There are a few events that make clear dividing marks between before and after. There is no bridge that can be constructed to get back to or even visit that before. A select few life events will change your very core in irrevocable ways. My soul was and still is altered without my ever having given consent.
January 2, is the anniversary of my first husband’s death. He had been diagnosed two and a half months earlier with pancreatic liver cancer. Oncologists kept calling it very serious. My mother, a retired nurse and my stepfather a retired doctor were both given access to his records. It was my stepfather who used the words “end stage” from the beginning. My mother, in full nurse mode made sure I could give insulin injections, change bile bags on a liver stent that never quite worked, change out IV’s, checking the line flow that included anything from from antibiotics to feeding bags. She had everything scheduled for me and there was a visiting nurse allowed by my insurance to stop in for fifteen minutes twice a week. I had a full handle on all necessary home hospital equipment as his needs changed very rapidly. I had worked out getting him to daily chemo and every other horrid test and surgery they proposed. I knew most, if any of this would not help him. But, it was his life and his decision. It was out of love that I supported any one he made.
On December 22 hospice took over, a nurse was now three times a week. I was able to get someone to assist in his bathing and personal care twice a week. I went out on full, no pay leave. I had been able to work very few hours per week until then. His family kept insisting I was going to lose my job…as if that mattered. Or tell me I would need to wait to take time for “the end”. You have no idea what it took to explain to them that it had been the end since the diagnosis.
When you midwife someone you love through death, being there daily with very little help, reality changes. Forever. Death moves in with you without invitation and pulls up a chair throughout each day. I knew to make it an ally. It took very little time for me to know he would die soon. Death would now be my companion for life. Not because he was dying, because death initiates you as its life companion. I was and am acutely aware of it beside me for all my remaining days in this world. Death serves a purpose. Life is suppose to have a beginning, middle and ending. In my religion the Goddess that midwifes you into life, always stays with you through it including midwifing your own death. Since then, I both see and communicate daily with her.
If I believed in a devil it would be grief. It pays no heed to it being a quarter of a century later. Nor that I am very happily remarried. It made that demarcation of before and after. It runs a course that has very nasty timing. Rogue waves would be easier to predict. The only sure thing is that it will come out every January 2. The body is how grief keeps score. Time does let dates slip from your mind, but the body will not. If I am lucky unexplained tears will be limited to this one day. Other years it starts sometime in December. As I search for the cause of this body weeping, eventually I consult a calendar and from deep in my soul the date of his death with bubble up. Grief is tenacious. It will grip you at will and nothing will hurry it until it has completed this round. I have learned to sit back and brace my cells while it runs this emotional roller coaster in my body. And it is my body that bears the brunt of these visits. There is a large crack somewhere inside me that allows entry and both generates and receives the blast of pain, loss and drowning. None of this is about my first husband. No, it is about what happened to me as I focused solely on his death assuring myself I could process my own feelings at some future date. It was a horrible bargain to make. I had no idea that the future date would be a recurring one.
I now have cancer. I promise you no matter how terrible my days may be, this side of the fence is a cake walk compared to being the spouse care taking. I have an exceptional husband. One who both knew and fully accepted that my old grief mixed with my own cancer would be debilitating at what is suppose to be the ” happiest time of the year”. When he worked in retail it was easier . Anyone who works during Christmas season in retail, pretty much hates the holidays by the the third of December. There is no pressure to be happy. Since leaving retail, he still watches and comforts me when that grief makes it chaotic appearance. He is rare and I know that.
Grief will move on. For a few days it is being stuck in glue that demands tears, quiet and endless patience as it racks me with that pain and mental mixed with emotional agony that has no basis in my disease. No, I can’t find all the words to explain the debilitation. There is no treatment other than deciding to head straight through it. Anything else only makes it worse. Grief also has many other faces. In the midst of this pain I can find myself feeling a strange invincibility. It is a dangerous yet necessary task to live that out as well. Other “insignificant” life chores will pull at you. In some absurd perception, you refuse to do them with a daring, demanding them to attempt their worst. This part of grief knows nothing would be worse than what has already happened. It is a boldness born of living through a terrible event that causes this recklessness. I did tell a Senior Vice President at my job when I returned the first year there was nothing he could do including firing me that would come close to what I had been through and challenged him to do whatever. He didn’t and stayed wary of me for over a year. I don’t recommend that response, but it may be inevitable to get others to understand grief. Oh, and honestly there is no one, no seminar, no therapy, herb, essential oil, no spiritual guide, book , technique, meditation or wisdom that will make this better.
It’s January 2, and this is what is.