Monday, June 26, 2006

One Month

I find us interesting. There is a website for young widows that I go to quite a bit these days. The bulletin boards can be very helpful, especially in moments of pain, frustration, and longing. I don't know why, but it is comforting to know that I am not the only one going through this and reacting in the ways that I am. Here are some interesting things I have come across on the boards that you might find interesting as well...

Many of us...
1) sleep on the couch for months after our spouse dies.
2) choose to follow the tradition of wearing black for a year.
3) cling to something that smelled like them and find it comforting.
4) suffer from skin hunger and long for some type of human contact
5) comment that the thing we miss the most is our "go to" person - the one we call whenever anything happens.
6) wish we could join our spouse.
7) put a timeline on our grief only to discover that the second year is worse than the first.
8) take months/years to throw away personal items.
9) struggle for months to find the energy to clean the house/prepare meals/go back to work.
10) are young. There are LOTS of twenty and thirty-somethings.

Before you tell me that these people are wierd, let me tell you that they are not. Every book I've read mentions these tidbits. The problem is that as a society we don't like to talk about being unproductive or paralyzed or out of control of our emotions. And certainly not for any length of time. So when we are in the middle of it, we think we're the only one and that we should be over it sooner than we are.

Today is a month and I suspect that there are some folks out there who think I should be starting to "recover". I don't think I will ever recover; I will just learn to live without a part of me. Unfortunately, I think that I am just barely starting to acknowledge the pain. I made it to the gym today. I ate healthy. I went to the grocery store. I worked a full and productive day. However, all day long I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack. Anxiety gripped me constantly. It was like someone squeezing my chest so I couldn't breathe. And now, I am sitting in my living room, staring at the mess called my house while the groceries sit in the car.

Every day I have these grand plans for the evening - clean, cook, sort through pictures, write thank you cards, do laundry, clean out drawers - and every night, I am too tired to care and just want to curl up with my glass of wine. I'm not even sure what I am doing with the time since I haven't watched any tv or done any reading and I'm up until 1am on most nights.

Anyways, I am not very focused today. Sorry for rambling. Perhaps tomorrow will have more humor and insight. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Social Misfit Status

Where has my social barometer gone? I have rarely felt awkard in a group setting. Other than times of extreme self loathing, I can usually hold my own at a party. I know the rules of social engagement. I concur with Dale Carnegie that the being a fabulous conversationalist really means being captivated by what the other person is saying. It means talking less and smiling more. And yet...GROAN, these days I find myself leaving social gatherings wondering, "Crap. Was I just the most boring, miserable, worst guest ever?" I talked too much. I blabbed on and on about my miserable life that nobody wanted to hear about. And, I think, "They are all saying behind my back what a sad pitiful case I am - the widow with no life. The 1/2 person. The lost one.

It's enough to make me want to lock myself up in the house and never come out. Except that I am that pitiful case. I need others to let me vomit my emotion all over them. I need their patient, pitying eyes to say, "It's ok. Go ahead and talk about your dead husband. We can wait." I need people I've never met to smile and let me do all the talking and be the fabulous conversationalists that Dale Carnegie praises. How long will it be before I can talk about anything without the phrase, "Dalton and I" or just "Dalton"? Because really, in order not to technically talk about ourselves, many of us simply talk about our mate. Being one flesh, it is a convenient way to express who we are without talking about ourselves. And now, there is just me. And frankly, I am not all that interesting.

I don't know what I like outside of my life with Dalton. Sure, we are all independent beings, but when I married Dalton, he nourished the parts of who I am that most complimented who he was and vice-versa. For example, I currently love wine and baseball, and art. Of course, I loved wine, baseball and art before I met Dalton, but because Dalton also loved these things, we fed each other's interest and it grew. On the other hand, Dalton was never especially fond of cats (which I like but am not enamored with) and consequently, I have never become one of those crazy cat women with a dozen cats and 7 different Boynton cat t-shirts (one for each day of the week).
For this I am eternally grateful.

Somehow, though, I now have to figure out how to take those things that I fundamentally enjoy (like wine and baseball and art) and make them enjoyable without Dalton. And that is the rub. I don't yet know how to do that, so my conversations inevitably turn to him. And then, I am again the pitiful widow longing for her dead soulmate.

And again, I leave the party feeling like a social misfit, talking a little too loud and a little too often about things that no one else cares about.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

No Cheese Please

We painted the walls in our living room in January. Dalton and I did. It's only June.

I keep thinking about healthy Dalton. I think about him loading Iain into the carseat last April on the way home from the hospital. I think about our trip to San Francisco when I was 6 months pregnant and we walked from the theatre district to Cannery Row. I think about taking the convertible out last August to the Del Rae on our monthly date night. I think about Dalton packing his gym bag every morning with his running shoes.

These were just last year.

He can't be gone.

For today (and yesterday) numbness has given way to denial. I simply expect that Dalton is going to walk in the door any second and our life will be as it was. I want to hold his hand on the way home from church. I want him to swing Iain over his shoulders and give him a piggy back ride. I imagine him doing these things and it feels so natural. So much more nautral than him being dead. There is nothing natural about that.

We did nothing specific for father's day. I couldn't. Actually, we spent the afternoon with some friends, eating Thai and watching music videos. It was good, but hard. Our friends are happy. They should be happy. If they are reading this now, they need to know that they are doing everything right and shouldn't change any of their behavior. I am the one who has to realize that I am alone. That Dalton cannot put his arm around me or kiss me on the neck or do any of theose things that people do when they are in love. And every time I leave a social occasion, I feel like I want to run. Maybe if I don't have to be around anybody, it won't hurt so much. Maybe there is some way to escape it all.

Then I remember something else CS Lewis said about grief. After his wife died, he thought it was going to be especially difficult to go back to certain places he had previously been with his wife - the pub at which they regualrly ate, the hotel at which they often vacationed, etc. He resolved that rather than hide from these places, he would face them immediately and get it over with. What he discovered was profound.

There really was no difference in his pain. Her absence was no more noticeable in those places than it was anywhere else. It hurt because she was gone and it didn't matter if she was absent from his side at the pub or in their kitchen at home. It ws pervasive and inescapable.

So, what difference would it make if I ran? Dalton would be as absent in Montana as he is at our friends house in Los Angeles. And Iain and I would miss out on the love and friendship that we are being offered. So I'll stay for now even though it hurts. Maybe, eventually, this very long and awfully real nightmare will eventually come to an end and I can again hold his hand on the way home from church.

PS...Nobody better post the contrived cheesy comment that I will hold his hand someday in heaven, because right now that's not good enough.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


For lack of a better word, that is how I've felt for the past two days. Numb. Not sure why that's the case. Perhaps all of the logistical/administrative stuff that I've been dealing with has caused me to shut down. Maybe it's a defense mechanism of sorts. I'm really not sure. Actually, it's kind of disturbing, like I'm vaguely aware that there is something I am supposed to be emotionally devastated by, but I can't locate the source of the pain. I know that sounds absurd, but words fail.

Yesterday, Iain and I visited both the Social Security Office and the Life Insurance agent. Both visits were so proper and clinical. The social security agent who took the application kept repeating things back to me from the application for confirmation.

"So, you began your marriage in Los Angeles in 200o and ended it in West Covina in 2006."

Did I end my marriage? I mean, my husband died, but it's not like intentionally ended my marriage.

"And, let's see, your husband died of cardiopulmonary arrest."

I know that's what the death certificate says, but there was so much more. He went through so much to have the only record of his death say that his heart simply stopped beating.

"And he has two decendents, Dalton and Iain Harding"

They're his sons you idiot, his sons.

Anyway, that's how I felt most of the day. I kept wanting to say, but it's not just about the paperwork and the planning and the money. But to them, it was. How could it be anything else?

Speaking of that, I'm sure I will post at some other time about the financial implications of death - especially an early one -BUT if you are reading this right now and do not have life insurance and a trust set up to provide for your kids, do it now.

We were lucky, it was the last thing Dalton did in his role at Hollywood Pres. before returning to Marsh, and it has made a world of difference. While we weren't in ideal shape, we were definitely better off than most people our age, and what we had will allow me at least a little bit of space to grieve and be with Iain without worrying about money.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cul de sac

When my mother died in November 2004, I thought that I understood grief. She was my best "girl" friend. We were extrememly close. I still (perhaps more so now) miss her terribly. And yet, there is something qualitatively different about my grief experiences. With my mom, the primary loss was of things not yet done. She would never hold her grandchild or write the book she had always intended. We wouldn't take any more trips to Palm Springs or share any more lunches at Mimi's. And of course, I would never again be able to talk with her about my life in a time and space that allowed her to answer. I was devastated and haunted by these thoughts for many months.

With Dalton, though, my grief is more whole. Meaning, I grieve not only the loss of future, but of my past and present as well. Perhaps, more pointedly, I grieve my loss of self. Who am I without Dalton? Certainly, I am Iain's mom, but what does that look like when his Dad is no longer there to be my counterpoint. I am a follower of Christ, but is my faith strong enought to stand on it's own without the backbone that Dalton provided? I am a homeowner, but what good is this house for parties and BBQ's, and evenings spent out by the fire when the host extraordinaire, chef, and conversationalist is gone? I am a friend, but one who doesn't have much to offer right now - especially to the friends which were ours - couples with children whose lives no longer interesect so easily with mone. I am a worker without much interest in working. I am a person without much interest in being.

This is the worst of it. Dalton's death has, at least temporarily, caused me to lose (as if they just slipped out of my hands) the qualities in myself that he loved the most. Where have optimism and joy and passion and grace and hope and enterprise and dreams gone? Will they or will they not return? Both answers repel me. If they return, then surely I have underestimated our love. If they don't return, then surely I have dishonored Dalton and deprived my son. I am as bland as the world around me.

CS Lewis writes in his book, A Grief Observed, "I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense. It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action, had H. (or Dalton) for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through habit fitting an arrow to the string, then I remember and have to lay the bow down. So many roads lead thought to H. (Dalton). Iset out on one of them. But now there's an impassable frontierpost across is. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac." I am still finding only culs de sac.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Postponing the Inevitable

Dalton died two weeks ago today. Since then, I haven't been left alone for more than a few moments during the day and a few hours in the evening when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. However, my friend Sandi is heading back to Baltimore on Sunday and I will finally begin to get a fuller taste of what life is like without Dalton. Based on the few moments of downtime that I have had these past two weeks, I expect to be a bit of a wreck.

But what else can I do? This round the clock vigil can't go on forever. And as much as I dread experiencing the severity of pain that accompanies this loss, my body already knows that it is there. The pit, the tears in my scarce alone moments, the drifting away in the middle of conversations, the complete apathy about 99% of what other people are interested in, and the exhaustion I experience after doing nothing are pretty solid indicators of the damage that lies underneath. But, can something really heal without being cleaned out, properly dressed and little by little exposed to the outwside world?

Today I asked Larry (my mom's husband and Iain's Grandpa) whether he celebrated Father's day. Since my mom died in Novemeber 2004, Larry has begun practicing a faith that eschews all holidays. But, Father's Day has traditionally been a tough one for me because my Father died in 1994 and his birthday (June 15) always falls in the same week. Of course, this year, I have the added bonus of having lost my grandfather, and Iain's daddy in the four months leading up to that happy day. Anyways, Larry is very good to me and has done more than anyone could ask in these past few months, and he is a great Grandpa. However, when I asked about Father's Day, he replied, "We don't celebrate that day, but you can always give me the gift at another time." Clueless.



I suppose that the right thing to do would be to spend it with Dalton's parents, but they weren't especially upbeat folks to start with and they are ten times more depressed after the death of their son. Believe it or not, there are cases in which misery does NOT love company. This is one of them. Again, let me point out how much help they have been to me and to Iain and how appreciative I am. However, I just don't know if I will have the emotional energy that would be necessary for me to do that "right thing".

So here I go, into what I suspect will be one of the most challenging and painful times of my life. Please God, give me strength and comfort.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Don't Feel

Tonight I don’t want to live anymore. Nobody freak out. I’m not suicidal. I just don’t feel like living. Everything is dull and I’m sad. In my dreams, when I am being chased, I usually decide to turn around and let myself be caught. That's how I feel. I don't want to go through this.. I'd rather just be done.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Things We Remember

Driving is my quiet time, and it's almost guaranteed that if I'm driving, I'm thinking about Dalton.

I desperately need to remember and record everything we ever did together I know it's absurd, but our life was so full, so intense, that I can't stand the thought of forgetting it. And when the memories come, they come in rapid progression - just snippits of a feeling or a thought or a place where we enjoyed each other. I have a list in the journal of memories I want to record for Iain. Tonights contributions were the way Dalton's hand felt when he rested it on my thigh while we drove, the simple joy and complete comfort we shared sipping on coffee and eating crossiants in our room at the Embassy Suites, the fun we had at the Whiskey seeing The 88, the long conversations over breakfast at Mels on Sunset, and after dinner drinks at the Bonaventure. I fear the list is too long to record and I'm clinging to our life. It's the only one I know.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Pit

Has anyone ever figured out the medical cause of the pit? By the pit, I mean that horrible, gripping, sinking, frantic feeling that radiates from the center of your torso when you realize something horrible has happened. The pit hit hard on Saturday morning and despite distraction, company, church, and a wonderfully, ignorantly cheerful baby, it hasn't receeded. It's as if something is sitting on my chest every waking minute.

Best I can figure, my body was in shock and functioning on autopilot for the first week. There was so much to do and think about that even in the moments when I would shut down, the pain was still held at bay by my own defense mechanisms. Saturday was the first day that I woke up and had nothing to do. Sure, I had a baby to care for and thank you cards to write, but I didn't have Dalton. And, it was real. It's real as I write this and feel the sob building up from the pit looking for someplace to escape. Crying in this situation is so much more than tears. The pressure is so great, that it's vocal and angry and physically painful. I remember seeing people sob in the movies and think, "No one cries that way." And then, I experienced it firsthand. Thankfully, the crying episodes are just that - episodic. Most of the time, I just live in constant awareness of the pit.

Our friend Eric (it's going to take a long time before I stop saying our) has been staying with me and it has been a bit of a double-edged sword. I've really appreciated the company and he's been a tremendous help around the house, but something feels wrong. Eric has stayed with us before and it's always been great, but this time it's just awkward. I don't know how to explain it except to say that the only man who should be alone in the house with Iain and me is Dalton. And, the only man who should be having lunch with me and carrying my baby and pushing the stroller and strapping him in to the carseat is Dalton. I've found myself almost hostile at times saying, "I'll get him." and "No, I don't want you to cook steaks. That's what Dalton cooks." And Eric isn't doing anything my girlfriends wouldn't do if they were here, but because he's a guy, it upsets me. So, while it's been really good to have him here, I suspect after he heads home tomorrow, that it will be quite a while before I venture out with any of my guy friends on my own.

I'm going to keep blogging for now and hope that some of you keep reading. With that in mind, I want to say a few things.

Dalton and I always imagined a happy ending to this story. He was going to recover. We were going to cooks steaks on the patio, go to baseball games, fly kites, and play with our grandkids. We were going to share our story of hope with others. This was not the way it was supposed to go. And, emotionally, I really wish I could end my own story here too. But I can't, so now I have to discover another ending. This is not a story whose arc I already know, so I don't know the path it will take to arrive at an ending or even how I'll know that I've reached it. I suspect that the next few chapters will be sad and depressing and generally yucky and if no one wants to read this anymore, I understand. However, I also know that at some point in life, most people will lose someone they love. And, maybe reading my struggle with finding a new ending or even a new beginning to my life will someday help someone else do the same. With that in mind, I will do my best to share this process with you as openly and honestly as I can.

And, let me start by clarifying that the five stages of grief as defined by Kubler Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) do not all happen in a nice neat little progression. It's more like an onslaught of all five at different times of the day. So, when you read one post that represents all five stages, just know that I am not an anomaly. I'm normal and real and at a loss, just sharing my life.