Sunday, August 24, 2014

Team Bair

Over the years, it became painfully clear to me just how entrapped in his pain Rick had become. He LOOKED fine, so he must BE fine, right? That’s the age-old concept almost everyone follows. I knew better, but no one else did. That was what frustrated him the most.

I used to suggest things, that hopeful lilt in my voice, and he would sometimes scoff or get angry because it was so easy for me to say, but nothing ever worked. 

Getting your hopes up over and over and over again for decades only to remain in a prison of emotional and physical pain is pretty debilitating itself. 

He couldn't sleep. He had no energy. I saw him cry. I heard him yell out in the middle of the night. I watched him breathe in and out with sincere effort to experience a relaxing moment the way other people do.

I’m cranky when I have PMS or cramps, when I have a sore throat or sunburn, so can you imagine how depressed/irritable/angry/hopeless/rotten he must have felt on a yearly, monthly, daily, hourly basis? It boggles my mind. His genuine Rick-ness shone through, bright spots of sun poking through insanely dark clouds, but he was a broken snow globe. Put it back together after it experiences something terrible and it can never really be repaired. My grad school trauma instructor told us that analogy once and it fits Rick perfectly. Who can wake up with a happy outlook, day after day, knowing that he is a shattered snow globe? Knowing that he can never get back what was lost?

It always struck me just how dependent Rick was on his regimens, rituals, and routines. I liked to tease him about it, but I realized it was more of a survival tactic than anything else. When something gets you from one day to the next, you stick with it, even if that means never deviating from the plan. Even if that means other areas of life become ritualistic and routine as well. 

Saying that Rick was frustrated is a severe understatement.

I had a revelation one day last year that extended to my role as Rick’s wife. I realized that my role was to ADVOCATE for him. To get in there with him and fight the pain and depression and explain - to doctors or whomever - that he needed help and care and had not been getting it for far too long. Until then, I had always considered my role to be a cheerer-upper or a cheerleader. 

My role as cheerer-upper meant I would try to brighten his days, make him smile or laugh, do sweet things to help him through, or attempt to lighten his dark moods. The problem with this role is that I would put energy into it like a full-time job and not always get the results for which I hoped. The other problem is that it could be a lot of responsibility, especially if I was having a sad day myself. 

My role as cheerleader was a bit different. It meant I would encourage him to try new things or suggest more positive ways to look at things. It also meant telling him when I did not condone poor choices and refusing to let him wallow in despair. The problem with this role is that my encouraging words and positive suggestions always sounded unsympathetic and proved how little I truly understood his anguish. He would say, “Who’s side are you on?” and I’d say, “I’m not on anyone’s side,” thinking this was a justified and appropriate response. This was the WRONG answer, because as much as my tactics would be helpful with a client, Rick as my husband WANTED ME ON HIS SIDE. Playing devil’s advocate to his negative attitude wasn’t the answer – it only made him feel more alone.

So when the revelation that my role was to be his ADVOCATE came to me, I was stunned that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner. I didn't have to be a cheerer-upper, because I made his life brighter just by being in it and being myself. And I didn't have to be a cheerleader, because in advocating for him, I was on his TEAM. That was our thing: I’d smile and say “Team Bair.” Automatically, he was less alone. Problem solved.

I am always so relentless, won’t give up, and will work tirelessly to advocate for everyone else – so why shouldn’t I have filled that role for my own husband? 

I wanted to fight for him when he was tired of fighting.

When he was feeling hopeless and wanted to give up, was skeptical to try something, or didn't know how to explain his situation to others, I could. Alongside him.

There was no more Rick with an Arielle cheerer-upper. There was no more Rick with an Arielle cheerleader. There was just Rick + Arielle = Team Bair. 

But now there's just me. I miss Team Bair.

My landline rang yesterday. "Hi, you've reached the Bairs," said my voice on the answering machine. "We can't come to the phone right now. Leave a message and we'll get back to you." I mentioned to my mom that I supposed I ought to change the message. She advised me to keep it so that to outsiders it would not appear I lived all alone.

When I mentioned it to Jennifer and Matthew, Matty said to keep it because it was still true. The Bairs still live here. Arielle, Tumbler, and Juice. 

Team Bair used to be for Rick's benefit. Now it's for the benefit of the Cat Widow. 


  1. My mom's voice is still on my landline answering machine. That's the only recording I have of her voice. It's nice to be able to call and hear her when I'm forgetting her voice. Keep the message on; it'll hopefully bring comfort when you hear it each time.

  2. In terms of things like your answering machine, I think you need to do whatever feels right for you, only you can know. There is no right or wrong, just what makes sense to you and where you are. (((hugs)))

  3. Unfortunately, you are right when you write that people have great difficulty understanding the psychological suffering. Understanding the physical suffering is much easier, because the physical pain is tangible, you can touch it with your hand. Psychological suffering is rather intangible, and it is often underestimated, but this doesn’t mean that it is less strong or less important than any form of physical suffering.

    However, in my opinion, there was nothing wrong with the way you have tried to support Rick in every moment. You went on by tests, trials and errors, until you have found the most practical way to stay close to him and give him an helping hand. But this doesn’t mean that your previous attempts were wrong or that they have to be thrown away: I believe that Rick appreciated everything you've tried to do for him, in all its forms, because what is done for love is beyond any judgment value, and the other person always perceives it as the purest form of affection.

    P.S.= You and Rick will be a team ever. No matter what.


Help me feel less alone.