Nine months and counting

by laura

Two years ago my husband/life partner/closest friend flunked his heart health test. His MD at the time increased blood pressure meds and did nothing else. My DH asked about having a stress test. "Well it can't hurt."

He totally flunked the stress test. It was determined over the next few days that he had 95-98% blockage in all his arteries but his heart was healthy. No wonder he had been tired, feeling old, grouchy and difficult. He was an avid outdoorsman and physically fit except for this minor detail.

The Bypass surgery (March 2010) was major. Over the next months he was despondent, seemed to have no will to live, couldn't engage with me or anyone else. Gradually that changed. Friends picked him up, took him fishing or to play cards and eventually he went back to his part time "retirement job", which he loved. A month later he began feeling ill. It was my fault, I was killing him, I made him sick etc. Well someone has to be to blame, right? After 39 years together I was the safe spot, the appropriate outlet for his anger and fear, his sense that his body had betrayed him. He decided to leave me.

Two months later, in November 2010 he was diagnosed with Stage 4, Metastasized Pancreatic Cancer. No surgical options. Without Chemo he could expect 30-60 days, with Chemo perhaps 6 months.
He opted for the Chemo. Of course by this point, he had come home, needed me, relied on me. I advocated for him, interpreted for him, was his caregiver, his rock, until the end. He got exactly 6 months and died on May 14 2011, the anniversary of the day we met.

His death was physically difficult, the pain he had feared was unmanageable. Instead of dying at home with Hospice Care, he died in the hospital full of heavy duty narcotics but surrounded by love. He did hear and respond to my final words to him in the minutes his spirit was leaving.

I thought I had done a lot of my grieving during his illness. Wrong. I grieved the loss of time with him in the next phase of our life together. I grieved his pain. I grieved for his children and his unfinished business. I grieved his daily suffering and the horrid effects the chemo and all the meds were having on him. I grieved the eventual loss of his companionship. Little did I know.
I never anticipated the irrevocable sense of loss that would follow that period of numbness that would follow his passage.

Immediately following his death I hit high gear, dealing with all the practical and material stuff, the unfinished physical business he left for me (can you spell pack-rat?) and figuring out what the priorities needed to be to get the house and his mountain cabin in order. It's a long list.

My current coping strategies include: a daily journal, lots of list making, learning who to ask for information about how to do whatever and my daily walks with the dog. I am blessed to have a companion dog who could probably pass certification as a medical/psychiatric service dog. He and the cats provide me with an outlet for my need to provide care, as well as companionship and physical contact.

I have learned to avoid the friends prone to unfortunate utterances, that I cannot handle large groups of people yet, that I do have a solid support system (even though they are at a distance) and that my grief is indeed a roller coaster. For me, right now, this is normal, whether or not anyone else can see that.

I am not "over it". I am not "wallowing in my sorrow". And I am slowly getting on with my life one day at a time. We had a very independent marriage, both of us "creatives" and solitary. This is helpful on some levels but the expectations around our routines have been hard to let go of. (He isn't coming home from out of town on Thursday. He isn't off fishing when I wake up on Saturday morning, and so on...)

My husband did not believe in life insurance. I have been on "Family Leave" from self employment for most of the last two years. I need to rebuild my professional life. Ill advised as it is, I do take anti-anxiety medications to ease that constant sense of panic and anxiety (mostly oriented around resources and how on earth I will do what needs to be done), and so I can get back to my work and have some faith that I will come back to myself.

I have stopped anti-depressants after realizing that they are not necessary and do not address the issues. I trust my primary care physician and my counselor to guide me through the appropriate use and eventual withdrawal from the medications.
Difficult as it is, I have begun cooking for myself again and have stopped consuming alcohol. There's nothing so tempting as the desire to numb out the pain.

I have found a group of people who walk their dogs at about the same time and in the same place as I do. We have amiable relationships and I can be open about the loss, but mostly the conversations are about the dogs or what is happening on the Island where we walk in the mornings. The subtle change of seasons, the wildlife, the birds. An artist, two photographers, a writer in training and an occasional additional person or two. It is good for the dog and it is good for me. This is my local social life. Eventually I will join a social group of "widowed persons" for cards and lunch. I have not found a Bereavement Group that fits for me.

Difficult as the loss is (following three solid years of deaths in my immediate and extended family), there are blessings. I intentionally celebrate the things we shared, the way he fed my Muse, the attention to small details of nature that were important to him and his incredible inquisitiveness.
Everyday there is something to share with him: the habits of the migratory birds, the slow emergence of signs of Spring.

As per his wishes, he was cremated, his ashes and those of his beloved retriever are in the mountains. The Prayer Flag begun at his Celebration of Life hangs in his vegetable garden. I add to it regularly.

This is my story. There are predictably difficult triggers, still some "firsts" to get through and none of it is easy or automatic. Establishing coping routines that honor who he was in my life has been important to me.

This time last year, after a road trip with me for my work, he wrote to friends:" Memory, laughter, story, music, love, gratitude - that's what it is all about . Get it while you can". I would say: Make it happen, be intentional.

thank you for giving me a place to write this little bit of my life - and thank you for the website. It is the only one I have found that speaks to me in a true and honest voice.

Comments for Nine months and counting

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Feb 22, 2012
to janet
by: laura

Janet, when I was at the 3 month mark I was numb and busy. It was Summer, so there was a lot to do out of doors. I went to Michael's cabin as often as possible to deal with the issues there. Then I got snowed out (it is in the high country).
Being home was hard. There are routines and expectations to shift. It is overwhelmingly sad.
My daughter and her husband got me started on the sorting and purging: clothes tools, stuff that is a constant reminder. But what do I do with his hats? or all the books.... so I spin my wheels, avoid certain things and focus on the coping mechanisms I wrote about.
I understand now why so many widowed people move as soon as they can. I understand why so many homes look like memorial sites. I do not understand what my life should look like now or what it will look like ina year.
Thank you for your note. be kind to yourself. This process takes time.

Feb 21, 2012
3 months 21 days and counting
by: Janet

I am sorry for your loss and send my condolences Laura. I am not quite where you are but I am getting there. You have given me food for thought and I appreciate that. May God bless you and keep you safely in the palm of his hand.

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