Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love is Stronger Than Death

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is stronger than death,
passion fiercer than the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one's house,
it would be utterly scorned.

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Prison Cell

Today I am suffocating in a prison of want.

I cannot think, cannot function, cannot move.

It literally feels like I can't breathe.

Craig, where are you?

Why did you leave me?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Was I Loved?

How could you, Craig?

How could you leave me so utterly alone?

All those years together, everything we went through, everything I sacrificed for you... and you never had anything good to say about me?

Did you even love me at all?

Why does it feel like you didn't?

I was a good wife, dammit. A very good wife. I supported you financially for 4 years, I put you through school, I made it possible for you to do what you wanted to do. I cooked, I cleaned, I listened. When you had nobody else, for years and years, I was there. Always there. I forgave so much. So much. More than anyone should ever have to. More than most people EVER would.

I loved you so much. And even though there were times when you frustrated and angered me, it was always tempered with my love for you. For any negative thing I had to say, I could easily follow with something I loved about you.

But not you.

Apparently you only had hurtful things to say about me.

So now how am I supposed to believe that you ever loved me at all?

You certainly are not here to say it.

Why am I hurting so much for someone who would have so easily forgotten me?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Things Taken From Me

For those of you imagining a sweet and graceful widow, filled only with sadness and no other emotion, you best avert your eyes now.

Because today I'm having an angry day.

Today I am mad at Craig for all the things he has taken away from me. Yes, I know the accident was not his fault in any way. Yes, I know he did not choose this.

But, still, there is this anger...

You took away my chance at having children. We both know I had only a couple years at most because of my Stupid Syndrome and now it is unlikely at best that I will be able to get married and try again before I am completely unable.

You took away my financial security. We were finally working at decent jobs, earning enough, paying off our debt. A couple more years and we'd have been laughing all the way to the bank.

You took away my ability to enjoy driving. Now all I do is cringe and flinch every time I get inside a vehicle. I am waiting for my head-on collision. I used to love driving. Now I'm just afraid.

You took away my ability to trust other human beings. You promised you'd never hurt me, but you did. You promised you'd never leave me, but you did. You promised we'd grow old together, but we never will. Now every time I hear someone else promise me anything, I think, it's only a matter of time.

You took away the joy in so many places. Now they are just tragic reminders, knifing my heart every time I see them. Our church, the hill, our school, the grocery store, our home, and everywhere in between.

You took away Hawaii. And I so loved Hawaii. But now I can never go back except to scatter your ashes and let my heart break all over again. It was so beautiful. And you promised this year we would go make new memories there. Now I will have to do it alone. And then I will never want to remember it again.

You took away my ability to be entertained. Every movie is a trap, every t.v. show is a tragic reminder, every radio station is a minefield. I have to be constantly vigilant to protect myself and have lost any chance of being entertained or finding enjoyment at all.

You took away my ability to let myself love anyone. I gave everything over to you, loved you with everything I had, invested my heart and my dreams in you, and you destroyed it all. Now I am unable to make myself do this with anyone else, no matter how much I want to.

You took away my trust in God. Now I know he can let the worst happen. Now all I can do is scream at the heavens, why? Why did you look away? Why weren't you paying attention?

You took away everything I would have every achieved. I would like to go back to school, but can't. I would like to have children and a family, but can't. I would like to grow old, travel, retire, have grandchildren... but can't.

There is no joy left in these things and if I managed even one, all I would ever want is to tell you and ask, aren't you proud of me?

But you are nowhere to ask and the only answer would be your unending silence.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forward Motion

A friend said to me once, one day I hope this no longer defines you.

My immediate reaction was, how can it not? How could there ever come a day when this is not everything in my life? When this is not the entirety of who I am?

I have thought on this long and hard over these last months.

And slowly, but surely, I am beginning to see a me unfolding that exists not separate and apart from this, but is whole after it.

My new life is taking form.

I am finding my own joy again, my own little pieces of happiness.

I laugh and smile, sometimes uncontrollably. Often innappropriately.

I have new dreams, new goals, new plans. Not yet fully formed, but they are there, taking shape one step at a time.

I am reclaiming my house, my closets, my bookshelves. Filling these spaces with the things I love rather than the things that make my heart ache.

I am organizing and decluttering, simplifying my life the way I need to.

I am surrounding myself with good people - friends and family who help me along and give me strength rather than suffocate or harm me.

I am reforming my beliefs and my faith in a way that is stronger and richer than I ever imagined possible. My God is my lifeline.

I have found a way to let love back into my heart and into my life. It is stronger than the fear.

I am letting go of the things of the past. I still hold them close to me, cherish and treasure them, but I have begun the arduous task of leaving them where they should be.

I am retraining my eyes to look forward instead of backwards.

I am redirecting my footsteps to move ahead instead of taking me running further behind.

I am gently pulling my heart forward so it beats again with purpose and passion instead of grief and suffering.

Each day has begun to hold promise instead of feeling like a prison sentence.

I have hope.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dear Craig

Ah, Craiggie.

You would be so proud of me.

I'm surviving.

Cleaned out the office. What a freaking mess in there. I knew you would just be grumbling about that one. After all your hard work, I was just chucking stuff in there, ruining your filing system and messing up your piles.

The car is still in working order. I took it to get a tune-up and have yet to forget to fill 'er up, even without you doing it for me Sunday nights. Yes, she needs a new windshield, but in all fairness, that was because of YOUR family reunion so technically, that one is your fault... ha ha.

I have been taking such good care of the house. It is relatively clean. Just don't look at the bathroom. I fixed the drain! All by myself! And it was so easy. And to think, all these years you were unclogging it for me and I could have just done it so easily... Oops. And did you see the new blinds? We were meaning to do that one forever. They look so great. And now I can finally sleep in our room without the sunlight burning my retinas at 4am. And the carpet is finally fixed. Dad was great, no? He totally stepped up. Just like you said he would.

And I've been walking. I know, I know, where was that when you were here? I hated it so much. And now I love it. Just walking and listening to your music. Makes me feel like you are walking with me. I really should have gone with you more. I just didn't know you'd be gone and I'd miss that so much.

I'm back to sleep! Finally, finally, FINALLY. After all this time, I can actually get 8hrs. It feels so good. I'm much less loopy. No more tornado mood swings. Well. They are still here, just less... tornado-y. Ah sleep. My old friend.

And did you see the baby? She's such a doll. Wish we had made it there. But it's ok that we didn't. I'll get there still. It was always more my dream than yours. And I know you still want that for me too.

I checked out Radium but couldn't find just the right spot. The place I was planning isn't any good. I know, I know, you said Hawaii. But did you see the Eternal Reefs? And in Victoria! You did promise you'd go with me. Told you we'd end up there eventually! I know you'll love it.

But I better run, I've got a million errands to do. That long hair you love so much is starting to look scruffy and it needs some cutting.

I miss you, Buddy.

Love you,


Friday, July 16, 2010

My First 'F'

This week has been all about failing. My grade for widowhood? I gigantic "F".

I have offended, I have avoided, I have cancelled plans. I have missed meetings, missed answering phone calls, changed my mind five minutes after making a decision.

I apologize to the friends and family reaching out, trying to help, that I have been unable to connect with.

Please, please, please try to understand that being a widow is a 24/7 job. You may see me for a couple hours a week and I may appear fine but that is simply because you are catching me on the couple hours that I have found the strength to get up, get dressed, and interact with the rest of the world.

The other 166 hours of the week I am usually a mess.

Let me define this for you.

Mess: Barely get out of bed, only shower if I have to, eat leftover crackers and possibly soup from a can if I feel a sudden burst of energy, cry my eyes out, clean only the dirtiest dishes, cry some more, emotionally cut by going through photo albums or listening to the funeral, wail on the floor, read a few pages of a book, rant and rave to myself about everything from the unfairness of life to the short shelf life of yogurt, make the few phone calls or send the couple emails I can muster the strength for, cry some more, stay up all night tossing and turning, repeat.

I ache constantly. Even if I am laughing, I am hurting inside.

I do not mean to offend anyone. I love you all. If I say no or change my mind it is not because of you. It is because I have literally run out of any scrap of energy or shred of ability to function. I do not want to worry you further by letting you see me this way. I am terrified that in my miserable state I will say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing simply because I am unable to focus on anyone else's feelings or life - I am utterly consumed with my new world.

I am trying to let everyone help me as much as possible but please know and accept that the way you think I may need help is not necessarily the help I actually need. It may be in a week or a month or a year, but in this exact moment, I might need something else.

Everybody around me has expectations of me. They may not say it, but they are there. I actually love it when people don't say it - it gives my ears a rest. Remember that there are dozens and dozens of people who need me right now, not just you. I have Craig's parents, his extended family, his coworkers, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my bosses, our neighbours, members of our church... the list goes on and on and on.

They all have ideas of how a widow should behave, what she should do, how far along in this grieving process I should be. They compare me using the world's largest yardstick to the way I used to be or to the elderly widows they have interacted with briefly over the years.

They wonder, why aren't you doing this? Why aren't you seeing more people? Why don't you tell people what you need? Why on earth are you doing that? Don't you think you should do this instead? It's what I would do.

All I hear is, you are not doing it right. You seem too sad. You don't seem sad enough. You seem like you are over-analyzing. You seem like you aren't thinking enough. You are crying too much. You aren't crying enough. You don't answer your phone enough. Your phone is always busy. You aren't getting out of the house enough. You should spend more time at home. You shouldn't hang out so much with that person. You should hang out with these people more. You should, you aren't, you failed.

I understand everyone has opinions and beliefs and ideas about what they would do if they were in my shoes. I used to have those ideas too. And I can tell you with 100% certainty that no matter what you think, no matter how you imagine this, you are dead wrong. You have no idea. The mind simply cannot fathom this kind of pain. You must live it to know it.

So please. I beg you. Please, please, please stop telling me what I should be doing and how I am failing. I am doing the very best I can just to survive. Do not compare me to you or to anyone you know or even to the old me. Apples and oranges. No, apples and elephants. They do not even come close.

I am tired of being graded 'F'. I think I at least deserve a little credit for the effort.

Because I have never worked so hard at anything in my life.

Please be patient with me.

It is the very best way you can help me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Have I Changed?

"People do not really change. They are just undefeated because they have gone on trying." - The Disappeared

Have I changed?

Sometimes I think I have transformed into an entirely new person. One I do not recognize, one I do not know.

I speak from a place that is unfamiliar, my words tumbling out in a torrent of pain, anger, hate, sadness, frustration, rage... none of it in a language I understand.

I make decisions that are rash after exhaustively analyzing all options. Decisions I would never have had to make or would have imagined.

I feel as though I was reborn 4 months ago. I have no memory of my past life. Only this new one. I am at once newly born and an old, weathered soul.

But then from time to time I see the glimpses of my former self.

The Emily who used to laugh with abandon. Throwing my head back, blissful, loud enough for the entire office to hear.

The Emily who thought cleverness was important. Who thrived on the idea of being smart, quick, sharp.

The Emily who cared so very much for the things and the people of this world. Cared about paying her bills on time, cared about her prized posessions, devoted hours and hours of time into the people she loved.

How can a person feel so disconnected from this world and from her past but still scream out that she is the same person?

I wish I knew.

I have said over and over, there is no going back. I can never be that person again. The old Emily is dead and gone. She died the same day Craig did.

But maybe it's just that version of me that everyone thought they knew who is gone. Maybe my essence is still there, I'm just the only one who knows which parts.

Perhaps I have not really changed, am not really different at all.

I may appear entirely new, but maybe the only change is that I am undefeated from refusing to stop trying. From refusing to give up the fight.

Maybe that is really the only change.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cleanliness is Next to... Happiness

Spent several days this weekend cleaning.

Not just dusting, vacuuming, or doing the dishes (although I did that too), but the Big Cleaning. As in meticulously going through the mountains of paperwork, photos, and personal items of Craig's that have been accumulating in all corners of the house.

My house is both a prison and a shrine.

On the one hand, it is an homage to our love and our life together. I can feel Craig here. I can see Craig here. Our home is full of memories of him and of us in every corner. There are momentos everywhere, photos filling the bookshelves, notes scattered in hidden corners throughout.

But I went away for a few days to visit family and friends and came back to the feeling of suffocation.

It was the first time I have been away from home since the accident and I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to walk in the door. It was as if an enormous duffel bag of misery was hefted back onto my shoulders. I literally felt myself slump as I walked in the door.

I love our things and I love our memories, but I needed to reclaim my home so it could be a sanctuary and a safe haven once again.

So I started with the office. It used to be my room. Yes, me and Craig each had 'our rooms' - his the workout room, mine the office. Two of our personal secrets to a good marriage: Having separate corners to retreat to and separate bathrooms (nothing makes me happier than no toothepaste gunk in the sink and being able to line up hair products over every available inch of counter space). Since the accident I have literally been chucking every document, momento, photo, whatever into that room. Most of them I couldn't bear to look at but knew I would still need so I threw them into the office rather haphazardly and closed the door so I wouldn't have to look at it.

Boxes and boxes and boxes to give away to the Salvation Army. Bursting garbage bags of old papers. All of it finally gone and my office meticulous, organized, and functional again. The pain of going through it was horrendous. I had to check every paper, every book just in case there was something of significance, however small. Particularly painful were the notebooks filled with his notes from work and school. There is something about seeing his writing... it is almost like bringing him back to life. Thank God for the friend who helped me with much of it, constantly reminding me that these things were not the memories I truly needed - the more significant momentos like his love letters were.

But still, I choked up. I cried. I sobbed. I panicked. I was wrecked with guilt over shredding the things he had worked so hard on. How do you enshrine a person's accomplishments? All of these things were things he cared about. Yet, there were just too many to hold on to.

I have a box of letters and cards, a box of items from the funeral, a box of photos, a box for his parents, a box for his friends, and of course the box from the accident with the items I pulled from the car. I kept the important paperwork and files, framed up the pictures I like best, put only his most precious books back on the bookshelf. Of course there are still many other things floating around - his clothes, his shoes (millions), his workout equipment and skates, and his bathroom. And dozens of other little things I am bound to run into here and there.

But for now I have relief.

The office, the big obstacle, is out of the way. Functional. Useful. Clean.

I have reclaimed a small corner of my life.

And it feels so good.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How You Can Help Me (Author Unknown)

Please talk about my loved one, even though he is gone. It is more comforting to cry than to pretend that he never existed. I need to talk about him, and I need to do it over and over.

Be patient with my agitation. Nothing feels secure in my world. Get comfortable with my crying. Sadness hits me in waves, and I never know when my tears may flow. Just sit with me in silence and hold my hand.

Don't abandon me with the excuse that you don't want to upset me. You can't catch my grief. My world is painful, and when you are too afraid to call me or visit or say anything, you isolate me at a time when I most need to be cared about. If you don't know what to say, just come over, give me a hug or touch my arm, and gently say, "I'm sorry." You can even say, "I just don't know what to say, but I care, and want you to know that."

Just because I look good does not mean that I feel good. Ask me how I feel only if you really have time to find out.

I am not strong. I'm just numb. When you tell me I am strong, I feel that you don't see me. I will not recover. This is not a cold or the flu. I'm not sick. I'm grieving and that's different. My grieving may only begin 6 months after my loved one's death. Don't think that I will be over it in a year. For I am not only grieving his death, but also the person I was when I was with him, the life that we shared, the plans we had for our children, the places we will never get to go together, and the hopes and dreams that will never come true. My whole world has crumbled and I will never be the same.

I will not always be grieving as intensely, but I will never forget my loved one and rather than recover, I want to incorporate his life and love into the rest of my life. He is a part of me and always will be, and sometimes I will remember him with joy and other times with a tear. Both are okay.

I don't have to accept the death. Yes, I have to understand that it has happened and it is real, but there are some things in life that are just not acceptable. When you tell me what I should be doing, then I feel even more lost and alone. I feel badly enough that my loved one is dead, so please don't make it worse by telling me I'm not doing this right. And remember, I was a capable adult before his death and I still am.

Please don't tell me I can find someone else or that I need to start dating again. I may not be ready. And maybe I don't want to be. And besides, what makes you think people are replaceable? They aren't. Whoever comes after will always be someone different.

I don't even understand what you mean when you say, "You've got to get on with your life." My life is going on, I've been forced to take on many new responsibilities and roles. It may not look the way you think it should. This will take time and I will never be my old self again. So please, just love me as I am today, and know that with your love and support, the joy will slowly return to my life. But I will never forget and there will always be times that I cry.

I need to know that you care about me. I need to feel your touch, your hugs. I need you just to be with me, and I need to be with you. I need to know you believe in me and in my ability to get through my grief in my own way, and in my own time.

Please don't say, "Call me if you need anything." I'll never call you because I have no idea what I need. Trying to figure out what you could do for me takes more energy than I have. So, in advance, let me give you some ideas:

(a) Bring food or a movie over to watch together.

(b) Send me a card on special holidays, our wedding anniversary, his birthday, and the anniversary of his death, and be sure to mention his name. You can't make me cry. The tears are here and I will love you for giving me the opportunity to shed them because someone cared enough about me to reach out on this difficult day.

(c) Ask me more than once to join you at a movie or lunch or dinner. I may say no at first or even for a while, but please don't give up on me because somewhere down the line, I may be ready, and if you've given up then I really will be alone.

(d) Understand how difficult it is for me to be surrounded by couples, to walk into events alone, to feel out of place in the same situations where I used to feel so comfortable.

Please don't judge me now - or think that I'm behaving strangely. Remember I'm grieving. I may even be in shock. I am afraid. I may feel deep rage. I may even feel guilty. But above all, I hurt. I'm experiencing a pain unlike any I've ever felt before and one that can't be imagined by anyone who has not walked in my shoes.

Don't worry if you think I'm getting better and then suddenly I seem to slip backward. Grief makes me behave this way at times. And please don't tell me you know how I feel, or that it's time for me to get on with my life. What I need now is time to grieve. Most of all thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your patience.

Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping, for understanding.

And remember in the days or years ahead, after your loss - when you need me as I have needed you - I will understand. And then I will come and be with you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Til Death Do Us Part?

I think not.

Went back through my wedding album today (yes, felt like a little emotional cutting) and was shocked when I re-read this excerpt from our wedding vows:

"In the spirit of love, I take you, Craig, to be my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, now and forever. This is my solemn vow."

Now and forever.

Not til death do us part.


Thank God.

Giving In To Needing

Craig's one wish for our marriage was always the same - that one day I would need him. I don't just mean financially or to reproduce (although obviously for those as well), but truly need him in an emotional way. The kind of give-in-give-up-put-your-whole-heart-and-sole-in-his-hands kind of way.

I was always too fiercely independent.

I couldn't help it.

I grew up in a house where being able to take care of yourself was one of the most highly valued traits a person could possess, especially as a woman. Be resourceful, be strong, be tough. Never have to rely on anybody. Always be able to stand on your own two feet.

Craig battled this in me constantly. He wanted to be the man I needed, the man I relied on, the head of our household. I, meanwhile, loved being strong, being independent, not needing anybody.

I remember many an argument that ended with him declaring in utter frustration, 'Why do you have to be so damn independent?' or 'Why can't you just let me do this one thing for you?'

But I was too stubborn and too proud to give in to that.

I think about it now all the time. Especially today for some reason. How my stubbornness and independence have saved me now. How the great irony is that if I had given in and allowed myself to completely rely on him, without being strong on my own account, I would be in an even sorrier mess right now.

It has also made me question why I was never able to let go of that last inch of me. To give myself fully to him or anybody else. I think I have finally come to the conclusion that it was always about fear. Fear that in relying too much on someone, I would always need them. That one day they would be gone and I would be helpless. That God was not someone I could trust to protect me, that I would ultimately have to protect me.

So does this mean I was right?

I'm not sure.

What I do know is that I am so very, very tired of being tough and being strong and being independent.

I would very much like to give in and need someone now.

I would throw myself at Craig willingly.

After years and years of fighting it, this is the thing that breaks me.

I don't know yet if that is good or bad.

I can only hope the person I finally choose to need is always there, so I don't have to go back to being strong again.

Because I don't know how much of that strength I have left.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Family's Canada Day Gathering

Yesterday was Canada Day and since my family loves any excuse to get together (we're fun like that), we had our usual clan gathering. Out in the backyard, turkey roasted over a fire pit, food, drinks, sunshine and all the aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, and grandparents a person could ask for.

This is a family tradition, much like our other gatherings at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and, well, Just Because days. Laughter, conversation, so much fun. I love them.

Loved them.

Easter was the first big get together without Craig. And it hurt. It was painfully obvious that he was missing to just about everyone there. You could feel the little lulls in conversation where one of Craig's jokes would have dropped into place. You could almost see the gap across the table where he should have been sitting, trying to out me for cheating on card games.

But this time, it seemed I was the only one missing him there.

I was dreading this gathering for days and days. Had to psych myself up. Almost didn't go. Bought everything for the fruit salad I was going to bring that morning but opted instead to lie in bed weeping. Left all the fruit salads innards on my counter instead, traipsing over at the last possible minute.

There were hugs, stares, and the usual round of 'how are you?' that I still have not figured out an appropriate answer for.

And no Craig following in behind me, sitting beside me until he had worked up a good conversation with dad, getting at least 2 heaping plates of food, letting me nibble off his dessert tray, sipping on coffee or tea that he would get up to make for everyone. No Craig to warn me about sitting in the sun too long or ask me if I was wilting yet and wanted to go home.

Of course these are the only things I can think about while I am there. My inability to be even somewhat social is beyond frustrating. I can't follow a conversation, I have run out of clever and witty comebacks, and my ability to entertain with a good story has withered and died.

So not only do I miss my Craig, but I miss the fun we would have and the fun person I used to be. I am hoping that with enough family functions, eventually, one day, I will love them like I used to.

That I will once again be Fun Emily instead of Sad Widow.

Because even I am sick of her.