Grieving Pains



Just recently, bumps, scratches and bruises have mysteriously appeared all over my body.

A quick inventory: On my left forearm I have an deep yellow, inch-and-a-half-long bruise. On the underside, I have an angry red scrape that curls around from front to back. On one palm, I have a wee boo boo. Further down, I have four pink slashes, in various states of healing, across my shin.

And yesterday, I slightly burned my right forearm accidentally blasting hot water instead of cold while  washing dishes.

Other than the singed forearm, I have absolutely no recollection of how I got these wounds. I don’t remember any fisticuffs in my recent past, or ever, really. I don’t think I’ve challenged anyone to a duel and don’t recall getting up in someone’s grill.

But since Mike died I am a one-woman wrecking crew. Unfortunately, my body is the demolition site.

I am more injury prone than my pre-K son. I run into walls, misjudge the width of door frames and walk into open cupboards with my face.

In the past, I have generally had control of all my faculties and all four limbs. I have never carried myself like a ballerina but I’m no lumbering galoot either.

Many bizarre things happen when your spouse dies, I am discovering. Along with your memory and day-to-day brain power, you lose a sense of your own body and the space you take up. Other than the obvious pain, and feeling like a dummy, it troubles me that I have become a klutz.

Turns out, I am a completely normal klutz. Clumsiness is directly related to stress, my social worker told me. At least I think it was her. My memory is shredded, along with the skin on my shin.

Even though I honestly and truly feel like I am doing quite well with this whole grief thing, my stress tank is full. And when your mind is whirling with every other little and big thing—settling the estate, raising a little man, and doing my nails, for example—there is simply no room for your body to naturally remember what to do and how to navigate through the world. While that’s not a scientific explanation for why I am suddenly Buster Keaton with bruises and a lot less funny, there’s some comfort understanding the method behind my body’s madness.

Like many stages in the grieving process, this too shall pass. Until then, I hope to retain all limbs.

The Crying Game

(photo by Chris Bolin)
(photo by Chris Bolin)

Confession: I cry very easily. I am a cliché. I cry during greeting card commercials, the news and on very bad days, possibly Big Brother. (I love Audrey but she has really pooched her game.) Acts of cruelty and kindness and all stops in between bring the waterworks. I have always been a little embarrassed about spurting tears so easily.

Since Mike died, I have cried in the ice cream aisle at Safeway, at a neighbourhood Renaissance fair as Vikings “battled” each other and while waiting for my Flat White at Starbucks. I briefly cried in our insurance agent’s office and then later again that same day as I described it to my girlfriend. So, for clarity, I cried while telling a story about crying.

But here’s the strange thing: I am off my game—my crying game.

Sure I have wept in fits and starts since Mike died but I certainly haven’t cried me a river. Maybe a tributary, or possibly a tiny stream but certainly no river. There has been no wailing either.

I often find myself comforting our friends as they release their tears on my shoulder but I don’t join in. Truth be told, seeing our friends cry makes me feel better. It means Mike was loved, and in turn, Will and I are loved.

My former self, the unabashed weeper of all things big and small, is gone. I’m not sure if she will ever return. Truthfully, I am a little perplexed and troubled by my transformation. Mike’s death, the biggest trauma of my life so far, should shatter me. It hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.

So until my tears really flow, I will just go with the flow and try not to fret about my dry eyes.

The Making of a Widow

Monday, August 18, 2008  - Calgary, Alberta  Calgary Lawyer, and dual-U.S.-Canadian citizen, Gerald Chipeur in his office on Monday, August 18, 2008. Chipeur the former head of Republicans Abroad Canada displays a photo of himself and Senator John McCain. Chipeur has a long history representing right-of-centre political parties and groups (the Reform, the Alliance, the Conservatives, Focus on the Family, etc.) and is not unknown to U.S. conservative political circles.  Photo by CHRIS BOLIN for Macleans Magazine
(Photo by Chris Bolin)


It’s very weird being a widow at age 44. It’s even weirder when people refer to me as ‘a widow.’

For context, I would rather be called the dreaded ‘ma’am’ than ‘widow.’ The ladies out there will know the horror of first hearing themselves referred to as ‘ma’am.’ It is unsettling and icky. It’s as if you cross an invisible threshold into old age. Inside, you may feel like your 20-something self, but your actual, outside 3o-plus-plus self isn’t fooling anyone. That’s how ‘widow’ feels too. It stings.

The truth is I don’t feel 44 and I don’t feel like a widow. I feel married and 80-years-old. In the past four years, I have aged tremendously, both physically, emotionally and mentally. And in my mind, I am still married.

Mike has just been gone a little more than a month. All his clothes remain in the closet and his jackets still hang at the front door. Some mornings, I catch myself thinking he’ll be coming down the stairs to join me for coffee.

Cancer changed me. My hair is greyer, my waistline is thicker and I have permanent dark circles under my eyes. Add a perpetual lack of sleep and a lot less energy and I am a perfect shadow of my former self.

Emotionally, I am hollowed out. Cancer took so much from me, besides Mike. My spirit is heavier. I feel wiser and stronger, sure, but it came at a very big cost. I have depression. It is under control according to me, my doctor and my CancerCare therapist.

Mentally, I am impaired. My brain is mushy and if I didn’t know better, I’d think I had dementia. My  therapist assures me I am not losing my mind. It’s just temporarily misplaced. A year from now I won’t remember a stitch of what I am going through right now. Grief and trauma messes with minds. So, until my synapses start firing properly again, I write everything down. My day timer has become my diary and my to-do list. This blog becomes a record of my life. (Keep on reading, I promise lighter posts are coming soon.)

Even with all that, I try not to dwell on all the things cancer has tried to take away from Mike, Will and I.  In time, my spirit will be lighter, my mind will be sharper and I will be happy. Who knows, maybe love will find me again.

But please, please, until then, don’t call me ‘widow.’ Or ‘ma’am.’