Archive for April 2014

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.