''As I watched DJ slip away, I could realize what was ending,
but what I didn’t know, couldn’t know, was what was really just beginning …''
Me - 2013
In the twenty months since DJ passed out of this life, the world in which I exist (mostly) has changed entirely. Many of the old things are still here, but appear totally different. Early on it was the challenge of deciding to live at all that held center stage for months, then, finding that it was possible to carry on, trying to convince myself that i actually wanted to. The shock and pain accompanying the loss of a partner has to be experienced to be fully understood. Today I can give quarter to those who speak of things they have no concept about and not have their unknowing statements bring me to a mental boil. Having been fortunate to have caring family has helped and new found friends allows me to think that there is still much to do.
Leading up to the morning DJ died, I had managed many scenarios of just what life would be like without her, we had four years from diagnosis to her final breaths. I understood that whatever it would be, missing her and loneliness would be part of the scene, but I had no idea of just how deep and just how debilitating it would all be. My attempts to visualize a ‘life after’ always ended with me allowing myself to join her; it was my safe place at that time…it gave me comfort as the things I saw for a future without her were not pleasant, even as thoughts. But I couldn’t know that this type of loss introduces many concerns regarding what we think of ourselves and the things we say we believe in. Through the shock, pain, bewilderment, numbness, fog, anger, resentment, and bottom line pissed-offness, it came down to what I, individually thought and believed about myself, my life to that point and just who the hell I really am. For me, I was forced to admit that altho I understood that our living involves dying, the impact of losing a partner cannot be pre-understood, conceived of, or planned for. That the life DJ and I shared was no longer, was a fact, I knew that; but just what all that entailed has only been revealed, slowly, since that morning.
When DJ and I talked about this time, it was always in terms of positive, encouraging exchanges, neither of us could know that this type of loss can send one spiraling down that abyss of hopelessness and despair, from which a climb back to the surface may be impossible. For sure I am glad that DJ felt confident enough in me to think that I would manage and she said so more than once, but in my own mind the unknowing gnawed at me constantly. Sometimes I am asked just how did we manage to make it through those four years knowing what the eventual outcome would be. It’s an understandable question; I can recall wondering the same thing many times, before our time, when I would hear of others facing the same situation. It is done much like now has to be lived, one moment, one hour and one day at a time. DJ and I tried to do it that way, actually it would have been too painful to try and do it any other way. In the midst of realizing what was being lost, there were times of sheer terror, times when I would watch as she slept and I would try to imagine her not being there. To be honest it was never a successful exercise; there is just no way to comprehend being without that someone who means everything to us. That we try to do it when forced to, is probably a normal human reaction to the situation with our inability to fully grasp the ramifications behind the idea being just as normal, in reality, what we have is all we know.
It is said that what you don’t know can kill you and I have come to believe in the validity of that statement. Not knowing, in and of itself is not always the culprit, knowing and doing nothing appears to be the real crime and today I do know…some things anyway. And now, in this time just what are some of the things I know now but could not know that morning? Understanding I can only speak for myself, I can say that I know it has been the most devastating period of my life, I say this fully aware that me and our family have survived the ravages of addiction, other losses and what we thought were some of the worse episodes humans could endure. I know that the mere fact that we can understand something does little to blunt the impact a specific event may have on our mental framework; I know that knowing is not enough sometimes and that many times knowing can make things appear even more painful. I know now that on that morning, I could not know that I would be confronted with myself and forced to admit that either I was grateful for the life we had shared and for the many joyful moments and events our family had, or I was surely a selfish hypocrite, professing to believe, but when called to honor those beliefs, found wanting. Today I know that I can convince myself of the rightness of anything if I decide to; facts be damned, reality can take a holiday. I know today that despite all we claim to be, we are powerless against some of the forces of life altho we may have some input on the impact they can have on our behavior after that impact. Now, I am living that time we spoke of, living it with a grip that if described as tenuous would be giving me the benefit of the doubt…I am not out of the woods yet. I know today, for me, recognizing that I must constantly deal with the notion that there are some things I can control and others which I simply have to let go, I understand this has to become an integral part of my everyday thought processes. I know today that this different life has proved to be a massive struggle against apathy, sloth, indifference, depression, self deception, and excessive self indulgence. I know today it is an easy time to say to hell with it all, after all, DJ’s not here, so why bother? I know and believe today that not having hope cannot be an option for me if I intend to continue living. Today I realize that I cannot let the pain of all that I think was lost blind me to the possibilities of the future…blind me to the point of standing where I stood in that early time on the brink of self destruction. These things I am trying to say here are not new, only to me in some instances and are only important because some of them help me to maintain myself day to day. Once during an especially bad time for DJ, when the full impact of what was occurring and was to occur, raged, as we sat attempting to console one another, DJ said “…I just don’t know…sometimes I just get so scared…about everything…”, not really knowing what to say, I tried to remind her that at this point we had to either trust in that Power we claimed to believe in and trust that all that should be, would be, or we had to admit that it all meant nothing…after going over some the reasons we knew we could stand on to believe, we agreed, this sickness, this dying, it’s not what we wanted but we had to accept it as part of the total and tho apprehensive, we could not let fear rule whatever time we had left together; we could not just take what we wanted, we had to embrace it all. This was about at two years into her journey and afterwards we were able to try to live with that as a backdrop to everything we did. Today I call upon that time and those types of conversations with DJ when my own journey threatens erupt into madness, when the call of the brink becomes louder and all my attempts to justify living are met with equally powerful arguments for resigning from the quest. DJ had her challenges and now, I’m finding I have mine. Today I know that I cannot ask why us, why me, I feel it would be disloyal to that Power in which I trust…besides, it’s just not me, it’s you, and you and you and everyone. This appeared among the things I sometimes read: “Do not be sad because of people. They will all die.” That is something I always knew, we all know it, but what we don’t know, can’t know, is the impact their loss will provide.
That morning as I watched one portion of my life's journey quietly end and a new one, almost imperceptibly begin, I had no idea of how many of the things that seemed so familiar and safe would become trap doors leading to all manner of passages dark and seemingly unending. There was no way to know I would be called to face myself in a manner most humbling and eye opening. It was impossible to imagine the thoroughness of the shock, the immediacy of the pain or the outright terror of recognizing the fact that DJ was gone and I felt so horribly alone despite a great family and some fine friends. I could not know that I would have to wallow in the grief, in the sadness and allow myself to be nearly consumed by it…for a while…not know that the human body can produce tears in a prodigious amount and that those tears are necessary, are required as they appear the only human expression of our hurt and pain that gives any peace both in the mental and physical arena. And that ironically, those very same tears can act as a soothing balm for the gash that is left by our losses. It could not be known that hope would have to be fought for in order to outstrip the forces of apathy and resignation. Early on, in a conversation with a then, newly widowed friend, I was told by her that her therapist had said we shouldn't have to 'fight' to be happy in this life; this had been in response to her statement that she was tired of having to fight. It is not clear to me if this is true or not, I'm finding that for me, in the wake of DJ's death, it has been a daily struggle merely to do the necessities, with thoughts of happiness or any attempts at achieving it coming only much later. And coming only as thoughts as I'm not sure I know what happy is anymore...I'm not even sure where to begin to try to describe it for myself, let alone speak about attaining it...not yet anyway. For sure I don't know why, despite my efforts to the contrary, the lack of motivation appears to be so persistent, the desire to really want to do anything is lagging. Perhaps it is a necessary stretch of this journey through grief; maybe it is a period we all have to go through in order to help develop this different life, i just don't know, but i do know I suffer from it. Like many of the things I find occurring during this time, I have come to accept it and muddle through, taking what joys may come and understanding that the new sorrows have to be endured as well as the cost of balancing the emotional books; it's always been like that I imagine, it's just that now I am so much more aware of it, with the bittersweet joy of watching my granddaughter graduate from Kindergarten without DJ present being a prime example. It's one of the specific things I can remember DJ saying she was really sad about, knowing she would probably not make it to that day. As with the other memories...those that can warm me, or those that can trigger all sorts of emotional turmoil, I could not know the impact they would have. There was no way I could know that I would have to spend unknown amounts of time trying to find safe places for all of the memories of our life together, as Bob Seeger so aptly puts it in one of his most popular songs, ''...what to leave in, what to leave out...''. Understanding that I am not unique in this, we all have to do it, i mention it here because it is the cornerstone of my own attempt at healing, this finding safe places for the emotional artifacts of our previous life.
Arriving at today, a few months short of two years since that telling morning, I find that my previous ability to know everything of little use to me on this path, this journey. Coming to terms with the limits of my humanity is not an easy process, acknowledging that knowing is not enough has done little to boost my self esteem and has required me to more closely examine my own ideas of what is and what will never be. The lines here are not a tale of woe is me, it's my attempt to describe some of the things that I have observed about myself and my reaction to DJ's death. During this entire odyssey I have attempted to recognize and behave not like a victim; even before the actuality, I tried to accept what was happening in term of our total living experience and for the most part it worked...while DJ was alive. Once alone, I at first found many of the things which had helped me, and had helped me help her came through as empty and meaningless, it proved to be up to me to make them count for myself alone. At this point that is where I am...attempting to make this life, whatever is left of it, mean something to me. It is requiring a different type of self interest than that at which I once excelled, but the hoped for results are similar, to have me feel better about it all. For me it starts there, recognizing that what shape this future life takes, it's up to me and to secure what I feel is best for me can only come from my own efforts...first. For me, It cannot be done for the memory of DJ, or for our children, or for my family, I feel this is one of those endeavors that has to be driven purely by my own desire for my own peace of mind, and this much I do know.
So the journey continues with the days becoming more even and some semblance of balance making brief appearances. Trying not to let my currently bland enthusiasm for almost everything completely take over is the present day mission and I am remembering that despite everything, life is good and that our dedication to living it fully it is required if we are to enjoy it. Even so, at the end most days, after the trying, after the crying, after the anger, the laughter...after all of it, I'm reminded of another line from that same Seeger tune ''...wish I didn't know now, what I didn't know then...'' I think it has become my own sad refrain...for a while.