4×6

There are days when I want to burn them all. Every single flat, one-dimensional photo that I have of him. Because I hate that it’s all I have. I hate that I can’t feel the stubble on his face, only run my fingers across the high-gloss sheen of a 4×6 from Walgreens. Is that all you’ve got for me? A shiny fake finish on a life that was so much more? It’s not enough to fill the void. Not. Enough.

Actually, hold on, we can frame it differently if you’d like, we give him 4-6 months. How do those dimensions work for you? 4-6? 4×6? More like getting smacked in the chest with a 2×4.

I never thanked his oncologist. I think it’s because she was the one who said those words. She wasn’t to blame; she tried to help. But it was on that day that I felt the floor give out from under us, and down the rabbit hole we went. It was infuriating and sickening to look up and see them all watching helplessly, with pity in their eyes, knowing there was nothing they could do. But 4 months is more than some people get. And cancer? I guess I can be thankful that I have a convenient enemy to direct my anger at.

And so I continue to flop around, some days thankful, other days resentful. Surrounded by photos, and his folded t-shirts. Memories. A drawer full of socks. His shoes, sitting in the closet, empty, never to be filled again. And the photos, a precious, precious facsimile, but devilish in their trickery. I hate them and love them. The reminder of everything I had, and everything I lost.

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Sacred things.

It’s still very hard for me to think about the day he died. While I have visited the hospice grounds several times, I haven’t visited the memories of his last days that often. It’s still too painful. Even thinking over the entire year that is now behind me, I revisit bits and pieces, grief flings certain moments back in my face, but to absorb it all, I’m still not able.

But I would like to share one thing that I really loved about my husband. He had beautiful hands; big, strong, perfectly proportioned, and soft. He loved holding hands. He also liked giving foot massages, and had funny names for the self-taught techniques he’d employ. My feet loved him. All the animals loved him, too, because he’d woo them to sleep with full-body rubs. His touch was magical at taming a beast, at turning a grouch into a slouch, at kneading the hard edges out of a tough day. Man, it was good to be a pet in our house…or a foot. Or a wife. My husband had a lot of love to give, and he wasn’t shy about showing it.

I remember noticing his hands on one of our first dates, we took a picnic to the lake, went swimming. Afterwards, as we dried in the sun, he put his hand on my back. I completely melted. I felt so cared for, protected. Instantly safe in his love.

He also became the designated jar- and bottle-opener in the house. A small thing, but a big trigger of his absence. I’ve actually thrown out several full, unopened jars of spaghetti sauce this past year, in a complete rage. I really wanted to hurl them against the wall, a red messy burst of anger against cancer and death, but at least my rational mind was smart enough to aim for the garbage bin.

* * *

My husband died early in the morning on May 28, 2012. He had been breathing heavily all night. I lay next to him for a while, but then moved to the chair, worried that I was bothering him, worried that he needed room, to breath, to be…to die.

It’s the strangest thing, you go to hospice knowing you are there because someone is going to die. But, truthfully? I didn’t understand that he was going to die there, on that day, on that morning. If I had, I wouldn’t have left his side for a second. But my mind could not make the leap from “before” to “after”.

It has taken an entire year, navigating this stoney path of loss, for my mind to grasp it. No wonder I am tired. My psyche has been working hard, and there’s no one here to massage my feet. I’m the only left walking the dog, a dog that we used to walk together. Every day. We’d walk, talk, hold hands, critique our neighbors’ gardens, discuss what we were going to plant in our own…

So I often think about him when I am walking. I think about his hands, and how I miss them. How I miss him. And sometimes I think back to his last day. How, after he died, I left the room for a while. In shock. I don’t even remember where I went. When I returned, they had folded his hands across his chest. They looked so perfect, as if they’d been carved out of marble. I remember thinking that maybe I should take a photo, so I would never forget.

But some things are sacred. Too sacred to be photographed. Some too sacred even to be to talked, or written about.

And why would I need a photo? The image is etched in my heart. Me, looking at him, touching his hands, one last time, as if captured by the great artist above, the day that my world turned to stone, my husband’s beautiful hands never again to touch my back, my feet, my face, his hands never again to open a jar, or soften one of life’s many blows.

Just another week at the office

“Hey, I am working on a t-shirt design for a memorial run. Wanna’ see it, give me some feedback? You heard about that runner in Sun Prairie who was killed by the pastor who was driving drunk…? It was crazy. Horrible. So tragic.”

(Ok, I’ll look at the design. I can be objective. I don’t feel quite as sensitive about death, accidents, hospitals, tragedies, as I did a few months ago. Just breathe.)

“So why did you move to Madison?”

(Oh no! Not that question again!! I hate that question!! I moved here because my husband got a job here. Phew. There! Done! I didn’t even have to mention that he is now…dead. And that I have no idea what I am still doing here. And that I get very confused about what’s next, and start to feel my heart race in anxiety when I think about trying to sell our house. Just breathe, let people move onto another topic, order lunch.)

“Yeah, we were pretty worried about our dog. She had to have surgery to remove two cancerous tumors. But they said she’ll be ok.”

(Oh. Ok. That’s starting to hit a little close to home. They were able to spare a dog. But not my husband. Stay calm, keep it cool. It’s not the same thing. Focus on your salad. Don’t think about cancer.)

“Oh, so you live in Sun Prairie? Isn’t that where that runner got killed…?”

“Yeah! She was our neighbor…!”

(Geez, are we back on this topic again? I am starting to feel a bit sick, here. I wish this Department lunch wasn’t taking place at a restaurant. I am not feeling calm, objective, or hungry anymore. Might need to get up and leave.)

“No way. I coached her son in hockey…”

“Crazy! Horrible.Tragic!”

(Ok, can we please, PLEASE, move on now? Surely people know when to stop talking about death around someone who just experienced a lot of it…)

“Well, people, you think that’s bad, our accountant’s husband died suddenly. Pulmonary embolism. Then the very next day, out of the blue, her mom died. What on earth do you do when when something like that happens?”

B*I*N*G*O!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  You just hit the target!! It was bound to happen, things were building up, but thanks for the cherry on top! After all, my dad and husband just died last year. Did you already forget? Why ask the question hypothetically? I am sitting right here and can tell you first-hand how it feels. How would that be for a little light lunch conversation? I can throw in all kinds of stomach churning details if you’d like.

(Instead, I somehow managed to say, “Ok, can we stop talking about death now?”, and barely excused myself from the table before the tears hit.)

Just another week at the office…navigating emotional landmines and lunch. Not the worst week. But not the best one either. Sometimes work is a safe place. But sometimes, when you are grieving, no place is a safe place. Though, I never really thought death or cancer were great lunch topics, even before my husband and dad died.

One Double-Tall-Cup-of-Kindness, please.

20130129-220027.jpg It has been a rough week. I’m finding myself in a very emotionally unstable place. Probably shouldn’t even be driving. Everything in my path just seems to be an accident waiting to happen.

It has been hard making it to (and through) work. I am distracted, forgetful, tearful, an emotional time-bomb. So today at lunch I went to Starbucks, my saving grace, to reward myself. I pulled up toward the drive-thru and there was some lady, half pulled-over, half blocking the entrance, on her phone. Net result? I couldn’t tell if she was in line. Because she was on the phone, she didn’t react to my questioning hand gestures, so when the car in front of her moved, and she didn’t, I pulled forward, around her. This didn’t go over well. Apparently she was in line. Continue reading

The Jekyll and Hyde of it.

Ah, Grief. You fickle, fickle bastard.

You give me a day or two of gentleness and hope. Maybe I can actually take on an extra task. Like grocery shopping, perhaps laundry, or sending a thank you note. And on this day, if a friend were to ask, how are you doing? The answer might even be, I am OK.

But what a joke.

i. am. not. okay.

Continue reading