Chapter One: The Day From Hell

Michael died eleven months and one day after his seizure that started our nightmare. So the 16th was the one year anniversary and on the 17th, the one month.

On Wednesday, the one year anniversary of his seizure I stayed home and thought about life before and after the seizure. It was so different. I wrote, I read, I cried, I talked to friends. I worked some. I did all the things that I recommend to others. I tried to go to bed early but I didn’t. I was awake by 5 waiting for the limo driver to take me to the Amtrak.

I was okay in the first part of the day…the ride to the station and getting on the train.

Then sitting on the crowded train, across from a lady who was working and kept looking up and giving me an acknowledging smile, I started to lose it. I thought about Michael, just one brief thought and I was trying to suck those tears back into their ducts. The lady looked up and her smile faded and her face registered alarm. I stared straight out the window.

When I got to where I was going, I was “okay.” I was consumed by being confused as to where I needed to go, checking in and settling in for work. I put on a happy face.

I sat in the office they gave me and went to work on a brief. In a short time I was having trouble breathing. I kept working my way through that. I wrote and wrote. I read and read as the time ticked by I had the sinking feeling that I was only managing to keep away the monster that was threatening to swallow me whole.

Throughout the day I felt consistently worse…not just mentally and emotionally but physically. Since April I’ve broken my foot and my hand and they both bother me a lot. On Thursday they were both throbbing. I was nauseous. I didn’t eat. I had been up since 3 a.m. As the day wore on I felt spectacularly awful but knew that all of it was a pending implosion of my feelings.

I tried to take a bite of my morning bagel at about 4 pm and almost choked. I found I couldn’t swallow.

I left the office about 5:30 for the short walk to my hotel and as soon as I got on the city plaza that sits between the office and the hotel, the tears started down my face. I had no control over it.. I was in a rush hour business crowd and the tears just started flowing down my face.

Part of me steps outside me and is astonished at this development. I have never been one to cry in public. Ever. In almost 12 years with Michael I never cried over anything except happy occasions and sad movies. I was so happy for so long that I forgot what it feels like to be hit with a ton of emotional bricks.

As I crossed the street I thought, “If you go 12 years without crying…the Universe decides that is not okay.” And I cried some more.

I felt sad, all the time, as a child. I had horrendous relationships up until the time I was 33 or so. I cried over everything it seemed. But never in public. Ever. Otherwise I would have been locked up a long time ago.

Chapter Two: Why I Can’t Get Over This

I think it’s the goodness factor.

I was in the garage one night last week trying to fiddle with the door that doesn’t work and cursing Michael for being dead. I was so frustrated. I had no idea what was wrong with this door. I went through his tool and had no idea what half of them were for. I found a hammer in the bottom drawer and decided to just whack the hell out of whatever it was that needed fixing. And somehow, some way I figured it out. I came back to the toolbox to put the hammer back.

I spied a small, black plastic bag shoved in the back of the toolbox. Ah ha! Evidence of a double life! I knew it.

I’ve been hoping for a double life of some kind. A wife somewhere else, some oddity, showing up on To Catch A Predator. Perhaps then my grief will stop when some outrageous trait of Michael’s, long hidden from me, is revealed.

So I open the bag carefully. It contained two tickets to Andrea Boccelli where we went in 1999 for New Years Eve. The tickets back then were $350.00 and I didn’t even have to convince him to dress up. Bocelli was special. The night was special. We stayed overnight and in the bag were some sugar packets from where we had breakfast. And the parking garage stub.

My world spun. Con Te Partiro my darling.

I was cooked for that night. No secret life. Just more evidence of how much he loved me and loved us. The places I brought him to that he would have never gone on his own. He loved being the person introduced to these things. He would have been perfectly content without them. Michael was a simply charmingly down-to-earth person who didn’t need and didn’t think he wanted, the finer things in life. When I went to Sicily in 1998 I brought back a CD of Bocelli. Most people here hadn’t heard of him yet…in Italy you could hear him everywhere.

I played it for Michael. He loved it. Had not a clue what it said but he loved it. When PBS ran a special of Bocelli Michael saw it on TV and said “Hey hun, Bocelli is on the TV!” We found out where he was going to be on his U.S. tour and the only tickets we could get were in Albany and we booked them.

I had always been with guys before Michael who never seemed to truly appreciate doing anything or anything completely. There were complaints. Money complaints, logistics complaints, some issue somewhere. With Michael he was just happy to be somewhere and be with me and that never ever changed through the years. Or some guys who I was with didn’t complain because I foot the bill or most of the bill. Michael would foot the entire bill and just leave the arrangements in my capable hands. And he would just be delighted with wherever we wound up.

Our away times were special. He was fun to travel with because everything seemed to delight him, but never the things you thought. If I had a complaint with the hotel or the arrangements he let me handle it. He was okay with whatever. When I scored something big by complaining he would shake his head in amazement and admiration. He would never be so bold as to threaten to shut down the hotel. He just let me do my thing.

We were making our way to the Roman Coliseum one morning and we were just about there and were ready to go in and he smelled chestnuts….he said, “CHESTNUTS!” and away he went down the street….I was standing there, “Uh, hon…Roman Coliseum??? where the frick are you going?” talking to myself.

I caught up with him at the stand of a vendor. He was munching on chestnuts….”Oh hon, I haven’t had chestnuts since I was a boy…my grandfather used to roast them…so gooooooooooood.” I looked at him blankly….”Col-i-seum…ummmm…there.” He smiled up a me as he munched his chestnuts. “okay…in a minute.” He loved the Roman Coliseum but he loved those chestnuts. It was the chestnuts he talked about back home.

The next morning we were supposed to go to the Trevi Fountain. It had been my dream, always, to do there and no matter how many times I’d been to Rome, I’d never been there. I wanted to go with someone special and until Michael, no one was special enough.

We woke up early. We meandered our way through the narrow streets unsure of where it was … and then we came out of one street and were staring directly at it. How magnificent! How beautiful! I stood there awestruck. Michael turned to me and said, “You think I could get some gelato now?” I turned to him and said, “Tre-vi Foun-tain.” He smiled and said, “Ge-la-to.” I said it’s 9:00 in the morning. He said okay…and wandered off…he came back 10 minutes later happily eating a gelato. Then he could take in the breathtaking fountain.

After that “Chestnuts!” or “can I get a gelato?” were running jokes. It was so Michael.

He enjoyed the crap out of everything but the chestnuts and gelato were just as exciting to him as the Trevi Fountain and the Coliseum. And I loved him for that. And everything else.

Most of all I liked the steady hum of my life when Michael was in it. Even when there was crisis or upset with the kids or life or something, he was the one thing that was steady and trustworthy and true.

Someone that I work with was incredulous when I said we had a happy marriage. No one has a happy marriage he said. We did.

When we were in Texas I had enough after about a year and a half. We gotta get out of here, I said. Why, he said? Because I don’t fit here. I don’t want to be here. We had a 5 year plan he said.

We looked into selling the house and he said we’re going to take a bath on it. I got a transfer from my job to the New York office which was not an easy thing to do. I couldn’t undo it.

He stayed in Texas fixing up the house to sell it…I moved to an apartment in New York. We thought it might be as long as a year. It turned into two. We each had the “other things” that made us happy…I had the city, he had fishing. Everyone said it wouldn’t work…it would be the end. Of course we made it work and of course I bought a house in the country when I couldn’t stand it and he couldn’t stand anymore.

He worked hard on that house in Texas. It was a relatively new house in a high end development and quite lovely. But we lived in a place where a lot of house were for sale much cheaper and we had to come on the market as a perfect property. And even though I didn’t believe he would, he did it…he spackled and painted and bought new bed linens and made the bed every day and kept it neat and clean. He worked with the realtor, packed up the house (a 4000 square foot house all by himself), went to the closing and a lot of things went wrong. He kept calling me. Michael was a smart guy and he knew what to do but he would call me in frustration with the escrow people.

It was getting late, it was raining along most of his route. He wanted to leave. He kept calling me. I said I could call and yell at someone. He said, “Believe it or not hon, I can yell when I have to and in a minute I’m gonna yell.” and he did and they closed…but he was so late getting on the road.

And so there he was, in a van with three crazed cats (my cats btw), a lot of our belongings, towing a big bass boat and driving to New York in torrential downpours. I would never hear about how horrible it was. I would never hear about how he didn’t want to do this. I wouldn’t hear about how the cats were a pain or the boat kept swaying in the driving rain and wind. I’d never hear it. But from having traveled cross country with him, I knew what was going on. I knew the trailer would blow a tire and he would have to get it fixed in the middle of nowhere. (and it did and he did). And he would report these things to me as “Well, that’s life” kind of tone.

And he called me from Pennsylvania. He thought he’d make it to New York that night but he was too tired and needed to pull over. I lay in my bed looking at the ceiling. I missed him so much. I wanted him there…I guess I could wait one more night. I sighed and tried to go to sleep.

About two hours later I saw the lights in the driveway. I bounced up out of bed. I was wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a tee shirt and no socks or shoes. I ran out the door and into the rain…and across the front path that runs above the driveway and down the steps and into the puddles in the driveway. splish splash. People who know me know I’m not a barefoot person (or sandal or flip flop person). I hate dirt and grit on my feet. I hate it. I hardly ever go barefoot except in the shower and I almost never go barefoot outside (or even open shoes).

But here I was running in the rain in late March. It was cold, it was pouring and I couldn’t wait to see him. Unusual for me to be as wildly demonstrative as I was that night but I flung myself at him when he came out of the car. Whoa he said and I just hugged him and he hugged me. And we kissed in the driving rain. He said he tried to rest but couldn’t. He just wanted to get home. To me.

He told me a few months before that whenever he heard “Wherever you will go” by the Calling he thought of me because he traipsed around the country after me…at the time it made me smile…but that night I heard it in my head.

Chapter Four: Breakdown

We not only weathered that separation but I think we were stronger for it. We talked every day, we saw each other a lot. We took long weekends at bed and breakfasts. It was kind of romantic. And nice to have someone you trust that much to put your marriage in that long-distance state for almost two years. Everyone said it wouldn’t work. We never even discussed it not working. We both knew it would and that it would just work. We knew it. There was no debate or question. Neither of us ever thought or asked, “Will we be okay after this?” We knew we’d be okay during and after. We knew.

As I thought of all of this on Thursday night I wrote to several people, “This is harder than I thought it would be or could be. I did not expect to have this much trouble. I’m having a lot of trouble…”

I sat there feeling physically awful and sobbing onto my desk. My mind felt like it was just refusing to comprehend that he was gone. My foot hurt, my hand hurt. I’m falling apart, I thought. I’m physically responding to the emotional grief and I’m losing the battle.

As I cried I thought, “I am going to die of a broken heart. Now I know how it happens.”

I took a bite of my celery and the right side of my jaw felt as if it was going to cave in. I don’t know what I did. My teeth kinda slid apart from each other. Now I don’t know how to eat. Now I’ve broken my own jaw. I sat for a few minutes and thought this through. I thought about calling my kids and saying I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I know you all think I’m strong. But I’m not. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can’t do this. I can’t go on. I’m falling apart one body part at a time and can’t do this.

This is my machine going TILT. This is the unrecoverable. This is the thing that finally puts me under. I never imagined the pain would be this bad. I never imagined that I would hurt this much or cry this deeply. I am just amazed that I am as bereft as I am. My chest hurts…my grief spot…my heart. I can feel the pain in my heart from the outside. That is how much in pain it. I am having trouble breathing.

I was shaking. I was nauseous and I had this distinct, very distinct feeling, that I simply didn’t want to go through life without Michael. I simply didn’t. Children, grandchildren, whatever. Nothing was bringing me back from the brink. Nothing. This was my lowest point in a life filled with lowest points. I can’t do this, I thought. Everyone thinks I can, but I cannot.

I put my head down and sobbed and sobbed and cursed the heavens and the hells and the in-betweens for taking him from me. Martyr. Victim. I’ve been all those I don’t want to be those again but honestly, I can’t go through this. I CAN. NOT.

Chapter Five: Admonishment and Astonishment

I stood up and went into the hotel bathroom. The bathroom was wall to wall mirrors.

And I had a Travis Bickle moment. I leaned into the mirror, looked at my splotchy face and swollen eyes and said, “Cut the crap.”

I said it is time that you had a good talking to. Stop being swept away by this grief. Yes, you loved him, yes he was wonderful.

But you are you and you are enough.

I repeated it over and over again. And I vowed that I was going to stop crying in public. Stop breaking down to the point where I was putting my physical self in jeopardy.

Stop focusing on the grief. yes it’s real. yes, it’s early, but you’ve been hysterical for a year. A YEAR.

And even though there was Michael to focus on in 11 of those months, you still did a lot of grieving and crying. Now it’s quiet, that’s all. No more caretaking. No more people and machines and hospital equipment. And no more daily smile or I love you from Michael.

It’s not over by any stretch of the imagination but it’s time…yes it’s time…that you pull yourself together on some level. That you stop talking crap to yourself and you stop thinking that you of the “you can do this!” line can’t do this.

Of course you can do this. And you can do this well.

We don’t need a public meltdown. We don’t need uncontrollable crying on the Acela. We need to give grief it’s time and space and then zip up and go out and put on your game face.

Besides, Michael will always be with me. He said so when he said that Wherever You Will Go reminded him of me and us. The last stanza is:

I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on
In your heart and your mind
I’ll stay with you for all of time

And I thought of the lyrics and I smiled.

And tomorrow I just might smile again.