A Two Way Street

I vividly recall the very first time I lied to Jacquelynn.

Not a little fib about how many cookies I ate or how my day at work really went, but a deliberately constructed and executed lie delivered with the sole intent of misleading her about something I did not want her to know…

It was during her initial examination for her frozen shoulder in the late summer of 2016 when she first openly displayed clear and undeniable symptoms of cognitive decline. With her complete inability to follow simple instructions regarding attempting to move her arm and even a short period of seeming catatonia, the doctor looked at me with mild alarm and asked if this was normal behavior.
Knowing full well that such things were becoming more common at home, but terrified of her hearing me tell the doctor so, I told him that, no, I had never seen such a thing before. It would be less than a week later, when I had rushed to my sister’s home 100+ miles away in response to another scare for our mother’s health (she would pass less than a year later) that Jacquelynn would say something to me on the telephone which would send me speeding home in a panic, no longer able to deny the facts before me.

My wife was, literally, losing her mind.

Returning home, I ironed out the crisis that had brought me home and tried to discuss it with her, but she would have NONE of it. I was clearly overreacting and why would I ever think that of her? This would lead to our very first real fight in seventeen years together, with her shouting and crying and me futilely trying to hold us both together in the face of what I feared we were facing. The day ended with a direct order that this never be discussed with anyone. This. Stayed. Home. The following day, I called the doctor’s office and left an urgent message requesting to speak directly to him. It was a full day before he called back, but I unburdened myself on him, telling him that yes, the cognitive difficulties were becoming all too common. She could no longer write her name legibly and after what had happened, I was no longer even sure she could read. I needed help, but (and here is born the lie), it was imperative that she have no idea that I called or we had this discussion.

Why? Because I was afraid, that’s why. I was afraid, after the intensity of our fight two days earlier, that if she felt again that I had “betrayed” her by discussing it with the doctor, it would forever destroy her ability to trust me ever again, and if my suspicions were realized (we know now they were), I was going to need her unhesitating trust going forward in order to take the best possible care of her.
Our next visit to the doctor did NOT go well. Ostensibly a checkup for the shoulder, it quickly turned into an ambush, the tiny exam room crammed with nurses, aides, a social worker, and the doctor himself. Before she has any idea what’s happening, they’re administering a MOCA (MOntreal Cognitive Assessment) test and hammering her with questions and she’s getting more and more agitated and is soon deep in her very first crippling panic attack. After the room cleared and she settled a little, leaning on me and still sobbing, the doctor played his part and assumed full responsibility for the ambush, rejecting her accusations that I had instigated the whole thing. Comforted but still furious, she let me guide her downstairs for the ordered MRI then take her home.

The act of that lie killed a small part of me, even though to this day I know that it was entirely necessary. I had long since sworn to myself to be forever trustworthy for her, but I would gradually sacrifice more and more of my soul in such lies over the next three years, to protect her and her trust in me, and the most frightening, humiliating part of it all is just how easy it becomes with repetition.   Eventually, careful and elaborate lies become second nature, forcing one to tread with ever more elevated caution, remembering always that such things remain a last resort at all times.

Recently, I broke down some of the fictions that Jacquelynn maintained throughout our time together, and how learning about them affected both this blog/book and me personally.  I am no paragon of unstained integrity.  I make no claim of perfection and sit here deeply ashamed of every deceitful act and word, no matter how minor it may have seemed at the time.
However, the deliberate construction and execution of a structured lie, designed strictly to mislead for the sole reason of protecting the liar’s interests, is to my mind a darker act. It is a frightful wound that I must heal on my own through forgiveness of self. Probably the most difficult person for me to forgive.

Please, whatever happens going forward in my life, please never require me to lie to my heart ever again. It’s among the deepest, rawest self-inflicted wounds I have. Five months and more after her passing and three full years after it all began with this one intricately constructed deception, it still bleeds and burns when I pick at it.

Let me live in truth and honesty going forward.

Fictional Accountings

This is something I had resolved never to write. Honestly, I’ve labored over it for a while now, and it gets more and more difficult to excuse my own silence every day. Now, as I set my sights on finishing this blog and the book it was always intended to birth, I find that I can no longer keep silent about some glaring factual flaws in the overall narrative.

Please understand, the fictions were not created by me, and when I shared them as facts, it is because they were facts, to the very best of my knowledge. But in the months leading up to Jacquelynn’s death and even more so afterward, I have learned that much of what I understood of her was not rooted entirely in truth.

Yes, she lied about her age. By eight years. Born in 1958, she had told me from the outset that we shared a 1966 birth year. Please believe me when I say that it would NEVER have been an issue. Of the four women I spoke to on the dating site through which we initially met (another truth she refused to admit to anyone and forbade me to ever discuss), all but one were older than me by a similar delta. I had essentially figured this out several years before her illness but allowed her to maintain it, even through the increasingly flimsy (unsolicited) explanations. I wanted very much to believe her, to believe that she wouldn’t lie to me about something so meaningless, but, deep down, I knew full well, even though the actual date remained a mystery to me. Apparently, she even enlisted her brother’s assistance, extracting from him a promise of silence it took considerable effort and her terminal illness to get him to break.

That’s not the primary issue here, but it’s at the root of it. To maintain that fiction, and to get the accomplishments of her life to match up, she constructed an elegant and easily believable collegiate and professional career with dates to match. An ever-more-complicated string of events, intricately woven by a mind obsessed with details and analysis. Made much easier, I’m sure, by my unwillingness to believe she’d ever lie to me. All untrue, I would eventually learn. I’m far from the only person she told these things, but shouldn’t I be the one person she told the truth? Shouldn’t I have had access to the real Jacquelynn?
I’m honestly not angry, though. If anything, I feel deeply guilty that I may have ever done or said something, anything, that made her fear being totally honest with me. If I did, I am so very, deeply sorry.

The point of all of this is twofold: Of course, I want Jacquelynn’s story to be told as much from her point of view as possible, which is why this information will likely appear in the book as a preface of sorts and the narrative will read as it unfolded, with the story as she told and lived it. Her truth, if not the truth.
Secondly, I deeply understand the desire, the need, to create one’s backstory rather than simply telling it. When one’s self-image isn’t the brightest (even when it truly deserves to be), and when one is striving to create a “more desirable” portrait, the temptation to embellish can be difficult to resist. I can forgive that easily.
The maintenance of a lie can be damned difficult. Stories get thinner as people get closer, and so does the ice the lies force you to skate across in every conversation. But coming clean can be scarier yet, and just gets more so as time piles up. “I know I should tell him, but he’s going to be SO mad that I didn’t tell him sooner…” I can hear the internal arguments in her head even now. She always did overanalyze every little thing. I feel that I earned her trust, but never truly received it fully. She loved me enough to lie to me, and feared losing me enough to work SO hard to maintain it.
And I don’t doubt for one second that she loved me. I know full well that I was the love of her life and she was mine.

 

With all of this behind me now, I have learned one very important thing about myself: if life ever does give me another shot at real love, I want one thing and one thing only, right from the very beginning; I want to be the one loved and important enough, to tell the truth. I deserve to be the man she loves enough to risk the whole truth to keep. Whomever she is, she has my word that she’ll receive the same, right up front.
The truth. Not just a truth, not just my version of the truth. She’ll know ME. Blemishes, failures, and all. I have no right or desire to enter a relationship with any less than that.

I read a quote this evening from actor and comedian Jim Carrey which seems incredibly appropriate just now: “Depression is your avatar telling you it is tired of being the character you’re trying to play.”
I’m truly tired of being depressed, and of being any me other than the genuine Matthew.
Genuine Matthew is the writer you have come to know in these pages. This is me, bleeding all over the keyboard, revealing his flaws and triumphs in equal and highly unbalanced measure.

Falling Back Down

I guess it was inevitable.

I’m a person who has always kept an extremely small “circle”, often just myself and one or two very close friends. For SO long, it was just Jacquelynn and I. Yes, dear friends and family as well, but here, locally and in constant contact, it was just us. Friends I make at work tend in general to remain “work friends”, and as helpful and supportive as they’ve been, the neighbors have always been Jacquelynn’s friends, more than mine. No judgment, no disrespect, but that closeness, that bond, has been absent in my life outside of Jacquelynn herself for a long time. Now, without her for four-and-a-half months and honestly without the shared connection for SO much longer, I’ve felt that vacuum in my heart like a great abyss, and the emptiness seemed apt to swallow me whole.

Of course, I never understood it that way until hindsight removed all choice. This is why living linear occasionally really sucks.

So, I was starved for connection. For closeness. Logically, I decided to look for it the same way I found it the last time, in 1999.

Online dating.

I was explicit in my “profile” that “connection” was what I sought. I was in no hurry whatsoever, given my recent experience, to rush into anything beyond that. I wanted to know and bond with someone. Preferably someone who understood the loss, and could see that developing new relationships didn’t mean replacing old ones.
After a short time on the site through which Jacquelynn and I had originally met, I began to doubt my plan. Fake profiles and phishing scams were as abundant as open, interesting people seemed rare. So, last ditch (patience has never been a strong suit), I tried another, more highly reputed (and costlier) site.

Two days later my world started spinning again. No names here, but she had also lost her spouse recently, after a long illness, and had of course been devastated. Shared experience and deep empathy dovetailed nicely with eclectic tastes and very similar senses of humor, and we were off to the races. Our second day of communicating was a six-hour whirlwind of nonstop texting and senses-shattering commonality that just got more and more profound as the days piled up.

Thank God that texting is no longer billed per-character!

After only a week, we felt as though we had known one another for years, and all the previous lip-service to the idea of taking time to truly know someone was out the window. I had stopped wearing my wedding ring and the necklace I keep her rings on with it, Sky’s photo had replaced our wedding pictures on my phone’s home screen, and we were trying to figure out how to meet amid all the pandemic craziness ruling life on Earth today.

Two weeks to the day after we first exchanged messages, I was in my car, dog in the back seat, crossing two states to meet the new Love Of My Life (words as yet unsaid, of course), and she was every bit as worked-up and eager as I was.

———————————————————————–

The instant our eyes met, the truth hit home for us both. We tried to work around it and pretend we just had to slow down and get there, and we spent an incredible evening together just holding hands and spilling our guts out of things we’ve never told another soul. But then we slept separately and neither of us got more than ten minutes of quality rest for the remainder of the weekend.

I had told her before I went that my expectations for the weekend were simple: to meet this incredible woman who had so quickly swept up both my head and my heart, and after that, everything was up in the air. I was SO anxious to see where it all would land. That sentence still stands as 100% true. I have met someone magnificent in every way; a woman beautiful inside and out and stronger than she will ever understand. I have shared and bonded and connected with another human being on a level I have never experienced before, not even with Jacquelynn. But my deeper hopes shattered upon impact.

I am unspeakably sad that our lives will remain separate, though I do not believe our connection will corrode so quickly. But as you all know, I am fast in my conviction that Life happens FOR us rather than to us. We both needed this to happen exactly as it did, and I am beyond grateful for every moment. My life is changed in the wake of these past sixteen days, as I believe hers is, too.

I put my wedding rings back on when I got changed for bed tonight. It feels good, it feels right to have them back where they belong. But I do miss that euphoric joy, that tingle of possibility.

The familiar abyss is back. Can’t say I missed it.

Tear time.

Good night.

Fragility

It’s a strange process, this grief. Tricky fucker, too. Lets you think you’re doing fine; maybe you’re even over the hump and can start to feel normal, human again.
Don’t buy it. Believe me, it’s still there, hiding in the shadows, awaiting the perfect opening to pounce and shake the shit out of you, like a cat with a mouse; releasing it just to chase it down again.

Please don’t mistake me; I do not actually see myself in the victim role here, though it can be difficult not to slip into that mindset from time to time. But the raw, open wound that is my emotional state has begun to manifest a bizarre new expression:

It seems I have become extremely vulnerable to strong emotional states of any kind. Even mirth, that full-body laugh that just takes over you when something strikes you as SO hilarious. I can be watching something on television that hits me like that, and laugh uproariously for about five seconds, then the next instant, I’m falling out of my chair in tears. Anger does it, too, and surprise. ANY strong emotional response to ANY stimuli is followed immediately with an overwhelming surge of grief. It’s as if my heart thinks I don’t deserve to feel the joy and the mirth or anything other than the crushing sadness of grief.  So anything else is automatically converted.

I’m unsure how to “deal with” this new aspect of the process, so I’ve decided to fall back on my personal philosophy that Life happens FOR me, rather than TO me, and simply allow it to run its course. This is something my spirit needs to undergo to get to where it needs to go, and fighting it is only going to make it more difficult than it needs to be.
It can get a little embarrassing, though: Last week, during my lunch break at work, I was sitting in the break room (yes, the break room was in use and fairly busy, despite the current social distancing norms) with Jeopardy playing on the television, and something triggered a laugh, which was followed immediately by my choking back a veritable flood of tears and bolting from the room. Fortunately, either no one noticed or they simply decided not to say anything to me, and I’m honestly grateful either way.

But, I’m off work for a few weeks now and am taking that time to study a bit, to create some, and to organize the book that this blog was always destined to become.

And, apparently, to weep more than a little.

C’est la vie.

Cancer Dreams

Watching my lovely Jacquelynn diminish and die over three years was the most profoundly painful and crippling experience of my life. I could not imagine going through anything more emotionally debilitating for me, nor, more importantly, more terrifying for her. I’ve written before about how I don’t believe that any possible diagnosis could inspire more fear and dark vision than that of dementia, and having lived through it, I still hold that to be true.

All of which makes the final two lines of this post more inconceivable and antithetical to me than I can express. But I stand firmly by them.

Upon our regular Valentine’s Day trip to the emergency department last year (2019) with yet another severe kidney infection/UTI, an MRI of her midsection was taken which revealed the unexpected probability that Jacquelynn also had uterine cancer. To the attending physician’s surprise, I refused further testing on that front until we had an opportunity to consult with our own trusted primary provider. At that consultation, our doc (CNP, actually) concurred with my thought, even to the point of disagreeing with her own partner MDs at the practice, that this was something best left well enough alone, as it was quite new (assuming it was actually there, as this was only an indicator, not a diagnosis) and would likely not become a significant factor in her already limited remaining time. I will always be in her debt for standing up for Jacquelynn on this front. Truly the best, most empathetic provider I’ve ever had.

About five weeks later in an incredible demonstration of canine sensitivity and devotion, our new family member Sky almost seemed to confirm that diagnosis, smelling something on her sleeping breath that clearly disturbed him, at which point he became her full-time companion, never willingly leaving her side again, save for short walks to potty.

We all know how events unfolded afterward. But early this morning, in possibly the most disturbing dream I have experienced through all of this ordeal, it went a bit differently;

In this dream, she was diagnosed with uterine and abdominal cancers. As her dementia moved much more slowly in the context of the dream, she was aware of and frightened by the cancers as we would all be. She retained much more of her cognitive faculties as the pain and terror of the cancers wracked her body, and I was there, at her side as always, serving her in whatever capacity I may, until her agonizing and prolonged death. She suffered so, my lovely Jacquelynn, in the horrible reality of this dream, that when I awoke in tears, drenched in sweat and out of breath, I actually said a prayer of thanks for the manner of her passing.

Yes, I’m grateful that her path took her through dementia and psychotic breaks, through ERs and the nursing home, through a broken hip and suprapubic catheter, all with waning awareness of her situation, than forcing her to experience what I saw in my fitful sleep this early Sunday morning.

I am inexpressibly grateful that my wife did not have to endure the horrors I was shown, and I am truly thankful for the dream which blessed me with this perspective.

Forgiveness and Consequences

I forgave myself this week. I forgave myself and allowed myself to tell me “I love you”.

Please forgive the horribly me-centric nature of the above statement. It’s a very difficult sentiment to write in the first person, and I’m quite certain that I’ve muffed it, though I am certainly not perceptive enough to see how.

The point is that this week, something inexpressibly profound and meaningful happened to/for me, and I felt the need to share it here. Initially, I posted about it on Facebook and figured that would be the end of it, but the more I consider it, the more I believe it needs to be recorded here, as well.

So, I present the original post here, after which I will attempt to elaborate just a bit:

I just did something I never envisioned myself actually doing:
While meditating, I was inspired to put my hand over my heart, and in that moment, I said “I forgive you, Matthew, and I love you.”
I’ve NEVER in my almost 54 years been able to say those things to myself. But tonight, I did, and I meant them so completely that the truth of it broke me down into blubbering tears for several minutes. So much so that I’m only now able to breathe again.
My self-loathing and guilt have become such an integral part of my identity that it was physically traumatic to have them just wrenched away in an instant like that. But I feel so inexplicably different now.
I have an intense feeling that things are going to begin to change very quickly now.

Thank you. Thank you God, thank you Universe, thank you Life, thank you Sky…
…and thank you one and all, my dear and beloved family and friends. You all mean more to me than I can ever express.

There.  It was, in an epic understatement, quite the moment.

I was doing a “guided” meditation using the Insight Timer app, a gratitude exercise which was designed to bring forward in the mind the blessings in life; to remind one of all the gifts with which they are surrounded even in what may seem to be the darkest of times. I do such meditations frequently, as I believe that gratitude is among the most powerful and creative emotions, opening the floodgates of life for countless more things to be grateful for.
This was, however, the first time I had done this particular meditation, and as it suggested putting hand to heart, I did something very unusual for me; where I would normally move my right hand to cover the spot on my chest just left of center (this is the motion with which we are all programmed from youth, whether pledging allegiance to the flag, standing for the national anthem, or swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), I found my left hand moving on its own. Being a lefty, this felt hugely significant to me, though even in hindsight I can’t recall a conscious decision to use my left. When my hand rested on my chest, however, all awareness of the meditation guide speaking through my headphones disappeared, and the electricity of that touch was the sole focus of my attention. At the very first sensation of fingertips to chest, my mind and heart lasered in on those eight words, and they came forth, all bud unbidden, from my lips: “I forgive you, Matthew, and I love you.”
I don’t think I can possibly overstate the impact of this moment on my body and my soul. Imagine carrying a load for 40 years, a load so heavy and overwhelming that your back is permanently bowed and each moment is a torture, struggling for every step and breath. You’ve carried this load for so long that it has become an integral part of you. You don’t even give the weight conscious consideration anymore, you merely exist with it, and accept the constant agony as your “lot in life”; this is so enduring and unshakeable that it must be what you deserve, what God (if you can still allow yourself to believe in such a thing) intends for you.
Then imagine, without thinking about it or planning it in any way, you just cast that weight away. Just like that. Suddenly, pain-free and with straight back, you realize that this burden you’ve carried for so long was entirely of your own creation, and carrying it was your decision and there is no one else in the world to blame. Instant elation and immeasurable relief followed immediately by crushing self-recrimination. But you’ve already let that burden go, so this time the anger and guilt and self-loathing just wash right away, like water from the proverbial duck’s back.

In the wake of that moment two nights ago, I find myself feeling different in every moment. I still cry almost constantly, but not like before, not sad tears brought on by loneliness and grief; rather tears of beauty and appreciation, as if every perceived moment of beauty were amplified a thousandfold and exploding within my heart, welling up and spilling forth from my eyes. Just an hour or two before this happened, I saw a television commercial for a jeweler, with the man giving his wife the lovely diamond Valentine at dinner (yes, six days after the holiday the ads were still airing) and wept at the cruelty of never doing that again with my Jacquelynn. I saw a similar ad today and wept again, but in joy for the idea of that love expressed and shared. Literally, ANY moment of joy or beauty generates tears now. Heaven forbid anyone be in the room if I watch another video of a dog being reunited with a returning military parent now!

I’ll be an absolute mess.

A joyous, celebratory mess.

I still don’t know what tomorrow holds, and I don’t harbor any illusions that I’m done with my grief. But I don’t fear tomorrow, and I don’t believe that my grief will hold me back anymore. I’m no longer afraid to move forward for fear of repeating the same “mistakes” or of opening myself to vulnerability. I believe beyond any doubt that I am now living and will continue to live my best, blessed life, and it will get better with every breath, every tear, and every day.

And I believe in the fullness of my heart that I have my Jacquelynn and her letter to me to thank.

Along with every one of you, as well.

Letter From Jacquelynn

I was walking the dog yesterday, which just happened to be Valentine’s Day.  This was a day we always celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy, sharing gifts and cards every day for a week, culminating in the “primary” gift and card on the day itself.  We made a game of collecting the best greeting cards throughout the year, and deeply enjoyed sharing them.

This was, of course, my first Valentine’s without her since 1999, and I was all prepped to suffer through every moment of it, but was, instead, having quite a spectacular day.  I began it with a Facebook post expressing deep gratitude rather than another lonely lament, and life began rewarding me for that almost immediately.  From the beginning, I felt as if Jacquelynn were herself gifting me with these moments of joy.

It was during my walk with Sky that maybe the best part of an already great day came to me; her voice in my head, essentially dictating a letter to me.  “Write what I tell you to write”, she seemed to be telling me, and the first paragraph was emblazoned on my mind at that moment.  All I needed to do was begin to write, and the rest would follow.

That letter follows, for what it’s worth.  The typing was done by me, but I honestly believe the words come from her.  At the very least, she inspired every word, and I know her voice and heart better than anyone else.  This just feels like her.

My Dearest Matthew,
I hope you can take this to heart, in your grief. I see what you’re feeling, and I’m so pleased that you are doing a little better and getting back into the swing of life. You need people around you, much as you like to imagine yourself as a loner. You have always thrived on your relationships, and I’m glad to see you developing friendships again.
Please, please know how much I have always loved you. You’re finding all sorts of evidence of that as you clean and pack up the house. I’m trying to make certain you find these things at the most appropriate and necessary times, to bring you comfort and joy rather than more fear and grief. Take these tokens and memories and reminders to heart and hold our love close. Read that again; hold our love close, but do NOT lose yourself in loss. The only thing you’ve lost is my physical companionship, and that’s plenty difficult enough. But you haven’t lost ME, and you know that. I’m with you now, helping you type this letter, and I’ll always be here, at your side and in your heart, where I have always been. Don’t grieve what has not been lost.
I know it’s hard for you to think of yourself this way, but you really are my hero. I know that as my illness claimed more and more of me, you came to deeply doubt your service to me, disputing the idea that you were truly of any help at all. It’s time for you to let go of that doubt. If you look inside, you know you saved me. Not in the way we envisioned, of course; we won’t be dancing together or walking along the beach again anytime soon. But in the ways that truly matter, you did save me. You saved me from dying alone and forgotten. You helped to give me many more months of lucidity and love before it simply became too much for any one person, out on an island like you were, to handle on their own. I’m not angry about that, either; moving me to the nursing home. Honestly, I’m grateful because that moved saved you. I don’t think you would have survived last spring with me there, your self-care had so declined. The real Jacquelynn, the one trapped behind the illness, never wanted you to sacrifice yourself for me.
I just wanted you to love me, which you did more and longer and better than any other man ever could have. You gave all of yourself to me, for me, and I thank you.
You should be so proud of yourself, Matthew. Proud of your sacrifices, proud of your accomplishments, and proud of your strength. The only person who doesn’t seem to recognize this is you. Even the nurses and aides at the nursing home (I LOVED some of them so much!) were blown away by your love and dedication to me. Even now, I truly don’t understand what I did to warrant such commitment.
But I do know that I’d have done the same, to the best of my abilities, if the tables were turned.
I feel I owe you so many apologies and explanations, but that time has passed. So instead I send you my love, eternal and unlimited love, and my deepest gratitude.
Thank you, my Handsome Matthew.
I will always be right here. Wearing that smile you always told me you loved so much.
I will always be
Your Jacquelynn.

Gratitude and Confessions

Those of you who frequent this page (thank you!) know that I am a regular meditator. You’ve also read what happens when I let that habit slide, and why I am well motivated to never allow that to happen again. While I inevitably miss an occasional day, My current streak is 102 straight days without missing. Yes, even the day Jacquelynn passed found me in meditation both in the morning before and late in the night afterward.

I try to ensure that at least a few moments of that time each and every day is spent focusing on gratitude. Very often, this can be quite difficult, as I get so wrapped up in my grief that finding the strength to say “thank you” is all but impossible, as is admitting how very much I do truly have to be grateful for. Last week, I added one more very significant thing to that list.

It has taken me ten days to write this. In fits and starts, I struggled with how to say something I feel very much needs to be said without casting it in the wrong light. In turns, it seemed like a great cry for help or an even greater shout from the ego to “LOOK AT HOW STRONG I AM”. Please believe that it is neither of those. What it is, is an essential, watershed moment for me; a true shifting of my paradigm. What my great, late mentor Dr. Dyer called a “Quantum Moment”:

Last week, on the night of Tuesday, January 14th, one month and one day after Jacquelynn passed peacefully from this life, for the first time in longer than I can accurately remember, I went to bed WITHOUT thinking “Maybe this will finally be the time I don’t wake up.”

I can not overstate the significance of this milestone. For the first time in a very, very long time, tomorrow was not more terrifying than oblivion. And it persists. I have not had a similar thought since.

Yes, I still grieve. I still cry when I hear a particular song or come across a love poem or old Valentine’s Day card. I always will. But I will be here for it. I will be in that moment until it passes and I will move into the next moment. I will not linger and cling and rot in that instant of fear and loneliness indefinitely.

I will no longer line up all the old, full prescription bottles on the kitchen island and research how many of which ones I would have to take to make something terrible and final happen.

I am more thankful for this than I can possibly express.  Please join me in that grateful space.

I have much to do. I have a rescue shelter to build, after all. In her name, I will fulfill our dream.

It’s Fine To Not Be Fine

My wife is gone. Only 61 and lost to me. Now I have to survive without her, when to follow her seems the easiest and brightest possible path.
But I can’t be that selfish. I won’t allow the weakness and shortcuts to seduce me.
The only way I can do that is through honesty.
So when you ask me how I’m doing, don’t expect a “Fine” as a response. I’m not fine, and it’s okay to not be fine.

What’s not okay is pretending to be fine to avoid making others uncomfortable.

“I’m holding on by my fingernails.”

“I’m a mess.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“All the crying has the migraines back in full strength.”

“I’m lost and rudderless and I don’t even want to get up off the toilet sometimes.”

I’m going to live my truth until my truth moves on, then I’ll live my new truth. It’s been four days. I’ll blink and it’ll be five weeks. I’ll take a walk then it’ll be seven months.

I WILL be fine. Someday.

But today, I’m not fine, so please don’t expect me to say that I am.

Surreality

It was just last evening, about 21 hours ago as I write this, but the memories have a detached, surreal quality to them, as though I’m watching them happen to someone else.

I was sitting in the cheap wingback chair about four feet from Jacquelynn’s bed and had been texting back-and-forth with the hospice nurse/case manager about getting Jacquelynn evaluated for 24-hour observation and care, due to her declining status.
Awaiting the arrival of the weekend nurse, I was beginning to doze and decided to give up waiting and take Sky home for his evening meal and walk. So I rose creakily from the chair (which is more comfortable than it looks) and stepped to the bedside to kiss my beautiful bride before leaving. Just as I approached, she gave a small hiccup of a final breath, and left. I noticed her silence immediately, as she was not breathing quietly in her 3+ day-old sleep, and I listened closely for another breath before pressing my ear to her still and silent chest.

Telling Sky to stay with Mama, I strode quickly to the nurse’s station and brought the duty nurse back to her room, explaining that I think she had passed, which she confirmed after a brief check. Respectfully and tearily, she excused herself while I knelt by the bed and wept. Sky crowded in next to me after the nurse left the room (he adores her and always sniffs the evidence of her dogs all over her clothes). But, just as the nurse was calling the hospice for me, I had calls to make myself, which I did robotically and almost tearlessly.

Then the texts.

The callbacks.

By now the weekend nurse was there and cleaning Jacquelynn up so I was sitting in the hallway with Sky, texting and answering calls nonstop while residents strolled by mooning over the cute dog (they’re going to miss him for sure) and staff expressed their condolences (a word I’m growing to dislike). All the while, I have to keep a grip on Sky even while texting because my normally chill dog wants nothing more than to get back to his Mama’s bedside. Every time I drop the leash for a second, he’s on his way back to her room.

When my patience with the telephone runs out and I just can’t spend another moment trying to talk without losing it, we return to room 321, and the nurse has just finished cleaning Jacquelynn up. I notice the remnants of her catheter in the trash can then loiter a few moments at her side, noting with detached concern that her eyes won’t quite close all the way, which is how she had slept these last few days as well. Sky whines a little and lays resolutely at her bedside, where I will soon have to order him to stand up to leave. His loyalty and dedication to her astound me. The nurse tells me that the chaplain will be in soon, and she’s going to call the mortuary for me.

But I’m finished here. Jacquelynn left the room an hour or more ago, and it’s time for me to do so as well. With a final, truly final kiss, I put on my coat and all but drag Sky from the room.

It’s real. It’s one hundred percent real.

When my heart and brain finally meet on that truth, I’m in for a rough few days.