Right after Michael died I was grieving. I was shattered. My heart was broken into a million pieces. It felt as if it broke anew every single day. I felt as if the world was ending. He was sick for 11 months but he was there. I kissed him goodnight every night. I said I love you and he said he loved me back. Even though I knew he was one day, soon, not going to be there, there was absolutely nothing to prepare me for the reality of it. I was utterly and completely flattened.

For 13 years with Michael I never cried. I was happy. As in, “I just want to be happy.” What he said to me the night we met.

Now I was walking down the street sobbing. Walking down the street with tears just flowing down my face. I couldn’t stop it. People looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care. I was working in Philly and DC a lot at the time. I would take the Amtrak Acela down. Full of high powered business people (and once Tim Gunn…I stood in back of him on line in the cafe car. I wanted to say hello to him as I love him, but I was a mess).

The train was always crowded. I would sit there and cry. I couldn’t stop it. Even in my craziest days I wasn’t crying in public. But here I was…sobbing on the train wearing a business suit and typing into a laptop. What. a. mess.

I was writing briefs for a big case. There were 7 lawyers contributing their thoughts but I was the architect of the brief. They would be making changes at 11:30 pm for a brief that had to be filed at midnight. Once I missed the last train back to New York and had to rent a car and drive home. I drove 8 hours after working 16 hours. The next day my boss gave me a list of things wrong with the brief. Things like a semi-colon was missing here, a citation there. Small things in a 20 page brief that had more to do with the too many cooks spoiling the broth than me not knowing a semi-colon goes there.

My boss had patience when Michael was dying but suddenly once he was dead I was supposed to be super lawyer. I didn’t get it. Half the days I wanted to tell him to shove the semi-colon up his ass. My other boss said his mother died so he got it. I wanted to scream, “No, you don’t get it, you asshole. It’s nothing like that.” I was in much worse shape the first few weeks following Michael’s death than I had been the whole time he was sick. Yet my job thought all was said and done so I should be able to correct the mistakes of 7 different lawyers in 15 minutes before filing.

I wanted to yell at everyone. I’m a published author. Not like you. I know how to write. Not like you. I went to a top 10 law school. Not like you. I belong to Phi Beta Kappa. Not like you. And MY HUSBAND JUST DIED. I have actual grief. Stop giving me grief over freaking semi-colons.

I was surrounded by idiots and the one person who thought the sun rose and set on my head was gone. Before these morons I had worked for a guy who wrote in passive voice. He always changed my writing to passive voice. And one day he did such a bad job of editing that the senior partner went through the roof. He blamed it on me and when I had the proof that it wasn’t me, he blamed his secretary. I told Michael the story. Michael had no clue what the hell I was talking about with active or passive voice but he listened and told me not to let this guy get to me. And I didn’t. I marshalled together all the evidence that he was the one who screwed up the brief. In law firms, crap flows straight down hill and if a person is trying to make partner and screws something up, you can be sure that you will be blamed. Or his secretary. Or the cleaning lady. Someone. Not him. I could have eaten it but I didn’t do it and I had the proof.

But now I was in enormous amounts of pain and these nitwits were carrying on about minor mistakes in a brief that way too many people were involved with, way too many people had dropped the ball on getting edits to me on time, and wanted me to take the blame. Part of me was convinced the world had gone crazy and there was no Michael to talk to about it. And I was, most days, inches away from smashing someone in the face. Seriously.

When the kids went out on the weekend, I screamed inside the house. I screamed in my car. I screamed and screamed and screamed and felt like I would never stop screaming. I am a grief counselor. I know how grief works. I know how to “do” grief. But it felt like it was never ending.

It went on. I helped Gina with her SATs and her AP course and college applications. The next year was a blur.

Then she was leaving for college, and I thought that I would be okay. I got her through high school and into a good college. And she’d be staying in New York which was good news for me.

And then, the week after she left for college, I fractured my back falling down the stairs. I expected a quick recovery but it just didn’t happen. I expected to be out maybe 6 weeks. I wanted to go back to work but the fracture wasn’t healing quickly.

By the end of October, I was very depressed. This was the year Michael and I were going to renew our wedding vows, go to Europe and then take off for a cross country motorcycle trip in the spring. It would be Gina’s first year of college and we were all set. We loved talking about these plans.

But thinking of the way it should have been plunged me into deep depression. I was sitting in the house all the time. Gina was gone. Michael (my son) was gone. Everyone was gone and I was sitting in a huge house in the middle of nowhere that I had bought for Michael (it has enormous riverfront for fishing) and Gina (great school system). I fed the wildlife but was more and more depressed. I had to go through things and I was in great pain. Every piece of paper I went through was painful. Every card Michael ever gave me. And my physical pain was great. Michael had moved us every time since I met him. I needed him. I was sitting on the floor in my office opening manila envelopes with cards we had given each other. I found cards of mine tucked away inside his tool box, inside his computer drawers. I found ticket stubs he saved. I found little things he held onto of places we’d been and things we’d done. Things I had no idea he had. He put them in little boxes and wrapped things in tissue paper and put them in his closet. And I sobbed upon finding each one. I could only do so much each day. I would just sit on the floor and cry and cry and cry.

The night I fell down the stairs, my son was not supposed to be there but he had come for a visit and decided to spend the night. I could not move at the bottom of the stairs. If he wasn’t there that night he would not have come for at least 48 hours later. I absolutely could not move. When he tried to put a pillow under my head, I could barely lift my neck. He couldn’t bring me to the hospital. We had to call the paramedics.

Thinking of being in the house all alone all the time scared me to death. I was fearful of being in that house and hurting myself and no one around.

I was waking up in the middle of the night terrified. And my Michael was not there to soothe me. I would wake up and think I heard voices. I installed an alarm. Night terrors. Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

I wanted to go from that house to the city but I had so much stuff and with my back it was difficult to pare down as much as I needed to so that I could get my stuff into a small city apartment. So I decided to rent in Sleepy Hollow. It’s 30 minutes outside the city and it’s a great little town. My apartment has a river/bridge view and high ceilings, hardwood floors, original moldings and light fixtures, and 2 full baths. Food is delivered and there are a lot of upsides to living here. I actually really like it.

I moved right before my birthday, our anniversary and Thanksgiving which were all in the same week. Prior to the move I didn’t think I was going to even make it through. I was in such a deep depression over what I should have been doing, not working, the pain of my back and complete doubt about my future. I wanted one thing and one thing only…the life I was supposed to be having at this time and the person I was supposed to be having it with.

I’ve been a mother for 35 years. The early years of single parenting were very overwhelming. So much so that I considered giving my ex custody of the boys. I am so glad that something poured cold water over me at the 11th hour and made me realize that would be a disaster. Once I made the commitment to keep them, I put everything I had into learning how to be a healthy parent and raising my boys. The life we had after that was hard at times, but happy. Right before I met Michael, I was working 3 jobs with 3 boys eating me out of house and home. I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. But I wasn’t giving up.

Michael was a godsend and a wonderful father. Together we were a fantastic team. But by the time the kids were grown, we were tired and still had one left to raise.

So the idea of spending the first year of the rest of our lives traveling and having a grand old time was something we thought of years prior and we both could not wait. It was something we deserved. Something we earned. People would tell me that when Gina went off to college, we would have Empty Nest Syndrome. We laughed. Not a chance.

Our motorcycle trips were always fun. The good times on the bikes were just too numerous to count. We had a blast whether we were just taking our bikes around town or through several states. When we moved to California our riding time increased so much. But our favorite trips were through the backroads and smaller highways through places we’d never been. The idea of riding from New York to California and back was something we spent hours talking about.

We rode from Boston to DC every Memorial Day to participate in Rolling Thunder. We mapped it out so we spent as little time as possible on the interstate. We looked at maps all the time trying to figure out how to do that coast-to-coast. It was fun. We were also trying to figure out how many states we could ride through and mapped out little side trips. We made lists of all the things we wanted to see in the US that neither of us had seen. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime. And we were going to get new Harleys (and custom chrome them of course) before we left. And then collect Harley tees all over the country.

And this was the year. My birthday was November 19th. My anniversary was November 23rd. Thanksgiving was November 24th. We were going to renew our vows on Thanksgiving weekend and spend the next month in Europe. We wanted to go back to Italy and ride the Orient Express. Then we were coming home for the holidays and preparing to leave on our trip in April. We didn’t know then, of course, that the winter would be mild.

So here was that year. Gina was gone and so was Michael. Instead of traveling to Europe and buying motorcycles, I was knocking around the house with no job, no money, no certain future. I was alone and frightened. This was the reward for 35 years of parenting where the kids turned out pretty damn well. There was no rainbow. Only rain. It was a dark and terrible time.

Even though being in Sleepy Hollow was better and I was no longer frightened of being left on the floor for 2 days if I hurt myself (my upstairs neighbors could hear me if I had to yell), it’s been very difficult not working. I want to have a full-time job and go into the city but my back simply won’t get better. I wore a brace for 4 months, had epidurals, facet joint injections and am scheduled for more. But I can barely get through a day without pain medication and I should have more but have been trying to use as little as possible. I know I could use more than I take but I try to hold off until later each day to take it. If I’m out more than a few hours I have to come home, take pain medication and lay down for a while. You can’t work full time doing that.

Being housebound thinking about Michael…thinking about a life I once had and a life I planned and a career I once had and other things I once had. But it was what it was and I tried to make the most of it. Not that there was much to make of it, but I tried to do my journaling, my gratitude lists, my positive thinking. Just as I instruct my readers and clients. Damn it was hard.

And then a few weeks ago I was walking up the stairs one day and just about at the top I had a back spasm. I hadn’t had a back spasm in months. And of course I have it on the stairs. At the top of the stairs. Falling down would have fractured more than a few bones.

I slammed my left leg down to anchor myself and swung around to grab onto the banister. I managed to lower myself onto the stair and sit out the spasm.

That night I was going to bed and when I climbed into bed I put my left knee on the mattress and thought I was going to go through the ceiling. Something was wrong with my knee.

I assumed I twisted it during my back spasm but I wasn’t too worried about it. I figured it would work itself out.

But not only did each day feel worse but now my back was even in more pain because I was walking funny. I stopped my morning walks and some of my exercises because of the strain it was putting on my knee. And stopping my exercises made my back worse. A lot worse.

I went to a doctor. They did an x-ray. There was something on the x-ray. Yes, I had a chondral injury of the knee but there was something else. A tumor. Some kind of tumor.

Endocondroma. Osteosarcoma. Something. We needed an MRI.

– to be continued –

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