And so we write

My fingertips were bleeding. It had been a while since I pulled the weeds that like to peek through my patio bricks, and my temper with the boys was short, so I spent a couple hours with that task. Earlier in the day I faced the relentless reminders that Sundays are falling out of sorts with me again, and that worries me a bit. For a long time Sundays were the worst, but they got better and more tolerable, until recently when they started to go downhill again. I don’t know why that is, but I do know that the boys and I haven’t seen eye to eye in a few weeks, and maybe by Sunday afternoon we’ve had just about enough of each other. I don’t know.

They really are wonderful kids. They don’t fight or argue with each other, and the closest they get to complaining is the pouty faces when I tell them we have to run to the grocery store. I’m bothered by the thought that they are reluctant to challenge me because I may be unpleasant to be with sometimes, and that’s all on me. I forget that they are probably too young to be able to adequately process the reasons for my frustrations with them, and I worry that I’m asking too much of them. I don’t imagine there’s a good age for your mom to die, but even if there is, I can pretty much guarantee that it isn’t when you’re 7 and 9. I don’t want to make them grow up any faster than they should, but I still have no idea where the line is between being a kid and helping me get through every day. I know there is more asked of them than any of their friends, and that has nothing to do with taking out the trash.

I was reminded a few days ago that they have their own life and challenges they struggle with every day. Learning new things at school and growing physically and socially, while still keeping one foot behind for fun things like playing with pillow pets and video games and reading Garfield comics. I never really thought how their everyday is probably, in its own way, just as stressful as my everyday. I forget that their everyday has that tinge of losing their mom, whether they realize it or not. I forget that they’re still just 9 and 11.

We sat down this evening and talked about taking a few steps back and regrouping. We discussed the things that were losing direction and tried to come up with ways to get the easy things back on track. We agreed to make some changes in hopes that we could make effective use of our time without leaving ourselves alone on an island, as it were.

Bear with me while I switch gears a bit to give some background to this.

I’ve recently found love and happiness with a wonderful woman who has three children of her own. She’s nearing the end of a rather difficult divorce, and she has absorbed a lot in hopes of protecting her children. “They never asked for this,” she’d say. “They don’t deserve this.” And no, they didn’t, and no, they don’t. She ran blocker all summer for her kids, and because of her nature, because she always looks and hopes for the best of everyone, she had to absorb a lot of abuse, for lack of a better word. Her optimism and joie de vivre are what attracted me to her initially, but it was her willingness to share her pain and weakness with me that made me fall in love with her and appreciate her that much more. She lives for her kids, but sometimes she needed to ball herself up in my arms and cry, and sometimes I think that’s what saved her and kept her at it. That and an occasional bout with brutal honesty I gave her. And now, I think, the sun is beginning to shine for her again.

I tell you this because I admire how much her life is about her children. She doesn’t get a lot of free time for herself, and when she gets some semblance of that, she’s wrestling the pile of laundry that buries her dining room table or building a pool in her back yard. She even became a runner, because even just sitting around for 40 minutes isn’t good enough. This is not a bad thing. I do not live my life like that with regard to my kids. If they are here and in the playroom, that’s always been good enough.

But it isn’t good enough. Sundays aren’t for laying on the couch and watching football all day. They visit their grandparents regularly but essentially, there is just me here for them. I’m running blocker for them every single day – not from a person recklessly finding their own way, but from me finding my own way, and life pushing them in all new directions. My time isn’t all mine, and the longer I ignore acceptance of that, the longer and more difficult my days will be with them.

And Sundays will never get better.

Choosing life, over life

I spent a lot of time today participating in a discussion about embryonic stem cells.

I spent a little time in my closet packing up Dawn’s clothes.

I won’t try to claim I’m an expert. I will freely admit that I probably portray a much greater knowledge of any subject than I really truly possess.

But I will gladly process 1000 unwanted embryos if it will keep one person and one person’s family from going through what Dawn went through, from what I went through.

Our son turned 11 today. He was nine when she died.

You’ll never convince me that embryonic stem cell research is a bad thing.

It took me 16 months to clean this closet.

Perpetual Healing

Almost every day I come home and I still don’t know what to do. I still don’t know how to relax. I sit and watch TV but I don’t want to watch TV. I make dinner but I don’t want to make dinner. I play with the boys, I read, I do things outside, but I don’t want to do any of that. I don’t find any satisfaction in activities that keep me occupied while I’m by myself. I wonder if I ever will.

I feel good. I’m still working on getting off the anti-depressants but it’s not my mental state that is keeping me on them. The physical withdrawal is still too much, but I’m slowly reducing my dosage. I’m happy. I’ve found someone who makes me very happy and walks with me through my ever-evolving life, all the while counting on me to do the same, which I’m happy to do. I’m sleeping better, I’m drinking less, and I’m overall in a monumentally better place than I’ve been in a long, long time.

But I still struggle with my direction regularly. It doesn’t show, it doesn’t slow me down, and my emotional state has probably long been forgotten by many, but I regularly feel I’m “missing” something, so to speak. Perhaps “missing” is the wrong word, but I’m still struggling to some degree. I still don’t know how to enjoy my alone time. I’m trying to be patient with it, but the hours and days disappearing behind me are discouraging. I’ve rarely had to find a way to spend alone time, and God knows I haven’t done well in that endeavor. I think I’ll figure it out, because despite the changes in my life recently, I still value the time I have by myself. I just need to learn how to enjoy it more.

Dear Dawn

Dear Dawn,

Another Mother’s Day without you is upon us, and even though I talk to you almost every day, I wanted you to know that Preston brought home a Mother’s Day craft for you. You’ll find it on your stand, but no peeking until Sunday. His and Matt’s teachers and schools have done a wonderful job with our boys during those hours when they can’t be in my care, and they’re growing to be intelligent, caring, loving boys who brighten every room they walk into. I still can’t get them to clean their playroom for anything, and now they leave socks in there every day. It’s maddening, really.

Since you’ve been away I’m sure you’ve seen the many changes we’ve gone through. It was a difficult year for me but I’ve met some wonderful people who have helped me through. I think you’d like every one of them, especially Marcia, even though she’s the kind of over-the-top person you always seemed to struggle relating to. But I’d bet she’d charm you into letting her in your corner, anyway. There’s always that one person. She makes me laugh when I’m down and she doesn’t let me tell her everything is fine. She comes over without asking and she comforts me when I need it but won’t ask for it. We are kindred spirits, Marcia and I, and one day we’ll be 80 and making jokes about the opposite sex and quietly knowing that this good that is our friendship came of the devastating loss of you and her husband. We sometimes talk about you and Len looking down on us, probably shaking your heads, but smiling because we found in each other a friendship that knows no bounds. We know that you are both happy for us.

I’m sure you’ve also seen my struggles as I try to find my way in this new life. I sometimes find myself feeling jealous of divorced couples because they can still see their former spouse, and their kids still have two parents with them as they grow. But I don’t dwell on that or let it get me down. The mothers have been tremendous in their support of me finding my way and absolutely love being with the boys, who have taken to spending the night at their houses. This probably surprises you, because you know how difficult it was to get them to leave the house at all, let alone overnight. They really enjoy being at grandma’s house, either one, and have a sleepover there almost every weekend.

You’ve also noticed that this has allowed me the opportunity to work on my social life every weekend. I’m sure you’ve been witness to the ups and downs of that.

You’ve surely watched me try and fill a romantic void in my life. I spun my wheels a lot on that, and am still finding my way, but I feel your guidance in that regard. Before you left we spoke of me finding happiness in any way I can and how you trusted me in that regard. I’ve searched for companionship in both short-term and long-term respects, and I’ve learned a lot on my way. I feel you’ve guided me all along, directing me away from what wasn’t going to work for whatever reason, respecting my needs in the moment, and channeling me to who is right for me. You’ve given me more latitude than I expected, and I feel your influence in my search. I want you to know that I’m doing well right now, in whatever relationship status you may see me in at this moment. I’m content with myself and what comes to me, and I’m confident I won’t be taken advantage of. You’ve seen my heart harden, and you’ve seen people soften those new dark spots. Nobody has ever tried to replace you, nor have they tried to change me. I think you’re happy with where I am. I am finally happy where I am, too.

This is a small look into what I run through my mind every day. The business is going well, the parents haven’t driven me nuts just yet, and I think we are finally on the right path. We still miss you every day and still love you as much as ever, but we’re getting through. You’ll always be in our hearts and nothing or nobody will ever change that. I have good people around me, people who love and respect me and allow me to stay with you.  I will always be with you.

With all my love,

Mike

The key to life

My high school baseball coach used to tell us “Balance is the key to life!” At the time we didn’t think much of it because he was surely instructing us on how to finish our swings, or square for a bunt, or position ourselves for a ground ball. Without balance, those things were going to fail. We were going to be out in front of a curveball, or pop up a bunt, or Buckner an easy play.

I suppose he was coaching us for life in those moments, as well, but when you’re 16 you don’t think about stuff like that. You think about girls, sports, girls, girls, parties, and girls. You don’t get deep with things like “balance is the key to life,” because it’s not the key to life at that age. It’s the key to baseball success.

Little did we know at that time that he may have been giving us the passport to happiness. Everybody wants to be happy, save for the occasional grumpy cat, but we don’t have much control over what makes us happy. We can’t just call it up any time we want and sustain that feeling, no matter how much we practice. At some point our happiness will fade. At some point our balance will be thrown off. We all want a satisfactory level of homeostasis (triple word score!) and that is when we can smile and feel at peace.

I’m not implying we can control the balance in our lives, either, but I think we have a greater influence over how smooth our lives can run day to day. I have friends whose calendars are full with soccer practice and drinks at Bill’s house and a doctor appointment at 4:45 on Thursday. Their lives are regimented and they’ll say that that’s the only way they can stay organized and accomplish everything they need to. I’m not arguing against that, but a hiccup throws it all off-kilter. There’s no room for something to go wrong.

On the other side of the spectrum are those people whose lives are taken as they come, which is essentially how I live. I live reactively and not proactively, and I use the feeling of being overwhelmed to justify it. I’ll deal with things when they get too big and not a moment before. I’ll run the dishwasher when the boys complain that there are no cups. I’ll vacuum when the dog hair starts to form into another mutt. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal way to live, because while I tend to have a fair amount of time for myself, I also tend to find myself lonely in a crowd, because I’ve not made plans, I’ve just hoped they would happen.

So what’s the answer? This is where I cop out on my post title. I’m not saying that balance isn’t what will bring happiness, but I am saying that I don’t know how to achieve it. It’s different for everyone. Balance will mean sometimes saying no to your kids so that sometimes you can say yes to your friends. It will mean losing some sleep so you can watch Game of Thrones. It will mean staying sober so you can enjoy the play the next morning.

We need to own our decisions. We need to call our choices good no matter how they turn out and not regret what we may miss because of it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because something has changed the way my mind has been working lately. I think I know what it may be, but I could be wrong, and I’m not going to share my theory on that. But things are different and unclear, and I feel almost carefree. Not carefree in a shitty, selfish way, but carefree in that the relatively minor issues that dominate my mind are easier to sweep off the plate. You could say that’s progress and I’m moving on, but I’m in a fog and insensitive to some of my actions. I’ll get my money’s worth in therapy tomorrow and hopefully start to understand it, but I think it’s all going to boil down to balance.

Give the little things the attention they deserve. Focus on myself and face my fears, especially as they relate to new things in life. Accept that which I cannot change, be there for my friends, and all the while relax and find the balance that brings me happiness. Everybody around me will be happier for it. And we heal.

One year plus five

Last Wednesday was easily the most difficult day that I can remember in the year since Dawn passed. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by my feelings that day, but I certainly didn’t expect my sadness to appear to that degree.

The tears came early as I started to read about Dawn from a friend of hers, and they pretty much didn’t stop all day. I planned on keeping to a schedule and staying busy to try and get the day to go by as quickly as possible, and as I loaded Preston in the car to go to school, I thought I’d get through the day with as little trouble as possible. However, when I left Preston at school, I knew I wasn’t going to stick to my schedule. The school felt somehow more comforting than other days, and I sat in the PTO office and talked to a few of the moms. I was there for probably 45 minutes before deciding to move forward, but the plans for the day were already shot.

I visited Marcia for a while because I knew I was going to need warmth all day long, and she’s always willing to give that to me. We talked for a bit before I continued on to work, eventually having lunch with Kim, who was Dawn’s best friend. We cried a lot at lunch, and again I was thankful for my friends, but also for the bar where I’ve become a regular customer, and the people who work there who understand what I’ve been through. After lunch I picked up Preston and went home, and the boys talked for a bit and cried for a bit, remembering Dawn for all she was.

But then something weird happened. I felt peace. I felt good, better than I had in a long time. This was the last “first” thing I had to tackle without her, at least as far as obvious things go – the first Christmas, the first birthdays, and other things like that, before the first anniversary came about. But we made it. We got through all those firsts and while we sometimes just barely got through, we still came out on the other side.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that good, and I started to realize that this first anniversary had been affecting me for a long time, weeks and probably months, and it only got worse the closer I got. It affected my attitude and my sleep and worst of all, friendships. I was a shell of myself for a long time, and I didn’t realize it until I was happy again.

I wish I could say that I had a breakthrough Wednesday evening, but I honestly can’t. I’m truly waiting for the other shoe to drop because that’s how flashes of happiness have ended all along. But these last five days have been awesome, even with the occasional emotional valleys I’ve been through. My therapist reminded me to use those good feelings and draw back on them when I’m feeling down, and that’s not been easy, but it has worked. I’m feeling my way through, and maybe even seeing some light at the end, all the while trying to be patient and hopeful that those who have been patient with me will keep me going and that I can keep using these last few days to keep getting better.

I’m cautiously optimistic with everything in my life right now, and that’s just fine.

One year

Tomorrow is a year since Dawn lost her battle with melanoma, leaving behind me and two wonderful boys, a business, friends who miss her every day, and a family that would give anything to have her back. She was just 39 years old.

From the day of her diagnosis, she preached the use of sunscreen and checking your skin. She implored strangers to stay away from the tanning bed, but they rarely listened. It couldn’t happen to them, they’d tell you. It couldn’t happen to us, either, but it did. It didn’t faze them. She told so many people that I’d be willing to bet that at least one of them has since been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer, and maybe they’re remembering that woman who told them to stay away from tanning beds. Maybe they’re telling a stranger now. I sure hope so.

I’ve told Dawn’s story several times here, and I invite you to go back and find some of the posts about her struggle. She really was an amazing woman in the most difficult time of her life, never once giving up on her fight; never once thinking she was going to lose. She smiled every day and she took in visitors whenever they wanted to see her, and she never wanted them to leave. “Even if I fall asleep,” she’d say, “I’d rather have them here than anywhere else.”

The thing I miss most is her touch. The way she’d run her fingers through my hair as I laid on her lap after a tough day. She would almost always fall asleep if I asked this of her in bed, and that became a running joke. She also picked on me incessantly, with that shit-eating grin accompanying her ribbing of me. If I did something stupid, she’d give me that deadpan “really?” look. But it’s her touch I miss most. Her hugs. She’d hold me when things were rough, and for the last 18 months, things were rough for me, too. She didn’t let me hide behind being the strong one or the caregiver. She knew this disease was almost as much mine as it was hers. Thing is, she’s done with it now. I’m still suffering from what melanoma takes away.

I’ve cried oceans of tears in the past year, and in many ways I’m worse now than I was then. A year ago the future held that she wouldn’t be here, and I’d be responsible for everything with the kids, the house, and everything else. I was aware of probably 10% of what that meant, and besides the tangible things like keeping our lives going, there was a storm waiting for me in the form of social interaction. I was going to fall in love again, and I wasn’t going to be able to stop that from happening.

I’ve found comfort in the huge number of new friends I’ve made over the past year, who help me along my way when my best friends, the ones who have always been here, can’t be there. We all have lives, but I’ve rarely felt nobody was there. I’m incredibly lucky for that. I’ve gotten too close with a few in that time, but that’s been part of my growth as a widower as well. I have regrets and wish I’d done things differently, but who wouldn’t? This new life of mine has been full of mistakes, but I move on and try and go to sleep at night and hope I wake up the next day, and I do it all over again. I’m often lost and lonely and miserable, but the clock keeps ticking. Someday I won’t hear that ticking and I’ll be back in a good place. I’ll keep trying different paths until the right one comes along.

What gets me out of bed every morning is a promise I made to Dawn in her last days. I was keeping the house so we could stay close to friends, I was going to continue pushing the boys to be the best men they could be, I was going to take over the business and keep it on the path she wanted all along. But mostly, I was going to live with no regrets over her leaving. We left nothing unsaid. We were lucky enough to have time to make our peace with our lives and our marriage, and this disease. She blessed my future in any way that made me happy, and I don’t know that I would even be here without that gift.

I’m still feeling my way through the dark with almost every aspect of my life. I have a wonderful therapist who doesn’t speak ill of my mistakes, but rather, she takes me where I am and guides me along the way to peace and happiness. I have friends who let me hide in hotels with my tears, understanding that I just can’t be with them that night. I live in a town that knows my story, and while I’ve spoken ill of that curse, as it were, I’m touched by the closeness of the community as they come together for one of their own.

Mostly, though, it’s all of you who shepherd me through. There are too many to name, for I’d surely forget a few who deserve to be named as much as anyone else. But there’s always someone around the corner holding a light for me, and they do as Dawn did – pick me up when I need to be picked up, or sit down in the dumps with me until I’m ready to climb back up. My boys and I cannot even remotely express the amount of gratitude we have for all of you, but we send an unending supply of virtual hugs and kisses to each and every one of you, for you have kept us breathing.

As time goes on, I’m sure the pain will be replaced bit by bit with loving memories. There’s not enough room in my head or my heart for all of it yet, but I’m making room. I’ve still got a lot to tackle in this, but every day is a new opportunity. I’ll surely phone some of those days in, and maybe even stay in bed all day, but they keep coming and I keep trying to make them work for me. I can’t touch her, or feel her, or talk with her, or kiss her, but she’s here. She’s happy with my progress, I can just feel it. I’ve questioned my direction a couple times but I’ve made adjustments. Perhaps that was just her turning my shoulders in a different direction.

I love Dawn very much, even to this day, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate and accept that of me. I look at her smile every day and marvel at how she was able to wear it in those times. She truly is my hero, and is easily the most courageous, strongest, bravest person I’ll ever know. I just wish she was here so I could tell her that.

I love you, baby.

 

Goodbye for now

I write here because it gets my feelings down on paper, so to speak. It allows me to express my deepest sadness in a way that I can’t seem to do on a whim. The thoughts fill me, and if they don’t come out here, they don’t come out anywhere. That’s just how it is.

I get compliments on my writing ability. I feel good about how I can convey to all of you exactly what I’m feeling, and when I go back and re-read what I’ve written, it’s perfect. It’s almost always perfect.

But it all comes from a very bad place in my heart, and that talent is gone when I’m in a good place. I don’t wanna spend any more time in that bad place. I don’t want to find good in that bad place. I want to get away from it all.

Technology has shrunk the world for us, and there’s a lot of bad in that, too. I want the world to be bigger. I want to find things with my eyes and my feet. I want to know what you’re doing when I get there. So I have to leave here. I don’t for how long, but it could be forever.

The world needs to be bigger, because it keeps shrinking and closing in on me, and I can barely breathe.

I thank you all.

Understanding

Disclaimer: None of these things are things I’ve considered doing, so please don’t call me or text me freaking out for me. My thoughts have come to think deeper about the mindset of those who do these things.

It’s Sunday again, and again I’m using all my strength to stay busy enough to keep my mind off things. It’s my mind that constantly digs up my life and twists and turns it in ways that make everything worse than it already is, and it overwhelms me and paralyzes me. It burns bridges. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to overcome, and I’m way behind in the war.

I wrote today and got some things out, but it didn’t make me feel better. Instead, it made me miss things more, and that’s discouraging. It isn’t loneliness that’s getting to me today, because I want to be alone. It’s just missing the happiness I had that I don’t have right now. It’s also sadness that I’m looking out for myself and keeping some things at arm’s length. Yes, sadness.

I don’t like this feeling. I want to feel something else, anything else. I want to get high, but I honestly don’t know what that’s like because I never have done it, but I know it’s something different. It’s days like this that gives me a little understanding about why people feel not being alive is better than being alive. It makes me feel what people look for when they cut themselves. We’ve all had paper cuts, or even the clean slice of a razor by mistake, and that pain sounds so sweet and satisfying. It’s another pain, a tangible pain, a pain I can point to. I’d be fucking ecstatic to be able to point to my pain.

I’m not sleeping well again, and I’ve never gotten around to eating well. I’m still enjoying the exercise but I’m not doing it enough. I’m still climbing uphill and sliding down the side of the mountain. And I know nobody can help me up and I know nobody will be my happiness. I’m still looking for it inside myself and I know it’s in there somewhere, but I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even know how to breathe sometimes.

I’m feeling my way through the dark like so many other people do, but I’m not running into anything. The room is empty. The darkness is relentless.

Days like this

I woke up in a rough place this morning. Nothing in particular made this happen, but I still knew the moment I sat up in bed it was going to be a tough day.

I went through the motions getting the kids to school and stared at my messy house and piles of laundry. I watched my cat scratch itself, as it does regularly because I haven’t found it in myself to take her to the vet. The dog limps by for the same reason. It’s all backing up again.

The advice pours in from friends.

“Change it, make it a good day!”
“Play some loud music!”
“Come see me!”

But the fact is, I’ll find excuses to ignore this advice. I won’t say I find comfort in sadness, but I guess it’s something like that sometimes. I’m afraid if I don’t sit through it it’ll just come back at some point, or worse yet, collect together and drop on me all at once.

I’m jealous of those who are changing their lives and those who are tackling their struggles head-on. Some days I can do that and others I cannot, and today I cannot. I don’t want to put on my happy face today. I want to be that quiet guy in the corner you forget about when my seat’s empty. I don’t want to be anybody today.