Be Strong – Or what the hell does that mean?

When Kelly first passed, a lot of people told me to be strong. A lot of people told me I was strong. I know I am nothing.

The love of my life was ripped from me without any warning, and without any reason. I could not be strong. I would weep spontaneously throughout all the days of the summer. I would scream at the indifferent walls of my now too big house. I would lay like a tantrumming-child on the floor of my kitchen, tears of sorrow, grief and yearning soaking the ceramic tiles. All the while begging to be taken too somehow. I wasn’t strong, it was never me being strong.

But Kelly, he made me get out of bed when people came by to visit. He made me give hugs and hand out beers, listen to people tell stories of the good times, of how Kelly would make them laugh. The only strength I have had is his. 

I can’t explain it fully, but I knew all the while he was there. He would send me “rise and shine” messages for weeks. I heard the phrase all over the place. He sent me people, people who would open their heart to me, and become a part of a greater family with a strong and lifelong bond. He was there in the dark moments when I couldn’t really see the days passing by without him. A feeling of urging, a feeling that I needed to live.

I will say, that I had to make a conscious decision not to die myself. It was a decision made less difficult by all of these things, but still a decision. His strength became mine, and now I can start to rebuild my own. Slowly, and brick by brick, with perhaps some cracks and holes, I build my own strength back.

I am not strong, but I have strength behind me, in love and in people. 

Report Card Grief

On a report card weekend, my stress levels are typically three times higher than usual. Kelly was always a master at curbing the stress, but not without first insisting upon increasing it.  He would first want to hang out, a “whatcha doing?” was common.  Then his regular routine of noise and flurry, playing guitar, banging around in the kitchen etc. And then it would stop.

He would first make me take a moment for me…a sweet, tender moment. Complimenting my skills as a teacher, or just pulling me close and making me feel safe. Reassuring me I would live through another report card term, though I wasn’t quite sure.

He would play guitar softly, but nearby. Or help by cleaning the kitchen. Or he would disappear to paint or record music, or visit a friend.  He would check on me, make sure I was okay, make sure I was smiling.

And so, again in the solitude of my home, it was quiet this term. Deafening…

I sat, staring longingly at the couch, wishing he was there softly singing, playing the same new riff over and over. I wish he was there making petulant noise so I would pay attention to him. I wish he was there to clean the kitchen, and make me coffee. I wish he was there…

Madhatter

Anyone who knows Kelly knows he loves Halloween, but he didn’t usually pull his costume together until the day of whatever party we were going to. One year we were going to a party at a mutual friend’s house, and need a costume quickly.  I found mine first, the Queen of Hearts, a velvety dress and a Dollar Store crown – done.  So, he HAD to be the Madhatter (we both agreed that was a must, we need to be a pair), we spent hours longer finding the hat and wig, adding a crazy coat, a tea cup, and a scarf from Value Village, and I then did his make up and my own pre-party. Finally done!

We arrived at the party, and everyone was so impressed with Kelly’s costume (and mine as well), but they LOVED the teacup, which he broke in the second hour. It was time for the “best costume award”, and there were three nominees Hal and Joann McCleod, Angelina Jolie, and….the MADHATTER! On his own, not as a pair, just him. Aaaaaaannnnndddd….he won, by himself. I’m not bitter. Furthermore, despite knowing all the hard work I put into his costume, he proudly displayed his “costume trophy” FOR YEARS to come. Seriously!

Lesson for me: don’t take your self too seriously.
Lesson for Kelly: Continue to be awesome.

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Saturday Mornings

When we lived in the apartment, I would wake up quietly on Saturday mornings, not too early sometimes 9:30 or 10. On the mornings Kelly wouldn’t reach for me and keep me wrapped tight in his arms, I would sneak out to the couch and read, or study for school, do some marking or watch a show with headphones on, so not to wake him.  Kelly, religiously slept late on Saturdays (and often on Sundays too), he loved his sleep and I did not want to take it from him, and I knew that the quiet would not last once he did stir. 

When he finally rose, it was loud, and it seemed as though a full stretch involved a long, pained groan, and depending on the night before he either sat on the edge of the bed for a few more moments, or he hopped up right away. He would pad into the kitchen, which opened to the living room, and start his morning routine.  Turned on the coffeemaker (a noisy espresso machine), make himself a coffee, then be so impressed with his own work he would have to make me one too. 

If he was making breakfast, it was with full commentary, like a sports announcer broadcasting an exciting game. “First I’m getting the eggs out. NOW! I’m cracking the eggs”.

Once the eggs were cooking, he would grab his guitar, and play a riff he was currently obsessed with, then put on some music usually reggae, and dance with his pointer fingers alternately poking up the air above his head. It was never dull, but if I was writing a paper or reading an article, it was very distracting.

Then he would stop, and sit down with me, and we would chat and discuss our plans for the day. They never included cleaning, or doing things we were supposed to do, but usually doing a million things that we wanted to do, and I loved it…

Genius? or Crazy?

What do you do when your eyes tear up every time you cut onions?

This is just a short story, but Kelly’s best friend Maciej, got Kelly a new pair of snowboarding goggles for Christmas last year. Kelly is not a man to waste, and he definitely saw the potential that a second pair of snowboarding goggles might have around the house…

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They remain in the cupboard, just in case.

Shoveling

All tasks are a burden. I used to move from task to task, shoveling, to cooking, to writing papers, to exercising, without much griping, without it sucking me dry.

Kelly and I bought our house just over a year ago.  We bought it and I knew that I would have to shovel sometimes. If I got home first, sometimes I would try to shovel quickly before he got home, to treat him. If I finished he was always relieved and thankful, if he got home before I was done he grabbed the other shovel, and we finished together. I guess I thought that’s how our life would go, and in the end we would finish together. And now I am left to shovel these memories into the safe in my mind.

The grief blanket…

A colleague gave me the book, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, and he describes grief as so like fear, but also as the feeling like “being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me” (p.5). It does feel like a soft haze surrounds me, and in the first few months the world revolved without my input.  People came in and out around me, mowing my lawn, bringing coffee, feeding the others nearby.  Flowers conquered space after space, my table, my piano, my mantle, and I could enjoy none of it. As ungrateful as it sounds (although I am not), I don’t recommend sending flowers to someone who has experienced this type of loss, unless you are very far away. It is so trivial in these moments, and becomes almost burdensome to deal with the shedding petals that litter the tables, and the overwhelming graveyard of vases that then jam the cupboards.

I would cry intermittently, and then laugh spontaneously. People were often shocked themselves by my ability to hold a conversation, joke and tell stories, and not be in a perpetual state of sadness and sorrow.  But the blanket remained always, and still remains.

I understand the want to connect, the need to connect with Kelly through me. I often wish I could see more people, do more to be a good person, a good wife, a good friend, but I fumble. I can’t always keep up with the demands that this predicament has put me in.  I cry nearly every time I see one of Kelly’s friends, and I don’t mean shedding a couple tears, I mean the ugly sobbing cry. I aim to see his family more, but feel I fall short all the time. I am certain I am allergic completely to thank you cards. So, please know that inspite of this anaphalaxis of mail-out thank you’s my gratitude pours over, and each person has helped me in some small or great way that I can never express.

Lewis goes on to say, “there are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life”. Though I agree, though there are moments, mere moments where I feel as though I might be okay with this, I am of course not, and to me, love IS the whole of my life.

Is there light today? Yes, because LOVE is the WHOLE of my life. Kelly was the man who made me understand so much of my worth, but I also have incredible people who hold me up daily. And his love, and the love of the people around me have helped me survive, and have helped me to see the good that tomorrow my bring. This love will carry me.

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