Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Where am I tonight?

I'm feeling so many subtle emotions, and experiencing them carefully. It has been a somewhat mild day for me. Yet part of the experience has been done with detachment. This was a theme that came out of my therapy session today. I am recognizing that I have allowed myself to be somewhat detached from the many day to day factors that touch on my life currently. It is a way for me to survive.

A big part of me really wants to just disappear from all that my life used to be, and what it continues to be. I would like to just drift for awhile. And because I am not able to do this the way I would like, as I have the kids to think of, I am able to feel myself adrift by being detached from life around me. This is a double edged sword, because at the same time I find that I am quite lonely.

I sometimes think that others see me as stronger than I am. I think I put out a vibe that says I am doing okay. I think people might look at me, and other widow(er)s and think we will ask for help if we need it. What they don't understand perhaps, is that for many of us, we just can't muster up the courage, or energy, to ask for what we need. I am far more broken than people realize. My spirit is gravely damaged. I feel like life dealt me a horrible blow. I learned from this experience, that ongoing happiness is not meant for me. I am part of the outsiders. When I look at other people around me, and see them enjoying, or being fully engaged in relationships, I feel like a spectator, not a participant. This is only further fueled by the consequence of my detachment, which is isolation.

I often think of the phrase, Misery Loves Company. When you don't have any company, misery starts to look pretty good. It is these dark and gut wrenching emotions that make me feel at least partially alive. This also goes with the thought that part of us dies when our spouse dies. I know that our union connected Michael and I in a very profound way. When he and I first began talking about getting married he confessed that he didn't necessarily feel that it would change anything for us. He would say, we are a committed couple already, what will getting married do for us? It was after we were married that he understood how profoundly different our relationship became. When we took the vows that sealed our union, he said life together significantly changed. He recognized that we were no longer two separate individuals. We were forever joined together. It was as if the substance, or matter, that once made us individual, was now combined in a way that made us forever connected.

As I sit here I see the vase that is filled with the two colors of sand from the sand ceremony at our wedding. Part of our ceremony was both of us taking turns pouring our sand into this vase. In the end was a beautifully created pattern of colors, that could never again be separated. Michael loved the imagery. We often sat here on our couch looking at the vase, and expressing what it represented for us. Then one day we looked across the room at it was obvious that someone had knocked over the vase, and our unique pattern had been disturbed. Michael was very disappointed at first, but quickly looked at me and said, "well, now we can never be separated." At the point that this happened, our daily lives had become one. I was no longer working, as Michael needed me at home with him. As time went on his needs became part of my needs. He was unable to function each day without me. Now I know that many a spouse has remarked now and then how their spouse could never manage without them. For Michael and I, this became very real. His functioning abilities were quickly disappearing. When his brain could no longer tell him how to walk, I was there to explain how to move each of his legs so he could move from one place to another.

So is it any surprise that now that he is gone, that I find myself feeling incomplete? If there is silence in my world, it is because there is silence within my soul. Rather than allow myself to feel hurt, or disappointed, with my day to day life, I just detach. I can pass people throughout the day, and offer a gentle smile. I can respond to their inquiries about the status of my day with, "I am fine, thank you." In this way I don't get hurt when I feel the need to really share how I am doing, and then see in their face that it is something that they can't, or don't want to, be present to it.

In my bedroom are Michael's ashes. They sit in a beautiful urn that a local artist created. Michael wanted me to keep his ashes close to me. He said that he hoped that when I died, our ashes could be combined, just like the sand in the vase. At the time he knew that I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to be cremated. Yet as time has passed, it is exactly what I want. To me, it will be as though we are finally returned to one another. In January I took out some of Michael's ashes to spread when I was in Big Sur with his friends. As I was spreading them in various locations in Big Sur, I was mostly aware of how good it felt to handle his ashes. After spreading the ashes there remains dust on your hands. I remember looking at my dusty hands, and feeling immense satisfaction from having my hands covered with Michael's substance. I raised my hands to my face, and gently massaged the ash into my skin. I then brought my hands to my mouth, and allowed them to rest upon my lips. I felt connected. I felt that he was less apart from me, and more a part of me. To many, these actions might sound a little morbid. I surely would have thought so in the past. To me, it did not feel foreign, it felt like home. Once again, there was that needed connection.


  1. You have written so well about the detachment that seems to become part of our coping mechanism. I also appreciated what you wrote about the period where you were caring for Michael and about how your relationship changed. Don was off work for about ten months before he died. It was the most one-on-one time we had ever spent together as I cared for him 24-7 When he died, I felt like a castaway -- adrift in the world -- having to relearn how to be alone. There are certain attitudes that we may adopt in order to keep going. Detachment, a calmness, an "I don't care" indifference to the difficulties we have to deal with. It's a strange time. I liken it to the state of being in limbo. I'm probably still "there" but believe myself to be more engaged with the world than I was a year ago.
    Regarding ashes, Don's ashes have been with me at all times during my journey. When I'm on the road, they are under the driver's seat of my van, just below my right knee. When Don was doing taxotere chemo, he began losing his hair, so we decided that it might be good to cut it shorter - he had long hair which he wore tied back all the time. Perhaps others might find it weirdly morbid that I kept that hair. In the earlier days after Don died, on a couple of occasions when I was feeling particularly heartbroken, I would hold a few locks of his hair for awhile - just feeling the very fine texture - and I would feel comforted - as though he was with me for awhile. I think we have to do whatever it takes to survive each day. Whose to say what is the best way. It seems we intuitively know what is best if we just listen to our hearts.

  2. Of course you feel detached from day to day things. Your mind is full of memories and thoughts of Michael. There is only so much the mind can concentrate on at one time.

    Personally, I don't know how you can function in the day to day life at all. Just getting out of bed and getting dressed is a chore.

    They say these things will change as time moves on. The memories will recede a bit in the mind and more awareness of what is happening "now" will be present.

    I don't know--

  3. Hi Dan,
    When we first divided Austin's ashes into little containers to be spread over time at different locations (getting ready to spread most of his ashes in the ocean last summer), I did the exact same thing as you've described. To those of us who've been there, it's not morbid at all. In the funeral home, at the viewing the day after he died, I cut off a lock of his hair, which I've gotten out a few times just to run my fingers over. All of these things, in a way, remind me that he was real. Sometimes those tangible things, even his ashes, are important to help soothe my grieving soul.

    I also totally understand the concept of detaching yourself so you can cope in the day to day world. I'm really good at saying "I'm fine", when asked how I am. What I really want to respond sometimes is "do you really want to know?" because how I appear on the outside is not how I feel on the inside. But, a couple of times when I was asked how I was, I answered "good" without even thinking about it. And I felt bad that I said good, because surely that couldn't be true. Until upon reflection, I realized that I did in fact feel good for that moment, and it didn't mean that I missed Austin any less. I guess that's progress down this road, cause it is nice to feel good, if only for a moment. I hope that you eventually find moments of feeling good soon.

  4. i can only echo what others have said above. know that you are in my thoughts and i understand very much what you are going through. peace.