It’s another bad morning. You want me to drive you to the Cobequid Trail and leave you there to die. “I want to finish it … I want to finish what I begun, I want to finish dying.”
You feel so useless. When I try to point out what you can do – I strike out.
You keep saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Sorry for what – I forgave you a long time ago, you need to forgive yourself. We need to move to the next step – there are things you can do – you have to focus on them, not waste our energy on seeking forgiven that has been given.
We need to get to the next step. The next step. What is the next step? The 12-step program suggests that letting God into your heart is part of it. I confess to you that I don’t know what the next step is but we will find it together. Perhaps the next step isn’t about letting God in, perhaps it’s about finding God within. When you find that energy, you will be able to find yourself again. I wonder if part of your soul died that day and that it is the real loss that you are grieving.
“I’ll try.” You said as I helped move to the chair. As you stood, we hugged. A real stand up hug … just like the hug I felt in my dream the week of your stroke. It felt the same. It felt good. It restored me.
You had breakfast with the children. A rare event in recent history. I slip out to have a shower and eavesdrop on you and the children talking about feelings and sharing feelings. “Communication is the best medicine.” You tell them. I felt good listening to the conversation. When I’m not there, you don’t wallow in self-pity, you step up to the plate and act like a great parent. Listening and giving sound advice. Helping them find the answers to the tougher questions in life. You can do this and you do it well.
At one point this morning before our stand-up hug, I was alone in our bedroom and feeling a little overwhelmed with the words that we had earlier. Tara came in and saw me, feeling weak and vulnerable. She sat beside me and put her arms around me and hugged me. An uncharacteristic action for her. She asked, “Are you OK Mummy?”
“Communication is the best medicine.” The children will be our salvation. They will help us through this recovery. Healing will be a family affair.
You said something today that I really want to get down on paper for proof. You expressed to me that the need that I have … to share our story … is OK with you. You understand if I have to ‘vent’ (your word) to other people. You feel badly that you can’t be on the receiving end and you are looking forward to the day I will vent to you. That’s right, you WANT me to vent to you! These are the words I want to mark. Words that most wives don’t get to hear their husbands say.
There is a lot of talk about the cigarettes. Out of frustration I decide to give you the last pack of cigarettes that you bought before your stroke. This is the pack that I dug out of the garbage last week. I was suddenly inspired to give you them. I am willing to bet that you wouldn’t smoke them because of their significance to you. They are a symbol.
You agree that you wouldn’t smoke them but for a different reason. “They will be stale.” You said “stale and too strong. I haven’t smoked in seven months, I can’t start with du Maurier!” You want to buy more cigarettes. Thank God it’s Good Friday and the stores are closed. I manage to evade your requests.
We agreed that if you smoked, you would not do it on front of me or the children and you won’t smoke in the house. As we discuss this, you read the anti-smoking message on the package. “Children see, Children do.”
I can’t picture you smoking. “I’ve not seen you smoke in the past and I have no desire to watch you smoke now.” You mime taking a drag off a cigarette. Hearing you suck air through your pursed lips gives me the creeps. I don’t want to think of you smoking.
You tell me about smoking when you were a child. Sneaking cigarettes and smoking them in secret. I had no idea that this started long before I even met you.
The children wanted to look at the cigarettes. Tara reads the package. “Your children are twice as likely to smoke if you do. Half of premature deaths among life-long smokers result from tobacco use.” Tara tries to figure the logic … “If we almost lost Daddy once, then that means …” her voice trails off in thought. I don’t want to hear her conclusion.
We explain to them what we had discussed about you smoking. “Daddy is going to work really hard at not smoking but it’s very hard … harder then running in a marathon. He may slip and smoke but he is going to keep trying.”
You felt a little lightheaded today. You try to explain. “It’s like I’m in another dimension. I want to take a can opener and open up my head and let the spirit out. It like in the Dr Suess book, Horton Hears a Who – “I am here, I am here!” I want to be a regular person again. I’m jealous of other people who can walk and run and laugh and drive and be normal.
A neighbor, Darren, stopped by to visit you. He came at a good time. I was running out of positive talk. Like tag team wrestling Darren spells me off and has a turn talking with you. Being a fellow runner and a devoted family man, he grabs your attention and you stop circling the dark thoughts for a while.
It didn’t last long. You try to get the children to imagine what life would have been like without you. You think that we would have had a better life. I don’t have to protest that much … the children try to set you straight. We can’t think about this as an alternate history, because it didn’t happen that way.
This lead to a discussion about the day of your stroke. You asked me to read the first entries in the journal. I read and we all take turns crying. You started and Tara consoles you. I can’t even say the words at times. Tara cries and Quinn says, “lets not talk about it anymore.” He takes a few breaths and waves to me to continue.
Hearing the words helps us purge some of the bad feelings. A healing act. You confess to me that you read that part of the journal yesterday at the hospital. You concluded that you would never know what we went through and we will never know what you went through.
I realize as I write tonight that the family plan for healing is very alive and well in our home. As the children pep talk you and rally you back to a better place. Reading the journal reminded me of all the feelings I had that first day and how the children were my light and reason for hope.
Healing is a family affair.