My dead husband haunts me

I'll be back.
I’ll be back.


For a serious chunk of my adult life, I have worked in newsrooms.

In early February, I was hired as an associate producer for a national media company. It also happens to be where my husband Mike worked before he died. I had visited him there many times. My son called it, and still calls it, ‘Daddy’s office.’

Since starting there, I have never questioned my decision. I love it for all the same reasons I loved my former newsroom at The Calgary Herald. I am at home.

My only trepidation? How would I cope with working in the same place as my beloved? How would it be working with Mike’s colleagues?

For the first few weeks, it felt odd. While walking the hallways solo, I’d get an odd feeling, a presence walking with me. OK, to be clear, I’m not talking Poltergeist here.

Instead, competing feelings of discomfort and comfort battled. I have fought back tears and then caught myself smiling, thinking of Mike walking these same hallways.

Turns out, Mike is still walking these hallways. Mike has a doppelgänger.

The first time I saw this man, his back was turned to me. He was standing 20 feet away, fiddling with a TV camera. He has the same body shape as Mike, tall and lean. He has the same curly black mess of hair that Mike once had. He wears black-framed glasses, like Mike once did. And he has the same, beautifully wrinkled face and fantastically bold nose that Mike had.

The first time I spotted The Twin, my heart leapt with joy. For a beat, my brain, heart and body forgot Mike was dead. And then, just as quickly, my heart hurt.

In the ensuing weeks since that first sighting, I now see this man everywhere. We have even exchanged a few words. He caught me raiding notebooks from the TV staff’s stash. I defended my filching and we had a chuckle.

Another time, we nearly ran into each other in the hallway as we cornered the same turn from opposite directions.

He’s everywhere. That’s not exactly surprising. The newsroom isn’t gigantic. I see everyone, everyday, I’m sure. But The Twin, jumps out at me from across the room, every time.

I know his name. (Someone mentioned his name one day in passing.)

Other than our notebook ‘drama,’ I have never spoken to him.

And that’s fine. He’s not Mike. And maybe he’s really a jerk. That would suck.

Somedays when I spot him, I think about running up to him and throwing my arms around him for a long, sweet hug. It’s a thought I would never act on.

Stalking and harassment aren’t my jam. Silently, staring at him from across a room is my jam.

The Twin does his thing, and I do mine. We live in the same world. And for whatever quirk of the universe, we work in the same space.

And, he’ll never ever know that his presence haunts me.


My Valentine: A love letter from beyond the grave


Mike was a romantic guy.

My husband’s gestures of love were big and small. He slipped them in seamlessly throughout our days. He did it with a word, a look, a touch.

I was loved. He made that clear.

On Valentine’s Day two years ago, he bought me a book of vintage Valentines. He wrote on all 36 cards. It was the story of our love. His messages were poignant, sweet, romantic, and even a bit goofy.  The notes are snapshots of our life together. (For anyone currently in love, I recommend this idea. Please steal it. Make someone happy.)

The following year, I copied his vintage Valentines move.

This Valentine’s Day, I obviously wasn’t expecting a gesture of love from my dead husband.

But I was wrong.

Three months before his death he sat on the floor in our closet. He culled paper work from our filing cabinet, tossing out old files, taxes and letters.

A few days ago, I was going though the cabinet looking for nothing in particular. I randomly grabbed a folder. Inside was a document titled ‘The Thing.’

Mike was an avid list maker. He wrote lists for everything; long and short term goals; places he wanted to see; his favourite meals, movies and books; and so on. And on. And on.

‘The Thing’ was his step-by-step plan detailing how he would propose to me. He came up with two options: a New Year’s Eve proposal over dinner; or popping the question at Winnipeg’s English Garden, our favourite spot.

He went with option B. He asked me in the garden on his 44th birthday. He produced his great-grandmother’s engagement ring. Later, he had chilled champagne waiting for us inside our room at the Fort Garry Hotel.

Back in the closet, I scanned the note. Joy washed over me. Sadness came next. And then a rush of love for my dear love.

He left the note for me to find after he died.

And I found it one week before Valentine’s Day.

When I need Mike the most, when I need to feel his love around me, he sends me a sign. ‘The Thing’ is his sign.

The universe is on my side.

And Mike is still on my side.

I know it. I feel it. And with this note, I see it.

Marking milestones, one day at a time

Three months ago, my love died. Today is our seventh wedding anniversary.

I am miserable.

A wicked cold and cough has forced me to rest.

Funny thing though: I am strangely grateful for my physical misery. It distracts me from any emotional misery presently laying low in my soul.

But even between my own hacks, sniffles and snorts, the sads squeeze in.

I miss my love. He should be here. If nothing else, to bring me tea, rub my back and indulge me in my little pity party.

For the bereaved, marking milestones—birthdays, anniversaries and holidays—is a dread-filled exercise. In my short experience as a widow, the anticipation is often worse than the reality.

Distraction and over compensation has been a great (if not especially healthy) strategy for me. If I can’t face the pain of loss at the moment, why not flip the script. Unsolicited advice to my fellow grievers: Whatever you did in the past to celebrate special days with your beloved, is off limits, at least for the first year.

For now, that’s the road I’m taking.

Case in point: My son’s fifth birthday at the beginning of August was on track to be a crazy blow out, something we hadn’t done in the past. Twenty guests were invited, a custom-made Scooby Do cake was ordered and a bouncy castle was in the works. A storm blew in and the big bash was cancelled. We scaled it way down, little man still got loads of gifts and declared it ‘an awesome day.’

So as I mark the third month without Mike on a day that would have been our seventh wedding anniversary, I am going in a new direction—straight back to bed to take care of my tired body.

It’s all good. I’m literally pulling the covers over my head, but it’s exactly what I need.

Don’t Rest in Peace

On ______, our good friend, Cancer, passed away.

After a long, courageous battle with medical science, Cancer finally couldn’t fight any longer, and succumbed to the efforts of researchers who plagued it.

Cancer is mourned by the Spanish Flu, Ebola, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and the bird flu. He is predeceased by the plague and the Spanish flu.

Honorary pallbearers are asbestos, the tobacco industry and many other carcinogens, too numerous to mention here.

While to many people, cancer was an odious dusting of dogs shit on the sole of humanity. We knew a different cancer. Yes, he could be opinionated, stubborn and fatal. It’s true that, even now, millions are celebrating in the streets at the demise of this cowardly, mean-spirited and reprehensible creature.

But we knew a different cancer. A world traveller, a mal vivant. Cancer touched so many lives. He always said he was most proud of how many people had met and affected, for better or worse but, obviously, mostly for the worse.

His childhood was a happy one, when his nicknames included  ‘Suspicious Mole,’ ‘Biggie Lymph Node,’ and ‘Lumpy.’ It was in adulthood, in the 20th Century, when he truly made a name for himself. Cancer’s popularity exploded during this time, and he was always surrounded by so many of his favourite tumours.

Cancer wanted to say a fond farewell to radiation, surgery and his long-time ‘frenemy’ chemotherapy. They butted heads with him constantly but he respected them, and even said they made him stronger in many ways, as he learned new techniques in response to their efforts.

Cancer’s actitivites slowed in recent years, thanks to thousands of researchers and doctors, and the efforts of fundraising foundations around the globe, who he often said “made the road bumpier.”

Special thanks our friends in the tobacco industry, who did so much to help Cancer throughout his career.

What a selfish piece of shit.


—  Mike O’Brien, May 4, 2015

Silver Lining Ploy Book

Despite well-intended testimonials to the contrary, very little about cancer is “empowering.”

So it was nice to be reminded of  a genuine silver lining the other day. MTS — the provincial phone company — called me at home. The nice young woman noted I am on a pay-as-you-go, month-to-month, that’s-enough-hyphens cell phone plan. Would I like to enter into a one-year contract and get one month for free?

I live for these moments.

“I’m sorry Miss. It sounds like a good deal, but I have cancer so I don’t enter into long-term commitments.”

Check and mate. Cancer is kryptonite for telemarketers. All they can do, as she did, was apologize for calling and wish me the best. After three years, I have a small army of telemarketers rooting for me.

I first recognized this phenomenon when a rep from my bank tried to sell me life insurance. My honest answer was, yes, I would love to buy as much as I can, but the likelihood of a looming payout guarantees your company won’t actually sell it to me.

“Thank you for your time Mr. O’Brien, and good luck.”

I have since turned down several life insurance salesmen, all of whom evolve from polite to incredibly polite during our brief calls.

I know I can visit Mexico armed with the perfect answer for anyone who tries to sell me a time-share. “Did you say “time?”, ’cause that’s the one thing I don’t have.”

I easily decline extended warranties. “Sixty bucks for another year? Let me get back to you after my next scan.” The only extended warranty I want is from my oncologist.

I will continue to exploit this rare silver lining. And not just with telemarketers. It can end any phone call, especially if the caller knows little about cancer.

“Hey mom, I gotta go. A new tumour just popped up. On my ankle. Yeah, I’m looking at it now. Okay bye, love ya!”

I am waiting to test this power in the ultimate challenge: “Sorry officer. I’m just rushing to my radiation treatment. You know, before it spreads.

“How about an official escort?”