GRIEF IS A SCARY PLACE TO GO
October. Bright colors. Halloween approaching. Very soon my grandkids will be going trick-or-treating in their cute costumes. There will be funny-faced pumpkins on neighborhood doorsteps. I’ll trot along behind and take pictures. Halloween is very photogenic. There may even be a fall nip in the air so when I get home I’ll be able to “turn on” my store-bought fireplace (it has real-looking flames and real heat). I’ll enjoy that after so many hot Los Angeles days.
Yes, so many heartwarming memories associated with the month of October. And since this blog is primarily about writing, I was going to talk about my upcoming October workshop on “DIY Book Marketing.” I thought I’d give some pointers and tips on the subject for the many “indie” published authors out there who are facing the huge task of trying to sell their book.
Just not today. I just can’t write about marketing today. My good thoughts about October are being crowded out by sad thoughts, “anniversary reactions,” memories related to the events that happened just a year ago which led up to the death of my lovely husband, Lance. Those memories hurt. But trying to write about “book marketing” when I’m thinking of something else hurts more.
October 8th (tomorrow, as I write this) would have been Lance’s 71st birthday. What a wonderful time we had one year ago on his 70th birthday when we threw him a huge surprise party at his favorite Italian restaurant, Maggiano’s in Woodland Hills, California. His cousin Jorgen flew in from Denmark (where Lance was born) as a surprise. And it was! In the restaurant, we all sat at one long table (tables pushed together) — family and friends, talking and laughing, popping up and down to chat with those too far down the line to hear above the din.
- Enjoying Lance’s 70th birthday party. Above, my daughter and son-in-law shake hands over the heads of their children (Lily and Lyle), with Lance in the background (right) across from his cousin, Jorgen, Danish flags stuck in a glass between them.
Towards the end of the dinner, Lance stood up. Forks clinked against glasses to get people to quiet down. He gave a touching speech. He has no idea he was sick.
My daughter, Claudia, gave Lance soccer tickets to a Galaxy game (the card was made by my granddaughter, Lily). That soccer game turned out to be our “last date” together before Lance was diagnosed.
Turkey Day and “D” (Diagnosis) Day
After Lance’s birthday there was Thanksgiving. It was great. My daughter Claudia and husband Roy hosted it because I was recovering from a back mishap. I wrote about it in my 2012 blog: “Mishmash: What I Love About Thanksgiving.” After the meal, we all stood by the fireplace to take our annual Christmas photo. Lance, though “tired,” still didn’t know he was sick.
In early December, Lance did feel sick. He took to his bed and missed a week of work. Lance never missed work. When it turned out not to be the flu, he was treated at home for “pneumonia,” and when he didn’t get better he was admitted to the hospital where he got the bad news: Stage 4 lung cancer. Not fixable. Maybe six months left with “targeted chemo.” He was sent home with oxygen and a boatload of equipment to await more tests and then get a pet scan to see where the cancer might have spread. The night before the pet scan, this man who’d always has such a strong heart , had a massive heart walking to the bathroom. It felled him. The paramedics took him back to the hospital. Eighteen hours in Emergency, then up to the ICU.
In ICU all the holidays ran together: Christmas Eve. Christmas. Our 28th Wedding Anniversary. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day 2013. Somewhere in there came strokes. It was increasingly difficult to communicate with him or make sense of what he was saying. And then on January 2nd, 2013, he died.
Grief is sneaky. A month ago I was at Crown Books in Woodland Hills where I run a monthly drop-in writing group. It’s next door to the restaurant where we had that wonderful birthday party for Lance. I walked into the restaurant just to use the Ladies’ Room because the one in the bookstore was on the blink. I didn’t even think of the party. It wasn’t until I was on my way out and found myself in the area where the party had taken place that it hit me — POW! A sock in the gut. The tables were now empty, pushed apart. I looked at the empty tables and saw a brief “vision” — a fantasy re-enactment of the whole party. I rushed out.
Doing a Drive-By
Then there was the day I drove past the townhouse complex where Lance and I lived for 23 of our 28 years of marriage.The landscape was so achingly familiar. On impulse I made a right turn into the side street, a turn I’d probably made a thousand times. Next I turned left into the alley, then another left into the driveway. I drove past all the garage doors and slowed down when I got to the one that used to be “our” garage door.
For a brief moment, like something out of a time-travel movie, I felt I could push the button on my visor and the garage door would open and I’d see all our familiar things, my filing cabinets, Lance’s computer stuff, our books. I could park the car, open the downstairs door and walk up the stairs — and right back into my old life. I’d find Lance at his computer, as usual, and the cat curled up nearby.
I just wanted to go home.
Grief pushes you to try to go back, rewind the movie, undo, and go home again.
“Stop Going There!”
By the time I got to the end of the townhouse complex driveway, I was in tears. I pulled over and called my daughter so I could cry some more. Afterwards I called a friend, “Why did I do that?” I blurted out. “Then stoppit. Don’t go there!” she told me. “It’s not true that time heals. Time just teaches you to stop going there.” I didn’t tell her other things I did, like listening to Lance’s last two cheery messages to me on my cell phone, one calling me from Fry’s computer store, the other from home after the Galaxy had won a soccer game. He was happy: “See you when you get home!” I saved those messages. When I got a new cell phone, I had them transferred over. I still have them.
And sometimes I go there.
Danish flags brought to Lance by his cousin for the birthday celebration
As the onslaught of anniversaries hits me over the next three months, I know it will be hard not to “go there.” After the anniversary of Lance’s birthday tomorrow, there’s going to be Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve (that’s when we used to celebrate Christmas — the Danish way), Christmas Day, our would-be 29th wedding anniversary on December 29th, New Year’s Eve (in 2012 I’d spent it at Lance’s bedside as he endured 100% oxygen being force-fed into his lungs just to keep him alive), then New Year’s Day (with goodbye visits from family and friends), and then the next day, Jan 2nd, 2013, the day that Lance died.
I’ve told people I don’t even want to be in L.A. for that anniversary, but where would I go? You can “go there” even when you’re someplace else.
I have dozens of pictures of Lance in my little apartment — another easy way to keep going there and remembering back. Probably I should put some away. But for now they will stay where they are. I can only go so fast. If I’m still doing drive-bys five years from now, that’s a whole different story. Then stop me.
Anyway, of all my many pictures of Lance and me together, this is a favorite:
Dinner together at the same restaurant where we had Lance’s birthday bash. This was, I think, our 27th wedding anniversary on December 29th, 2011. Our 28th, on December 29th, 2012, was spent in the hospital. I do love this picture of Lance. It shows this warmth, kindness and love. It’s so — “Lance.” It’s so what I miss.
(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT. Photo credits: Sylvia Cary, wwwMorguefile.com and the waiter at Maggiano’s Restaurant in Woodland Hills, California