I Now Pronounce You Widow

 

I’m attending a wedding today.  The celebration of two people promising to love each other until death do them part.  Actually the love doesn’t go away even after death shows up, unannounced.   The love remains like scar tissue over your heart and stings and burns and thickens with time.   I RSVP’d a month after Jason died.  The same month I was still living in a fog of disbelief and invincibility, unable to grasp what had actually happened.  I also registered for a half-marathon in November.  Another feat I expected myself to be capable of at the time.   I didn’t enjoy running before Jason died so I’m not sure what made me think I’d be able to finish a race with a tornado spinning within me and knocking me off balance.

The disbelief wore off right around the two month anniversary and it revealed weakness, confusion, anger, immense sadness and the reality that I was a human experiencing traumatic and complicated grief for the first time.  Jason dying not only meant that HE no longer existed but that WE no longer existed.  I played two songs at his funeral.  The first song was something he played for me only months after we had started dating.  The fact that we were discussing mood music for our funerals didn’t seem strange because music was such a large part of our relationship.  We constantly looked at the calendars for upcoming shows and were almost competitive about finding new and obscure bands on iTunes.

Most of my library is ruined now because almost every single song takes me back to a moment I shared with Jason…and then I cry and go to work looking like Tammy Faye Bakker.   On a side note, if anyone knows of a truly waterproof mascara, please let me know.   I’m forcing myself to listen to these tainted songs one by one and make them mine again, but each note rips off a scab forcing the re-healing process to begin.  The second song I played at his funeral was the song I wanted played at my own funeral.   Oddly enough they were both songs by a band called Cloud Cult, a band we rarely listened to yet they had produced these two magical songs that summed up what we wanted to leave everyone with once we were gone.  His song was “Love you All” and mine was “Dance for the Dead.”  I have listened to both of these songs exactly once since his funeral.  I’m not sure I ever want to hear them again but I know eventually I’ll rip the scab off..I might even put them on the playlist for the Raleigh Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon.  The one thing I MUST do and WANT to do is finish the race for Jason but I keep imagining what it will be like to hit the hill at Boylston Avenue.  That’s where he collapsed and where time stopped.

I don’t want to go to this wedding today but I am because Jason would tell me not be scared.  He’d tell me to take a walk and cry if I needed to but to never retreat from experiences just because they might be tough. He’d also advise me to take a flask of scotch just in case, since they aren’t serving alcohol.  He was always prepared for life.

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Pair: something made up of two corresponding pieces.

Jason’s favorite season was fall and his favorite month was October, same as me.  We loved October not just because it signaled the end of the oppressive and miserable swampy air of North Carolina, but fall meant leaves shifting from green to vibrant reds, yellows and oranges. We usually made an annual trip to Asheville just to take in the colors and drink delicious craft beer.   It also meant we could take the dogs for long walks and not be drenched in sweat and covered by mosquito bites.

He liked the darker colors of the clothing and the timeless styles that came with fall fashion.  He loved layering sweaters over button-up shirts and buying new scarves to go with his wool coat.  His fashion icon was Joseph Gordon-Levitt and any model in the Banana Republic catalogue.  Jason knew how to dress.  He always looked amazing and he had the right body type to pull off the slim shirts and pants.  I always felt mousy and unstylish in his presence.  I was always under-dressed, even on weekends.  My sense of fashion has become even worse recently because I don’t have anyone to hold me accountable.  I go home after work and immediately put on elastic pajama bottoms and a t-shirt far too big for me.   I top off the look with a hooded sweatshirt I purchased at least 7 years ago.  I no longer put clothes away after washing them, I just pull out whatever is on top of the laundry basket and wear it.  I can imagine Jason’s disapproving look because he also hated wrinkles…and everything I wear now is wrinkled from being balled up in a laundry basket for week.

The other reason we both loved October was Halloween.  We had lists of costume ideas, and they were always pairs.

Curious George and The Man in the Yellow Hat, Hall & Oates, Strawberry Shortcake and the Purple Pie Man, Jack the Ripper and Mary Kelly, Ronald McDonald and The Hamburglar, Fantastic Mr. and Mrs. Fox, etc…

A couple of years ago we dressed up as characters from an extremely disturbing German horror film.  Nobody at the party knew who we were supposed to be and it was great!  It was just one of our many inside jokes that we didn’t have to share with the world.  We had lots of them but I never assumed there would be a finite number.  So many strange things have happened over the past 4 months and I’ve often said aloud “Jason, I wish you were here because you’d understand why this is so ridiculously amusing and then we could reference it for weeks, ad nauseam.”   I really miss my sidekick.  He understood me and I understood him.  And to find that quality in someone after 31 years of searching, and then to lose it only 6 years later seems unnaturally cruel.  Far more disturbing than any foreign horror film I’ve seen.

I want to celebrate Halloween this year but what will I dress up as?  There can be no Oates without Hall, no Mary Kelly without Jack, no Curious George without The Man in the Yellow Hat.  I don’t want to be solo, I want to be part of a pair.

 

 

A Bad Dream is Overshadowed by a Magical Coincidence

I didn’t start having dreams about Jason until just recently.  I suppose I was glad I wasn’t dreaming about him because then I would be forced to wake up to reality…which I’ve done enough the past several months.

Last night I did dream of Jason and it wasn’t a warm-fuzzy dream but a prickly and jolting dream that woke me up at 4am and left me unable to fall back asleep.

The Dream:

It started out as a normal day with me walking in the door after work and being greeted by 16 furry feet.  Jason always arrived home long after me so pulling into an empty garage didn’t strike me as unusual.   It wasn’t until I looked at the kitchen counter and noticed the absence of his various phone and tablet chargers.  And then I walked upstairs and noticed all of his toiletries were no longer littering his bathroom sink.  I started to become frantic when I walked into the closet and there wasn’t one stitch of clothing that belonged to him…even his running shoes were gone!  I started to panic.  I began opening drawers and looking for socks, underwear and t-shirts.  Nothing.  Just empty drawer space.  It was as if he never existed and our good-bye kiss that morning was just an illusion.  I searched the house for a note thinking maybe he just needed a break, the kind of break that involved erasing his existence from our house.  Then I called his cell phone and it went straight to voicemail…but not HIS voicemail.  It was just the generic message you get saying that the person at number blah blah blah is unable to answer his phone.

I didn’t know what to do.  Where was he and why in the hell didn’t he leave me a note?  Was there something I had missed in our exchange that morning that said “This is the last time you’ll see me and it will be as if I never existed.”  I still had my wedding ring on but his was no longer dangling from my neck.  What happened to him that forced such a sudden departure free of any warning? I then thought briefly about a movie I had seen once where something very similar happens…the Twilight fans out there should know what I am referring to.

And then I woke up.  I was mad.  I was angry because one of the few dreams I have about Jason and it involved him leaving without saying goodbye, which is essentially what happened, although against his will.

This dream haunted me from 4am and throughout the day.   I kept replaying it in my mind because of course I understood the symbolism, but why that dream and why now when I so desperately wanted anything to make me feel closer to him.

The Magical Coincidence:

And then something curious happened around 2pm while I was sitting at the car dealership waiting to have my oil changed and tires rotated.  A task I had been putting off for a few weeks now.  I was tired of the “maintenance required” light flashing at me obnoxiously so I gave in.  I was sitting at the dealership wishing I had gone to the other Toyota location because they offered complimentary water and soda, and it would have been quieter.  But alas I found myself at the loud and obnoxious dealership that stunk of rubber and hostility as people became impatient (and thirsty) while waiting for their vehicles.

I happened to notice a very calm and serene woman amongst this madness.  She was sitting right across from me happily knitting a blanket and successfully blocking out the distractions around her.  She seemed happy despite her surroundings.  I figured she was knitting a blanket for an upcoming grandchild just based on her age and color choice in yarn.  About that time her “service professional” walked up to let her know her car was ready and he asked what she was working on.  She said she was knitting a blanket for Project Linus.  Project Linus is an organization of volunteers who knit blankets for sick children and teenagers  to bring them comfort.  Sometimes those children are terminally ill and then those blankets are given to the family as a final keepsake.  I too am a recipient of one of these blankets which I have mentioned in a past blog.  Jason was covered in one of these blankets when I went back to his room to say my final goodbyes.  The hospital gave me the blanket when I left.  At first I didn’t really appreciate this crappy consolation prize as I referred to it, but now I cherish it and am so glad to keep it close by…even if it is a little scratchy!

Once  the lady was finished talking to the gentleman I briefly introduced myself and apologized for eavesdropping on her, but mentioned I overheard the words Project Linus and that I just really wanted to thank her.  I told her I too have a Project Linus blanket and explained to her how the gesture was one of the things the hospital got right that day, and that I really appreciated being able to keep the last known piece of material that kept my husband warm.  Being able to thank her lifted my spirits and I felt a little happier afterwards, and I could tell she was grateful that those hours spent knitting really were worth it!

This is just another one of those magical occurrences I cannot explain but am grateful for when they happen.  I am making sure I am very open and receptive to these coincidences because they get me through the days.

http://www.projectlinus.org

Reality and Fear…And Bathroom Mirrors

There is a resilience and invincibility that goes along with being forced to live and  survive your greatest fear. While you feel so exposed, fragile and vulnerable there is also this amazing army that assembles within your brain and fights off all the ridiculous and unfounded fears you once had. I’m still afraid of showing up at a party without pants but does that even happen anywhere other than dreams? And to be honest I feel naked most of the time despite my clothes because emotions and tears come at inconvenient times, like the middle of the grocery store when you see an elderly couple picking out bananas together.  Jason will never get to be an old man.  He will always be 31 while I wrinkle, gray and wither without my eternally handsome husband.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and I would purposefully keep my head straight down while walking past the mirror, and I would also keep my head down while washing my hands. I’ve watched enough horror films to know that the moment you look up, you not only see your own faint reflection, but the lurking shadow behind you, waiting to gut you with a hooked hand. Yes, I have carried this irrational fear since playing my first game of “Bloody Mary” at a slumber party when I was 10, and the fear was reinforced by movies like The Candy Man. I was 36 years old and I still avoided confronting the mirror at night even though Jason was sleeping only 4 feet away from me.

I was recently at a business dinner with people who were all meeting one another for the first time. As an ice-breaker game we went around the room and revealed things about ourselves such as the #1 item on our bucket list, the strangest item we’ve ever eaten and of course our biggest fear. I struggled with how I would answer some of these questions when it was my turn. Do I tell these strangers that my biggest fear had already been realized three months ago and that the fear of spiders, snakes, heights and homelessness paled by comparison? I didn’t want to be the jerk in the room and downplay their own insecurities while also being a buzz kill, so I said my biggest fear was my dog finally realizing I’m not nearly as amazing as he thinks I am.  I do have this fear but I know my Klaus and he would never think such an absurdity!  I supply his biscuits and peanut butter, not to mention an endless supply of tennis balls. How do you tell a room full of strangers that your husband recently died and nothing scares you anymore, even walking into a dark bathroom and facing yourself in the mirror with a potential shadow waiting to gut you like a fish?  The life situation as I now call it did come to light because the #1 item on my bucket list is creating a foundation to help raise awareness of sudden arrhythmia cardiac deaths (SADS) and to finish the race for Jason next April in Raleigh.  The #1 item was to visit New Zealand but that is when my bucket list was our bucket list.   Priorities change.

Two days after Jason died I woke in the middle of the night with not only the need to use the restroom but to also purge all the confusion and chaos taking up so much space in my already handicapped brain. A sudden and traumatic loss makes you forget everything and your mind becomes Swiss cheese, rotting and putrefying within your vibrating skull. I learned tonight from my counselor that the brain of someone going through complicated grief (when a healthy person dies suddenly without warning) is similar to that of someone with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Brains have been scanned and the research is legit.  My craziness isn’t just “in my head” so to speak but truly eating away at my gray matter.  Anyway, I walked into the lightless bathroom and looked straight into the mirror. My own dead reflection frightened me more than anything. The days of keeping my head down and scrambling back to bed as quickly as possible had disappeared. I stood there in the darkness and waited patiently for the shadow to show himself because I wanted a fight! I wanted whatever ridiculous rusty hooked handed maniac or supernatural demon I had conceived in my dark imagination to show itself so I could tell it to fuck off, in very plain English.

Living through the traumatic death of someone who made your heart beat and the butterflies dance in your stomach, even after 6 years, allows you to feel invincible. I’ve since watched horror movies alone at night, crushed several spiders scurrying through the house, have eaten bread that was well past the expiration date (this is a big deal for me), and have not only looked but sought out the menacing shadow who hides in mirrors.

My new fear is losing my parents but I am a survivalist and when that day happens, I’ll go into the bathroom and once again tell the shadow to show himself because I’m not afraid of him anymore, and if anything I’ll make him regret the day he met me! I am a Spartan Warrior of Widowhood with a quest to destroy my fears one by one because the worst thing possible has already happened…

Say Yes

 

Jason and his Mom after running 26.2 miles!

Jason and his Mom after running 26.2 miles!

 

The nature of my husband’s job required him to travel overseas frequently and because of this he was able to visit so much of the world, and he made many friends along the way.  He was extremely dedicated to everything he did whether it was earning his MBA, training for a marathon, hiking the Appalachian Trail or preparing a presentation for an upcoming trip to Korea.  I have no idea how he managed to have such a full life within a short 31 (almost 32) years but I believe it is because he said “Yes!” to new experiences, and embraced his existence with an enthusiasm that I’ve never encountered in another person.   He was amazing and I’m not just saying that because he was mine.

I worried constantly about him when he was away and would track all of his flights, asking him to send me texts when he landed and another text once he arrived safely at his hotel halfway across the planet.  I would see the dark circles hanging under his eyes when we used FaceTime and launch into the negative effects of sleep deprivation.  I would hide snacks in his luggage so he wouldn’t be hungry.  I made sure he filled his prescriptions before he left and packed his vitamins.  My overprotectiveness  drove him a little crazy but I’m a risk manager, so I get paid to think in “worst-case scenario” terms all of the time.  Whenever I would hear about a plane crash I would immediately try to put myself into the shoes of the families huddled together at the airport waiting for news of their loved ones.  I just knew for a fact I would crumple like a piece of tissue paper if something happened to my husband.  The thought of an existence without him was unfathomable to me.  How could I possibly live when he was all that I lived for?  I never once imagined that I’d lose him during a half-marathon only miles from where I was.  But I did.  So now I know that anything is possible.  Anything.  And sometimes no amount of worrying or protecting or obsessing can change the outcome.  Shit happens.

I am faced with the same decision every morning.  Stay in bed and feel sorry for myself or get up and plow painfully ahead.  Although it takes a tremendous amount of energy (and prescription drugs) I keep dragging myself forward one slow inch at a time, and it has paid off in so many ways.  The experience of losing Jason has rekindled old friendships that had been neglected and has also forged new ones that have brought light into my life.  It’s strange to think of how many positive and wonderful things have occurred in the darkest period of my 37 years.  It’s as if Jason knew I wouldn’t be able do this alone and although I’m still unsure about my ideology, I do believe there is a much bigger force at work.  I’m not saying I believe in some ethereal puppet-master playing us like marionettes but there are magical coincidences that seem to occur at such deliberate moments, and with great frequency.

Perhaps there is a reason for the unfair and unforeseen things that happen to us without our consent.   All I know for now is that I want to live more like Jason.  I want to say “Yes!” to those new experiences and not be afraid.  I want to embrace the unknown as he did and see where it leads me.  Some of his family, along with myself, have signed up for the Savannah Rock N Roll Marathon in November because we want to honor another man who passed away under similar circumstances.  I’m dreading it because it will be emotional and difficult…but Jason wouldn’t have given up just because he was faced with a challenge.  He would have faced his fear head on and he would have prevailed.