Almost a year now

Paul's last full day outside hospital walls.
Paul’s last full day outside hospital walls.

I am trying to focus on my work right now, but my mind is buzzing.

The one year anniversary of Paul’s death is next week, but in light of recent experiences I’ve had, it no longer fills me with the sorrow and dread it did even a few months ago.

The day he died was not the worst of the ordeal we went through together. The worst was when we were told he had incurable cancer. That is when I started mourning. In June.

I think about what we said to each other that week. That if it had to be something that killed him, at least it wasn’t a sudden thing like a car accident, heart attack or stroke. I’ve met women who just went to the store, came back and their children discovered that their daddies were dead. Others who woke up to find their young partners had passed away in their sleep.

Paul and I got to mourn him together. My very best friend was there with me and I was able to be there for him. To make the hard phone calls. To fend off well-meaning advice about potato juice, marijuana, denial as positive thinking and herbal miracle cures. To shield him from having to be strong for others when he needed to gather his strength.  He in turn assured me of his love and devotion, that he wanted me to be happy and to find love again. He was concerned that I would become bitter or permanently wounded or would seek a dark solution to the inevitable pain.

Cancer runs in his family. I have no one or nothing I can ultimately blame. He smoked when he was younger – but so did that 90-something year old woman in France. He was under pressure and stress of his own manufacture to some extent.

When he died at 4:20pm ACDT on that October Wednesday last year I was relieved for him. I was sitting alone with him, after asking his family to leave the room. I whispered to him that I loved him and he’d let his family say goodbye, so when he was ready he should just breathe that last breath and exhale – then leave the body that was letting him down. I was typing a message of gratitude to a friend when Paul breathed his last.  So Paul died in an aura of love and gratitude.

He could have lingered. The doctor that morning said Paul’s youth (he was 49) could have worked against an easy release for him. That he could linger in that swollen, painful, drugged up state for weeks broke my heart. I was relieved for Paul when he died that day. His breathing was laboured. He couldn’t speak. He was trapped inside a dying body. And he thankfully found release quickly.

The next week or so leading up to the anniversary of his death naturally stirs up painful memories and emotions – especially given the rift between most of his family and myself. But it also makes me grateful that I don’t have the painful memory of seeing the man I loved so much trapped inside a prison of dying flesh for weeks.

Instead, I have the memory of the last few days of his life. When we got the news his liver was giving up and he only had a few days left, we clung to each other a few minutes – then we created a cocoon of just being with each other. We’d said all we needed to say. We touched occasionally, but really didn’t speak that much.  We didn’t have to.

A year on and I’m learning to adjust and to humbly accept the loving help and support of my friends.

An analogy a counsellor gave me sticks with me.

We all start out as clear glasses of water. Some traumas in life knock a bit out of the glass and we can refill.

Other traumas – like the loss of my Paul – are like adding a coloured powder to the water. At first, it turns the water dark and there is a whirlpool as the stirring happens. Gradually, the powder can be absorbed, but the water will never be the clear, transparent liquid it once was. It is changed forever.

I’m working on my finances, having to learn how to manage money more carefully and am understanding the need to build in a safety net for myself – because there is no longer someone to catch me.

I no longer cry every night and morning and am resolved to eating alone a good deal of the time.

I am still lonely on weekends when I see my friends’ posts about their fun with family and their partners, but am glad for them.

Summer is approaching and I’m going to hit the beach and get outside. I am finding that the video games and online hobbies that took up so much of my time are no longer interesting. I want to be outside, smelling salt water and moving my muscles.

I can and do smile and laugh, find beauty and solace in small things and, when given the chance, can be optimistic about the future in front of me.

I’ve just started dating again. It’s as awkward as I remember, but the optimism of it makes me smile.

Most importantly, I have come to the realisation that I will always be Paul’s widow — but that is not incompatible with creating a different life from the one I was going to have with him. It is essential I do so. And so I will.

With gratitude for those of you who have made this journey possible.

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