What does a year of grief look like?
Someone somehow at some stage arbitrarily determined that sadness and suffering ends after a year. Similar to New Year resolutions - what is it about a "year" that makes a difference?
Let me be the one to tell you that it doesn't.
Duncan died on the 22nd of June. That's his day. It will be about him. I don't know what we're going to do, if anything. Because school is still in session that week, we've made plans to go down to Nymboida over the holidays, but on the actual day, I think I might just drink and be sad.
So why am I writing about a year of grief when he hasn't been gone one year? Because I have been grieving for over one year. I started grieving when his oncologist told me he wasn't going to get better. I started grieving when Duncan refused to believe it, and I couldn't tell the kids or his mom and brother. I started grieving when I cried every night in bed, every day when I gave him his chemo tablets, when I rubbed cream on his legs that were quickly losing all muscle, when he was asleep next to me, when I laid awake wondering how we were ever going to get by without him, and when I wondered how life could be so cruel to take the kids' beautiful dad and my beloved husband away from me when he was so beyond undeserving of such a short life. I grieved well and truly before he left us. And I do everything I can to not think about those days and how I felt because they were probably the hardest of them all. Its a time of life no one should have to experience.
One year of grief is the answers you don't hear when someone asks "how are you". Its hating that question. Its hating all questions.
But let me answer the ones you might have, but never ask. And you're right not to, so know I appreciate that you haven't.
One Year of Grief
I still wear my wedding ring. I can't imagine ever taking it off.
The only things of Duncan's I've thrown away are the clothes and shoes he hated. I've put most of his shoes in storage, and most of his shirts. I still have his favourite sport jerseys and coaching polos hanging in the closet. His bedside table is still full of everything that was there when he died, and his side of the bed is still "Dad's side of the bed". I have all of his pairs of glasses, his beanies and scarves, his belts, and all of his ties. I don't know why I can't get rid of the ties - he hated wearing them. I think probably because they each have a story with them, and I don't want to lose the story.
I have more pictures of him and the kids together up around the house. I have plans to put up a framed photo collage for the kids in each of their rooms with photos of them and Dad, but I haven't been able to bring myself to go through photos yet. Even looking at the photos of him around the house when I walk past are enough to make my heart break and think of the unfairness life offers to so many people and why the fuck did he have to die when he was such a fabulous human?
Most of my days are one long run-on sentences as exampled above. I go from whatever it is I'm thinking about to in a second being sad about some random memory or thought that has entered my head. The obvious triggers are obvious but most of the time they catch me off guard by the simplest thing and I turn into nothing but a mentally vacant useless twat.
I hate taking public transport into work. If parking in the city was cheap and readily available I'd absolutely drive. But parking in the city is neither of those things, so I bus. I hate it because when I started my then new now into my third year of this job, Duncan was working on Queen Street, and we'd travel in and home together nearly everyday. We'd meet for coffee or lunch during the week. When he started having trouble with his legs and was using crutches, we'd go in together, take the elevator up from the bus station, and I'd walk him to work.
Now when I take that route in the morning and back home in the afternoon, I just relive those same memories the whole trip. I can't walk down Queen Street anymore. I see the place we always got coffee. The Vodaphone shop I got his new phone from. The Chemist Warehouse where I filled countless prescriptions. Its all one big reminder.
But I love going to the office (despite how infrequently I'm there). So there's no real way around it.
I don't cry every night. Or even every week. I cried so many tears for so many months that I'm not even sure if I can anymore. It makes me too sad. The kids still cry. Of course they do. But again, not nightly, but probably at least weekly. Max said he cries himself to sleep most nights but does it quietly so I can't hear him and feel sad. There aren't words to explain how much that breaks my heart.
I still can't listen to music that Duncan and I loved together, or watch TV shows or movies that we loved together. After 18 years, there is a lot that falls under those two categories. While the TV and movies don't really worry me all that much, the music does. I love music and along with having holier-than-thou opinions on what is good and what isn't good music, its what's got me through so many hard times in life. Its not easy when songs we loved are triggers for sadness. And I can't even imagine what it will be like in 5 years time when the music I'm listening to now triggers memories.
The kids live their lives on a permanent roller coaster. Sometimes they're OK, sometimes they're not. And its constant. As a person who loves to sleep and used to love bedtime, I dread it now and around 730pm I have to mentally psych myself up to getting everyone to bed.
Alex being a near teenager for the most part wants nothing to do with me, except for when I'm a chauffeur or bank. I'm not complaining; I remember being that age. The only time she seems to seek any sort of attention or affection from me is when I'm watching her brothers play sport, or when its time for bed. I'm sure its not intentional but its annoying as fuck, as those are really the only two times I wish she didn't need me. I need my space during the games, and at night in bed is when I want to decompress my day but I'm sorting the other two out; adding a third needy child to only one available parent is emotionally exhausting and smothers me with guilt.
Max, as mentioned early, doesn't go to bed well, and usually wants me to come spend time with him before he goes to sleep. Sounds good in theory, but its also the time Oscar wants me to spend time with him before he goes to sleep. And of course, Oscar being the youngest, loudest, and most emotionally unstable, requires more time. Max has been feeling the constant middle child struggle which again makes me feel incredibly guilty. And when I try to give him extra attention or spoil him, he's so fucking unassuming that he says no and that he's "fine", which makes me feel even more guilty. He really is my little saviour though. He has a heart of gold, only wants to help and look after me when he thinks I need it, and his patience rivals that of most adults. He's the definition of a champion. He is his dad in miniature version. And he breaks my heart daily.
Oscar. Its not his fault he the youngest. As he constantly tells me, I'll never understand what its like to lose a parent at 8 years old. And he's right, I won't. He struggles in the evening. Usually because he builds up in his mind that even though he got through this day OK, he's going to have a shit day tomorrow and it makes him anxious. He essentially gets worried about scenarios he makes up in his own head. I have no idea where he gets that from (sorry Osc, all my fault - I take the cake with that bad habit). Every night before bed he hates school, his bed, his dog, his life, his friends, rugby, food, you name it, he hates it. But in reality he actually doesn't, he just hates Dad not being there, and every good thing in his life bears the brunt of that anger. So when I've finally got the other two sorted and I'm ready to sleep, he asks me to come lay down with him. My eagerly anticipated bedtime of 815pm slowly becomes 930pm, and usually with tears because he doesn't want me to go to my room when its well and truly past sleep time (for both of us).
I do have to give him some credit though. He slept with me for 8 months before he tried to get back into his room. And even then, it took removal of the bunk beds and a new double bed in his room for him to want to stay in there permanently. I am proud of him - the kid knows what he wants. I actually looked forward to my own bed again - and the ability to watch mind-numbing trash TV without my kids seeing killing and hearing swearing (because they hear enough from me). But in all honesty, once I had the freedom, I preferred someone to be there with me. Old habits die hard I suppose.
I drink a lot of alcohol.
I'm not dependent. I just like it.
And I have the best enablers as friends. You know who you are.
Like necessity is the mother of invention, distraction is the mother of survival. I keep us busy, tired, and with a full schedule, and while it may ultimately prove to be counter-intuitive by exhausting completely, it leaves us with little time for sitting and feeling sorry for ourselves. Don't get me wrong, I do feel sorry for myself a lot, and usually its during those previously mentioned bus trips to work. But if we keep busy, we can't sit and be bored.
Rugby is the hardest. There are so many elements to why rugby just makes me fall apart that I don't know if I can eloquently express it. I don't even know if I can even offer a butchered explanation, but I'll try.
I love rugby. I love watching the boys play. Like really really love. I love the boys on their teams and I love the parents of those boys. I have amazing friends that I get to spend Friday nights and Sunday mornings with, and they make my week.
I love rugby because of Duncan. They boys love it because of Duncan. They are good because of Duncan. It kills me to see everyone on their teams have their dads there to advise, support, and guide. I cheer and encourage but the second it gets technical, I'm the human version of a shrugged shoulder emoji. They don't get Dad watching. They don't get Dad's praise, advice, criticism, or encouragement. They miss out. Its unfair. Every game and every practice breaks my heart. And I hide it with a beer and my three girlfriends that protect me from people I don't want to talk to and support me in their kindness and love.
Everything about the boys playing rugby devastates me and elevates me all at the same time.
I fall apart every time something comes up on Facebook or Instagram that I would tag Duncan in. Poor Marty cops it - usually he'll find it entertaining as well, but I know he knows that its something I would have shared with Duncan.
I learned earlier this week that Maeby from Arrested Development was named after the creator's two daughter's names combined - May and Phoebe. Our favourite TV show and our cat's name, and I only just found that out. Duncan would have loved it. He'd also love the Smartless podcast.
Smithtown was featured in an ABC News article last week, talking about the legacy of the Milo factory. Duncan's favourite story to tell was when he was a little guy he ate a bunch of ant hills thinking it was Milo. The kids and I still laugh about that. That and he named his dog Turbo. Smiling to myself now while writing and thinking about it.
I started crying on the drive to the shops on Monday, when for some reason I thought about when I had to tell Marty that he needed to get to Brisbane because Duncan didn't have long. I was listening to Paul Simon and I thought it was a relatively safe choice (Duncan and I both love him but I started listening to him in high school). I have absolutely no idea how Graceland got me to thinking about Marty and that unbelievably difficult phone call, but it did, and I wish it hadn't. I'll never forget that conversation despite wishing desperately that I could.
I feel guilty about my amazing friendships. Ones that were always there but have developed and grown into family-like status, which likely wouldn't have happened if Duncan hadn't died. Its the worst feeling - and I've written about this before - thinking how lucky you are in some aspects of life and then feeling ridiculously fucked because your husband died and your kids' father died and that's so unfucking lucky.
I hate HATE hate when people think they can compare some menial bullshit period in their life to our loss. I know grief takes all shapes and forms, and I do empathise with sadness. But please don't compare your breakup or kids leaving for university to a death. Until someone you love dies, you actually don't know what heartbreak is.
Sick of the sob story yet? I am. Here's the other side.
I know how fortunate I am to have what I have, despite all that has happened. I could be in a much worse position than I am in, and sadly there are so many people that are. I had a smart, kind, beautiful husband who was the most amazing dad to our kids when he could be. Some people aren't even that lucky to have that now.
My kids are amazing. They've shown incredible resilience and strength and despite my constant whingeing about their ups and downs, it could really be much worse, and I'm in awe of how they get through life on a day to day basis. I couldn't be more proud of the three of them.
My boss and co-workers are the kindest and most understanding people and I don't know what I'd do without my team. Its so reassuring to know definitively that they've got my back on my bad days, and no explanation is ever required.
My friends. I love you. Your love and support is everything. And you all know who you are. If you don't, I'm totally failing in the friend-reciprocation department.
I often feel weak. Mentally, physically, emotionally. And a lot of time, I am. But I'm not fragile. I don't break, I don't quit, I don't give up. I keep pushing. I keep drinking, and distracting, and buying more pets, and doing what ever it takes to keep my kids going. Everyone always says "I don't know how you do it". Its simple really - I have to. I have three humans who depend on me to do it. Its a non-option.
A beautiful friend sent me this TED talk the other day. Its beyond relatable and beyond perfect. If you've suffered the loss of a loved one, this is for you to watch.
I'm not moving on. I never will. But I keep moving forward.