Barry died on November 21, 2016
It has been almost two months since Barry died. During this time, I have found myself very busy trying to avoid the fact that he is gone. First there was a Thanksgiving dinner to host, a quick trip up north, a funeral to plan, a Christmas tree to put up and decorate, kids flying in, speeches to write and many dinners out. Then there was Barry’s memorial service, my youngest son’s birthday, Christmas morning with Swedish pancakes, kids flying out, babysitting and finally a quick trip back up north. And now I am home in an empty apartment with pine needles still
littering the floor and dead plants lingering around from Barry’s service.
I am a master at avoiding thoughts about anything uncomfortable. I could get a PhD in avoidance. One feeling I avoid is sadness. Am I sad about Barry being gone or am I sad for me? Who am I now that I am no longer Barry’s wife? Who am I now that I am not the long- suffering spouse of a very sick man? Do I really want to know the answer to these questions? I had been working on thank you notes and noticed what I wrote on quite a few: “I will miss Barry but I am thrilled he is finally free.” I was surprised and embarrassed that I wrote the word “thrilled” instead of relieved or thankful. For a moment, I wondered why I wrote that, but quickly avoided thinking any more about it. See how that works?
Since Barry died, I have been feeling at loose ends. I was in a panic right after his death, rushing to start planning my new life. To figure out my next move. Where will I go? What will I do? Should I take a trip? Should I move up north? I felt I should figure it all out immediately. I was up north now and decided to postpone writing any more thank you notes and planning my new life in favor of a long snowshoe outing. I chose one of my favorite trails, the same one I was on when I heard Prince had died. That day was sloppy and warm. I really had to concentrate so I wouldn’t slip in the mud and the snow that was still in shady spots along the trail. That whole hike I thought about Prince. Why can I think about Prince’s death but not about my own husband’s death?
But on this snowshoe trek, Barry pushed his way into my thoughts. I started to imagine what he would have thought about this trail, and it made me feel sad and lonely. It was then I realized that I was avoiding thinking about him because the thoughts made me feel sad and lonely. Idon’t want to feel sad, and I really do’t like to feel lonely. But I also concluded that is unfair to Barry to push him out of my mind. He deserves to be remembered. As I hiked and thought about him, it dawned on me that I was no longer remembering him as sick. The skinny, dying Barry overcome with FTD was beginning to fade from my memory. The old handsome Barry was emerging and that felt really good. Why would I avoid thinking about him when my memories are now about him healthy and whole? I also realized on the hike that I could not plan my entire future right now. I had to take a deep breath and slow down. When I finished the trail and returned to the house where I was staying, I wrote a note to myself that said: “Take it slow, remember, reflect and make no rash decisions. And, damn it, get back to work!”
After a few days up north, I decided it was time to visit the Care Center where Barry had lived for so long and give them a donation from Barry’s memorial fund. I had been avoiding the place for two months. As I drove up, I felt sad that Barry had been there for so long. Yet I felt an odd sense of excitement to see everyone. Did I actually miss coming here? Rather than avoiding that thought, I had to admit that I did miss it.
When I walked in, the same people were by the front desk in their wheelchairs. I greeted the same lady who had always asked who I was visiting. But this time she did not ask me. I went to Barry’s floor and was greeted with hugs from the staff. Someone else had moved into his room. I wanted to look in, but the door was closed and that meant the person in there was dying, too. I walked down the hall to see who was still around and discovered that almost everyone was still there.
Barry’s nurse, the one full of wisdom, gave me a hug and said, “Go now and live your life. You did all you could. You were a good wife.” Then he added, “Look at your children because Barry lives in them.” I am glad I didn’t avoid going to the Care Center because I needed to hear those wise words. I also needed to admit to myself that the place had been a huge part of my life and it will take time to not feel the loss of visiting there each day.
I will take the nurse’s advice and live my life one day at a time. I will let myself remember Barry. And I will feel happy when I look at my kids and see Barry shining through in them. When I got home I felt that the huge weight of avoidance had lifted. Am I thrilled that Barry is finally free of FTD? Yes! And now that the old Barry is back in my memory, I feel closer to him than ever.
Thank you to everyone for your support during this journey.
Peace for the New Year!