The Positives Over The Last Year

My good friend, Tom, asked me to write about some of the positive events over the last year. In a matter of weeks, I will have reached the one-year anniversary since the passing of my wife due to cancer.

For much of the time, it was difficult to come up with anything that was positive. However, I realized that I have been blessed with such good friends and a wonderful support group. I don’t think I could have made it through this without them.

Seeing the tremendous kindness of people was amazing, like my wife’s co-workers who put me up in their home for 3 months shortly after Sally passed. Relatives in my home state have let me stay with them so I wouldn’t be alone. My cousin has taken me out for golf games and have had many lunches with long-time friends. Family members have also stepped up for me, including ones I barely talked to when I was with Sally.

In addition to my support group, I’ve also made some wonderful new friends. Our conversations have helped me to make big strides toward recovery. Yes, I’m still on the emotional roller-caster, but it seems a little more manageable.

I think a lot of my wife, Sally.  She was loyal and loving and we had a lot of great years. It would have been 34 years together last month, and realized that I was one of the lucky ones to have found the absolute love of my life. I met her with I was only 20 years old and was also fortunate to have never felt the pain of separation or divorce.

This experience has also taught, and forced me, to think and do things out of the box. I’ve done some traveling by myself for the first time. I have seen, and will see, places that I haven’t been to. I also made the decision to pursue a master’s degree in geography. That’s not an easy goal, but it’s something that I’ve needed and wanted to do.

Sally and I owned an elliptical machine that she used all the time. I barely touched the thing. Now, I joined a gym and put in about 45 minutes to an hour 5 times a week on a stationary bike. The place is my escape, but, Sally would be shocked.

I still work on my businesses and somehow managing to get through each day. There were mornings I didn’t even want to get out of bed, but I did. I pushed forward, despite my mood.

It’s very true when one of my friends said, “it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.” She also said that “it’s okay to give yourself permission to feel better.” It’s good advice, at least it has been for me.IMG_0503

 

 

Too Much Can Overwhelm

The grieving process is hard, there’s no question about it. Everyone is in a different place at a different time. Despite the incredible pain and hardship, we try to continue. From my own experience, and I’m no expert, I believe that we can take on too much, too fast, which can lead to temporary setbacks.

I recently stacked projects on top of one another to keep busy and to occasionally escape this new reality. In addition to the daily grind of work and other duties, I also took on new tasks in an attempt to continue to move forward and prove to myself that I am making strides.

I think taking on new projects, new adventures and other new things “outside of the box” can be beneficial. I was talked into going dancing a short time ago, something I’ve never done or would have probably never considered. It was, though, a very nice experience.

However, my emotional state backfired on me as I added too much “work” in a short period of time. I made commitments to others that these tasks can be completed. I’m managing to get them done, but it’s taking longer, much longer than I expected.

In my other life, I could take on just about anything and get it done in a timely manner. Sure, there was stress involved, but I would get through it because I had Sally. Now, if I take on too much, too fast, feelings of being overwhelmed were consuming me.

I found myself with increased anxiety, almost panicked. Trying to focus on anything would become increasingly difficult, sometimes nearly impossible. It’s hard to admit, but I’m not the warrior I once was, at least not now. My life has changed, and it’s not the one I want, but I’m stuck with it.

I’m also in a situation where I can’t force this grieving process. I can’t demand too much of myself without expecting emotional setbacks. That’s just the way it is now.

As the days go by, I’m trying to give myself a “break.” Believe me, it’s not easy. I’m my own worst critic as my mind still wants to resolve all the pain and anxiety.

With my one-year anniversary fast-approaching, I’m starting to realize that I really do have to “go with the flow” and not to keep swimming upstream. Easier said than done.

 

The Hardest Part Of The Day

Getting up each morning is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially when we’re walking down the road of grief. What’s this day going to bring? How hard will this one be?

Despite trying to get through each one, the emotional roller-coaster is still there and waiting. As for me, there are days when I think it’s getting better. Then, comes the downside. These lows still strike without mercy and often without warning.

Just within the last month, I went to a restaurant and noticed some chairs in their waiting area. They were exactly the same type as the ones we used on our deck in Idaho. I thought they were an unusual style and would never come across chairs like that anywhere else, so seeing them made that part of the day difficult. But, I got through it. Later on, well, that’s a little different.

Recently, I attended a luncheon that had co-workers who I have not seen in about 20 years. It was wonderful to see them, but they all knew about my situation and gave me their heartfelt words. It took every fiber of my being not to get down. There are other situations that I have written about trying to manage those ups and downs. I know that I probably won’t get off this roller-coaster anytime soon.

With each passing day, I’m realizing that the toughest part is at night trying to get to sleep. Sally and I slept next to one another. Her presence was comforting and warmth was relaxing. In the 33 years together, getting to sleep was rarely an issue. Now, it’s becoming more of a battle. Sometimes the anxiety will come on strong and I just lay there, trying to relax and calm down.

Yes, I’ve had the sleep aids and recommend a doctor’s consent with stuff like that. The dreams come too. I do admit that I like most of them that involve Sally. Unfortunately, I can’t remember too many. But, there are the dreams that trigger the emotional reaction in my sleep which carries over into the next morning. Earlier this week, it took me much of that morning to recover from the previous night.

I’ve heard from others that said they have not dreamed about their spouse or other relatives close to them who have passed. Some people have said that my dreams, at least some of them, are “visits.” Perhaps they are. It’s just getting to sleep and trying to adjust to this “new normal” that is the hard part.

 

Small Accomplishments Are Big

The grieving process will literally drain a ton of mental energy. Regular tasks in our day suddenly become far more difficult. There have been many days I haven’t even wanted to get out of bed. Regardless, I get up and my work and other daily chores get done, because they have to be. But, there are days that so hard to just function.

An extra chore or work project, however small, can feel like a massive undertaking. More precious mental energy has to be spent and it seems like we’re running on fumes as it is. Anxiety levels will also get higher, at least they do with me.

However, I had to force myself to do some those “extra” projects relating to my employment, or daily life. Sometimes, I would have to get into the car and go to the gym when I would rather just stay home.

One of my recent special project is getting completed. I have also done other small tasks that I was less than enthusiastic in putting together. But, once they were done, there was a sense of accomplishment, even with the smallest of projects. It did help breaking up the daily routine of just trying to get through the day. Going to the gym and just sitting on the stationary bicycle for 30 minutes was also helpful.

During this whole process over the last year, I found myself having to do so many thankless tasks. Instead of trying to do an entire project all at once, I divided into segments, which made it seem less consuming. Some have suggested to add an award system to a completed assignment. In my case, cookies and ice cream would be fine.

It’s getting close to one year since my beloved Sally passed away from cancer. This entire grieving process is slow, like trying to move through deep mud. I’m learning to dig deep and push forward, but I have a long way to go. Sometimes the big fulfillment is just making it through the day, even when my mood is way down.

The smallest accomplishments in our lives, especially during these horrible times, seem to help on some level. It reminds me of purpose and that I can somehow function when conditions become necessary. It may take longer to complete the small goals, but I will feel a bit better when they are.

My Grief Diet and Health

Going through the grief process, your health and diet change, at least it did for me. When Sally was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2016, it didn’t take long for my weight to drop about 10 pounds (4.5 kgs). During the care-giving, her passing and the grieving, my weight has dropped even further.

With the incredible stress of the situation, I eat just enough to keep up my strength. I’m amazed I didn’t get a cold or flu during the process. And now, my weight is the lowest since I was a kid in middle school. At last check, I was down from my peak of 175 pounds (79 kgs) to 138 (63 kgs), but the loss is not as fast as it once was.

I’ve been eating a little more, but the anxiety is still high. Even at rest, my heart would race. Others who have been going through a similar situation tell me that I’m burning so many calories from the mental stress, don’t count on gaining too much weight in the near future.

The grieving and the emotional roller-coaster takes its toll. I see the tremendous stress in my face. It’s amazing, people that saw me on my visit back to Idaho say how good I look. They’re probably being nice and supportive. I know that I’ve looked better.

I found out the hard way that my body can’t take the physical strain like it used to. My friend, Kristine, had me come to her gym and participate in her workouts. Kristine is a little older than me and I figured this wouldn’t be a problem. And, oh man, I was wrong.

About half-way through, what I would call a light to moderate workout, I had to stop. My chest got extremely tight, pain was shooting down my arm, looking pale and I had to sit down. At that moment, I was thinking this was a heart attack. Honestly, as I was sitting there wondering, there was no fright. Instead I thought, “If I’m having a heart attack, this would be embarrassing.”

Instead, it was one of those conditions when the heart reaches it’s maximum beats and starts to skip. I’ve now learned to make workouts more “steady” and not put too much pressure on my body. This has worked out a little better.

The weight loss has my friend, Tom, very concerned. He’s been pleading with me to go to the doctor. I keep telling him I’m fine and it’s not necessary. I’m fairly certain it’s the periods of anxiety, which I am working on.

It’s not a logical thing, but we’re not dealing with logic as the emotional drive still dominates. One reason is that I spent countless hours at cancer centers, blood centers, hospitals, chemotherapy and other centers watching my poor wife go through the agony of treatments. Right now, I just don’t want to go near any type of medical center unless it’s absolutely necessary and right now, it’s not.

However, my friend Tom is probably right. If you are going through the grieving process and something isn’t right, then it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Don’t be like me, stubborn and insist that everything is fine. And, try to eat as best as you can.

Navigating The Peaks And Valleys

It’s going to be 11 months in just few weeks since Sally passed from cancer. Next month will be the one-year anniversary, which I’m already trying to brace myself for the onslaught of emotion.

Someone told me that one of the toughest times would be after 6 months. She was probably right. Last month, I was all over the place with emotion. I found it to be extremely difficult to focus on anything.

There would be days when I wouldn’t notice the large pit in the my stomach. The feeling that things are finally starting to get a little better would change almost instantly.

I remember going to a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch. In the waiting area, there were chairs that were exactly the same ones we had on our deck. And, those type of chairs are not typical.

I got through the lunch with my friend, but the triggers and the breakdowns came. Worst of all, they can happen anywhere, just about anytime and often without warning. I’ve even fought off the tears while driving and there wasn’t any music playing. I try to read about the experiences of others about this type of situation, and it seems that they are not that uncommon.

Managing these “peaks and valleys” is so tough. And, last month, the roller-coaster ride was the worst. I really thought that as time moved on, the pain would subside, at least a little bit. But it didn’t, and I realized that the agony will not be going away anytime soon and there’s no timetable either.

Prior to Sally’s sickness, I rarely cried. I lost family members before and I did shed a few tears. But, I’ve lost count on the big breakdowns. I don’t even try to fight them, I just go with it.

When I was in Idaho last week, I started to talk to my good friend, Mike, about this blog. He asked to read a few passages and I could see the tears form. My intention was not to make him sad, but to show some kind of progress.

Mike asked me how long it took me to write the last blog. I told him it was about 10-15 minutes. He looked very surprised, but writing about this unwanted journey, for some reason, seems easier than I originally thought when I started.

It’s hard for me to admit, but I’m going to have to continue to manage and navigate these “peaks and valleys.” Despite the huge emotional ups and downs, I’m trying to learn how to live with it.

My step-father told me to simply, “just put one foot in front of the other.” He also says, “live for today, because tomorrow is promised to no one.” He’s definitely right about that one.

 

Those Phrases I Have To Live With

Tomorrow I fly back to the sanctuary of my childhood and early adult home. I spent my last day in North Idaho going to business meetings and visiting a few more friends. It’s a strange feeling to drive around the place that Sally and I lived in for over 13 years.

Overall, the trip was very good, actually better than I expected. However, I’m still on this roller-coaster of emotion and would still get the occasional pit in my stomach. Many of those memories of us driving to a movie and a restaurant are so vivid. It’s like they happened yesterday.

While I was waiting for a business lunch, one of Sally’s co-workers recognized me and gave her condolences. She worked with Sally for a short time and found out about her passing only two months ago. She expressed how sad she was and how she missed Sally. We all miss Sally, but I’m the one that misses her the most.

While driving around, those two phrases kept going through my head. “You’re a widower,” and “you’re single.” I never thought I would have to say or feel those two statements. After ten months, it’s a slow process trying to get used to this “new normal.”

It’s hard to express how unsettling those two statements are, and that’s putting it mildly. This was never supposed to happen. We both envisioned our lives ending like “The Notebook.” Yes, I saw the movie and liked it.

When trying to deal with this loss, I would scour the Internet looking for others with the similar situation. How many of us are going through, or gone through this process? And, by the way, I have received responses to my blogs and have appreciated the warm words and support.

While surfing around, I found a few statistics that were a bit surprising, at least to me. There was a study that the average age of a widow is 56. I’ll be 55. It’s also estimated that over 50 percent of the population is now single.

Without a doubt, I could easily return back to this area that I lived for over 13 years. It’s beautiful and was great for my career. But, my gut tells me that I can’t, at least for now. I feel that I need to eventually go somewhere that’s different. I’m not the same person I was prior to Sally’s cancer.

It’s almost like wishing so hard to return to once was and, logically, I obviously know it’s not possible. But, emotionally, I still keep wishing.