Dear family and friends,
I don't remember much of the first couple of days after Carol passed away. I suppose you could say I was stunned. It helps to understand my initial reactions by contrasting my life after to our life before she passed away. The month of September was packed with treatment and lab appointments. Looking at my appointment calendar there were one and sometimes two appointments every Monday through Friday for the entire month. The first three weeks of October were similar leading up to ten days of hospitalization for pain management and her passing. Our life before her passing was a flurry of travel to and from appointments, keeping medication schedules and keeping up communication with friends and family. We were also asking questions; What stage is the disease? What is the prognosis to getting back to daily activities? Is independent living a realistic possibility? When is this really not a fixable problem? When should we just do comfort care? Let's get hospice set up.
So there we were…focused on all this physical and mental activity and all of a sudden, it stops. It is quiet, just the muffled sobs of friends and family. People talk in low voices or whisper. The need to rush goes away and you find yourself drifting into something new. It is like you are an astronaut where there was an explosion and now you are floating off into space. Surreal scenes drift before your eyes. No one is in a hurry. You can't be rescued. The doctor gives you his condolences. You need to sign papers…whenever you are ready. Call the mortuary. No hurry. What do you do now? I guess we should go home… no hurry. Just keep drifting. You find yourself driving home in the early morning hours after midnight. There is the house. Everything looks familiar. Yes, the lights are still working. Everything is familiar yet strangely different. How can this familiar place be so surreal? The scenes are going by as you continue drifting. Something fundamental has changed. It slowly envelops you…Carol's presence is no longer there and is not going to be there. You keep drifting. You are alone and it is quiet. You are not going to be rescued from these events. I am not really alone. There is company and family. They are in shock as well…but the first reaction for everyone is to feel alone without her presence.
The initial reaction wears off and the best way to describe the months of November and December after Carol's passing is that our children and I were numb. No feelings or emotions. It is probably a survival characteristic that your feelings and emotions are suppressed and you just do what needs to be done. You are in zombie mode and numbly go through the motions. You contact social security, the bank, make arrangements for the memorial and graveside services. Brace yourself and go through the services, Of course November and December are holiday months and were Carol's favorite time of the year. You continue with the plans Carol had made. Friends invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving and you breathe a sigh of relief.Then it is on to celebrate my birthday, maintain Carol's Christmas plans, put up decorations and celebrate the New Year.
You go through the motions and sometimes it seems pointless, but your primary goal for these months is to keep busy. You don't want to think about her passing. So your mind is continually looking for something to do…keep your mind busy. But you are very selective about what you choose to do. You are numb yet constantly on guard because emotions can come out of no where and smack you. So you carefully choose your activities, especially social settings. You end up spending most of your activities with family because they are safe. Doing things with your family ends up being good therapy for all. Together you go through her clothes and jewelry and household items discussing which things might be keepsakes, who might want them and going about the business of sorting things out and getting things to the right people. It creates progress, accomplishment and a sense of getting things done without emotions getting in the way.
I've thought about the role of family and friends during those first couple of months. There were several friends that regularly called about once a week just to check in. Are you doing OK? The calls were helpful because they let me know I wasn't forgotten. Yet because they were not physically there and I wasn't looking in their eyes, the calls did not cause the emotional dam to break. It was a real support to me.
On the other hand, I know that in order to be healed, my tears need to be seen by family members or friends that are looking into my soul. Tears that are seen do the important work of getting the pain out of one's system. Yet I find myself most often trying to stuff it, keep it under control. Perhaps it is normal to fight what will bring healing. "How are you doing?" you ask. I answer, "I'm OK," when I really need to cry.
Depending on the social situation, when you meet a friend or family member who has recently lost a loved one, hug them and let the tears heal you both. In other social settings it is best not to stand face to face but to stand beside them looking in the same direction. You don't have to say anything, just pull them up close to you. Standing "beside" someone shares presence and helps carry the load.
All this thinking about family and friends turns my mind to you. Your support of traveling to and speaking at Carol's services, your prayers for me and our family, hugs and tears, cards, emails, phone calls, providing tables, chairs and food, as Carol would say, just blessed my socks off. God stood with me through that time and you were his agents of grace. Thank you. You are a special gift from God.
Enough for now, I'm tearing up. In the next post I will share what it is like to go out and about.
Grace to you ….. George