Paying Homage: Who was he?

I recently took part in a memoir writing course, hoping it would help me write the memoir I’ve been struggling with – about my life with Bob, my husband who died four years ago June 8th, and grief, and whatever else this book will be when I write it. But I just can’t seem to get the writing down in any way that isn’t jumbled.

I tried to write a submission for critique. The first one wasn’t good. The second attempt wasn’t much better. Overall, it was a painful struggle. When it came time for the critique of my piece – the last of all the submissions – the facilitator didn’t go through my story like she had for the others. She asked questions.

“What was Bob like? From what you’re saying, without saying it, I think we can tell he was intrigued by you when he met you. I think he was introverted, kind and shy.”

But these were conjecture based on what was in between the words. I hadn’t said who he was and in missing that I missed what made him important to me, and to others who knew him.

So I’m going to do my best to tackle this again, and maybe by sharing this I am revealing just a small part of who he was.

Bob fought for his life the entire time I knew him and without complaint. We had a good marriage. We weren’t best friends, we became kindred spirits. We rarely fought each other; we fought for his life together. He had Crohn’s Disease – an often debilitating illness causing so much pain it’s palpable, especially to those who love you the most. We fought the disease one operation after the other until his death. “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” And yet, during the 30 years I knew him he never once complained about his lot in life. He barely complained about the excruciating pain until it became unbearable and he would tell me it was time to go to the hospital.

Bob was the most honest person I ever met. Over the past four years I’ve encountered people who are bitter over broken relationships, divorce and deceit. I can tell you without any hesitation that Bob would never do that to me. We actually had this conversation and I remember saying that cheating on someone would be the worst pain you could inflict on them. “That one act can affect another human being’s self-esteem and makes them question their self-worth. It’s better to admit you harbored those feelings and walk away before you acted causing irreparable pain to another human being,” I said. He agreed. I trusted that Bob would never do that and I know he didn’t. He was, as we say in Yiddish, a mensch – a person of integrity and honor.

Bob was analytical and a mediator. He always said “There are three sides to every story, yours, mine and the truth.” He was soft spoken and rarely raised his voice in anger. When he did, people would stop whatever they were doing. They would listen to him as he analyzed the situation, having weighed all the pros and cons before speaking up. In one of his jobs he was asked to be a mediator and in another job he was approached to be a union representative because people knew he would be fair and honest. He proved himself to be fair in all instances and took his job mediating on behalf of others very seriously.

Bob was respected by everyone who knew him. During his last months, his co-workers and supervisors from the automotive parts plant, where Bob was a lead-hand electrician, came to the hospital to talk to him about his return to work. They had decided to put him in charge of their apprentice program because he was so patient and good at teaching those who were in trade training. He was humbled and elated at the opportunity to take on this role, which never happened because he didn’t make it back to work.

At his visitation services grown men came and cried on my shoulder saying how much they would miss him. The day of he was buried, the plant he worked at shut down production at 11:00 a.m. when the funeral began. There’s a sizable financial cost to involved with shutting down a plant, even for a short while and, believe me, this isn’t done for everyone.

Bob was a wonderful father and grandfather. We have a daughter and he had two children from a previous marriage. His daughter has a child, our granddaughter. Bob was an amazing father. His children looked up to him and wanted to make him proud. It wasn’t hard to do that. He was proud of each of them and always let them know this, not with constant praise but by being there to counsel them whenever they had problems. It was dad they often turned to when they were struggling. They knew he’d have the answer they needed to hear.  His granddaughter was nine when he was in the hospital those last months. No matter how sick he was, when she came to visit he’d swing his feet over the side of the bed, sit next to her and whisper quietly having a special, private conversation only a grandfather and granddaughter can have. When he died his children were bereft and to this day they all miss him profoundly.

Is this what people need to know if I were to write a memoir? I’m still not sure. But I hope that by giving just a few small insights into who he was, I pay homage to a man who never looked for the limelight, but in his death I hope I honor him with my memories.

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I will always miss you

It’s been almost four years and my heart still aches.
I will always miss you.

I am in a different place than I was four years ago, but
I will always miss you.

My heart is open to new possibilities, but
I will always miss you.

When I see couples together and I feel jealous.
I will always miss you.

I am stronger than I was three, two, a year or less ago, but
I will always miss you.

I walk without you beside me but I’m told you’re always near. I don’t feel you.
I will always miss you.

I wonder what life would be like if you were still here.
I will always miss you.

A bird, a word, a song, all reminders of our life together.
I will always miss you.

Realization that finding someone like you is impossible but I must go on.
I will always miss you.

I am hopeful that I will find a light and a different kind of love beyond sad memories but I will never forget you.
I will always miss you.

I will remember you forever even as my new life evolves.
I will always miss you.

May his memory be a blessing

So many days and dates have passed. A year from when I was in the hospital came and went. I meant to acknowledge it and I did, in my head, but not through my fingers – words on the page. 

Some days I slip back, but now I feel like I’m taking three steps forward and only one back, once in a while. 

I am not a widow anymore. I am a person standing on my own. But sometimes I lean on the pasGirlfriends-ID11545-640x427t. People can talk about former relationships and no one flinches, but when someone mentions a loved one who died they cringe, so I share my memories with others who have lost their partners and we nod in unison. We remember fond memories as the sadness recedes it’s still there. How do we explain this to someone who doesn’t know? And how do those of us left behind move on, cope and remember? This is what I believe.

When you lose someone from this earth, when their last breath is expelled, there is an indelible mark left on those who spent their lives with that person. The closer you were to them the stronger the bond. Eventually we begin remembering happier times, but we never forget, and a pain sears through our chest when some memories come. We don’t want to let go. We need them to be remembered. 

I’ve been wanting to do this and I’m ready. I’m writing a book that I hope will help others understand so that that when they go through the loss – and it’s more likely than not that they will – hopefully they won’t feel so alone. So the book begins like this…

One, two, orange, blue. How many will it take? Should I just use the whole bottle?

I was counting pills that night. There was no rational thought. I had reached the bottom of an endless number of sad, lonely days. I felt weak and welcomed death. Anything I could do to alleviate my pain had to be better than what I was feeling day after day after day.

Profound, gut-wrenching grief is horrible. In the beginning you don’t believe there is anything but pain. The journey itself seems insurmountable. But the opposite of living is not living, and for those left behind it leaves another horrible hole of despair.

When someone you love dies there are lessons to be learned. But when you are awash with grief you are numb. It’s nature’s way of protecting you. Slowly the protection peels away and then comes the excruciating painful reality. “He is here. No, he’s gone. I should tell him that. Oh, no. I can’t. He’s not here…” It plays over and over in your mind like a horrible song. It knocks you over and punches you in the gut. You get up. It happens again.

I’ve heard people say that when a loved one dies friends are there for you, but then they go away. My story is different. For me people came to help, some I barely knew, because I posted on social media and people felt a connection to me and my story, and to Bob. They were knocking at my door. Calling me. Some shared confidences in person, others on social media, telling me secrets about their own lives and intimate journeys. Some things I remember, but not everything as I fell into and out of the fog.

Each person who entered my life over the course of days, months and these past years had a lesson for me. My mind selectively chose which ones to remember. Many have been repeated and ingrained in my heart.

When someone you love dies, part of you dies too. My fight to find purpose in life again has been long and arduous. Grief took away my role as wife and partner. It shattered family ties. Some mended, but will never be the same. And so there is more loss. 

I am not overtly religious, but one thing I heard over and over again was the phrase “May his (or her) memory be a blessing.” This is a Jewish honorific – an expression conveying respect or esteem when addressing or referring to a person. I read somewhere that when we mention the deceased person’s name and we say it along with “blessed memory” this infers that each time you think of someone who has died, or say their name, they are blessed, and so are you. So the memory you have of them turns into a blessing for you and for their soul.

I want Bob’s mehappy woman-570883_1280mory to be a blessing. He was a beautiful person and I hope that I can share that too, as well as the lessons I learned through grief. The lessons he taught me when he passed on. May his memory be a blessing.

One Day at a Time, Part I

In March I wrote about the fact that I was taking a program – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression. This was the second mental health therapy program I’ve taken since I was released from the hospital. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

I’ve been writing about metamorphosis lately and that’s where I believe I am now. I had a meeting with one of the case workers at the hospital who ran the CBT program and I had to tell her What I Learned and How I’ve Changed. So, being me, a writer, I wrote about it.  I’ll break this down into a few posts over the week because it’s lengthy. I will start here with the background to fill in some of the blanks.

June 23, 2015

The past two years has been a tumultuous journey for me. It has also been a time of many epiphanies. To say ‘it hasn’t been easy,’ is an understatement.

I believe I have always suffered from depression since I was teenager. I was diagnosed when I was 40. I was put on medication (Prozac). I weaned off (with my Doctor’s permission) hoping that I would be able to manage without it, but found myself in that dark abyss of depression again, so agreed to go back on the medication. I was on it for almost 20 years.

Despite the medication I have always suffered some symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and extreme anxiety. After Bob died (June 8, 2013) I started a slow decent, fueled by intense grief and (I learned later) the medication no longer working. Instead it was making me more depressed and I became suicidal. My anxiety was out of control. The slightest little issue sent me into a frenzy. I couldn’t think straight. I felt immobilized by fright.

I was hospitalized in October 2014 after an attempted suicide. Doctors quickly diagnosed the biggest issue,  the medication no longer working and, ironically, this meant it was making me even more depressed. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and my medication changed under the care of a psychiatrist. I attended classes and through the learning was able to label my anxiety issues. My low self-esteem was also at an all-time high (no pun intended).

I was released from hospital approximately a week later and began an outpatient group therapy– Track to Wellness. This program gave me tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and an overview of other group therapies available at the hospital. I requested and was accepted into CBT for Depression.

After a four-week three-hour activation sessions, followed by eight week, three-hour CBT group therapy sessions, including homework every night detailing everything from how I felt on a scale of 1 to 10 about every single thing I was doing to noting what made me laugh, positive events and many other details, I emerged in a very different place than when I started.

Looking back, I do wonder if part of this is be due to the two-year mark after Bob died. Maybe the worst of my grief passed by calendar days. But it’s more likely a combination of many things, the biggest lesson being to “live in the moment” and exactly what that means. I leave that for my next post.

 

For a thousand years

I have been at a loss for words for months.  But as I approach the second anniversary of Bob’s passing, June 8th, I cry more often, sleep less, feel desperately lonely.

After this length of time people drift away. They assume you’re okay. Yes, I am better than I was, but I still struggle every day.

Today I was looking for the lyrics for a song I liked and I found the “official video.” It was written for the Twilight Saga, so there’s pictures of the wedding between the two main characters nestled in with the singer, Christina Perri, but it’s the song I love. The words and melody are beautiful . I began singing along. By the end of the song I was in tears.

The tears were short lived. I’m okay. But the memories and the pain never go away. You always remember. And, I believe, that you should never forget.

I consider myself lucky to have loved, and have been loved, unconditionally. I just wish it had been for a thousand years, or more.

Alone and Lonely

The last post I wrote was when I was in crisis. I am through that portion of the journey, with lots of help. I have been in group therapy and continue this route. I am not crazy, but I am more aware of my mental health issues – a propensity toward depression and anxiety. I understand the signs. I have been good in my healing. But I am still alone and lonely.

I haven’t written much since I fell apart. The main problem was that my antidepressants weren’t working. That means that they were actually triggering massive depression. Over the course of a week when I was in hospital they changed my medications and I was given some unique insight into depression and anxiety and how I fit the mold, and how to break the mold, if I want to.

I have good friends and a stable life, but I have dual personas. One is the ‘normal’ person that most people know. I get up and attend to my ‘to do’ list in life. I feed the cats. I do work that’s presented to me. Even when I don’t feel happy, I try my best to feel happy. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle against anxiety and depression and still the grief; that lingering, ever-present grief.

March 10, 2013 Bob called me to say he was going into emergency. Last year at this time I was re-living every moment. This year I’ve been spared the moment-by-moment memories, but there are always reminders.

It’s time to file taxes and as I go through my past year’s files I am struck by the fact that last year was the last year anyone would file taxes for you, Bob. When I see your name on all the documents I felt sick. I’m not sure why. Am I still in denial? Sometimes, like in the first months following your death, I think this is just a dream and I’ll wake up…

Yesterday was the first day of spring. It would have been your 66th birthday. This year I will be 60. We would have celebrated this milestone together. But I just want to stay in bed when that day comes.

IMG_0309My cats – Cassie and Joey – are my blessing. They keep me focused on the need to get out of my bed, even when I want to stay buried under the covers. I get up and feed them. I laugh at their antics. I live each day as it comes. But it still isn’t the way I wanted it to be.

My time in the hospital changed how I view the world and how it views me. It brought my family together, and created small tears in other places. It brought me new friends, and others drifted away.

I seek answers and have found them in other worldly ways, through mediums who speak with those on the other side. Whether you believe in it or not, it has brought me some comfort, and the messages are the same, no matter the medium, no pun intended (but that says a lot, at least to me, about the validity of the messengers and the messages).

I start a new therapy this week. I cried my way into the acceptance phase asking, “Do I have to be depressed to write the best I can? I need to find out.” Maybe I will, or maybe I won’t. Maybe writing needs to be fueled by that single glass of wine on a lonely Saturday night with two cats in the dark because I’ve been writing this and haven’t turned on the lights in the house.

I am lonely, Bob. I have been told you come and brush your hands along my hair and brush your fingers gently across my face, that you say you never told me “I love you” enough. It’s true we weren’t gregarious in our affections. I am told that you are always with me, but I don’t see you and I don’t really feel you…maybe it’s not rational thinking, but I hope you are somewhere safe and happy.

I keep saying, this isn’t the life I chose, it chose me. I don’t know where it will take me. And I’m not sure that anyone cares but me. I miss you. And I’ll say it now, “I’m lonely.”

Down the Rabbit Hole: Finding my way out

My first message to friends and family from the hospital

October 28, 2014

I have thought about writing but honestly haven’t had time and I’m not sure I can put this into words. I just want to give you a small window into what happened and what is going on.

This has nothing to do with anyone but me. Technology played a huge part in helping me. I reached out in that way not because no one was calling me but because I suffer from depression complicated by grief and choosing a combination of healthy and, in desperate times, unhealthy coping skills to deal with what I’ve been going through just wasn’t working – especially the unhealthy part. I thought about calling people; a crisis line because I was in crisis.  But the mind doesn’t work clearly when it is in a state of desperation.

Every day I have an epiphany and I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but I spent the last 16 months researching grief and trying to get help. I knew I was making some positive progress but in the last few weeks I hit a brick wall. I reached out for help through grief therapy, my GP, counselling therapy…the list is endless.  I was in a state of panic but kept trying to hold it together. In times of crisis the mind doesn’t think rationally. We don’t understand what is going on. We just hurt and try to drive away the pain. This wasn’t the first time this happened in the past few months. I’ve been monitored by my doctor but if I don’t know what is going on how can I articulate it?

To complicate things, like many of you, I am a high functioning person but in my case it’s a high functioning depressed person. I have been on meds that helped me cope but I lost my anchor, the man who knew me best and who could calm me down when I felt overwhelmed.

When I came here, to the hospital emergency, a doctor came in and assessed my situation immediately. “First, I don’t think the medication you’re on is working anymore. This is complicated by grief and all that you’ve been through since then. I’d like to suggest we change your meds and, if you can hold on, we will get a bed for you and have an entire team working with you.”

I am confused by exhaustion and depression but didn’t miss the last part of that statement. A team? But I turned to my daughter and asked her “what do you think?” I needed to be sure I was making the right decision, though who really knows what the “right decision” is. She is sympathetic and analytic. “Mom, you’ve been looking for help. I think you should do this.” I agree. I spend two nights and almost two days in emergency, first in quarantined confinement, then am moved out of the high-risk area.

I am tired and starving – I can’t eat the food they give me and, as a result, my brain becomes strained and doesn’t function as it should. Finally, on Monday, I am told a bed is ready for me. I am admitted to the mental health ward. I am not scared, but confused. I do feel safe but I don’t know what’s going on. Add anxiety to my list of issues. It was on high alert.

After a few days I fall into the routine. A nurse in the morning, a new one on night shift. I meet with my psychiatrist. He is amazing. He agrees with the doctor in emergency.  “We need to change your meds. They worked for you before but they aren’t helping now.” Having been diagnosed with depression over two decades ago it’s not hard to believe that the original medications have stopped doing the work they used to. It happens. “Y

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but I do know that I need to change my cognitive beliefs  and between medication and one on one therapy and people who are trained to help me do this I am cautiously optimistic. Do I know what my purpose is in life yet? No. Will I start to live with hope and positive beliefs? I’m trying to learn how. Many will say “You have to want to and you need to start thinking positively” but it’s not that black and white.

I feel like I’m in a safe place where people get it. We are all here to fight our demons and we want to get better. The care is exemplary. I have given my medical team cart blanche to allow and restrict me where they  see fit but I also see that, as a high functioning person who has always been adept at hiding feelings, my medical team is giving me more liberal treatment. I have day passes now but I must promise every day that I will be sure to be safe. So I need to be cognizant of my feelings and keep asking myself “do I feel safe?” And right now I do.

I now realize in this,  one of my most rational moments over the last 16 months, that my actions could cause pain to others and that they will not ‘get over it’ and won’t be ‘better off without me.’ My biggest wake-up call came when I saw my daughter walk into my house that night with tears in her eyes. I knew I had to try and figure this out. So I will work hard. I will falter. I will pray for strength.

Please know I thank  you all for your caring and love. I don’t check email regularly right now so I apologize for not replying earlier and I won’t be checking often for a while.  Please just know that I appreciate my PWAC family helping me and continuing to support me. If I can ask one thing, please send me strength and clarity.