Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mother-in-Law, in Heart, in Mind

Besides the actual day that Rick died, the day Rick's brother and I had to tell his mom that her son was dead was the hardest day of my life.

We sat waiting for her in a room at the assisted living home where she lives. Watching her face crumple and twist was excruciating. She took in our words and though she understood, she didn't want to believe. That day broke my already broken heart. Trying to be strong for Rick's mom was next to impossible. No amount of hugs and hand-holding could make the terrible news better.

She wished she could die instead.
She wished she could die immediately so she could see Rick again.
She wished she could see him one last time.

I couldn't give her any of her wishes.

My brother-in-law and I visited her again together the next day. My brother-in-law visited her with his family the day after that. Then it was the funeral and she powered through with the rest of us, medicated so her anxiety wouldn't be through the roof. 

The day after the funeral, a Friday, my brother-in-law and his family visited her again to say good bye as they prepared to head home to Florida. Too immersed in my own grief, I did not go see her.

When the Saturday after the funeral came, I still couldn't bring myself to go see her. Rick and I always went to see her together on a Saturday. We would bring her chocolate and make her laugh, tell her stories from our week, or listen to her tales of woe about her room mate. 

I just couldn't face Saturday with her so soon. I struggled with not going because I knew she would be all alone there, thinking of Rick, hoping for a visitor, lamenting the fact that her son who visited like clockwork every week was never coming again.

Two days after the Saturday I could not make myself go, I called the assisted living home and asked them how she was doing. "Is she eating okay?"

She was.

"Is she sleeping okay?"

She was.

"Is she crying a lot?"

She was...but the appropriate amount. 

I told them I wanted to come as usual, but I just couldn't do it. I got choked up and cried. They told me she was okay and to take my time because she was being cared for very well.

Saturday rolled around again...and today I made myself go. I cried on my drive there. I cried in the parking lot. I cried as I walked inside the building. I found my way to her room as I always did, week after week, but this time there was no Rick by my side. This time I was alone, painfully aware that I was no substitute for her son. I was only half of the company she wanted, half of the equation, half of the weekly ritual. 

She was sleeping when I got there and when she saw me she smiled and jumped up, excited to see me. She said my name and, "I'm so glad to see you!" She made room for me on her bed. I hugged her and kissed her and she looked me right in the eyes and said, "Where's Ricky?"

My eyes welled up immediately, but before I could answer, she said, "He died. I know it. I was just hoping maybe it wasn't true."

We sat together on her bed, holding hands and crying. She had Rick's photo by her bedside and I showed her the framed one I had brought for her: a very recent one of her and Rick, taken on Easter. She looked at it for a while and asked me to put it on her bedside table where she could see it from her bed.  

"I'm so mad at God," she said. "I hate God now. I say that all the time."

I told her it was okay to be mad.

She told me she felt sad for me, sorry for me, that I was a widow so young. She told me again that she wished she had died first. I told her that it would be nice for her now, because this way when she does die, Rick will be waiting for her. She smiled like she hadn't thought of that.

We talked about Rick. I told her he wouldn't want us to be sad. She wisely said, "He wouldn't want us to be, but he knows we would be. So it's okay."

"My sweet little Arielle," she said. "It's not fair, is it? You're just a little girl and now you're alone."

She asked me for a recent photo of Rick and me. She said it always made her so happy to see us together. I told her I would bring her one.

"My heart hurts and my stomach hurts too," she said as she squeezed my hand and put her head on my shoulder. I told that was exactly how I felt too.

"I love you," she said when I was leaving.

"I love you," I told her. And I kissed her good bye. Just like my last moments with Rick.

The routine is back, even with my husband missing. Saturday visits have begun again...and I survived the first one. My mother-in-law and I even decided on a plan for our next visit: I'm bringing photos of Rick for us to look through...and more tissues. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

TV Thoughts

I made it to Friday. I made it to the end of my first work week.

Tonight, my friend Sarah came over to spend time with me. She brought me an amazing Mexican dinner (my favorite) and a bunch of groceries! It's amazing the relief I felt knowing I didn't have to go to the grocery store for a while yet. 

She even bought me toilet paper and new toys for the cats. What a friend.

Here I sit, mentally preparing for yet another day tomorrow without Rick, and all I can think about is TV. With Rick gone, I feel like I have so many questions. Do I keep watching the shows he liked but I only tolerated just because they're already set to record? How could he just leave this world without ever knowing what happens on the new season of 24? And what about Downton Abbey? He died with the storyline just hanging unfinished in his mind.

But the biggest thing I keep wondering is what to do with the PGA Tour Golf that's saved in my DVR. He recorded it both the day before he died and the day he died. And he never watched it...

It feels so wrong and painful to just click it and hit "delete." I can't bring myself to do it. No matter how many times I look at it, I can't bring myself to do it. I think I've decided that I'll play some of it every night just during the time I write this blog. It can be my backdrop, my background noise, my company. There's 7.5 hours of golf on my DVR, so it should take me a while to get through all of it in small chunks. I want to be able to feel like I didn't just delete it. I want to be able to say, "Okay, Rick, we watched your golf."

TV presents so many little problems.

I'm afraid to watch movies or shows that could have a theme of suicide... What if I don't know it's coming? Do I alter my TV watching habits to be safe? Do I face it head on and take it as it comes?

For now, I continue to put the remote back on his side of the end table that is between our two chairs in the living room. It doesn't feel right next to me. I change the channel and give it back to him, just like I always did. It's more than a habit... it's a reflex.

Just like my love for him.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Last Words

I got 5 hours of restful sleep last night. It's not enough and it can't make up for days of little to no sleep, but it's an improvement.

I went in to work at 10 am today, because working my normal hours just wasn't possible when I have so many companies to call. I have to call banks and credit cards and the mortgage company and the electric company, etc. etc. etc. and most of those places have the same working hours that I do. So I wasn't getting anything done. I was getting overwhelmed and by the time I was getting home at night, I couldn't do any paperwork or send any death certificates because every place I called was closed. So today I got up early and made some calls before heading into work this morning. Then I stayed late at work to make up the time.

I am thoroughly exhausted. And I'm still not done.

I got a bill in the mail yesterday from the Ambulance service for $750. To Rick. For Rick. I called them and said I didn't want to pay it because he was dead when they arrived and they didn't do anything. They weren't even allowed in my house before the police. They waited outside. They didn't even transport him. I have to write a letter, but hopefully it will work out. One more thing to add to the list.

The first phone call of my morning was not one I made, but one I received. The state trooper assigned to the case called me. The day of Rick's death, the police took his suicide note. I had seen it, of course, because it was his note that threw me into a panic and made me call 911, but I couldn't go back in my house and they took it. I couldn't remember exactly what it had said. I've been waiting 11 days to get it back so I could read my husband's last words to me. This morning, the trooper informed me that I could come by the State Police Barracks and pick up a copy of it.

Rick's words themselves are private, so they won't be shared here, but tonight was an emotional night as I drove to the station to ask for the written product of my husband's last thoughts and feelings. My mom drove behind me in her car and I felt like we were in our own little funeral procession.

As I made that drive tonight, I replayed my last words to my husband in my head. I was leaving for work that day to be Manager on Duty on a Sunday morning. I said, "I love you." He said, "I love you." We kissed, I left, and I never saw him again. 

When I could finally sit down tonight to read the note I last saw on May 18th where it was lying on my kitchen table, I was able to process it in a more contemplative and final way. I was able to really read the words I could not really remember from 11 days ago. 

It is the saddest note I've ever read. But Rick's last words to me were full of love, apology, and thanks. "Thank you for being the best wife to me any man could ever ask for," he wrote. It breaks my heart that the man I loved thanked me before ending his own life... but it gives me a small amount of peace to know that his last feelings were perhaps of gratitude rather than despair.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I never thought I could cry so many times in one day. Each day.

Telemarketers call me asking for Rick. Every time I have to tell a stranger he is dead, my heart stops beating for a second and feels stony. I don't like that feeling. And then because 1) it hurts and 2) I don't like that feeling, I cry.

These meltdowns often happen out of nowhere, slamming into me like a ton of bricks or a punch in the face. It's like I'm coping and then suddenly I'm crying. And not pretty, silent crying either.

The first meltdown happened before Rick's funeral and they've been part of my life ever since. I felt like I couldn't wear the black dress I always wear to funerals to my own husband's funeral. So I needed to buy a new dress. My mom took me shopping and we went into White House Black Market.

A perky, happy saleswoman approached us and said, "And what occasion are we shopping for?" with a huge smile. I burst into hysterical tears right in the middle of the store. My life has been like that for the last 10 days. Here and there, amid normalcy, grief, and "regular" crying, I have meltdowns.

When I finally ventured into the basement and my mom and I came across a cardboard box, she asked me what it was. It was Rick's miniature Christmas tree for all his Star Trek ornaments. I bought him a new one every year. Cue meltdown.

Tonight, I achieved enough normalcy to work (day two was slightly better than day one), have dinner with my mom and her best friend (I ate an actual meal instead of just soup), and visit my brother's new house. Then I drove home...and it was dark...and I missed Rick...and as I pulled into my lonely driveway, in my lonely car, my lonely house stared back at me and I could hardly face it. So: meltdown.

I sobbed my way into the house and cried so loudly on my living room floor that I was sure the neighbors were going to hear my awful wailing. I imagined my heart as a flower that was wilting, all the petals drooping and falling off one by one, like whatever was inside of me keeping me alive was dying. I was crying so hard I could barely breathe. I was so exhausted I could barely move. I called my mom and probably scared her half to death with my sobs as she answered. Rick always comforted me when I cried. Now I'm back to needing Mommy.

I could hardly calm down, could hardly be understood. And then someone called in on the other line while I was on the phone with my mom. I didn't recognize the number, so I told my mom I had better answer it in case it was important.

I answered the call and said, "Hello," but I was still sobbing. It was Dr. Black, the director of my graduate school of social work. And yes, I graduated a year ago.

She knew I was crying and she talked me through it. She asked if she could call me again soon. And she told me that she put a photo of Rick above her computer so that she would think of me all the time and also think of him. That really touched me.

It's good to know that even during meltdowns, my angels have my back. They send people in my life to intervene on their behalf when needed.

I checked my first "widow" box today on a form. It sucked. But I like to end on a positive note, so here's the new wall art I bought:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Back to Reality

I survived my first day back at work. Barely.

I woke up this morning before my alarm, having gotten very little sleep yet again. I wanted nothing more than to just lie in bed. It took every bit of energy to get up, get dressed, and go downstairs to face another day without Rick.

Rick used to watch me get ready in the morning. He would talk to me while I got dressed, did my hair, and put on makeup. His absence as I went through my morning routine gave me a pit in my stomach.

I made coffee and gave Tumbler his IV fluids. I cried. I gave myself a pep talk. I cried again. Before I left the house, I had an idea. I sifted through the literally HUNDREDS of love notes Rick wrote to me over the years and grabbed the simplest one:

He always called me "A" for short and it was a term of endearment from him to me. I took the note to work with me and put it in my office for encouragement.

My day was punctuated with little instances that stopped my heart, gave me shakes, or brought tears to my eyes. I pushed through and got done what needed to be done, but nothing extra. I left at 5 pm on the dot because I couldn't wait to get out of there. I hate the feeling that the whole world just keeps going as always when my heart feels so heavy inside of me.

When I explained to someone at work that I had not been there all of last week, she said, "Lucky you!" I wanted to scream curse words at her, but I just nodded and smiled.

Just as I left the building to head to my car for the drive home, it began to rain. It was so fitting and I just sat in my car for a minute, trying to choke back tears, preparing to head home to an empty house.

I'm exhausted. I haven't been sleeping enough to power through a day at full capacity. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I really hope it will be better than today. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

The First Night Alone

Last night was my first night alone in my house. Someone has stayed with me every night since Rick died. Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night it was my mom. She slept in bed with me. 

On Wednesday night, it was my BFF Libes. She slept with me in my bed too. I had a nightmare related to Rick's suicide and was crying in my sleep. She had to wake me up. My dear friend Jenn was also staying over in the guest room. 

Thursday night, Jenn slept in bed with me. 

Then Friday night, it was my mom again.

On Saturday, my friends Jen and Huoi were "babysitting" me. Huoi stayed until after midnight. Jen slept in bed with me all night. No nightmares, but not much sleep. 

Sunday my friend Daniele distracted me with a lake walk at Peace Valley, a picnic, and the company of her dog Tango. 

Then last night... it was my first night alone. It had to happen eventually. And my parents live 15 minutes away, so there is always the understanding that I can call if I need them. I survived. I didn't sleep much... but I survived. Last night, I woke up every hour exactly. 12:43, 1:43, 2:43... until I woke up for good at 6:43. My sleep was fitful and it was strange that every time I woke and looked at my clock, the time was always at the 43rd minute. The cats slept with me, so technically I wasn't totally alone. But it felt so lonely.

My bed is too big for 2 cats and a cat widow.

I slept with an emergency lantern on all night - the kind that's around in case of power outages. The darkness just seemed too oppressive.

I can hardly sleep and I can hardly eat. One day this week, I was awake for almost 24 hours straight. I'm forcing myself to push through the sleepless nights and choking down food I know I need. I just feel like I'm living in the twilight zone. You know, like...Rick should be home any minute. Or He's just in the bathroom. Maybe He's already asleep upstairs. Or if I'm out doing something, he's just at home waiting for me. 

I survived last night somehow and it occurred to me this morning that today is Monday. So I wrote one of my anonymous letters to a stranger and left it with some wedding china place settings at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

I'm trying to focus on survival. I made it through the first night alone, which it would stand to reason is probably the worst. My friend Amanda brought me lots of food to freeze so I don't have to cook for a while. I had dinner with my friends Jennifer and Matthew. They distracted me with kittens and humor. I powered through and didn't cry once in their company, though I did tear up a few times. Tonight is night number 2 all alone. I cry on and off. I'm trying very hard not to dread tomorrow: my first day back to work.

My heart hurts so badly. Nighttime is so hard. I miss the nights when Rick used to get out of bed to pee, then reach for and hold my hand when he got back in bed. It's never going to happen again and there is a permanent lump in my throat. The house is too quiet. I'd give anything to hear him snoring again.

A New Chapter

For the last 7 years, I've written on a blog called One Page at a Time. It was my personal blog and always had the tagline: Through a writer's eyes, the world is a tale to be told... The blog was characterized by stories of my life, little adventures, hardships, triumphs, and eventually my letters to strangers. But more than anything, One Page at a Time was about my marriage. There were posts about anniversaries, vacations, mundane daily occurrences, and my husband's chronic pain.

Now it's time to write about my pain. It's time to lay One Page at a Time to rest and start a new chapter, and therefore, a new blog. My life is forever changed. I must move forward from here in a new role: widow. I must grieve, learn, accept, and adapt. The woman who wrote One Page at a Time is still here, but she's different. And her story has taken such a turn that it now feels impossible and wrong to continue on the same page, chapter, and blog. A new beginning has presented itself to me, and though it was not my choice, I am choosing to welcome it.

And just as Rick would want me to, I will use my writing to cope, to heal, and to reach.