. I can’t touch his lips.
November 19th. It’s “the” date. A week before Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season. The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees, halloween is over, My work begins to slow down, as does the seemingly endless string of summer and early fall weekends where we have plans with family and friends.
For all intents and purposes, November was always a “quiet” time of year, when I could sit back and take a breather. I could focus on preparing the house for winter, lazily erect a Christmas tree, and read the newspaper as the first snowfalls and blustery winds crisply blew in. Full blown winter hadn’t arrived yet, and you would not catch me anywhere near a shopping area this time of year. The lawn and any gardens or flowerbeds are dormant, leaves are cleaned up, and there isn’t any real snow to shovel yet.
November was “easy”. Three years ago, that all changed.
Last Monday was just an average day. I had some running around to do and appointments to attend. A pre Vegas hair colour, a dentist appointment... that sort of thing. Nothing too crazy or anxiety inducing, and the panic I tend to experience on the daily remained at a reasonable low for the most part.
I ended the day by attending a relaxing yoga class with a friend of mine. It was exactly what I needed to wind down and I was well on my way to feeling the zen when, for no reason at all, a most unwelcome memory popped into my mind.
The memory was of a text Ben sent me from the hospital shortly before he died. Death was inevitable and it coming fast, and every moment felt like we were staring down the barrel of a shotgun. I had spent the entire day with him and had gone home in the middle of the night to be with the kids and make sure they were safe. I crawled into bed, texted Ben "I love you" and he texted back saying “I don’t want to die. I have so much to live for.”
At that moment I felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest and thrown across the room. I texted back and told him that I didn’t want him to die, but i did not say “You aren’t going to die.” To deny his pending death seemed wrong to me. It just seemed so dismissive to say “oh, don’t be silly...you aren’t going to die.” He was indeed going to die. So many people had spent the nine months after his diagnosis in denial, and that had angered me to no end. There was nothing helpful about denying what was to come, because denial has not been proven to be an effective method of curing cancer. So instead I told him that he was leaving a legacy in his three kids. And he responded that “legacy or not” he still didn’t want to die, he wanted to fight. He didn’t want to die.
As I write this I have just pulled into the parking lot at the office of my urologist, Dr A. I have parked in stall number 61 and I find myself frozen in the drivers seat of my car as unwanted memories come flooding back into my brain. I remember the day I pulled into this parking lot with Ben. I don’t recall what stall number we parked in that day, but I do recall repeating the number out loud and saying “that’s our good luck number today.”
On that particular day in April 2015, which was two and half years ago but feels, smells and tastes like yesterday, we thought we were coming to find out how Dr A was going to help save Ben. How he was going to operate on Ben’s kidney in conjunction with another (as yet unknown but definitely brilliant) surgeon who would simultaneously remove the tumour on Ben’s sacrum. ON, being the operative word.
Sadly, that’s not how that day turned out.Read more
I was planning, this morning, to write about the total solar eclipse that Sarah, Shelby and I witnessed just a week ago. As we sat on the banks of the Oconoluftee River in North Carolina, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains and watched the sun disappear, I was speechless, awed, and felt transcendent.
That was the plan, at least. We had a family vacation to those mountains, topped off by the eclipse, and I was sure it would still be at the forefront of my mind when I sat down to write.
But it’s not. The memories and pure joy at what I witnessed are still present, certainly, but a little rain storm has consumed my heart and thoughts since last week.
You know that feeling when you walk into a store and see something your beloved late spouse would have liked and for a brief moment, you think, I should get that for him…and then you remember, he’s not here anymore.
I went into Costco this week to pick up a few things, and that happened…again. I saw a pair of shorts he would have loved. Honestly, I was so hurried on my errand - I feel maybe too busy these days, my grief had been taking a back seat to my new exploits in career, so it took me a bit by surprise.
This past Sunday, August 6th, would have been Megan and I’s 12th anniversary. Sarah, Shelby and I were camping, with Sarah’s sister, and as the morning light (and two dogs) woke me up, I immediately noted the significance of the date.
Then I crawled out of the tent, took care of the dogs, and made some coffee.
As I sat down for that first, glorious sip of coffee in the morning, I remembered that it was our anniversary.
Then I rekindled the campfire.
As Shelby woke up, crawling out of the nylon dome, I couldn’t help but think of the fact that she was emerging in the New York woods as the biggest reminder of Megan and I’s marriage.
I got her a pop tart to munch on as she sat by the campfire.
This week my daughter and I caught the ferry over to The Sunshine Coast in southern BC and toured Gibsons and Sechelt. Gibsons was home to the filming of the television show “The Beachcombers” from 1972 to 1990. It was also the first hometown to Wendy and Ben from 1993 to 1997. It’s where we lived when we got married, it’s where we built our first home, and it’s where we had our first baby.
Raegan and I played tourist and she humoured me while I drove around and told her a hundred stories that all started with “I remember one time, right in this very spot, Dad and I (insert memory here) …” She was a good sport. We ended up on the beach in Sechelt at the exact spot where Ben proposed to me.
That moment when you think you see him. The same shirt, the same belly, the same hair…from a distance, without your glasses, you really, truly think it’s him. Your heart lurches…you look again more closely, and even for the next moment, knowing it couldn’t possibly be him, it still looks so much like him your heart continues to pound.
You don’t want to put your glasses on, you don’t want to let your brain be rational, you just don’t want to remember just for another long moment, that it’s not him. Just for another second, please be him.