Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Random Updates

I have decided to do something out-of-character tonight.

Usually when I sit in front of this screen, it is after a post has been on my mind for anywhere from a few days to a few months. It is neatly framed in my mind with all of the talking points in order. I don’t compose the actual words until I sit down to type, but the framework is there.

But tonight is different. I have felt increasingly compelled to write here, but am not starting out with a specific topic in mind. Sure, there are things I’d like to write about, but one of the unforeseen elements of being in a committed relationship now is that so many of these situations involve private conversations which are not for public consumption. There may come a time down the road when, with Winn-D’s blessing, I might share some of those things here, but that time has not yet arrived. So instead, I’ll begin with a quick recap of our vacation (yes, it’s been that long since I’ve written here!) and see where things go from there.

The trip to the Midwest went amazingly well. It turned out to be an even better idea to take Winn-D to the places of my youth this summer than I thought it would be. That’s not to say that there weren’t stressful moments, but she handled them beautifully. The first part of our trip was spent with my late wife’s family. They have embraced Winn-D, but she had only met half of the family before the trip. Add to that all of my late wife’s friends (some of whom we had not seen in a few years) and she was bombarded with tons of new faces and old stories.

That was something I had not expected. I am not naïve enough to expect that we would not talk about my late wife at times, and I actually wanted to so Winn-D would get a more complete picture of who she was, but I did not expect it to happen across multiple settings and at such an intense level. I think people meant well, but I don’t think they realized that, while this trip was about letting Winn-D see where I came from, it was also about being a couple around the people I care about most. I think when we return to the Midwest after Christmas I will be better prepared to change the subject (or address it head-on, if needed) when these situations arise.

The second leg of the trip was actually to the great state of Minnesota. I know I don’t mention specific places here often, but Minnesota has made the list of places I’d like to visit again. We stayed mostly in the Twin Cities, but even then I felt like we barely scratched the surface of all there is to do there. It was a great chance for us to get away for a few days and spend time together making new memories (especially after being immersed in old ones for a week). My daughter loved the Mall of America even more than the wedding we were there to attend (and this girl loves some weddings!), so everyone heard more about that than anything else when she talked about the trip. It was a beautiful drive from where I grew up and we were all able to add some new states to our lists.

The final stop on our Midwestern tour was my hometown, which is also near the city where I went to college. There were more stories shared here than I expected too, but to a lesser degree at least. (Now, please don’t get me wrong. I want people to feel free to share stories about my late wife, especially with my daughter. I just thought they would spend some of that time getting to know Winn-D too.) She was able to meet my brother and sister and several friends that week as well. We spent time in big cities and small towns, attempted to drive through my old college campus (which was closed for construction), ate doughnuts from my favorite bakery, and spent lots of time in my childhood home. I knew I was excited to “bring her home”, but I don’t think I knew how much I would enjoy sharing that part of my life with her. It was a perfect way to cap off our adventure.

July has two significant potential grief-triggers for me. The first is my late wife’s birthday, which occurred while we were visiting my parents. Some years that one is harder than others. She would have been 33, so the age was not necessarily of significance, but the fact that it was the fifth birthday without her could have been.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember part of that day.

The day before her birthday, I woke up not feeling well. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening, but elected not to tell anyone at first. As the day wore on, the back pain intensified, and the first puff of my inhaler didn’t help. I tried to rest hoping that I could ward off the inevitable. By evening, I was starting to have mild trouble breathing and the back pain had not abated. My family was acting silly and dancing around and I couldn’t join in, even when my daughter asked me to, which broke her heart. I didn’t want her to worry, so I just said my back hurt and left it at that. By the time we went to bed, I knew I was going to need to go to the doctor, but I was 800 miles away and thought that at the very least I could make it till morning (and who knows what a good night’s sleep might have done, right?)

I tried my inhaler again shortly after eleven and laid awake waiting for something to change. It did, just not for the better. By midnight I knew I needed to get help. The only problem with that was that the help available to me at that time of night would come in the form of a hospital – more specifically, an emergency room.

She died the first time in an emergency room.

This was the only benefit to being 800 miles away from home. Instead of going to the ER where she died, I went to the one where I had stitches in my finger once and had my broken arm set and cast, in the same hospital where I was born over 33 years ago. I thought that would soften the blow, and maybe it did a little. But by the time my mom and Winn-D and I arrived (my stepdad had stayed home with my daughter, who didn’t know I was gone until we told her the next day), my blood pressure had sky-rocketed and my breathing had become labored. I didn’t have the foresight to tell them why my blood pressure might be so high (if you missed it, read the single line above), so I quickly ended up in the triage section of the ER. Thankfully, I didn’t know that until we left the hospital, but it added to the worries of the two ladies who were with me.

I have never had to stay in the hospital for myself. Sure, there were a few hospital stays with my late wife, but I could still come and go (from the room at least) with relative ease. Sitting in that bed, I gained a whole new respect for anyone who has ever been hospitalized. After I received a breathing treatment and could talk at a normal volume again, all I wanted was to get out of there. Knowing my body as I do, I knew that the breathing treatment would be enough to make me well again. But when you are in the hospital, even if it’s a triage bed in the ER, you are completely at their mercy (and they don’t show you any as far as your time is concerned!) To be fair though, they took great care of me and I am grateful for that.

Now, I know that some of you might be asthma sufferers yourself or might be concerned that I allowed the “attack” to progress for as long as I did. For some reason I don’t get a sudden attack. My symptoms are gradual, which gives me plenty of time to make a decision. Unfortunately, I still can’t get help until the symptoms reach a certain level (if I had gone to a med center earlier in the day, they would have likely sent me home without a treatment given my symptoms at that time). I was more than a little concerned that I had my first attack in over a year shortly after I started medication, but things have remained fine for me health-wise since that night.

The events of that night and the subsequent morning of sleep overshadowed the date on the calendar, and I managed to make it through okay. But the very next week, after we returned to the Southeast, was what would have been our tenth anniversary. I expected that one to be a tremendous kick-in-the-pants, complete with an outpouring of tears and anger about what could have been.

But in a lot of ways, it was just like any other summer day.

It would be easy to assume that this is because I’m in a relationship now and am therefore “happy” again (how many more times do I have to hear that?!?), but I really think it’s more a testament to where I am in the grief cycle. I don’t mean to sound callous because I will always care about my late wife in ways I cannot describe, but I don’t pine for her like I did the first few years after she died (which I suppose is good news for Winn-D). I can’t remember the last time I spent time crying in that painful, grief-stricken manner, but then, I couldn’t remember that before I met Winn-D either. Again, I’m not naïve enough to think that this might not ever happen again. But I am certainly glad that this day that should have turned out to be a major grief-trigger ended up being completely bearable.

There are plenty of other things rattling around in my head tonight, but this has become lengthy, so I will close with some good news. I received an e-mail the other day that this blog has been placed on a list of the 50 Best Memoir Blogs. This came at a time when I was feeling bad about not being able to post on here more often and is my first official honor as a blog author. That’s certainly not why I do this, but it does feel good to have my work here recognized in some way.

Guess that goes to show you never know who might be reading…