|This photo appeared on Aaron's facebook page after he died. Two pictures had 'mysteriously' |
(thanks Aaron) blended into one. Aaron in spirit, flying home.
I didn’t expect to be a widow at fifty-one. Even that feels slightly fraudy to say. Perhaps if I was in my 60’s or 70’s, I might feel more justified in calling myself a widow. I’m not sure why I feel this way. Like I’m too young to have become a widow or something.
And I am too young.
Who dies at forty-five from the flu for God’s sake?
My husband Aaron did. Yes, it was the H1N1 virus. And he had an enlarged heart. I always said he had a big heart…
But despite that, it’s not what you expect from the ‘flu.’ You think, in this day and age, nobody dies from the flu for God’s sake!!! And it’s this sense of ‘unreality’ that constantly slams into you after a death. The fact that the person simply isn’t here is surreal. Some days you just can’t comprehend it.
I’ve had two significant deaths previous to Aaron dying, but this one has been a different experience altogether. I have just gone past the six month anniversary of him dying. Now I am seeing patches of ‘sanity.’ Where before, there were none.
My own reaction to the death on every level has been the strangest thing for me to deal with in some ways. I noticed as I’ve written this that I’m switching back and forth between first person ‘I’ and second person ‘you.’ It does feel like that. At times, you feel completely disconnected from yourself and everything around you.
There are so many things that nobody tells you will happen. Your memory goes in the strangest way. I normally have a fairly good memory, but whole tracts of information simply disappeared on me. I skipped ahead from Tuesday to Friday one week. God knows how I did that. As in, I thought it was Friday and it was Tuesday?!
They don’t tell you that simple things that used to be a five minute job will now take you half an hour to do. I’d say to a girlfriend, I’ll be over in an hour. Two and a half hours later, I’d arrive, completely baffled by how long everything seemed to take. I only stopped for cat food, gas and Macs?
I was expecting the odd things like, working on my book one night, lost in the ether space of writing… I looked up and thought, oh, Aaron must have gone to bed already. Then I realized… No, he hasn’t. He’s gone. Not here anymore. Never coming back…
Those things I expected.
Nobody realizes how exhausting everything is. Or how certain things feel like Everest to scale. A simple phone call takes on nightmare proportions. I’m a normal introvert and dislike the phone, crowds, malls etc like most writers, but now, it seems even worse.
Strange things take on odd proportions. Selling some of the books and DVD’s we had because they were Aaron’s and I don’t watch, read them, makes me feel funny. Like, if I sell anything, they might make me forget who he was. Today, I bagged up some of his clothes to give to the men’s shelter. I cried, but it was okay. I kept the things that had meaning for me. Various clothes, a pair of underpants for God’s sake and some socks. But they are all memories of him.
I have mostly been on my own dealing with this. And the long days often drag into long weeks. It’s been really hard to deal with. I like my time on my own, but this is overkill. I don’t have a lot of support where I am. And yet sometimes, the effort to pick up the phone can be beyond me. The feeling of a lack of a future for me has been daunting at times. You do wonder if you’ll ever laugh and love again with abandon. I wrote a Christmas story about it.
You feel like fifty shades of grey. Grey, old, tired, exhausted. You look in the mirror and think, who is that?
Small things overwhelm me. Big things I simply stopped dealing with…
I manage to feed the cats and me. I do the washing once a month. The house is a tip and I don’t care. I gave my stray puss Mr. Beaumont a toilet roll to play with (because he gets bored) and now have shredded toilet paper everywhere. As well as all the feathers he pulled out of another toy I got him. I just step over it.
But I see small improvements in me. My hair starts to look like mine and it’s not bone dry from stress.
I’m just starting to get my memory back.
I’m sleeping deeply again and for longer.
I cooked up home fry potatoes and eggs the other night. The first time I’ve cooked something ‘real’ since Aaron died.
I got my toenails painted.
I wore a pair of pretty earrings the other day.
These are the ways that measure my improvement.
I think that is the thing that has floored me the most. The incredibly slow increments of movement. I had a heart attack when I was forty. It took me a good eight weeks until I could do things ‘normally’ again. I remember measuring my progress by how much it took out of me to walk from the toilet to my couch every day. When I could walk that small distance without it feeling like a descent on Everest, I knew I was getting there.
This has felt the same.
I come from a culture that doesn’t do grief or feelings well. The New Zealanders are all pissed off with me because I’m not being ‘tough, rugged and durable.’ They want me to be coping better than I am. In the end, I stopped taking their calls, answering their emails. They just made me feel even more defective than I was already feeling. I realized that I had to heal in MY time. Not theirs. They wanted me to be better so ‘they’ could cope. I knew I couldn’t take their feelings into consideration because they weren’t taking mine into consideration. In the end, I walked away.
I asked a couple of people how they coped with deaths they’d had. One person said she drank vodka for a month. Another said she slept for a year and a half. I respect that. It’s real.
I probably began to heal the most when I stopped trying to be what everyone wanted me to be. Today I’m not coping. If you’re not coping with that, there’s the door. I simply didn’t have the energy to take into account everyone else’s sensibilities. In a strange way, I got to show myself some self love. The gentle art of saying NO.
In Top Gun, when Maverick can’t reengage. There’s a scene where’s he on the ground and his Reo has a go at him. He grabs him hard and says, “I’ll fire when I’m damn well good and ready.”
I’ve always said you don’t get over a death but you go through it.
And this is particularly so.
I thought long and hard about whether to put this blog up. But I’m not the only person who’s experienced a death and wondered what the hell’s going on. Or been on the end of ‘well meaning’ but dreadful things people say. Thoughtless, insensitive, uncaring, crap.
My stepmother actually said to me, “Well, you’ve been on your own before, you’ll be okay.” Like perhaps I had lost my job and another better one was just around the corner.
Seriously? I didn’t speak to them for ages, I just couldn’t cope with it. I then had a go at her and she came back later to apologize. She realized if my dad died suddenly, how would she cope?
The guy in the supermarket I talked to quite often said, “Bummer.”
Really? I just gave him the death stare and walked off. I’ve never spoken to him again.
And there have been some wonderful, kind, caring people. Thank you to all of you, who know who you are. Who have understood. Who have encouraged me to simply grieve and take it easy on myself. THANK YOU.
It’s the strangeness of it all that is the hardest to cope with. The unrealness and disconnection from my own self. When you measure a week by, I had one good day this week. Ugh. Where being able to take out the trash, stack and turn on the dishwasher, clean down the counters, possibly wash the kitchen floor feels like a monumental achievement.
The sadness is the hardest thing to deal with. Aaron and I loved to travel together. I realized that was one of the things that were getting to me. All the places he didn’t get to see. All the things I know he would have loved and had a ball at. All the stuff he’s missed out on. My mum died at the same age as Aaron and I didn’t feel those things with her.
Time is the only healer in any of this.
And it’s a long slow process.
In six months time I will write again about where things are at. I hope to see more of my life force back. Just having my memory starting to function again seems like a huge thing.
So, be especially kind to anyone you know who’s had a death. You’re probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what they’re dealing with on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis.
So many of us feel ‘we should’ cope for ‘other peoples’ sensibilities. Encourage people to simply grieve. Do not push them into your time frame for things. Your time frame is wrong for them. Do not ‘jolly’ them along. You are wrong. We have to be falsely up while you are there. Then we sink into the lonely depression afterward. It’s bad for us.
Realize that people have an inbuilt survival instinct. That even if it looks like they’re barely living, somewhere, somehow they are managing to do some things to keep functioning. It might not be how ‘you’d do it,’ but they’re standing. When you have to deal with exactly the same situation, get back to me and tell me how well you’re doing with it.
I don’t recommend that people ‘keep busy.’ It just delays grieving.
I don’t recommend that people ignore their feelings. It just delays grieving.
Don’t be brave. Be real. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve. It goes faster. You heal quicker. I know this, because I’ve just gone through it. Don’t let other people push you. Tell them to ‘eff off’ if you have to. This is not the time to keep up appearances. It’s time for you. I say all this back to myself, as much as to anyone else.