A friend accused me of not being honest about myself on this blog, of not revealing how I am really faring with my new life, my new reality. Instead of reporting truthfully, my friend says I am covering myself up and hiding behind silliness and fluff, showing only my culture-bound side and little of my inner life. Since I made such a big deal about it at the start, my friend wants me to update my grieving process regularly. Fair enough. My intent is not to garner sympathy but to give you an honest taste of my current state.
I still can’t throw out Linda’s toothbrush.
Sometimes I still have to stop and think, ‘Is mine blue or green?’ Hers is blue. It languishes in the tumbler by the bathroom sink next to mine as it has for fifteen months. It’s not even Linda’s last toothbrush, that would be the one she used in the hospital for the final two months of her life. Sometimes she was so stoned with the heavy-duty drugs that tried to keep her pain at bay, she’d freeze in mid-air while brushing her teeth, elbow up, lips frothy, brush in her mouth, eyes closed, completely gone, erased by the drugs, a heart-breaking tableaux vivant, a desolate prelude. That toothbrush and her other stuff from the hospital were easy to get rid of but this one stays, for now. I don’t expect Linda to come back and use it again. I’m past that.
Just after 9 o’clock on Christmas morning, 2009, Angela, one of the nurses at Riverview, the palliative care centre where Linda had chosen to die, called me. She said Linda’s breathing had changed overnight and they were being vigilant for the next phase. She wondered what time I was planning to come up. I said around noon, which Angela thought was fine.
Death was en route.
Forty minutes later Angela called back to say I should probably come as soon as possible. The four of us – Garcea, Kenny, Alex and myself – got there by 10:45 to find Linda peaceful and relaxed, mostly unresponsive, waiting. When we arrived, she opened her right eye just a crack to see who was there. Her skin was very grey, mask-like, another of the dreadful deteriorations I’d witnessed since September. Her brow bore deep wrinkles the neural pain had inscribed there.
Death was in the lobby.
Linda’s breathing became more halting over the next two hours. We each sat with her, talked to her, held her hand, said good-bye and lovingly waited with her.
Death was in the elevator.
A little after one o’clock, Linda suddenly opened both her beautiful brown eyes and took one last brief look around. Her breathing became staggered.
Death entered the room.
She slipped away very peacefully, breathing haltingly then long gaps then nothing. At 1:15 Christmas Day, with the four people she loved most in the world by her side, Linda’s life stopped. We, the four newly left-behind, held each other, tears flowed freely, missing her already.
Death moved on.
Since Linda died fifteen months ago, there has been just one day when I have not shed tears for her. This was about 10 days ago so see it as progress if you like. I try not to get up too early as this makes for some very long days to somehow fill. Mornings are still the worst part of my day, when the tears flow the easiest and hardest. Sneak attacks of sudden tears still catch me through the day though these are becoming less frequent, less intense.
Most of the recognized stages of grief still arise occasionally in me. Sometimes I’ve been able to step back from them and view the process with a healthy perspective. I’m going to try that here as I report on each stage of my grief separately. The shock and denial stage is over, the dreadful question “How could this happen?” rarely arises in my thoughts. Emotions are still very handy and freely expressed when necessary. The nature of my emotional response often depends on how raw I feel at the time, how vulnerable I am.
Anger tends to be directed at myself, seldom expressed fully or externally, my least healthy trait. I have managed to avoid becoming extremely physically ill from the grief though my short bout with heart and chest in the hospital in January probably had a partial grief source. Panic is rare now, diluted to general uncertainty and difficulty making firm decisions sometimes.
It has always been very important to me to feel guilty about something. Limitless guilt opportunities arose during and after Linda’s death. For two months last spring I was undone daily by remorse and regret. During that time, Linda and I refined our new communication skills and she told me everything has been forgiven. One of the beautiful consequences of death is utter forgiveness. She said it made her feel great and hoped someday I’d be able to feel the glorious release of utter forgiveness, too. Still a conscious part of my grieving process, I seek self-forgiveness daily, finding it occasionally and sharing in Linda’s bliss.
I have known depression as an unkind friend in my life. Of all the personal work I have done using shamanism, the spirits have been most helpful dealing with depression. In two cases, they rooted out the cause and I took action to cure myself. Both worked wonderfully, restoring some peace in each instance. The cause of this depression is obvious. I am still in the spirit’s care and manage it well.
Depression’s cruel brother, loneliness, is who I struggle with now. He’s a wily bugger bearing two dreadful gifts. One gift is loneliness of the flesh when my skin, my meat, my whole body craves a human touch, a caress, a hug, warmth, closeness, to prove I’m still alive, to prove I’m human, to say I’m not alone, to help me feel the deep-down sacredness of my own flesh. His other gift is loneliness of the mind which arises directly out of the facts, my new reality, undeniable, complete, true. This grim gift always evokes sadness and loss, demands repeated acceptance of the facts and the consideration of unknown possible futures. It has taught me to understand fully the meaning of being alone in a crowd. I have good friends and rely on them for help through this stage. I am strong.
Developing new helpful routines has mostly eluded me so far. I spend much too much time tapping away here to fix my attention on patterns for my days. I see this post, this entire blog, as a way to be trusting and open with people, foregoing any suspicions or re-entry problems that might arise for me. Blogging as therapy!
Hope is building in me every day now. Having a fulfilled life again seems possible. My energy is returning and the world feels mostly bearable again. Springtime in Manitoba is always a source of new hope. Last year I had unbound travel, the DickTool Kit to create and the Celebration of Light and Linda to plan. This summer has no duties or responsibilities, nothing to anticipate, which is why I’m making some general plans to travel. I have realized I am in charge of my own hope.
The final stage of grief is acceptance and getting on with my life. I accept that my new life is real, that I am finding new purpose and that my heart will always be full of love for my Beautiful One. I accept grief in all its guises as it arises and use my many inner resources to integrate and transcend it. I affirm my new reality.
Physically, I haven’t changed much in the house where Linda and I lived for 20 years. Everything about the place reminds me of her which is sometimes beneficial for me, sometimes not. I have no solid plans about moving or re-arranging the house. As spring approaches, the gardens front and back become more and more daunting. Together we could weed, feed and manage them. As a solo project I am overwhelmed. Their future is uncertain.
Through shamanism Linda and I remain in continuing contact. Communing with her using inner techniques – some we developed together over the living years – has consoled me immeasurably. Always in my heart, she is never far away from my spirit. On my shamanic journeys, Linda has become a helpful spirit, aiding with healing, discovery and protection work for myself and others. Her overriding message is, and always has been, Be Happy. Hearing Linda say in my head, “Be Happy, Reid” keeps me afloat during the hard moments.
I can never underestimate nor find enough gratitude for the soulful, loving friends and family, organic and inorganic, who have rallied around me and helped me in ways sometimes unpredictable. I wholeheartedly thank my friend for challenging me today, for spurring me to dig deep into myself and report honestly. The process of writing this post has been another helpful step in my grieving, making me introspect and update my current state. Writing always has a therapeutic characteristic for me and today I feel a little better because of it. I promise you my blog will remain diverse, interesting and unpredictable but with extra personal edge.