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And I wanna stand out in a crowd for you
A man among men
I wanna make your world better than it’s ever been

~ Keith Urban “Making Memories of Us”

I was in a cab today going south on Park Avenue and there, between 50th and 42nd street were these stretches of blocks where Michael and I once walked looking for a restaurant where, the year before, I had the best salad ever.
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I had my first dream about Michael over the weekend. Yes, the first one.

He was standing in jeans and a jean jacket (and Harley shirt of course) and yelling at me (in a way he would never do in real life) that I didn’t take care of him and how could I leave him for dead when he obviously wasn’t? And I said, “How could you say this? I took care of you. Joanne from Hospice said she’d never seen such love between two people.” And he dismissed that, saying grumpily, “What does she know? She thought I was dead too!” (she actually was the one who pronounced it). And I was flabbergasted and upset but had a feeling he was just “grousing.” I can’t really tell how you know your inner thoughts in a dream but even though I was protesting, I sorta knew he was just letting off steam.

I woke up with two conflicting feelings: 1) angry that he would be angry because I know I took good care of him and 2) so glad to see him. It seemed so real.

When I woke up, I reached out to touch him. I was upset, on one level, that the first dream I have of him (that I remember anyway) and he’s all p.o.’d. Although a tender, loving dream like it was would probably have done me in.
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I was talking to someone who is traveling every day to visit a family member in the hospital far away. It reminded me of taking Michael to radiation an hour each way every day for 6 weeks. He always had a smile on his face when he went into or came out of radiation. He joked with the nurses, he told the little kids the names of the fish in the salt water tank, he said hello to anyone coming into or out of the suite. Thinking of him and his kind, courageous face going through those treatments made me feel guilty that I spent all day yesterday mad at him. And thinking of that face and how brave he was and in such good cheer, brought tears to my eyes. I was thinking, “HOW could I be mad at him?” But I can and I know it’s part of the process.

Grief is such a roller coaster ride. It never fails to surprise me.

I know I haven’t posted in a while. We went away for Christmas and that was good and relaxing. I did have a good time and a relaxing time and loved being with the family.

After we came back, I went over to the funeral home to pick up Michael’s ashes and the DVDs from the memorial service. I know it will sound weird, but we didn’t want him here and alone for the holidays. So the place where he was is big and warm and I went by on Christmas Eve and saw all the nice candles in the windows and said hello and I would be there soon to get him.

I was going to go with the kids, but I went alone and talked to him the whole way home. It felt normal and natural and I can’t describe it, but it felt very peaceful to me and I’m glad I went alone.

When I got back home, I felt good that he was here and felt it easier to talk to him. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. I purchased a beautiful wood box for his ashes that looks so rich and dignified. It has his name on it and it says “Adoring husband, father and grandfather.” and underneath that it says “A life well lived.” And they put the ashes in and then sealed it. The funeral director (who is a lovely, lovely man) said all the things in movies about ashes getting spilled are really not realistic. Which is one thing I somehow feared when I thought about picking it up by myself. I honestly didn’t know they sealed it. (I was so relieved to find this out).

And I feel good about what decisions I made about it. It took me forever to pick out an urn and even longer to figure out what to write on it. And I felt really good about it. It’s a beautiful, strong box that truly reflects who he was.

Then I watched the memorial DVD and cried. Then Gina and I watched it together and cried. And one of the songs on it, Bruce Springsteen’s “Missing,” played through my head for the whole week.

I felt somewhat weepy but strangely and suddenly had huge stomach issues like I have not had in years. It was a new turn. I felt like something was “going on.” All week I was miserable and then didn’t go into work on Friday. I stayed home not feeling well.

Today I went out to Michael’s boat. I was looking at it and thinking I have no idea what to do with this boat. I don’t know if it runs or doesn’t run. A guy looked at it after he died and said it would take money to restore it into working order, but I don’t know exactly what that means. I also have no clue where the key is. I was thinking I would just sell it for parts. I don’t know. I don’t want to but I don’t want to sell someone a boat that I can’t say anything about.
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It seemed that about 3 weeks I wasn’t really able to “access” Michael. I thought he was fading from view…which scared me, but when he wasn’t quite tangible I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed emotionally. I enjoyed the family vacation, as I wrote about, and felt very calm. The vacation was very very much needed.

Today I heard him laugh. Not really but in my head. And it was so clear and so real to me. And I saw him (not really) standing by the couch staring at the television with a disapproving look. I don’t know why but that image was very real to me.

And I cried for the first time in weeks and missed him as much as I did in the beginning.

I know it’s the process but I also think it has to do with going back to the funeral home tomorrow to pick up the DVD copies of the photos we ran at his memorial service. Whatever it is, it’s here again and I’ll just ride it out. Again.

I just came back from taking the entire family to the Dominican Republic. We had a terrific time. Michael was there but not there. It was not a vacation he would have enjoyed or wanted to be on (which is one of the reasons I picked it). We talked about him several times. He was in our thoughts and hearts.

I think that for me, the denial phase has passed. I think that, for me, I couldn’t grasp that he was dying/has died since his diagnosis to a few weeks ago. Every time I would think of life without him, I would feel a deep longing and an unbending sorrow that would sweep me off my feet.

I think that I have accepted that he’s not here and not going to be here. I still have to work through more grief, of course, but for now I seem to have taken a breather from being surprised and bowled over by his absence. Or perhaps I’m just done with that phase of grief.

I don’t really notice couples or wish there was someone like that for me anymore. I remember Michael at those times but it’s more of a sweet rememberance rather than a painful stab in my heart.

There is no way the grief is gone or done. I feel teary-eyed just typing this out, but I think that a page is turning. I have days where I don’t cry and they’re not single anymore. They are two or three in a row. Sometimes five. Occasionally more.

I love Michael and am grateful that he loved me for as long as he did. I will keep his memory alive through the Foundation and by becoming active in the fights against cancer, most of all brain cancer and childhood cancers.

The end of grief does not mean forgetting or never feeling sad again, but of integrating the person into the fabric of your life. Remembering with fondness. Applauding the time they spent and who they were to you. Michael was the love of my life and I had integrated that long before he got sick. But now there is a new phase for us. A phase where I carry us along, alone. And I will.

I thought of Michael while on vacation. He’s on mind almost every second. But I paid a lot of attention to my kids and grandkids and had a good time and appreciated every second. Life is short and you have to be grateful for good times when they are there….and even later when they are gone. You integrate them into your being, into who you are, into what makes you you.

I’m leaving most of the cancer months behind but will remember how gallant and tough Michael was. How he didn’t complain. I’ll remember the wonderful people, caregivers and hospice, who touched our lives and our hearts. I’ll remember that I did many things I did not think I was capable of doing.

But most of all I’ll remember the pre-cancer years. The times that were wonderful and glorious and having a partner who was rock solid and loved me like there was no tomorrow.

I’m still in the active phase of grief but I am seeing the progression of healing if you let your grief happen…which I have.

There are still very painful episodes ahead for me, but there are a lot behind me. I have stopped waking up crying. I have stopped crying on a daily basis. I have learned to balance the need for my grieving with taking care of myself and that which I must do….each day.

The vacation was something I really needed and something that marked not only the end of the horrible 2009 but the beginning of a hopeful 2010. I am beginning to see the clouds part. I am beginning to look forward to things. And I am doing it without leaving him behind.

Here’s to a wonderful 2010.