Since Paul’s cancer diagnosis on February 1, 2018, our world turned upside down. Everything we knew and shared as a couple changed in the blink of an eye. After the initial shock, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and went to work with the business of caregiving. I was a powerhouse, reading every doctors’ note and scan result with a fine toothed comb, doing research, asking appropriate questions, preparing the appropriate nutritional foods and medicines, ordering and buying the needed supplies, coordinating appointments, driving in and out of Boston to Dana Farber, preparing endless protein smoothies, living through emergency room and ICU close calls and so on and so on.
While making it my purpose in life to be there for Paul, I put up a firm and strong barrier around me to protect my feelings so I could tend to the business of cancer. I only let them out when the reality and potential outcome of Paul’s prognosis was blatantly obvious and hope waned. It was with great love and care that I walked beside Paul in his last years and although my heart was breaking from the weight of watching him diminish in every way, I was a warrior for him. Hope came and went, and came and went again until he finally succumbed to the beast we all know as cancer.
My amazing friend and husband Paul died a year ago on November 12th. It was then that my barrier cracked wide open and I stumbled, fell down with a bang and got thrown into an empty hole. It was dark down there; dreary, uncomfortable, lonely, unfamiliar and extremely painful. No matter who I had around to comfort me, I was alone with my thoughts and negated dreams. I felt that my purpose was through. The pain I encountered during the fall rolled over, onto and into me like a continuous storm, and left me a mess in its wake. For months I was untethered and confused by the excruciating absence of the man I loved and looked to with my whole heart. I was knocked down and dragged out again and again and again. He slipped through my wanting hands like grains of sand and I fell helpless. This is grief. Love with nowhere to go.
As time went on, I learned to wear my grief like protective armor, so close to my heart it was gut wrenching. I wrapped myself inside of it and felt the coldness trying to further penetrate what was left of me, but I fought it with what little strength I had. It was enough already and it was mine. It was my love for Paul with nowhere to go. Sometimes it completely consumed me and other times I was able to push it back and down. It was consistent and it jarred and shook me from every direction. I wore my “mask” so no one around me could sense what I was really feeling inside. Time and again it seeped out, but I muscled through every day with the business of living, even though I didn’t want to be alive. I. didn’t. want. to. be. alive. I lifted myself for my family, whom I knew needed the best of me in their lives and were going through their own grief. I lifted myself up for my friends who tried so hard to ease my pain with their care. I hid it from the customers at the store I worked in and shoved it down into deep pockets as best as I could for my coworkers when at work. It was difficult and it was exhausting. On top of it, Covid-19 loomed, which changed everything in my world once again. “The world turned upside down.”
It was in the moments when I finally lay spent from a wave of grief that I felt a sense of calm; exhausted and depleted. I had gone far enough for that grief session. I couldn’t go any lower. It was in those quiet moments when I realized why I was in so much pain. I knew that our love was real, special, unique and it was ours. I had no way to express that kind of love anymore because the receiver was gone. My love for him turned into pain, grief, tears, and utter depletion. Paul and I had shared something very personal and special. During those still moments, when the inconsolable keening and sobbing subsided ever so slightly, I could peer into the veil and see what was and remember that we had been so fortunate to have found each other in the first place. I believe this was the beginning of the healing process. After several long and arduous months, I found that I no longer cried continuously, but learned to smile again at the memory of him and our beautiful life together.
I still see him everywhere now. I can sense him in the eyes, words, gestures, thoughts and humor of our children and grandchildren, and it is in these moments that I see him rise. He is on the tip of our tongues, in the way one of them enters a room, cracks a joke, laughs out loud, talks about life, turns or looks a certain way, repeats innate gestures, turns a phrase, sings out a tune, or smiles a certain way, that he lives on again and again and again. This comforts me because I can see him in all of us. He is still here. He is always in the room. Most of all, he is always in all of our hearts.
This last year, since Paul’s passing, I liken my plight to that of Sisyphus, pushing that proverbial rock up the hill, and how it kept falling backward and overtaking me. Just as I began making some small strides forward and moving one small step out of myself and my grief, the rock finally edging upward towards the top, Covid-19 reared its ugly head turning my world upside down yet again. Then, adding insult to injury, I suffered the loss of a beautiful friend from the same disease and weathered her departure in anguish. In addition, I lost an old friend from high school who I tried to see before she passed, hurrying off Cape to see her, but receiving a call that it was too late. I had missed the opportunity to say goodbye. The chance was gone. My heart was aching. Suddenly my protective armor was cracking and I needed to tighten it up or I would not survive any of it. With my armor splitting, and the best of me hidden away, I had yet another wave of turmoil, which was unexpected, disturbing and almost happened simultaneously. Somehow or other I was failing two people in my life that I care about and I still don’t understand it all. I asked forgiveness and received it from one, but not the other. These two entirely different situations, were gut wrenching and painful. It was the straw for me. I was working on only one burner and it was dying out. I couldn’t give my best self to anyone. One can only hold oneself up so long with cracking armor, so I hit an all time low. I walked around in a daze and felt absolutely nothing for days. Again, as with Paul, I felt like I had failed everyone. As one of my sons told me, my mood was “flat” during that period. I had no feelings. Even though I sensed my son’s concern, I couldn’t get out of the deep and very dark hole I was in. I had thoughts…which frightened me. They lasted too long. I guess I had flatlined. I was done. I had two choices. Go…or stay and fight the good fight.
I needed to crawl out of the depths but was in a fog and didn’t know how. I saw no end in sight. Little did I know that I had the strength within myself to rise up all along. It just took some time and some hard work. And maybe divine inspiration. It was the thump on the head I needed to help me reboot. The universe spoke and I listened. So, when I thought all was lost, a stream of healing light drew me out of my darkness. I picked myself up, threw away the broken armor, brushed myself off and saw someone I hadn’t seen in awhile. Me! Not the me I was but a new version of myself. Before this, I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. The one thought in my mind was that Paul would not want to see me curled up inside of this darkness. I started taking care of myself with that thought at the forefront of my mind. I started exercising more, eating well, I left my job, stopped drinking so much at night, started paying attention around me and little by little I took back my life…albeit a new one, but this new life that I’ve been granted. It may not be what I had planned…it never is…and it may not have been what others saw for me, but it was mine and I had to take care of myself and heal before moving forward for anyone else. Paul would want me to be happy. So, I’m working on that now. I’m working on being a better version of myself. Lynne 2.0. I sense Paul is with me, rooting me on. After all, he is my person, and I have a whole lot of people in my life whom I cherish and deserve the best me I can give them. I want my children, grandchildren and whole family to be able to look to me for love and support as they navigate the waters of their lives. I want to be there for my friends as they go through their own journeys. I want to be here for the future and build a new life jumping off of the amazing and wonderful foundation Paul and I built together.
Suddenly, I have begun “talking” to Paul in a whole new way. It’s as if he is standing right next to me and I can almost guess his response. I knew him well enough to know what he’d say. He still makes me laugh. This is the balm I need. I feel like he has my back again, which he always has had…always. He is my biggest cheerleader.
Looking back at this last year, I can now see how much I’ve actually accomplished on my own. I am blessed to have beautiful, loving and caring children and an amazingly generous extended family; good, sweet, loyal friends who care about my well being, and I have so much to be grateful for. I have recognized who my real people are and those who aren’t. I have learned some new skills, taken over the things Paul always took care of, I’m maintaining a household in every sense and most of all, I’m still standing. I’ve taken some creative writing and art classes to help stir the creativity that once fed my soul. I’ve actually done very well taking care of business and dealing with everything that has come my way. I’ve asked for help when needed and surprised myself along the way. These are no small things. When you are steeped in grief, and living inside a shroud of darkness, to accomplish even the smallest task takes some strength. I’m finding that I have that strength. I’m stronger than I ever imagined. I thank God for the real people in my life that have been there for me. My siblings, my children, and my friends.
I have had a shot of energy and light recently. It feels good to feel this way again. My creativity has come back. I thought it was lost. I am singing, smiling, dancing and feeling healthy. I haven’t felt this way in about three years. Recently I told one of my sons that I was sure that there had always been a force from somewhere outside of myself all of my life which has always pushed me on and guided me in the moments I needed to step up, survive and move forward. I was sure it was someone or something other worldly which lifts me up to where I need to be and cheers me on in the process. I get this feeling that I’m driven in a particular direction and there’s no stopping me. These feelings have always been decisive and so strong, that the clarity is startling. What he said to me made me wonder. He told me that maybe it wasn’t anyone or anything outside of me that made me feel this way…but that it was me all along. He said that I was the one with the strength and courage to take on the world when I needed to. I was the one who found the strength within myself to move forward.
I had never looked at it that way before, but now it makes me think that as human beings we are chartered on a course through this life with all of its trials. If we falter in any way, our inner guide…ourself, picks us up and moves us forward forever sustaining our resiliency. Like the trees who shed their beautiful rich leaves in the fall, and lie dormant until the spring when new growth appears, we, over and over again, renew ourselves and create new experiences to learn from and grow. As I said to someone recently, we are part of a great story with a plot of twists and turns and it’s how we deal with them that matters.
I know that my relationship with Paul has a lot to do with who I am today. It is through our love for each other that I made many discoveries about myself. Today I am ready to face the challenges which lie ahead. It took plunging into the depths for me to rise again. I am leaping off of our beautiful foundation into new and uncharted waters, and I am ready to live again. I want to be the person Paul loved. Paul is right by my side every step of the way. This I know for a fact. He is and will always be my everlasting love.
Side Note: For anyone reading this blog, I write for the purpose of healing. My own healing and for anyone else who can relate to what I’m writing about. Writing, for me, is full of discovery. Words flow out of me quickly and I can articulate how I feel better on paper than I can verbally. I find that this is a blessing and always has been for me. It’s very, very personal, I know…what I write in this blog, and I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathy. It is what it is. It’s authentic and it’s real. Everyone in the world will experience these feelings of both love and grief which go hand in hand. There is no way around it. If I can help someone else who is going through a similar experience, hopefully it makes them feel like they are not alone. If you know someone who is suffering, but they look like they are doing okay…they most likely are not. Sometimes grief is unprecedented for them and they are spiraling in every direction. Check in with them and show them you care. They may not reach out when they need to. Just sayin’…