I'm not a big fan of The Simpsons. I think I regularly watched half of the episodes of the first couple of seasons and a few random others, but I just never really got very excited about the show. One episode, however, keeps coming to mind. Homer had eaten a blowfish and was told it was the dangerous part, so he prepared for his death. The doctor came in and handed him a booklet, and in his sleepy monotone voice, read the title,
"So You're Going to Die."
It seems ridiculous that at a time of shock and fear, someone would hand you a booklet that is supposed to somehow prepare you for your imminent demise, which is why that scene was so uncomfortably funny. So when I got a similar booklet titled "Where to Turn After Losing a Loved One" while still sitting with Mr. Jones' body mere moments after he passed, I thought of that scene.
The whole thing was so surreal. Larry was dead and I'm suddenly thinking about that Simpsons episode. I watched the nurse turn and leave the room, off to her station to efficiently manage the case to completion.
I stood there holding the booklet and just laughed.
It wasn't until the next day or two that I opened it up. The first few pages dealt with contacting a funeral home and making arrangements for Larry's remains. God... just typing that, I'm still in disbelief. It details some of the feelings people have and what they experience in the wake of a loved one's death, like hallucinations and nightmares, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, and constant crying.
It doesn't tell you that you won't really be able to drive anywhere for a while because you suddenly can't remember where you are or why you are even going anywhere in the first place.
It does go into creating a notice of death, and which finances need to be handled right away, and how to obtain a death certificate. It does NOT explain how horrible you'll feel when the shame you lived with will be listed as the cause of death or how hard it will be to share that Proof of Death with strangers, knowing that they'll be scanning the certificate for the reason that man died at such a young age.
And there are so many calls to make.
Everyone you talk to is just doing their job. They're not expecting an uncomfortable conversation with a widow, so they stumble over their words in an attempt to find the right ones that they didn't think they'd need when they heard them in their training. I pictured the agents scouring their desks for the booklet or even a small sheet titled:
"So You're On a Call with Someone Who Had a Loved One Die."
It's my nature to make people feel at ease, and on every call, I felt like I was somehow failing them as I heard their awkward grasping for words that wouldn't come. The customer service people and I were blindly following some strange protocol neither of us was expecting. As odd as it all was, I accepted their mechanical attempts to console me and was thankful for their patience when my brain failed me when asked the simplest of questions.
As a social creature, the strangest part was how difficult it was for me to be among people; like a fish who just can't, for the life of him, swim one more inch. I turned down just about every invitation to do anything, even a month or two later. I wanted to stay home and disappear into the hole I felt enveloping me.
Thankfully, I have a dear friend who went through the death of an estranged parent who was also an alcoholic, and another friend who’d recently lost his wife. Those two have always been available, day or night, whenever I needed to talk about either side of the loss; addiction or widowhood. Without them, I don't think I would have been able to function every day.
After a few weeks, I started popping my head out every now and then to go out to a dinner on the farm or a street fair with a select few people who were comfortable with my tears, but I just didn't feel like I could put any of my other friends through the awkwardness of a sudden storm of emotions, so I was mostly a hermit.
Only recently have I started regularly going out socially again... and I've been really happy when I do go out... which eventually leads to guilt, because it's only been three months... and how can I be happy when Larry is dead? I have to remind myself that I had years to grieve the loss of our relationship. This death was just the physical manifestation of what I lost long ago.
Still... the guilt comes.
There's no booklet titled, "What to Expect When the Guy You Were Divorcing is on His Death Bed Because of the Thing You Knew Would Happen But Hoped Wouldn't and You're Pretty Sure Leaving Killed Him." There's no road map for navigating the regret of leaving an addict who eventually dies of his disease. There's no grief group specifically for Regretful Widows of Alcoholics. You just go to your Grief Share and listen to all the other grievers who had "good" people die, connecting with them on the one common thread:
And while I make the clumsy attempts at getting on and living my life, just as I had been before I got the news that day at the court house, a memory will float in and derail me and I'll start to tear up. It could be about anything. I'll be singing along with cover bands at the top of my lungs or enjoying a new local restaurant with friends and suddenly, Larry's face is there, all dimply and bright eyed and everything.
The other night, I was talking to a friend about our final conversations and how he'd asked about the barbecue grill and how that made me cry in the hospital. And right there, in the middle of a fun evening with friends, the story of the barbecue made me cry again. Because I'm awesome at ruining a fun night with tears at just the wrong time.
Other times, like in the ICU when I remembered the scene in the Simpsons, I'll break out in laughter and wonder what people think about me. Do they judge me while I'm enjoying a moment, or several moments, or even several DAYS of happiness?
Do they think I'm a horrible person for going on? I'm an almost-divorced widow of a guy who made my life hell, but who I loved so deeply for so many years, and I'm sad about that while still being happy about the blessings that keep coming. Why am I worried about what people think?
There's definitely not a booklet that tells you how to feel okay about celebrating life when no where on this planet does that person even exist anymore. I know it’s supposed to take a while to get past the intense grief and be okay again. The intensity has faded, but I still think about him every day. It's just less and less sad now. Things are getting to be okay most of the time. I just wish I could feel okay about feeling okay.
A long time ago, I forced myself to stop caring about what people thought of me, but this whole season has really shifted things around in my head... some shifting has been good... some bad... some necessary... and I'm suddenly aware of eyes on me and I'm worried again at how people perceive my recovery.
The truth is, no one is ever going to understand any of what I've been through or continue to go through, unless of course, they were married to an alcoholic that they left who died, too. There's no booklet that explains to anyone outside of that illness how hard it is to stay and how much harder it is to leave and how you can end up regretting both in the end.
So I'm not even going to try to make anyone understand or avoid them for possible not getting it. It's not fair to them and it's not fair to me. I'm just going to go on with my life while I experience and lean into those moments... the suck... the fun... the falling to my knees in ugly cries... the bursting out in loud obnoxious laughter... loving the memories of the good... hating the memories of the bad... holding on... moving on... ups... downs... all of it.
That's the whole point of this blog, after all, right? Live the Sweet Life...
even when it's bitter.