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.

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.

Sharp teeth

I watched HBO’s documenary on Jimmy Valvano, the colourful and successful U.S. college basketball coach. In 1993, two months before he died of cancer, he spoke at the ESPY sports awards. He described three things we should all do each day:

“You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought.  And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears…. If you laugh, and you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

I definitely have the crying part down. I think every day, mostly while lying in bed. And I laugh, because life is funny, and some days even cancer is funny.  That’s why I started this blog; to show that cancer isn’t all sharp teeth and darkness.

But sometimes, cancer reminds me that the laughs are hard to come by, and probably temporary.

Last week, I was still waiting for a date to remove a tumour on my spine (seven weeks and counting). On Wednesday, my back pain returned, so I took morphine. On Thursday, I began to puke, as I sometimes do after morphine. Over the next 11 hours, I vomited 19 times. At day’s end, completely dehydrated, I began to spasm up and down my left side. My wife took me to hospital, where I was hydrated all night. They took a CT scan of my head, which revealed little (make your joke here).

My hope is that a sore back muscle required a painkiller which prompted a drug reaction that led to severe vomiting, that led to dehydration, which begat the spasms, who begat Noah, who begat Seth…

Or maybe I’m just full of tumours.

I feel like cancer is saying “I have ignored you, and allowed you your small daily victories, because I have so many other lives to destroy right now. But I have not forgotten you. My memory is long.”

Maybe cancer is a cat, and I am a bird on the ground.

That’s why I write. The more cancer scares me, the more I need to find the laughter. I need each day to be “a heck of a day.”

Duct cleaning

 

I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t kept up with my crying.

I haven’t taken a moment to make my scrunched-up crying face, the one with the heaving chest and quivering shoulders. The one where it looks like I’m having a baby in reverse.

I’ve always been a big crier. Terms of Endearment sent me out of the theatre with a wet face and an embarrassed date. To Kill A Mockingbird had the same effect. It’s a wonder I never cried about running out of dates.

Before my diagnosis, I cried at manipulative, uplifting commercials for things like Mother’s Day and pet insurance. Since my diagnosis, I cry at commercials for more competitive monthly data plans.

For obvious reasons, nothing makes me tear up like a father-son moment on TV. If a curly-headed six year old throws a wobbly football into the air, I’m weeping before his khaki-wearing dad can catch it. In Game of Thrones, when Tyrion fired an arrow into his father, who was sitting on the crapper, I thought they made a beautiful connection. It reminded me of a similar moment years earlier on the Cosby Show.

I often cry after playing with Will. We start out laughing, and just when the moment couldn’t get any better, I wonder how many of these we have left, and have to turn my reddening face away from him.

That’s okay.

Few things feel as cleansing as a short, sharp cry. Like a deep tissue massage, it hurts, and then feels good. I like the sharp ache that starts in my chest, rises warm into my face and leaves a prickly sensation in my nose. And then the sadness slips away, as if shaken in an emotional etch-a-sketch. I’m often left with a better perspective on life, death and data plans.

I recommend a good cry to anyone. You don’t have to have Stage 4 cancer (but it helps). Acknowledge your sadness; you may not be that sad after all.