Remember the day where the pain resides

I remember to forget forgetting

I lost track of the date over the weekend. It happens when you really don’t have a good reason to remember. But I don’t really need a calendar to find the tenth of any month. All I have to do is look at my behavior and how I’m feeling. My subconscious knows the monthly anniversary of Jane’s death even when my conscious mind doesn’t.

…the sounds of an empty house when half its soul is gone.

It really starts the night before. I avoid going to bed. When I get there, I don’t sleep. I know what Ebenezer Scrooge dreamed that night, but my ghosts visit me the tenth of every month. They are relentless. Someone asked me last month to write a piece about dealing with the failures and regrets after you lose your spouse. I want to answer that question as a last part of my series on being a caregiver. But I don’t have an answer.

Remember to forgive

Jane forgave me before she died. I know that because she said it. But I have yet to figure out how to forgive myself. Intellectually, I know I did all I could have done. I made the best decisions I could, given what we knew at the time. But emotional forgiveness is a very different story.

I avoid going to bed.

And I also know that even if I find a way to get my emotional side to accept and forgive, I will never be entirely whole. I wrestle with that part of the loss as well–and never more than on the ninth and tenth of the month.

I remember confusion

The good news is that I cope pretty well the rest of the month. I cook, I clean, I buy groceries and pay the bills. I go out to listen to music or see a play. I laugh. At times, I can even pretend for a few hours that everything is normal.

…I did all I could have done.

Last night, I buried myself in a book for six hours. I went to bed about 3 a.m. I woke up late, not knowing what day it was. I went to the kitchen and made six separate trips to the refrigerator to gather the ingredients for breakfast, interspersed with doing dishes, opening the drapes, and moving randomly from room-to-room to no earthly purpose. I dropped things. I couldn’t get my mind to focus and soon was berating myself for being stupid.

I remember why

Then it came to me: today marks 73 months since Jane’s death. It is the day my mind does not function, the day my body doesn’t work, the day I will say hurtful and destructive things to people without a second thought–and not know I’ve done it if they don’t call me on it. I am always a sick human being, but never more so than on the tenth of the month.  I should–and usually do–withdraw from the world that day.

I couldn’t get my mind to focus…

And so I did today. My only human interaction was with the folks at the flower shop where I bought the monthly bouquet for Jane’s grave. The cemetery was empty when I got there–and stayed that way. I put the flowers in the cemetery vase, then stood in the snow and the wind and talked to my dead wife for 20 minutes.

Cold memory

The clouds scudded across the sky. There is a storm coming in tonight that will melt all the snow. But I always find her grave a cold place. It felt that way before she died, as well. I can dress that stone any way I like, but the flowers do little to blunt the pain.

The cemetery was empty…

I count my other losses while I am there. My mother-in-law, dead of pulmonary fibrosis, is buried there with her husband, whose body simply shut down over the course of a weekend. My mother, who died of Alzheimer’s, and my father, who died of a stroke, have no grave. Their ashes are scattered together in my sister’s garden in Seattle, feeding a tree that plays host to hummingbirds throughout the year.

Remember the others

I think of all the NET cancer patients we have lost since Jane’s death, knowing that barring a major breakthrough, we will lose more in the years ahead. I wonder if I have done all I can to change that future, knowing even if I have, it is not nearly enough. And I think of all the people I have lost to other forms of cancer and other diseases–lives cut short by things I could not cure or prevent.

The clouds scudded across the sky.

Today, I got a note from a man who lost his wife to NET cancer on Christmas Eve. She died in his arms, as Jane died in mine. I gave him what little comfort I could, knowing there is nothing I can do or say that will make any of what he faces feel any better. You think there is nothing worse than that feeling of absolute helplessness when you hold someone in your arms knowing there is nothing you can do beyond what you are doing–and that it does not seem like enough.

The days that hurt

But it’s not the day they die that really grinds on your soul. Nor is it the day you bury them. You have things to do those days–and people to hold your hand. It’s all the days that come after–all the days you wake up alone, live alone, and go to bed alone. If you’re lucky, as I have been, you find meaningful work to do. If you are really lucky, as I have not been, someone comes into your life to share that burden with. But you never forget–and it never really stops hurting.

She died in his arms…

You learn to cope. You learn to show the face to the world it wants to see. And you talk with the others who have made–and are making–the same journey. You share a secret those who have not lost never really come to understand. And you move forward, as best you can, through a world that has no idea–and no vocabulary that will let them understand until they experience it themselves. And it is, if you have a heart, something you would never wish on anyone.

Remember the now

The rain has begun. The droplets run down the window across from me. I can hear the clock ticking over my shoulder, the rumble of the furnace in the basement and the sound of my own breathing when my fingers pause on the keys. My stomach grumbles.

You learn to cope.

These are the sounds of an empty house when half its soul is gone. It has been the background noise of my life for 73 months. It is why I fight so hard to end the things that have cost me so much–and why I keep fighting six years after I lost everything that mattered.

I remember Jane's love of the natural world. Her memorial garden centers on stone, but is surrounded by wildflowers, bees, birds, and butterflies.

I remember Jane’s love of the natural world. Her memorial garden centers on stone, but is surrounded by wildflowers, bees, birds, and butterflies.

Posted by walking with jane on January 10, 2017

2 responses to “Remember the day where the pain resides”

  1. Bill says:

    I am the man who held his wife
    Has not been 3 weeks
    But dealt with the net for six years

    My wife would not wish this on anyone
    She was so brave and such a fighter
    Never bitter but she knew
    She could not take it anymore

    So precious

  2. Annie says:

    I’m so very sorry for all of you who are in such emotional pain. When I am Washington for the Million Women March I will think about both of your wives and carry the torch for another cause while both of you carry the torch for NETs cancer. We all do what little we can. I’m sorry Harry. I’m sorry Bill.