New Year’s Eve, again. I know that sounds like it occurs often. Maybe, it is because I am becoming older and it seems that this holiday occurs quicker than I remember, but, since Dan’s death, it seems to come before I am ready. It always feels like I have unfinished business and it is too late to complete it because a new year is beginning.
This New Year’s Eve, I had one of those surreal moments. You know. The kind where you step outside of yourself and see your life from a small distance. It is the kind that is a glimpse of yourself and you wonder just who is that person that is standing there.
The last time I did this was a Christmas Eve when Dan was in ICU in IU Medical Center. He was in 6 ICU due to complication from the massive debulking surgery. They had removed all the tumors and pronounced him cancer free. Then, two days before coming home, he began running a temperature. The next thing we knew, he had a body shudder and the young resident ordered a series of tests in the imagining department.
After 30 minutes, the charge nurse on the post op floor came into Dan’s room and began gathering all of his things and instructed me to do the same. Dan was going directly from the imaging lab to 6 ICU. He had 2 blood clots in his lungs. This was a common but critical complication of abdominal surgery. The primary risk was that the clots would break loose and go to Dan’s brain or heart. Dan was facing death again.
I spent the next sleepless 48 hours in his ICU unit. No sleeping was allowed for the visitors staying with a patient, so, if I wanted to stay with him, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t. I sat next to his bed, holding his hand as he slept. I had to touch him. I had to know that he wasn’t going to leave without me. As I watched every part of his face and body for a sign that the clots had dislodged, I kept telling myself this wasn’t happening to him or to me. This was just a bad dream and I would wake up soon.
I knew the next 48 hours may hold the moment in which I became a widow or a wife of an incapacitated man who required more care than I could give. No matter, I was not going to leave his side. If it was going to happen, it wasn’t going to take place without me there. Finally, I was ordered by Dan, my son and the doctors to sleep. The only place to do that on the ICU floor was in a bleak, overcrowded and smelly waiting room just outside double doors which held the gateway to my future.
That Christmas Eve, my son walked me to the waiting room and tried to help me find a recliner that would allow me rest. I was one of the late comers and all the decent recliners and chairs were occupied by the ‘regulars”. These people had loved one in the ICU. Many had been here for weeks and some for months. They already had staked out their territory. There wasn’t much left to choose from for a new comer like me.
I had to take the least damaged recliner. My son tried to help me into a chair that was a little skewed when the foot rest came out. The chair itself was broken on one side so, when the foot rest was extended, the whole chair bent like a pretzel. Regardless of my son’s help, I still had a very uncomfortable bed. It was all that was left.
After positioning myself into the chair, I closed my eyes. Sleep was the farthest thing away from my overly tired body. My mind wouldn’t shut off. I replayed the events of the past 48 hours and it was in the midst of those reoccurring scenes that I found myself looking at my life as if I was someone peering through a window on the outside looking in on what couldn’t possibly be me and life as I knew it.
I remember wondering how this could be. I had seen these scenes many times. Throughout my nursing experience, I watched very critically ill patients and their families. Families trying to find a way to sleep in the ICU waiting area, watching them consume gallons of coffee. I saw worried looks on lined faces and I tried to dry the inconsolable tears that fell from the faces full of fear and grief. Now, it was my turn to not sleep, consume gallons of coffee and cry inconsolable tears. How could this be? On that Christmas Eve, I asked the questions of ” Where had life as I knew it gone? How could this be me? How could it be Dan?”
So, this New Year’s Eve as I sat in my own broken recliner watching the old movie on the TV, again the pondering over my life as it was and as it is came again. The questions began again, ” How could it be the second New Year begun without him? How could it be my life as a single person….again? How can I live without him and most of all, Where is my life without him?” And, again, I didn’t recognize this existence as mine. But, it is.
It is a life that is consumed with making enough money to afford heat, lights and food. The basics. It is a life that is lived as a peripheral part of others, a caregiver. It is a life that is very small in the terms of being a requirement to anyone. I no longer am someone who is in the life of my son, my daughter in law or my grandsons’. I am not an essential part of anyone’s life anymore. It is such a small life. ( this is not an exaggeration) My present life is the result of how people change when the process of grief is not understood nor is there a desire to understand the details of grief and its deep scarring on a life and heart.
It is the first time of living a “small life” for me. My circle of friends are made of quality people, but the numbers are few. My working life is limited in the small number of people I care for. The majority of my professional contacts are with people who I have never met face to face. They are voices on the phone or an address in my inbox. My work interactions are done from 60 miles south of the main office of the company. I work remotely and the distance makes things quite impersonal.
I have stopped going to church. Not because I have lost my love or interest in God, but primarily because I cannot deal with the look of pity in people’s eyes. To be pitied is a little more than I can bear. It grows tiring to be the shadow of the foreshadowing that is in literature. I know and others perceive me as their life that is to come. I represent loss, the pain of loneliness and grief.
I realize that I am pulling within myself more now than the first year since Dan’s death. There are some finds this kind of withdrawal as alarming. I am not. I see this as a time for me to reassess my life and what I choose to do with it. It is a time that I take an inventory of sorts so as to know that I am living my life according to my choices and not according to my circumstances.
I must face and accept that I lost an essential part of myself, but not all of me. I lost my other self; the person that helped me feel alive and secure. I know that this thing called grief is a process and it is one that cannot be hurried. I also know that I have come to an understanding about something that has never been before.
For the first time in my life, my life is about me. No longer is my life about maintaining a marriage, raising children, finding a career or making sure that everyone around me is happy. I realize that I lived the majority of my life ensuring that others are cared for and happy.
Now is the time that I rediscover my original self; the average yet unique person that God created me to be. It is about me learning and uncovering what Dan meant when he said that he was in my way and that he had to leave so that I would fulfil my destiny.
Of course, there are those who don’t understand, nor do they want to understand. They want me to be as I have always been. The change in me causes confusion. The by-product of being the one who maintains the emotional balance in relationships causes a dependence of sorts and when this discontinues, people can get quite angry. These changes not only confuses them, but their reaction can and does confuse me.
I was a person before I was married, had a child, divorced and remarried became a step mother, mother in law. I know for a certainity that I am not the same person I was when Dan was a part of my life. Nor, will I ever be that person again…Death changed me.
The most astonishing realization is that I do not choose to be that person any longer. Life is about me.
My mother would not have tolerated this kind of thinking or behaving. She would have considered it selfish and self-centered. My mother was very clear that, if you loved someone, you placed their wants, wishes and needs above your own. She taught that you loved everyone more than yourself and you loved yourself last.
My mother was wrong.
It is true that you love others by meeting their needs, but it is not at your own expense. That isn’t love. That is co dependence. That is unhealthy. Learning to strike a balance is the hard part. It isn’t all or nothing. But, it is learning that wanting and doing things for yourself isn’t being self-centered. It is finding how to have life and not just existence.
Life is about me. It is about finding a way to love again. It is about finding what is my purpose and design. It is about being happy and doing so without making others miserable. I wonder if there is a book about this? Most likely, but why would I want to read about someone’s journey. I have my own book of life to write and this is the beginning of the first chapter of the last section.
I cannot continue to live as a shattered fragment with the majority of myself missing. Yes, I am in pieces, but isn’t there beauty in a mosaic creation?
I am on the outside of life looking inwards and wondering what it is that I am seeing….What is the meaning of this New Year and will it hold a new kind of happiness or will I be looking from the outside in again next January 1st and wondering just whose life is this?