Monday, December 12, 2016

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

It's been five months today since Amanda died.

Grief continues to evolve. In the beginning, I had a mix of relief and bitterness with the sadness. I was very busy handling things. Then I transitioned into a period of expansive optimism. The past month or so, though, I've been feeling kind worn out, and new flavours of sadness have sprung up.

I've still been pretty busy. Some highlights on the up side?

Halloween with Batman Gordon.
Raffi at Centennial Hall.
Sharon & Bram at Aeolian Hall.
First snow meal of the season.
Dudes with fresh haircuts.
And on the work side, ratings results just came in for the radio station, and there are welcome signs of improvement. My bosses have put me on course to improve my management skills, which I'm grateful for -- I was sent away for a two-day class that was very educational. I've been busy as heck at work. I have enough vacation time left to take....well, until the end of the year off. With all that I've been through this year, I've taken nearly no time for myself. I'm so grateful for Gordon's sleepover nights with nana & grampa -- those nights have given me opportunities to feel like a well-rounded, vital human being in ways that being a dad and boss don't.

I've been hit and miss with my time with G. We've been spending too much time watching TV in the basement (at his urging, though I'm the grown-up), but I try to ensure we're doing special things as well.

Still, for all the good times G and I have been having, we're both feeling sad from time to time.

It hit me suddenly as we put up the Christmas tree. Putting up the tree was not the problem. It was when I opened the box of "good" decorations and pulled out the first one.


A set of ceramic mittens that Amanda glazed and put on the tree for our first Christmas together back in Halifax. I started crying. Gordon saw. That set off a week of one or both of us missing mommy. I think Gordon feels like he's starting to lose her memory. I think he's a little angry at her for not being around any more. He wants her to play with him. For a long time, he seemed pretty static about the whole thing, but it to me like seeing me cry over the decorations opened something up for him that he's not sure how to process.

It took more than a week to get back to it, but we finished decorating the tree. Lots more memories there, including decorations Amanda and G made together last year. Decorations commemorating his first Christmas. Others from the years gone by.

I'm carrying on a blend of traditions from our families -- Christmas PJs for him, a big present from Santa, cleaning up the living room before Santa comes, an advent calendar made of little tins on a magnetic board, a gingerbread house, and I will attempt to make the Land Of Nod Cinnamon Buns that made Christmas morning smell so good these past years.



So, is it the weather, having a cold, fatigue, routine, or something else that's caused my enthusiasm to dip? Or maybe I'm actually depressed and handling it well enough that it's not bad enough to interrupt daily functioning too much?

My therapist has put it to me very directly: I need to make some time for myself, or I'm going to burn out and get very sick. I've already had a nasty lung thing for more than a week. I don't want to get sicker than that.

I'm also still feeling a drive to do something creative to help Gordon and family remember his mom. I'm working on one thing that will be revealed at Christmas. I'm considering another project that will involve a trip to Halifax with Gordon, probably in the Spring. And, I'm still hoping some folks will send in their Amanda memories as I requested back in July. So far, I've had one submission.

Oh, what's the title of this post about? Well, Gordon has been enjoying the heck out of Finding Dory and Finding Nemo. They're lovely movies, though the tale of a nervous dad fish who has to raise his headstrong little boy fish after the death of his wife kind of punches me in the feels every time it's on. Dory's parents teach her to just keep swimming ... just keep swimming ... just keep swimming.


Sometimes I don't know where I'm headed or what's in the waters, but I just keep swimming. If that means we have KD and hot dogs for supper once again while I get my feet back under me, that's what we'll do. I want to serve G well and give him the life Amanda and I imagined for him, but I can't always do that every day. When I can't give Gordon an A+ day, I at least try to give him a B with extra credit for love. And just keep swimming.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who's been in my corner. I feel down but not out. Just kind of bleh and more cautious than a couple of months ago. Y'know what? That's okay. The key is not to make "bleh" my new normal.

So, TL;DR: Bleh for now, some boo-hoo, with an eye toward getting back to the recent yay and future woo-hoo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The hole in my life is where my new life will grow

I'm in between lives. The life I was living ended on July 12, four months ago.

Necessary parts of living have continued. I eat, I sleep, I get Gordon to and from daycare, I go to work, I pay bills, I tend to the house. I check on my little boy before going to bed and feel the pride of being a great dad. But very little is the same.

It's hard, but that doesn't mean it's bad. I have grief, I am grieving, but I am not my grief.

I spent so long being what I was doing that I'm going to have to relearn who I am and what I'm all about. I was Amanda's husband. I was Amanda's caregiver. I was Gordon's dad. Then I became a widower. But I'm realizing that those things are not all that I am -- I'm me, and sure, I do things, but those things aren't me. Okay, then, who am I? And what do I do now?

That's up to me.

Amanda's death blew a hole in my being. The aftermath made the hole bigger, more jagged and kind of infected.

I have some "good" grief moments, like when I'm tucking G into bed and start crying because I'd want his mommy to see what a wonderful little boy he is. And I have some "bad" grief moments, like yesterday, the morning after our wedding anniversary, when I began tearing up from bitterness and frustration on the way to work.

I'm doing what I can to accept the feelings as they come, but careful not to get stuck in any. I'm also working not to feel guilty when I have joy and optimism.

The hole in my heart, the hole in my life -- that's space for the life I will create for myself in the months and years to come.

The pain I've felt will drive me forward to make decisions for a fulfilling, loving, satisfying life to come.

Part of building the launching pad for my future self has been taking care of the physical space around me. In the weeks after Amanda died, I took steps to make our home less of a hospital and more of a living space.

Some of the many drugs I rounded up and disposed of.
I took a great big bag to the pharmacy. There was so much. It was probably worth a lot of money to the right people (or the wrong people). But I don't want it around.

Amanda's sisters came over and we went through closets and drawers and bags and boxes, sorting through clothes, purses and shoes. They took what they wanted. Most of the rest went to Goodwill.

I hope someone makes new memories with these clothes.
Before those bags went to the depot, I had an idea ... to get Gordon a couple of Amanda's favourite hoodies to wear when he needed a mommy hug. He loved the idea. Days later, I got a book called "Missing Mommy" that included a little boy whose mother had died ... and he spends most of the book walking around with a sweater he pulled from his mommy's closet.

How is the little dude doing, people ask. Mostly great, actually. Mostly great. He's very factual about losing mommy. He's able to explain that mommy had things growing inside her that weren't supposed to be there, and the doctors and nurses tried to stop them, and take them out, but they kept growing and growing until her body stopped working. And she died. And she's not coming back. And we miss her.

But he's mostly great. He's able to be an energetic little boy now without worrying about waking someone up, or leaning on a colostomy bag or incision, or rolling off a hospital bed. He has a daddy who'll play on the floor, or pretend the couch is a train, or stomp around the house like a dinosaur. In some ways, he's flourishing and thriving. He's mostly great.

That doesn't mean he has forgotten. I wouldn't let him. At bedtime, we often tell stories. Sometimes I'll ask him what he misses about her. One time, he said he missed doing puzzles.

"That's right!" I said. "Mommy would sit in the blue chaise and you'd sit there too, and mommy would build puzzles with you. And what did she teach you?"

"To find the corners and edges first," he said.

"Good! So, whenever you do puzzles from now on, and you get the edges and corners first, you can remember that mommy taught you that. And every time you do, that's a little bit of mommy that's still with you, forever."

"And when there's a missing piece," he added, "that's mommy doing a puzzle .... in my heart."

--

Amanda's birthday would have been last week. After her dad died, she made a traditional family banana cake each year on his birthday. She made the same cake for Gordon's first birthday. And his second.

This year, Gordon and I made the same cake. For mommy. I'd never baked from scratch before, but at every step of the process, I remembered little pieces of advice Amanda had passed along each time I watched her make this cake. Don't use butter that's too cold. Use vinegar to make milk sour. Use exactly the right amount of flour.

It was delicious.

Nana Hewitt's Banana Cake - a new tradition for the Simpson boys.

This in-between life is awkward and kind of scary. That's okay. I'm not afraid of being afraid. My grief will serve me well. I have the rest of my life to live, and it's up to me to make that happen. I'm going to stumble and fall, make bad choices, make great choices, be disappointed, be surprised, be inspired, be an awful mess, and sometimes be the greatest I've ever been.

This hole in my life is the place where I plant the seeds for my future self. There's no reason why I can't have a life of love, excitement, fulfillment, and prosperity. It may not happen soon. It may not happen easily. Or maybe it will. But grief will not hold me forever. It will catapult me toward whatever's next.