Wanted: A New Best Friend

Wanted: Best friend. Must be a bit goofy. Great storyteller a bonus. Appreciation for art, music and beauty in life. Funny sans sarcasm. Love people while simultaneously irritated by them.

Love food. Dining out, dining in. Adventurous spirit a must. An innate curiosity. Engaged and interested in the world. Above all, kind hearted. 

 

Mike was my best friend. He was my companion, my cheerleader, and my love. And he just got me. And I got him.

True friendship is such a gift. I am blessed. My friends are my light. They have given me so much joy, love and support. Did I already say, I’m blessed? Because I truly am. My friends are my bedrock. (Forgive me, this may be dipping into motivational speaking territory, or, dear lord, aspirational message town.)

Here’s a point: Mike was my husband. He was my love but he was also a fantastic friend. I really, really liked him. That may sound a touch off but the idea of liking your spouse—liking them as a human being, aside from all the romantic and tummy-flipping feelings—isn’t something that gets traction in popular consciousness.

Liking your partner is more important than loving them. Love will fade and surge over time. If you fundamentally like the human beside you, that is the basis of a solid relationship.

That’s free advice folks. I’m not an expert. But I’m an expert in Mike and I.

And I miss my favourite person. He won’t be replaced.

I have many friends in my corner. And I’ve made several new friends since his death.

My new pals never met Mike. My life is moving forward without him.

Mike is now part of my past.

I feel sad for Will and I.

And I feel sad for all the people that never got to meet my incredible best friend.

Grieving Pains

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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.

Life on the fringe

Winnipeg’s Fringe Theatre Festival is wrapping up and cancer is a big hit here. One play is called This Is Cancer, a funny personification of the disease by a Toronto actor. I saw it three years ago.

This year, I took in Expiration Date, by Minnesota’s Candy Simmons. She plays Lucille Barker, a young woman who learns she has late stage cancer and mere months to live. Simmons based her play on interviews with several terminally ill patients.

I was struck by how one disease produces so many different experiences. Simmons’ character wrestles with several issues I have not yet had to face, and likely won’t. She initially keeps her grim prognosis to herself, and struggles to tell her brother. In my case, I told everyone, right away. I’m a sharer. I told cashiers at drive-thru windows.

Lucille contemplates whether she should try chemo; I never pondered this for a minute. I’ve got a boy to raise. She worries she hasn’t experienced enough living. I am older, I’ve travelled, and I’ve had lots of adventures. Not seeing Bali isn’t a big regret. On the other hand, my fear of not seeing Will grow up is overwhelming.

In the funniest scene, Lucille encounters a flustered funeral director while planning her own send-off. It made me wonder if I’m foolish for not making any such plans yet (other than pondering the set list, and so far settling on the Theme From Shaft).

I have spent three years “getting ready” and yet I found little common ground between my experience and Lucille’s (this is not a criticism; it’s a good production).

Despite many shared moments amongst cancer patients, the larger journey is unique. There aren’t five stages of grief, there are five hundred.

We cancerous folk begin in the same place, usually a doctor’s office. Sadly, we often end up in the same place too. The route between those points is variable; it traverses a wide, wild country with back roads and unmarked trails.

 Candy Simmons’ Expiration Date moves to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Aug. 14-24.