Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: time

Hard Drive

My heart, like a hard drive, is permanently partitioned. Part of it comprises my 26-year marriage, the raising of my children, the hopes and dreams I had, and the sickness and death of my wife. The other part is unwritten upon, ready for a future I can’t even begin to understand. The problem is that at any given point it can switch between partitioned sections rendering my personal operating system glitchy and subject to crashes.

Such was the case this past week. While performing within normal parameters, my system suddenly switched to the hidden partition, and it has left me grief stricken and paralyzed. There was no warning. I understand that this switch was not the result of bugs or a virus. It is the result of a significant loss and the fact that I know I will never be whole again.

The hard part of all of this is that while attempting to begin a relationship with a woman, my first since I was 22, this wave of grief has me questioning whether I am being unfair to this woman; if I am incapable of giving myself wholly to another given my permanently partitioned heart. The grief tsunami that hit me this week, like all others before it, came without warning. There needn’t be a trigger. More likely, it was a thousand paper cuts, memories rising up during the past few weeks, poking me in the heart, not causing any immediate damage but collectively, over time, shattering my heart again. Now I am emotionally frozen, inextricably operating in a painful past, and incapable of addressing the present or the future.

I like to write because, while I assume that no one will ever read what I write, it usually helps me to understand my position on a topic or my underlying feelings if I put them down on paper (or up on a computer screen). However, while this usually is the case, dealing with grief is a topic no reasoning or processing can vanquish. I was incredibly sad for several days over the past week. It seems that every small event over the past few weeks correlated to something either my wife did, we did together, involved our kids, or it was something we planned to do together. Today I find myself bridging the realms of sadness and anger, perhaps on the path toward processing this wave and getting on with life, perhaps not. Perhaps these steps lead nowhere. Perhaps I will transition back to sadness, or onto negotiation, maybe even onto acceptance. I don’t know how to end this note. All I know is that I am stuck where I am, and no good wishes or caring hugs can hope to dislodge me.

Tony Webster, the protagonist in Julian Barnes’ excellent book The Sense of an Ending comments at one point that he “avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival” and “for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels.” He is a character who, like all of us, has a faulty memory, and has used Time to smooth out the jagged parts of an ordinary life to put meaning to his existence. I have never been one to live in the past. In fact, because of a terrible memory, I remember very little about my past. You would think that would force me to live in the present, to appreciate those around me, to smell the roses and embrace those around me. However, while I did not live in the past, I neither lived in the present. I did not appreciate those around me and assumed daily events had no significant bearing on my expectations of the future I believed would exist. No, I tended to live in the future. Everything I did was for some future date. At 15, I had figured out that in the incredibly far off year 2000, I would be 35, imagining what life would be like. I have always faithfully contributed to my 401(k) in the expectation that I would cash it out at some point and travel the world with Lisa or buy a two-room shack on a beach somewhere to live out our lives together. Now I find that I live in the past. Not the archetypical love of any lost high school glory, but of my life with Lisa. Even after eight years of caring for her as she underwent one barbaric medical treatment after another, and experiencing her withering and eventually dying while our children and I sat around her, I cannot help but to relive the life we lived together as a couple and a family and lament paradise lost and a future that will never be.

And so, awash in memories and residing in the past, my permanently fractured hard drive (my heart) is expected to give over control of the operating system to a brain that understands that life goes on. A mind that knows that while these waves of grief will never recede and will continue to destroy me forever, the troughs between them will, over time, expand, and it is in these troughs that I am expected to forge a new life and build a new future. It all seems so logical for a computer system, but my heart bleeds blood, and my eyes cry tears, not bits and bytes. Makes me wish I were a computer sometimes. I don’t know how to end this note. It just is what it is.

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To Live Again

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Friends, both near and far, have helped me navigate this past year without Lisa. For that, I will be forever grateful. The current world in which I now find myself is both dystopian and exciting, but mostly just foreign. No amount of research could prepare me for the world in which I now live. The changes I have endured over the past year have been as dramatic as they have been challenging. Moving from Texas back to Rhode Island was the smart thing to do, and I appreciate being near family more than I ever have. To be close to my mother, sister, and brother brings me comfort and peace as much as living in Rhode Island brings me reconciliation, familiarity, and appreciation.

Attempts at a social life have so far resulted in few successes and some crushing defeats. This is one area in my life where, while I am incredibly grateful to have my children at home with me, I know I have few prospects. Having the kids around since their graduation has kept me moving forward with purpose. Getting used to a new home is difficult enough, but to have to do it alone would have been far worse. Starting a new social life is very hard for me. I am not the most outgoing person in the world! But starting to reach beyond my comfort zone is what I now find myself confronted with if I ever want to “have a life.”

Unfortunately, a problem far greater for me beyond getting out of the house is my constant need to get out of my own head. This has always been an issue for me. I tend to overthink everything while pessimism erodes healthy feelings or hopes.  Some friends have been kind to me beyond all reason as if they signed a pledge with Lisa to look out for me. Other friends have been standoffish, probably unsure how to address my situation. I cannot blame them for their squeamishness; it is a difficult situation and one with no easy solution. I find myself mourning one friend in particular who ended things with me after telling me we were headed in different directions in life. She was right, but that doesn’t make the wound hurt any less.

I cannot help but think that I am destined to be alone now, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I long to be in a relationship, feel I still have much to offer and need, while on the other hand, I feel guilty for having these thoughts because I will forever miss Lisa. One year has gone by now, and I’m both better than I was following her death and more confused than ever. I don’t know if this is normal, but the “normal” I am now living is very different than the normal under which we have been living for the past eight years. No longer do I see cancer hiding behind every smile, determined to undercut our happiness. No longer do I go to hospitals and doctor’s visits; no longer are we Hospice clients. But too, no longer do I have that epic battle to wage every day on behalf of someone for whom I would gladly have given my own life. I tend to do better when facing a crisis than normal life.

Ultimately, a new life will require me to get out of the house regularly and out of my head even more. Any thoughts on how I can do that would be greatly appreciated!

I Hate This Life

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The bell strikes one. We take no note of time                                                             But from its loss.                                                                                                                                 – Edward Young, Night Thoughts. Night I, l. 55, 1742.

I hate this life. In fact, it is “life” only in name. I continue to inhale and exhale and my heart continues to beat, but I really only exist. The day begins with my alarm at 4 am. I open my eyes to the empty space in bed where Lisa used to sleep. I get ready for work and feed Delbow, whose pancreatitis and pneumonia are being treated but for whom I can do nothing. I leave for work at 5 am and listen to a book on the way. At work, I am either busy or try to stay busy until 3 pm when I drive home listening to the same book. I open the door and greet Delbow, giving him a cookie. I change and sit in the living room. It is 4:30. And time stops.

I prepare everything for the next morning. I ready Delbow’s medications. I feed him. I feed myself. It is all mechanical, devoid of interest. The house is no longer a home. It sits unused. The gardens are overgrown and weedy. All of Lisa’s belongings still reside where she left them. Her glasses. Her purse. Her walker stands folded in the laundry room. I watch television because it passes the time. It too is lifeless. Hours of “How It’s Made” on the Science channel. After an interminable amount of time, I look up. It is 7:30. Is it too early to go to bed? To escape this mental prison? I go to bed deciding to read a book. My mind is incapable of concentrating these days and I gloss over a page of text before realizing I have absorbed nothing of the story. I put the book down. I cannot sleep yet. I turn the television back on. There is a Modern Family repeat on. I’ve seen it twelve times before. I anticipate the lines of the show, wishing I could  sleep. Finally, after a marathon of Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory reruns, I turn off the television and shut off the light. My mind races and thinks of all things Lisa. I cry. At some point, I fall asleep.

Oh, I know what Lisa would say. First, she would give me a Cher to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck slap and tell me to snap out of it.Then she would tell me that I need to live because I can and she cannot. She would tell me that I have to stay healthy, physically and mentally, for the kids. That they are relying on me and taking coping cues from me.  I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want a shoulder upon which to cry. I want Lisa. Everything will get easier with time, they say. Time. I have time! I have too much time and not enough answers. I understand all of these things in my head, but my heart is broken and empty, grieving for what it cannot have.

At 3 am the phone rings. It is Samantha. She has had a bad dream about Lisa and wants to talk it out. I am grateful for her call. She relates the details of the dream and I cry too. How can I not? It is heartbreaking. I tell her I hate this life and she says she understands. We talk about her art and try to change the subject. Eventually, she says she feels better and apologizes for calling. I tell her I’m glad she called and she says she can go back to sleep. I say I love you, she says she loves me, and she hangs up. It is 3:40. I lay there replaying the conversation until the alarm goes off at 4 when I look over at the empty space where Lisa used to sleep. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

A Vierordt Summer

7617471_sIn 1868, German physician Karl von Vierordt published a book on his experiments into the psychology of time perception. In it included what became known as Vierordt’s Law “a robust phenomenon in time estimation research that has been observed with different time estimation methods.” Essentially, it states that “short” amounts of time tend to be overestimated and “long” amounts of time tend to be underestimated. This has been the basis of our summer. The clock has barely moved while the calendar has flown.

The kids are heading back to college in 20 days. These interminable hours belie the fact that they have been home since mid-May and have known the awful fact that Lisa will no longer be fighting this awful disease. They are terrified to leave her knowing it may be the last time they ever see her. I tell them they must go, they cannot forestall their own futures, they must continue on their own paths. It is the truth. I also know that the routine of school, with friends around them, and classes to occupy their time will distract them from the cruelty the universe is throwing at them 150 miles away.

Sitting here day after day at my desk watching my wife slowly wither away in bed; watching my son and daughter sit with their mother doing the same as me is heartbreaking. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the monotony and sheer terror of watching someone, anyone, much less someone you love, slowly suffocate to death. Cancer is a suicidal disease bent on killing its host at the cost of its own existence. Watching it happen with no more arrows in the quiver is akin to watching Captain Smith walk into the wheelhouse of the Titanic, lock the doors and wait for the ship to sink. With no more options, one seeks the course of action with the most dignity. Don’t get me started on whether there should be better options for better dignity.

Sleep used to be easy. I could roll over, shut off the world and be out in a minute, and wake up in the morning (if not refreshed) ready to go. Now sleep is like a cruel joke. I am exhausted from running all of the errands of the day, worrying about Lisa and the kids and watching a clock that does not move but terrified of a calendar that will not stop because I know that each day that passes brings me closer to a day I know is coming and one I dare not consider. Lisa does not sleep well now. She wakes me because she cannot breathe well. I give her meds and turn up the oxygen concentrator. I rub her back, hoping she will calm down, that her heart rate will return to “normal” and her body will be lulled into a false belief that it is generating enough oxygen to fuel the system. If I’m successful I’m awake. My mind goes to dark places so I read. It usually takes a good hour to flush the dark thoughts in order for me to attempt sleep again. Sometimes this happens two or three times a night. The clock stands still. The calendar whirls.

Vierordt had no idea how easy his experimentation could have been had he simply gone to any intensive care unit at any hospital and found the waiting room and talked to the family members and friends of the terminally I’ll patients. They would have told him how long minutes last and how quickly weeks fly.