Cathy died a month ago today. As hard as the last two years have been, and this includes my own hospitalization and other assorted health problems, and as rough as this year has been, and as painful as the last four months have been, the last thirty days have been some of the most challenging days of my life. I went from the funeral straight to not having a vehicle for three weeks. The enforced shut-in was both oddly comforting and ridiculously stressful, in that it made me feel even more helpless an ineffectual. Running the gauntlet between our wedding anniversary, my birthday, Halloween, and Cathy's birthday sure as hell didn't help matters one little bit.
All this to say, I am grateful that friends and family don't blithely ask me how I'm doing. Ordinarily I would be loathe to bypass the social niceties (the hi's and how are you's), but my patience is worn tissue paper thin right now, and things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me a bit are sending me into a red rage. But I can't yell in a stranger's face, "I feel like I'm trying to play the trombone with only one arm! How do you THINK I'm doing today!?"
That's how I feel: like I've been amputated. And phantom limb syndrome for me involves walking around the house like a mental patient, talking to thin air and anxiously waiting for an answer that will never come.
Dinner time is the worst. We made a point of having dinner together every night, no matter how busy we were. Family time. We'd download our days on each other and talk about whatever was bugging us. Even if we weren't at the dining room table, we always ate together, unless one of us was out of town or out of commission.
Now I sit at the dining room table, in the flickering light of a prayer candle, sobbing into my food. That was Cathy's thing; she loved candles, for mood, for ambiance, for intimate settings, for holidays. Some of our date nights were put on pause while she spent five minutes running around the house, lighting so many candles. I never minded, because she loved them. But I never participated in any candle lighting rituals, unless is was to sniff a pillar candle's butt to see if I liked the smell.
I light a candle for dinner, every night, now. She comes to me in the flame, and for just a few seconds, I feel like she's at the table with me. I bow my head, and talk to her, and I cry until I can't anymore.
I am inconsolable at night. This place doesn't feel like it belongs to me; rather, I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like I belong anywhere.
Some days are better than others. I wake up with some tasks to do, and I methodically complete them and cross them off the list. Those are good days. I feel like myself, doing the things I'm supposed to do. Other days, I can't open the laptop without getting kicked in the chest. Songs, smells, memories, random thoughts, you name it. There is nothing too small or trivial that won't derail my train of thought and bring me to my knees like I've been clotheslined.
It's exhausting. It feels like a low-grade panic attack. Certain memories keep replaying in my head. A miasma of sadness and helplessness. Her last night. Finding out that she would have to go into hospice. Feeling that sense of hope falling out from under me like a trapdoor. The people in hospice talking to her like she was an old woman. All of that stuff comes pouring into me, filling me up with rage and woe and souring my stomach and I have to either scream or cry or punch thin air until it boils off and I can function again.
How do you think I'm doing?
I'm making lists of things to do, both short and long term goals. I'm meditating. I'm self-medicating. I'm journaling like a Beat Poet. I'm trying, really hard, to engage with friends and family when they call. I'm taking a daily inventory of my pains, cataloging my grief in scribbled tear drops in blue ball-point pen ink, red exclamation points, and black reminders of things to do, admonishments to stay focused, notes about how I felt that day. No one asked me to do this. I'm just doing it. Because I can't think of anything else to do.
Somehow, I'm getting work done. Not all of it. Not well. But small projects are being completed. The theater is operating again, even if no one in Vernon has caught on (or wants to brave the Pandemic Hellscape).
I have a lot of help, from friends, family, staff. People sending me really thoughtful gifts to help me with my ongoing health and wellness. And it's not all falling by the wayside, either. To date, I've lost 30 pounds in two months, and a combined 18 inches across the expanse of my manatee-esque body. Most of the weight lost has been in the lower abdomen, groin, and legs. This has really had a positive impact on my movement and ability to get around. It's been very encouraging, to say the least. Also, in the TMI department: the scrotal edema is finally shrinking. My junk is getting smaller, and I'm thrilled. I may be the only man in the history of the world to ever feel that way, but right now, I'm taking any victory I can.
I have a not-so-arbitrary goal of May 15th as the real health and wellness check-up and the the first, largest hurdle to clear; simply survive the first six month of being a widower. Those are the most crucial months for me, due to the extra stress. Light a candle and say a prayer for me, if you're so inclined.
It's going to be rough for a while. I don't have a map, but I do have a direction.