*Originally written 12/30/14*
I arrived at a revelation last night that had been fairly obvious to me all along but I could never think of a contextual metaphor. It hit me last night while staring at the ceiling and wishing it was made of glass. Jason was the Sun and I was just a planet orbiting around him. He became my source of energy and light from the day I met him. Without him I had no sense of a center. His two-week work trips, which felt like an eternity at the time, always left me listless and depressed. But I knew eventually the Sun would return on a United flight (most likely delayed in Newark) and life would go back to normal, at least until his next trip. We all know what will happen when the Sun starts to die in 5 billions years from now. All life will end.
I do recall an existence before Jason, but I happily left it behind like a snake shedding its skin; a natural process necessary for growth. This new change doesn’t feel natural at all…it is more like an eviction. I am once again listless and unenthused but this time there is no end in sight. No counting down of days until he returns or staying up late so he can Facetime me from Shangai. The anger that was absent at first has surfaced with a vengeance but there is no place to direct it.
I can’t remember how to be around people. I feel socially awkward everywhere I go, avoiding eye contact and conversation even with cashiers at Target. I strategically push carts down aisles with the least amount of resistance and the chance of running into anyone I may know. I feel invisible and completely exposed all at the same time. I stay at home most weekends watching deplorable amounts of television or reading entire books without absorbing a single word. The only things I am engaged in lately are my pets and my own despondency. The outside world seems suspicious and dangerous. I wonder if this is how hermits are born?
I’ve committed myself to New Year’s events hoping that my promise to bring food to a party will be enough to force me out of hiding. I kept my calendar obnoxiously full in the months directly following Jason’s death because I was afraid of being alone with my thoughts. I’m not exactly sure when the turning point was but it seems to have coincided with what would have been our 3rd wedding anniversary. Now I can’t even recall what I did that day but it must have been instrumental in handicapping me socially.
I have very few friends who I can relate to at the moment but our common denominator seems to be grief. We have very serious discussions over lunch or dinner and occasionally emote enough to make restaurant staff uncomfortable. Sadness seems to be the only language I can understand and I strain to comprehend happiness in others, although I believe I spoke it once.
I keep articles such as “25 Things to Remember When Life Gets Rough” or “18 Ways You’re Making Life Harder” saved on my phone so I can refer to them quickly whenever my face starts feeling hot and my throat starts to tighten…the beginnings of a panic attack. I’m not sure why I believe the psychosis that comes along with bereavement can be easily remedied with simple lists. But I try everything and anything just because I don’t know what else to do in those moments of desperation.
I have a fear of these inescapable feelings never leaving and just being trapped inside my head, ricocheting back and forth until eventually my entire brain has been bull-dozed and cleared of any hope. Everyone keeps saying it gets easier. When?
I’m 3 hours and 21 minutes from making it through my first Christmas without Jason. I was told the anticipation of the impending grief over the holiday is usually worse than the actual event, but I must say the past couple days have indeed felt terrible. My parents agreed we wouldn’t really celebrate this year so we kept it simple but all I could think about on Christmas Eve was the person who was missing.
Jason had amazing taste when it came to clothing but not so much when it came to paint colors. Yesterday my parents helped me paint over the assaulting bright yellow laundry room he had painted very early on in our relationship….in other words before I felt comfortable telling him that ‘highlighter’ yellow was a bad choice. I felt a little guilty covering up the yellow but really it was like staring at the Sun for too long.
I started thinking back to the first time I visited his house which is now only my house…that thought alone feels discomforting. It reeked of bleak bachelorhood and I could count the pieces of furniture on one hand. Not to be a braggadocio but he needed me, and my home furnishings. He kept his t-shirts in stacked milk crates and owned two forks…I shit you not. I have no idea what would have happened if two other people had shown up at his house. I suppose someone could have used one of the four spoons. I bought him flatware and artwork for our first Christmas.
This house looks nothing like it did in 2008. There’s real furniture, painted walls with pictures, curtains, chic scented candles, bookcases, coordinated bedding and enough dishes and cutlery to have a decent party. But it hasn’t felt like a home since April 13th. I’ve purchased colorful swag from Ikea, relocated artwork, moved the sofa, put up new curtains, painted rooms, and yet it still feels more empty than it did when there were only two forks and a guy with an awkward dog living here 6 years ago.
On the day following Jason’s death the funeral director said to me as I was leaving, “Renee, the world is a different place now.” Those 8 simple words couldn’t be more accurate and piercing.
I’d like to make a quick disclaimer for anyone who reads my blog and knows me personally. Please don’t read this and think the end is nigh. Please don’t think I’m swinging from an attic rafter or splayed out in a bathtub marinated in my own blood. I feel like I’ll get a slew of text messages tomorrow and voicemails wanting to know if I’m okay. I promise you I will be. I just have to be honest tonight because keeping it all stored up with no place to purge is making me more desperate.
It’s just that I’ve romanticized death for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is being around 11 and hearing about a family friend who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, purely by accident. I remember thinking how peacefully falling asleep and never waking up didn’t sound so bad. I then became obsessed with all authors and artists who either committed suicide or drank themselves to death. I even had a boyfriend in college who purchased a collection of suicide notes from famous people as my Christmas gift. What else do we have control over really other than our life? And did any of us willingly sign up for this assignment? Life might be a gift for some but for other it is nothing more than a burden, full of dress rehearsals and contrived smiles. One show after the next. I’ve been a depressed person my entire life…even as a child I wanted to be alone because I knew my toxicity might be contagious, and I was weird kid who didn’t easily get along with others.
My last thoughts before I fall asleep every night are of not waking up, and what a relief that would be for me. Today I drove home from my parents’ house traversing curvy roads that offered a chance to veer a little too far to the right. But my dog was in the backseat and how could I ever hurt him? How can I leave him? Who would take care of him? Who would love him as much as I do? I kept looking in the rearview and seeing his beautiful brown eyes looking back at me like he knew I was struggling. How would my parents deal with it? My dad already has two dead kids. And who would my mom call every night? I absolutely refuse to use the “S” word because that isn’t what I’m saying at all. I’m just trying to say that I’m awfully damn tired. Life shouldn’t be so much work.
But I miss Jason so much and I feel like a cornered animal with no escape route. There’s no way out of this. I just have to keep unwillingly living through it, each day slightly more miserable than the next it seems. So I have to wake up every morning and perform the show expected of me. “I’m fine, I’m doing okay, and I am just making it through one day at a time.” Bullshit. Nobody is fine when they’ve lost their best friend who has completely deserted them and left them in a black fucking hole. I hide behind a smart-ass sense of humor and a facade made of fake positivity so I don’t make anyone worry unnecessarily.
I’m wishing I didn’t have to get up and perform this act again but I will because I have no other option. I’ve already tried bargaining and offering my life in exchange for someone else’s. Why the hell was it Jason who collapsed and died just like that? I’m the one who doesn’t exercise, drinks more than I should, eats all the wrong foods, and dreams of Hemingway’s resolve and courage. Jason loved life more than anyone I know and had the most positive attitude (yet hated greeting cards laced with glitter), which made our relationship odd since I’m a cynic who had a penchant for seeing the worst in every situation. He kept me balanced but he’s gone and I’ve pleaded for him to give me sign that he’s okay, and that he didn’t die in pain and his last seconds weren’t full of fear, and that he isn’t angry for not being there. But he’s silent. I don’t know where he is. And there’s no direct line to the dead.
I’d rather be drawn and quartered, shot in the stomach to bleed out slowly, buried in the sand until the weight suffocates me, beaten to death with a pipe, poisoning with something that dissolved my insides. Any physical pain I can imagine isn’t possibly as bad and damaging as almost 9 months of wondering why I’m here and he isn’t.
I’d like to print out a stack of cards that simply say “Perspective” so that I can hand them to people whenever they whine and complain about problems that aren’t really problems at all. I would ask the person to meditate on the word like a Zen Koan and think before they speak again. There are many times when I am wallowing in self-pity and could use a card myself. I’ve been in a very irritable and depressed mood lately and that has kept me prisoner in my house because I don’t want those feelings to contaminate anyone else’s day. There are so many moments when I believe I’m facing the most horrible circumstances imaginable: a dead husband who didn’t make it to 32. And then I watch a documentary like So Much, So Fast about a man in his 20’s who is diagnosed with ALS. or Lou Gehrig’s Disease as it is commonly referred to.
The film documents the five-year period starting off with his initial diagnosis and his steady decline. In those five years he manages to get married, have a son, and completely remodel two houses. And never once do you hear him say life isn’t fair or complain about his nightmare. He remains positive and hopeful despite the fact he can no longer move any of his limbs and can no longer speak. He withers away before the camera but does so with grace and courage. He nor his family waste time feeling depressed or angry but rather they to their best to enjoy every minute to the best of their abilities. One of the quotes from the film is “When one journey comes to an end, another begins” and I’m sure I’ve heard this before, but it didn’t strike me the way it did while watching this movie.
I realize my life is not the one I had planned but I was never promised happily ever after either. That only exists in ridiculous fairy tales in which everything turns out well, unless it was written by the Brothers Grimm of course. I think we are brainwashed into believing we’re all entitled to happy endings because that’s how most Hollywood stories are written.
Jason’s death was sudden and unexpected so there was no time to say what I needed to say. I would trade the rest of my life for just one more minute with Jason to tell him how much I loved him and how proud I was of everything he did. Then I think about diseases like ALS and cancer and how those families did have a chance to plan for the inevitable. Yet I don’t believe I could handle witnessing my healthy and active husband’s slow decline and drawn out period of suffering. I have to take small comfort in knowing his death was quick and he was doing something he enjoyed when it happened.
It ultimately comes down to perspective. My problem will never be as horrible as someone else’s.