Rewind

I am feeling very alone tonight. It is the kind of “alone” that only another widowed person can truly understand. It is one of those nights where absolutely nobody can “fix” this feeling. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to share it over the phone, or cry about it, or sit with my counselor and get out the emotions. No. I want to talk to my husband. I want to be with him, in person, and sit with him while he comforts me and holds me. And since that cannot happen in the way that I want, I need to see him in a different way. The only way that I can.

I am in my home office, and for the past 40 minutes or so, I have been staring at the large bookshelf that sits tall next to me. There, on my bookshelf, crowded in between my DVD copies of A Bronx Tale and The King of Comedy, it sits. The DVD that haunts me and terrifies me much worse than a horror film ever could.

Our wedding video. Actually, there are two of them. Both professionally done by an amazing professional videographer. There is the edited version, which is the entire ceremony, and then all the major moments of the reception, all tied up and made pretty with a bow. It includes interviews with our family and friends from inside the venue, plus lots of beautifully done montages of highlights and special moments. Then there is the unedited version, which is about 6 hours long. It starts with film of me getting ready in the bridal suite, and it includes every single moment from our day, completely untouched. In the unedited version, the cameras catch me and my soon-to-be-husband talking, practicing our first dance foxtrot, and doing our “first glance” before any of our guests arrived. I remember watching the video with Don, a few months after our wedding day in 2006. We cuddled on the couch and laughed and smiled and remembered our perfect day. He teased me for spending an obscene amount of money on a professional video, telling me time and again: “When are we ever going to watch this?” And I would say: “We’re watching it right now, smart ass.” And then, of course, we wouldn’t watch it again, until the next year, when our wedding anniversary rolled around.

Now the video sits on my shelf, marking time and raw emotion. I stare at it, and I don’t know what to do next. Like an addict staring down a bottle of pills, I am frozen. I feel paralyzed by it’s mere existence, yet it is one of the very few videos I have of my beautiful, dead husband. To have him on video speaking, laughing, dancing, kissing me, holding me, saying his vows to me, and being his silly self – it means everything now. And yet – I cannot watch it. I have not watched it. Not since his heart stopped beating over two and a half years ago. Instead, I stare at the bookshelf where the video sits. I am unable to pick it up even. If I touch it, it will be real. I am home alone tonight. My roommate is out of town, and I am having one of those nights and one of those days and weeks, where I need to feel him. I need to feel and to know that he was alive. I need to hear his voice and see his eyes peering their blueness into mine, because everything is starting to fade. I am starting to slowly lose him, piece by torturous piece. It used to be that I could close my eyes, and his crooked smile would appear instantly in my mind. No more. Now, I have to will it to happen. I have to think about it for a few seconds, before it comes. My heart beats so fast each time I cannot remember a detail or hear his sound. My soul crumbles whenever a memory loses more focus and becomes blurred. I have to confront this video. I have to SEE him being alive and living. I have to see him breathing and loving and marrying me.

But that’s the thing. I am scared. I am so scared of seeing him alive again, and what that will do to me. To see him alive and then to know that he is not alive, and he never will be again – I don’t know if I can handle that. Im so afraid that watching even five minutes of him existing will throw me backwards into a place of emotional turmoil that I don’t want to be in. My greatest fear is that I will sit down to watch this video, and I won’t be able to get back up again. I will want to hide out in my bedroom for hours and days and weeks. Hibernate from reality. Live inside my thoughts. Stay in the place where we would be together forever, and there was no death in our immediate future.

How do I know if Im ready to watch this thing? Should I do it tonight? Should I wait a few months or years? How will I know when it’s okay, and when it won’t destroy me? Lately, the same pictures of him that Ive been looking at all along on my nightstand – are making my heart skip two beats and I lose my breath. Lately, he feels so far away, and Im begging for the signs or the feeling, and nothing is coming. I am so desperate to feel him with me. I want to put that video in and press play so badly. But I am so very afraid that if I go there, I won’t want to return to here.

So I stare at the bookshelf in silence – and the fragments of us keep falling.

The Death Burst

There are some days and weeks and moments when all of the death and all of the life I have collected, comes screaming out from my insides, setting itself ablaze. My heart then becomes like a balloon, unable to hold all of the death within it – so it bursts, terrifying me with its ability to do that, time and time again.

This week is that kind of week. For some reason, the past few days, my husband’s sudden death over two and a half years ago, has been sitting in the corners of my head – clawing and scratching at my face and arms and eyes, the way my kitties do each morning to remind me bluntly of their existence. At the same time, the show I’ve been directing for the past couple of months, which is an annual Variety Show fundraiser for Cancer Care, finally goes up tomorrow. In the midst of the exhaustion and adrenaline and stress and excitement from all of us involved in the production, we learned that a major patriarch and key player of the local community, the theater company, and Cancer Care, had passed away after a long battle with illness and cancer.

His son, along with many other of his family members, are all in the cast of the show – and so the hugs and well wishes and condolences have been weaved into our tech. rehearsal week. Many members of the cast have been attending the wakes and services for this man they all loved so much. I didn’t even know this man, but I know his son and the other family members I have met and have come to care about during this production process, and I can see their pain and their weary faces and their determination to honor their loved one going forward. I will be attending the wake this afternoon, just a few hours before our Dress Rehearsal tonight. The fact that I don’t know this man matters not – because I know death, and every time someone else dies, I feel it in a way that I never did before my world collapsed in July of 2011.

This week, the death is coming in through all of the windows, and it sits inside my house and my life, making itself at home. My grief counselor’s elderly mom is not doing well, and has been sick since a few weeks before Christmas. Each time I talk to my counselor and ask about how her mom is doing this week, I just want to hug her and be there and make it better and somehow do something to make the inevitable death go away. But I can’t, and I know that I can’t, and that upsets me greatly. And then I think about my own parents and how, one day, I might be caring for my mom or my dad the same way she is doing right now – and how the hell am I supposed to face the death of my parents, without my husband? Not only do I have to face the fact that my husband will be dead forever, but now I think about the very cold, harsh fact that every time someone I love dies, I will not be going through that with my husband. The very thought of that makes me shiver with fear, and so I try not to think about it. But there are some days and weeks, when that is impossible, because death is in my living room, on his third cup of coffee.

Then, yesterday, adding itself to this enormous death collection, I received word through an old high school friend on Facebook, that my high-school English teacher, my FAVORITE English teacher, Mrs. Franzeim, was near death. Her daughter Emma had posted her email address in a status update, asking that anyone who wishes should send along an email to Mrs. Franzeim, saying who you were, how you know her, and what you remember about her. Emma would then read all of these emails to her mother , one by one, during her final days. Seconds after reading the post, I typed up my email to Emma and her mom, and found myself crying as I did so. I told her about my own life, and what I ended up doing with it – how I am also a teacher at a college, and how much her class and her intelligent honesty meant to me, and how she always stuck in my head, even all these years later. I found myself telling her about my husband – how our life together was cut short by death – and how I’m writing a book about all of that, and about the brutal realities of grief, and how it’s transformed me into something I never would have seen anywhere in my atmosphere, in that lifetime so long ago.

Today, just moments before writing this, I received a return email from Mrs. Franzeim’s daughter, Emma. The subject read: “She’s Free”, and the email went out to everyone who participated in emailing her mother with their memories of her, to let us all know of her passing. A small part of the email read:

“Thank you for all of your words and love. I read every single letter I received to her. We played her favorite music, gave her hugs and lots of kisses, surrounded her with flowers and yummy food. She died in her favorite room, filled with cherished keepsakes. There was sunshine during the day, a beautiful view of the pond at night, and I snuggled next to her in the bed, in the full moonlight. Be assured there was nothing left undone for her. She knew every word you had to share with her whether written, spoke, or held within the depths of your hearts. She looked beautiful, and at long last, she is free.”

And that was when my balloon finally burst. All of the death could no longer remain inside that bubble, and so my fiery tears shot out of my face like a cannon, scaring me with their ferociousness and flame. They were hot and endless and releasing, and I startled myself with my own sounds.

The balloon had been dismantled and destroyed, and now, on the floor, were all the confusing and unrelated thoughts that had been stuck inside of me for seconds and hours and days:

“I will never know what it’s like to see my husband’s face as “beautiful” in his passing, or to even be there when it occurred. The face I see in that casket is not the one I loved. It is a stranger, and it haunts me and follows me like a shadow. I wish I could figure out a way to make myself believe that he is “free”, but he wasn’t ever sick , and he was so young, and it will never ever be okay with me or be peaceful or be anything but awful and unfair and cruel, that he died just as we were beginning to live. To be able to set up music for someone as they are dying – or to feed them their favorite foods – or to say words to them that you know are the last words they will hear on this earth. How beautiful. How poetic. How epic that must be. My husband left for work and never came home. And I cannot remember anything about the days or hours leading up to him leaving for work that morning. All I hear in my head is that ringing phone that jarred me awake, and all I see is him lying on a floor somewhere, collapsed. Alone. I just don’t know what to do with that. As many times as I have talked through it and processed it and tried to NOT see it that way, it is still there. Taunting me.”

A lot of other thoughts went through my head too as I was marinating in tears, such as “Why couldnt Don live to be an old man, and me an old woman beside him, getting to have the life together that we promised each other? I don’t want to be old and alone, and I don’t’ want him to be young and dead.”

Sometimes, life lives in the forefront of my heart. Other times though, it is death that makes itself the starring role. With life, there is death. With death, there is life. Each time someone new is born in my world, it stings just a little more that he is dead. And each time someone in my world dies, his death moves back to the forefront for awhile. And that balloon begins to expand, until it can no longer hold the death inside.

And so it begins, and so it ends …