It simply doesn’t seem possible that it’s been one-year since Michael’s death and 23 months from that hellish day in September 2008 when my life changed forever.

There have been some changes in me and my grief over the past year. I don’t cry every day anymore. I simply can’t. There are some days where I just steer away from thoughts of Michael lest I fall down the rabbit hole for a few hours. Some days I just want to feel as close as I can to normal. Whatever that is.

I still have times when some thought springs into my head and water darts into my eyes. Sometimes I can blink them away. Sometimes I cannot.

There are Michael things that are here and Michael things that are gone.

His tool box is gone. His boat is gone. His van is gone. But so much remains. I even have his slippers still sitting by the basement door. As if he’s going to walk in and put them on.

I haven’t touched a thing in our bedroom filled with all the tokens of love we gave each other and all of our photos of our life together. I haven’t even moved the plaque that reads “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” which has sat under the collage of our wedding and honeymoon in every house we’ve been in.

I’ve said before that our bedroom looks like a Hallmark store on acid. I never collected so many momentos and tokens of love and neither did Michael. I’ve never given as many and neither did he. Even the small Valentine’s bears and even a glass Christmas ornament in the shape of a heart is there. Everything. Some nights I think about dismantling when I move. I can’t even imagine right now. Our bedroom has been filled with us from the start. And it remains that way. I have redesigned it in my head. What will go and what will stay. But I’m not ready to put it into action yet.

Almost all of his clothes are gone but I’ve kept some tee shirts, some “dress” shirts (as dressy as he would get), his leather motorcycle jacket and the Harley vest. Our rain gear and saddlebags for the motorcycles are still where he left them. Sometimes I marvel, when I come across something, that it’s in a logical place. There are other things that Michael felt were too “new” to unpackage. He was the king of the unpackaged gifts. I bought him a glass chess set that he loved but it stayed on a shelf in the box. I think that with anyone else I would have been insulted. But I knew him and that is what he did.

I’ve moved some stuff out of boxes and some into other boxes. A friend of mine had a pack-rat grandmother who had a box labeled “String that is too short to do anything with.” Michael always thought that was funny because he has very similar things. I open boxes and think, “What in the world was he carrying this around for?” A ledger from 1955 from his family’s store. An old phonograph needle. I unwrap things and laugh and then I cry.

Some days I just want to go to unwrap things to touch the things he has touched. Knowing he once had his hand on this object and wrapped it in newspaper and put it in the box with a host of things that have nothing to do with each other.

In Texas he painted the entire 4000 square foot house and packed it up. Neither painting nor packing were his forte. In fact he hated both and we had soaring ceilings in the house. And many closets where everything had been unpacked. And all my books. He kept saying “Do you really need all these books?” Why yes. He may have dragged his feet, but he did it.

When he left there he had been jerked around all day at the closing and instead of leaving at noon, as he planned, he left after 7. I told him not to leave but he did. We had talked to each other all day through the closing theatrics. And we were, as always, helping each other through this ridiculous situation we were being subjected to.

He drove all night and most of the next day. He was too tired to drive more so he was going to stop after the boat trailer blew a tire. But after about a 15 minute nap, he started driving again… drove through the night towing a boat in the rain with the cat. And all he wanted to do that night was to come home to me.

I was so excited when I saw the lights in the driveway. I ran out into the rain to greet him. No shoes. Sweatpants and a tee shirt on.

He was so tired that night that he literally bounced off the walls. He got up from the bed in the guest room and tried to walk to the bathroom in our not-yet-ready bedroom and he bounced from side to side, off the wall to the staircase railing. He was clearly hallucinating from not sleeping. I thought he might go over the side of the railing or smash head first into the wall. I got up and helped him. And we went back to bed and stayed nestled in each other’s arms all night. Something we hadn’t done in so long. It was the first good night’s sleep I had had in months.

But there was the time I was studying for a Math class. Clearly my worst subject. It was pretty much a “Math for Morons” class but I was freaking out about the final. I fell asleep and my books toppled off the bed. Michael had been sick with the flu, became disoriented, tried to get out of bed by rolling over me (he was going the wrong way), lost his balance and fell out of bed onto my books and started throwing up. I was screeching, “My books! My books!” And I got him to the bathroom. As he was getting sick in the toilet I was washing off my books and muttering about the final. He looked up at me and said, “Thank you for your sympathy dear.” We were probably married about 2 years at the time and the night became a running joke with us. Save the books for gods sake! Even if they’re Math books.

The first couple of doctor’s appointments I had after Michael got sick were so difficult for me. He was such a fun companion whenever I had to go to the doctor or the hospital. He was definitely someone who believed his place was at his wife’s side and he genuinely got distressed when it seemed as if I was in any kind of pain. But he also did his best to entertain me just by being him. And it always did.

I no longer feel lonely at the doctors or getting tests done, but I still feel lonely in telling him what was up. He was always genuinely concerned and he would say, if I was letting something slide, that he would really appreciate it if I got it checked out.

And still there is more stuff….I still have all his fishing poles (about 30) and gear. None of it has moved, really. The night we met in early June 1996, I was sort of grilling him about his likes and dislikes (didn’t want to waste time with any bananaheads). I asked him, “What is your favorite sport?” and his face lit up and he said, “FISHING!” I looked at him and said dryly, “Fishing is not a sport.” And he said it was. I told him the Steven Wright joke that there is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot. He said yes, but he had a boat. And we both laughed. He was only the second guy in my entire life who was actually attracted to me because I gave him a hard time about his hobbies or interests. The others were super sensitive wha wha boys. He always laughed when I made fun of fishing or Nascar. And then he would get serious (or try to) and say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand…”

A couple of weeks later he asked me to go with Theresa and her friend Katie to Maine for 4th of July. He told Theresa I was his “friend.” We went to the Wild Animal Park with rides and then to Billy’s Chowder House in Wells (one of his all-time favorite places) and then fireworks on Ogunquit Beach. At one point during the day he was tired and lay down on a park bench. The girls came over to him asking for money for games and he just pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket and handed them to them.

I had never seen anyone do that before. I once was with a guy who protested because we had to pay so much for 6 kids to go into an amusement park for my son’s birthday that he refused to pay for us to go in because we weren’t going on any rides. And we sat outside the park on a picnic table for the entire day. So when I saw Michael do that, I was amazed. And he was like that. And I loved it. And loved him.

He took up golf because the boys played and it was something he could do to spend time with them. He loved the boys and they loved him. Adored him actually. He was the father they never had and he did things with them and for them that no one else had ever done. And though he beat them handily at pool every single time, they could beat him at golf. So he practiced and watched the Golf Channel (another thing I made fun of) and it became a thing for him. He loved it.

The little kids have taken his practice golf balls to play with and the big boys took all the golf balls he had collected from walking in the woods to the Dominican Republic over Christmas. But his golf clubs are still in the bag, including the Cal towel he swiped from me. I teased him once, “So do you keep that towel on your golf bag so people think that YOU went to UC Berkeley?” And he said with a grin, “I don’t care what people think.” And he didn’t.

The pool table and all his custom cues remain. The gifts from me and the kids remain. I’ve cleaned up some around his computer but I can’t seem to move the cards from me that he kept there…that brought him joy. He always seemed surprised by gifts and sentiments

And then there are reminders that have no physical presence. There was a “hellllllloooooo” that came every single day with the same volume and same tone when he came through the basement door. I still hear that in my head. I still hear him call me dear-o and I still hear him call the cat “Little Lils” in a sing-songy voice and then deny that he ever talked to cats.

I think about the motorcycle rides we took…how we could get into a groove and ride in tandem and lean from side to side at the same time. I remember the moonlit ride we had on the road next to the ocean where we were the only ones on the road and we could see our silhouettes on the water. It was so beautiful.

Or the time we rode up along the California Delta and stopped at fruit and nut farms and ate pistachios and cherries and laughed as the juice ran down our arms into our leather jackets. Or the time we spent the weekend at a bed and breakfast in Vermont and rode the whole Saturday afternoon taking photographs of covered bridges and Revolutionary War cemetaries. We ate dinner at a place that asked us if we wanted cheese with our apple pie. We said “Cheese?” and the waitress shrugged and said, “I’m not from New England. It’s a New England thing.” And Michael said he was from New England and had never heard of such a thing. We both thought that was crazy. We joked about it for years. Every time we had apple pie we would say, “Do you want some cheese with that?” and everyone thought we were nuts.

Most of our riding days and riding memories were beautiful. All the Rolling Thunders we did. All the day trips and weekend trips. But there were also the windstorms and the rainstorms we rode in. Sometimes it was too hot for leather and sometimes we were so cold the many layers did not keep us warm.

We had headsets on our helmets for long drives and once he was complaining about something and I turned off my headset with this grand gesture. We pulled up to a light and he was telling me to put it on. I said when you say you’re sorry and I drove to the next light. At the next light he said sorry (though I don’t think either one of us knew what he was sorry for) and I said say very sorry and drove to the next light. He was turning beet red, and going “HUN!!!” but I couldn’t hear him as my headset was turned off and I was making gestures like “I can’t hearrrrrrrrrrr yoooooooou.” At the next light I said, “Say sorry with sugar on top.” And he looked at me like, “You are not making me do this….” So I drove to each light until he said it and then I turned my headset on and he said, “I’m going to kill you…” and I laughed so hard.

There’s so much…so very much I haven’t even touched on. Every now and again a memory that I forgot comes back and I either smile or cry…In 12 years with him, he never made me cry. He never said a hurtful thing…never stayed angry very long and was always cheerful and easy to please.

He said he loved me because I was who I said I was. He said that the very first week we met and he said it the last time I asked about 10 years later. He liked me because I didn’t play games and wasn’t crazy. Though I had played plenty of games and was a crazy person for a lot of my life. But I had learned and grown and worked through my stuff. He would not have put up with my former craziness for a single minute and the way he was would have made me insane. But we were both calm and sane and accepting of each other when we meet. We knew a good partner when we saw one.

And I was who I said I was when I met him. It had been only a few years but I had finally gotten to the point in my life where my attitude was this is me. Take it or leave it. I don’t care what you like or don’t like. I don’t care what you can or cannot accept. If you’re in, you’re in. If you’re out, you’re out. And he loved that. I wish I had been able to be that person earlier in life, but I wasn’t. It was only after I worked through a lot of stuff and learned a lot of things.

We always wished we had met when we were younger but we both knew that neither of us was ready or able to have what we ultimately had together. I was a mess from childhood and bad relationships and after my divorce from the Mother of All Bananaheads, I was simply incapable of sustaining a relationship. I was a mess but didn’t want to admit it. I tried to “find someone new” as the MoAB had, and skip my entire healing process. And that didn’t work. I didn’t fill holes in my soul or kick my drama addiction until my mid 30s when I became bound and determined to work through everything, no matter what. Michael was scarred from childhood and Vietnam and lots of failed relationships.

Michael said that he had thought he was in love before but after he met me and felt his feelings he knew he never had been. And he had many more relationships than I did (I’ve had maybe 3 or 4 serious ones and before Michael I think I was in love once but it was a long long time before we met).

When we met, we had both been sporadically dating but not terribly interested in getting serious with anyone and we both swore we’d never get married again. We were both fairly happy and whole when we met. And it was good. And we were married 5 months later and it was the best decision either of us had ever made.

The first time I cried in the years we were together was the day I received his diagnosis. The only secret I ever kept from him was the diagnosis. I would carry it, heavily, in my heart and protect him from it. There was very little that could be done. But he went through what he went through with grace and dignity, feeling bad only for the kids in the radiation unit. He said, almost every day, “I’ve lived my life. They should be out playing and not in here.” He really took childhood cancer very very hard. His own he barely ever acknowledged. He was a tough little guy who was pretty sure he would beat it. I could not tell him it was unbeatable.

It’s hard to imagine that the person you adore and who adores you…who understands you and is there for you every step of the way like no one else has ever been…has three to six months to live. You can’t wrap your brain around it. Your future shatters and you are lost and completely untethered.

But if the diagnosis is cancer you have to pull yourself together. You have to go to radiation and give him his chemotherapy and take care of him. You can’t be falling apart every other second. There are doctors to argue with and nurses to freak out with. There are pharmacy techs who give you the wrong medication and insurance companies that want him in a nursing home instead of a rehab. And you have to fight and fight and fight with everyone. And you do.

All the while loving him and wanting his last months on Earth to be as filled with love as absolutely possible.

When you’re a cancer caretaker you do not want him to suffer. There are close calls and near misses. Several times you think it’s “it” and it’s not. And as you build up against the inevitable, you also allow hope in each time it’s a false alarm. Maybe he’s not that sick. Maybe I can do something.

And the 3 month mark passes and the 6 months pass and you think you might beat it. But you’re just being delusional in a way that only cancer families can be. You fight with reality. You fight with cancer. You fight with your hope. You fight with your grief. You fight with being strong while needing to fall apart. You fight exhaustion and negative thoughts about living with cancer. You fight the question when will this be over and you fight the possibility that it ever will be. You think you can caretake for 10 years if you have to. You’ll give an arm, a leg, a kidney, a lung. Gallons of blood. But you know that will do no good. So you fight the bargaining in your head and know you can’t caretake for 10 years. But you fight the guilt of that. You fight with something almost every second of every day.

I never knew that there was so much patience and so much love in me. I discovered it all when he was sick. He never asked for anything. He always had a smile and dignity. He was happy with so many small things. Powered donuts. Minestrone. Roast beef. When he was eating I made sure he had it all. When he didn’t eat I became so sad because eating was something he did with wild abandon when he was well. Five sugars in his coffee. Half filled with cream. Lots of fat and sugar. Never had ever been on a diet and used to make fun of all the healthy things I ate and how I went to the dentist more than my insurance paid for and I was the one with medical issues and had to have all of my teeth capped. I was sure that with the way he ate, he would have a heart attack. I never dreamed it would be anything else.

But he didn’t have a heart attack or lung cancer from smoking. He had something he could not have prevented or predicted. And I cared for him. Maybe I would have been angry if his condition was self-induced but it wasn’t and I wasn’t. I cared for him when his brain failed him, when his body failed him and he couldn’t walk and was bed-ridden and incontinent.

We moved him to a hospital bed downstairs in the family room. I wanted him in the middle of action when the kids visited on the weekend. I did not want him locked away in a bedroom. But I went upstairs every night alone. And that was so hard.

I was by his side for all of the last 6 months of his life. Every hour of every day. He went to sleep about 9 pm and I stayed and sat with him for hours. I would watch TV and try to ignore the swish swish of the oxygen machine. I would watch him breath and hope he was okay.

I was a maniac about his skin care. He had psoriasis and I was concerned about bed sores. His caregiver had him walk (or shuffle) once a day. He looked terrified, holding onto him and to the hospice worker, but he walked. I turned him from side to side many times a day and never ever let him be wet. It was hard to care for him when I broke my foot and then my right hand, but I did. I bought every kind of power and lotion I could find and he never once had a sore or a rash. I was so proud of that. I fired the first caregiver he had and replaced her with two amazing men who gave him incredible care and respect.

All through it I was amazed at my energy and my will and my patience and my all-consuming love. I had no idea that I had all that inside me. But this is what someone who was who Michael was deserved. He had done nothing but love me since the day we met and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.

I would say I love you when I gave his nightly meds and he would say it back. And I would sit. Sometimes right next to him with my hand through the railing holding onto him as he slept.

When I went upstairs, I would lean over and kiss him on the forehead every night and say I love you. He would sleep through. Until 3 days before he died. He had been failing and I was very concerned. That night, around midnight, I covered him as I always did, made sure he was comfortable and kissed his forehead. I whispered, “I love you.” and he opened his eyes and looked at me and said, “I love you too.” and he fell back asleep. Those were the last words he ever said.

Michael trusted me to have his back. He was very content to leave everything in my hands. He told hospice we had each other’s backs and we always did. There was the time we got into the fight with vandalizing teenagers in the movie theater. He told one that if he touched me he would knock him out (even though the kid who was 17 or 18 towered over him). We were the only two to take on these kids who were rampaging through the theater even though it was a date film and most of the people in the theater were in their 20s. Big burly guys in their 20s didn’t say boo to these kids. It was Michael and I was took them on, got them ejected and then got free movie passes for everyone in the theater. On the way out Michael and I stood there at the door and said, “You’re welcome…” as each person came out. We were clearly the smallest and oldest couple in there and yet, we didn’t let anyone roll over us.

We both knew that neither of us would allow harm to the other. And Michael trusted me completely to have his back as his strength weakened and his voice grew dim. He looked at me as if he did trust me completely. And I never let him down.

His hospice RN told me that she had never seen such love between two people. Michael looked at me tenderly until the very last breath that he took. He never stopped loving me with his eyes. Even when he couldn’t say much, though he did choke out, in a very raspy voice, “I love you” every single night. In 12 years he never made me cry. I could count the serious arguments on one hand. And it was something I never expected I could ever had. But once I had it I didn’t think I would lose it. It wasn’t a thought in my head.

Does love conquer all? I don’t know.

I didn’t cry for 12 years with this person who was the love of my life. But since September 16, 2008 I have done nothing but cry.

I spent all of last August and September crying uncontrollably. I was on the train and walking down the street and sitting in restaurants with tears just streaming down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them. They just came and came and came.

I know I’m not there anymore where I cry everyday, but if I think about Michael for too long and allow myself to feel his tender love for me once again, then I am there. To think about it, to reminisce about it, to know how safe and content I felt with him in my world, I lose it.

People always think I’m so independent and so capable. I lived in New York for two years while he lived in Texas. But I spoke to him every single day and we went back and forth. And only a strong and happy marriage could survive that kind of separation. And we did. And we were better for it. I sent him the Michael Buble song “Home” one night and said, “Okay this is enough. I want to come home. Home is with you.” And it was time to sell the house for whatever we could sell it for and to be together. We each had had enough of this commuter marriage. Now that he’s gone people ask me if I regret those 2 years spent apart (or months when we moved other times). No. I think I had had it with Texas and he didn’t want to keep me out of New York any longer. But he wasn’t ready and we couldn’t sell the house for what we needed to get for it.

We trusted and loved each other. It was not a hard thing to do. He wanted to fish year round, I wanted to get to New York. The house was an albatross but he said he would stay behind (and fish!)…poor dear. šŸ™‚ But no, I don’t regret it. It was a sign of how strong we were and how committed we were to each other. And we made it work but it wasn’t really hard. What got hard was the separation and then we just sold the house, taking a bit of a bath, doing what we had tried to avoid doing (taking a bath on it), but neither of us could stand it any longer.

He used to joke with people that he was trying to avoid living in NY as long as possible. I told him it bothered me and he stopped it. He didn’t say, “It was only a joke…” or “lighten up” or “Well you know I don’t want to live in New York…” or a million other things I was expecting. He just gave me a brief look like he got it and he never said it again. At least in front of me.

I know I’ve written about all these things on this blog before. I know that I’ve poured out the memories and my heart and my soul. There are days when I absolutely feel like I’m living life and other days that I’m not sure of anything. Some days I feel my identity so strong and other days I feel like I’m in process.

I have changed. I’ve put myself first for the past year. I think this was a banner realization for my kids. It’s not that I’m selfish or don’t go all out for my family. Two weeks ago I gave my sons and their wives Yankees tickets and took 2 kids, one baby and one dog for the night. And I loved every minute of it. And the next day we all had a great time. I took the whole family to the Dominican Republic over Christmas. I loved every minute of that too.

But there are other times when me is all I can or will think about. I am not quite sure what the future holds. It doesn’t hold the cross country motorcycle run that Michael and I planned. It doesn’t hold the trips to Italy we were going to take or the ride on the Orient Express that we had planned. It holds none of that.

But I know that I will heal and I will change and I will grow.

I am not a victim. I am not wearing this tragedy on my sleeve. That is why these posts have slowed down over the past few months.

I do enjoy things and I can put it away when I have to. I still have my sense of humor and I still smile. I can still put on songs in the car and dance in my seat and sing even though there is no one there to laugh at me or with me as Michael did. I surprised myself two weeks ago coming home from MA when I was singing crazy ass songs at the top of my lungs in the car. And I cracked myself up.

So I am okay and will be more okay…as I work through it all…

But I will never ever ever stop loving Michael or being grateful for the 12 wonderful years in which he graced my life.

I love you honey. Very very very much.

This picture was taken Sept 15, 2007, exactly one year before Michael’s seizure