Facing grief, life, cancer with truth, not homilies.
So I’m putting 67 behind me. That age marked my first full year without Michael after beginning our amazing life together in 1971. As you can see by my t-shirt, I’m still keeping us close to me. I especially hated this age as it was the same death year shared by my father, Michael and a well-loved brother-in-law. I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth about it on and off during the whole year. One of those irrational things you’ve just got to accept because there it is. I’ve just re-published last year’s birthday blog. The advantage of being a writer is that you can look back and see what your recent journeys look like from a different vantage point. Just like the disadvantage of being a writer means you can look back and find some cringe-worthy moments you’d rather forget.
I have to say that for the most part, my last birthday blog feels pretty consistent with what I feel today. Then I was evaluating my life as a single person and trying to get used to a new way of doing things. What I’ve recognized in the past year has built on that beginning. And this year has been more about me defining myself in a way so different from the way I spent most of my adult life. I don’t know if there’s really such a thing as a born caregiver. If it exists, I think I am one. I’ve always leaned in the direction of putting other people’s needs before my own. I don’t really have any judgment about it. It’s natural. The circumstances of my life leant themselves to my inclinations. I’m not heroic and I’m not a martyr. I’m just this random person who looks to benefit others before myself. I used to feel a real imbalance in that. When I was young, I wanted to be treated in the same way I treated others. I was mostly disappointed. Eventually I realized that I needed to do who I was and that was all that really mattered. When I walk away from something I’m more concerned that I did what I needed to do, rather than worry about what anyone else did in return. I’m good with that path. My son, the biologist, called me maladaptive. I just think that’s funny.
When Michael took his last turn for the worse, I took my caregiving to a whole new level. When he wound up spending 32 days in the hospital I moved in with him. It wasn’t even a question to me. He needed an advocate and that was me.I think I went home once to get some laundry. Other than that, I was a resident. And I got to bring him home. That was what he wanted. I don’t think he’d have been able to get out of there without me. His prognosis when he was admitted was on average, 4 weeks. Michael lived for 17 weeks. He wanted another good day. I helped him get it.
I remember thinking that my intellect had transcended my emotions and my body. He wanted to be alive and I was going to do what I could to help him until there was nothing left to do. I didn’t regret then, nor do I now regret any of what I did. Although, truthfully, I have no clue how I survived that intense time in our home with the weight of 24/a/day care, terror, grief and fatigue and the knowledge that it all would end. The morning Michael died, I texted his doctor to tell her. Half an hour later, she called me to say I was now at the highest risk for death in my life. She said I couldn’t do anything but eat, sleep and exercise. I heard her and was taken aback but I didn’t really get it. Life moves on. I had to let go of one way and find another.
So here I am, almost 2 years later. Another birthday for me, which I refer to as the result of my sturdy peasant stock. I am alive today. In the last year, I’ve been working on putting myself first more. There is no person for whom I’m directly responsible all the time. It’s very weird. But I’ve plunged in and tried to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m giving myself experiences. I took a family trip with my daughter and her crew. I was nervous about feeling like a burden but everything was actually great.
We went to North Carolina and were in the beautiful, if dripping wet, Blue Ridge mountains. I got to see Chihuly glass installations at the Biltmore. There’s a terrific bookstore in Asheville. I liked driving.
I gave myself the gift of seeing my beloved Roger Federer in the flesh. I went to the Western-Southern Open in Cincinnati by myself and had a glorious 6 days. Then I saw him again at the Laver Cup which just happened to be in Chicago the weekend of my 50th high school reunion. I played a critical role in planning it although I don’t know exactly how that fell into my purview. A successful and fascinating experience.
Then I had my first real surgery, a knee replacement which was long overdue. I prepared hard for it and did well. The next one is coming up in July.
I visited family and friends. I went to see relatives in Chicago and took a two week trip to Florida to see old dear friends. I was scared of that, being the odd person out, but it turned out to be a wonderful trip.
I had the pleasure of seeing live music. I went to see John Prine, Jeff Tweedy and Pete Yorn. In two weeks I’ll see Paul McCartney for the first time since 1964. I took classes. I learned about women in jazz, honey and alcohol and molecular biology. My blog is out in the world enough so that I’ve been asked to write a special one for my local park district. I’ve joined a book club and am trying to make sure I stay connected to a community of people rather than being a hermit in my house.
I’ve studied a lot of art this year and have been sharing a painting a day on social media. The world can be so ugly. I’m trying to spread some beauty.
Montana Glacier National Park Mountains Cracker Lake
I’m taking a road trip with my son to the east coast in a few weeks and for the third time in three years, I’m trying to go to Glacier National Park which was on fire for my first two tries. I board a train at the end of June, hoping that a different season might bring me luck. My oldest friend says I’m “living large.” I don’t know about that. I’m thinking always about trying to be in life at its fullest. That’s the big lesson that I took from the cancer years with Michael. I also tell myself that it’s ok to be lazy sometimes after working for over 40 years. That’s a work in progress. I find doing nothing to be a real challenge.
I’m trying to be still, at least for brief moments to savor the little things. My garden, the birds in my yard, the clouds overhead. I remain in love with my dead husband. I have no explanations for the way I feel and I don’t care. When he surges up in me or around me I have no idea how that happens. I wish I could make it happen every day but it doesn’t. He’s been here with me all day today although I can’t explain why. I find it oddly wonderful that when I see his photos, I still get hot and bothered.
If I ever figure any of this out, I’ll share with anyone who reads this stuff. So happy 68th birthday to me. I don’t know what the next few days might bring, much less a full year. If I’m still around next time, I’ll let you know what happened.