Monday, October 26, 2015

Hold me 'til I die...

“Hold me ‘til I die. 
Meet you on the other side…” 
- Pearl Jam 

Except with the two friends that were with me, I have hardly talked to anyone about what happened the night Todd died. I don’t even know why I am writing about it now. I suppose I am worried that, one day, I will forget the details. It’s a bit counterintuitive actually. For nearly three years, every time my mind’s eye wanders back to that bleak, cold, January night, I find myself shutting off my memory like a light switch. 

It was a Monday night and I had just gotten my 6-month-old twins to sleep. I was exhausted but felt a little less so having left my job two weeks prior. Two of my oldest friends were downstairs waiting for me in the kitchen. It was calm and peaceful in the kitchen – it felt warm even. I was hungry and sat down to a nice meal the girls had prepared. At that moment, the hospice aide came in to tell me Todd was having trouble breathing. I looked at my friend Nina (who happens to be a doctor) and we both went into Todd’s room. His breathing was labored. It was awful to hear. We made the decision to give Todd some more morphine, which Nina assured me, would make him more comfortable. I knew as I dropped the morphine under his tongue that our time was running out. I waited with him for a while until his breathing calmed down. I left him briefly to check on the boys and eat something. I sat down and my friend poured me a glass of wine. With panic in her eyes, the hospice aide came out again and asked if Nina could check Todd’s pulse. I ran into his room and climbed into his bed. This was it. 

Nina held the stethoscope and calmly gave me a countdown as she listened to Todd’s heart beat its last beats: 

Amanda, you have maybe one more minute. Thirty seconds,. Amanda, you have about ten seconds.” And that was it. He was gone. I held him until he died.   

Anyway, as I wrote, I am not even sure why I am writing this. Except to share that when you actually hold someone until they die – well, that fucks with you. Maybe ‘fucks with’ isn’t the correct term. But, that night has stayed with me for obvious reasons but has also left a mark in me that I wish were sometimes visible on the outside. As with anyone who has suffered loss, I have gone through the grieving process and come quite far in a short period of time

I have gotten so dark and low in my despair that the agony of Todd’s absence and the finality of death felt like knifeblades stabbing my stomach. In the darkness and stillness of the night when the boys were sleeping, I would find myself standing in my room in the exact spot Todd once stood. I let the pain stab me until I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the time came when the sharp pains dulled. I could tell the wound was healing but could still feel the tremendous scar.I carried on, stiff upper lip, as I have always done. I made it through the first year and was entering the second year when seemingly, all at once, the fog lifted. 

felt good again on my own and apart from the crutch of joy the boys provided. I listened to music again. I went out with friends. I was having fun. 

My memories of Todd no longer made way for the void; instead they seem to wrap themselves around my shoulders like a warm blanket from an old friend.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It Makes No Difference

The other night, I was at a concert and had one of those rare moments where, although I had heard this song a thousand times before, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. And, despite having written, reflected, and shared my feelings on grief intermittently over the past two years, it was as though nothing could sum up how my soul has felt more than hearing a rendition of Danko’s performance:

I went to the concert with my childhood friend who, oddly enough, happened to be at our house the night Todd died. She looked over at me as I was honing in on the lyrics and said something like: “This song is totally you and Todd.” Yes, it was. 

The next morning I read an article by Patrick O’Malley titled "Getting Grief Right" in the New York Times.  I found it comforting and spot on especially this excerpt:

“Based on my own and my patients’ experiences, I now like to say that the story of loss has three “chapters.” Chapter 1 has to do with attachment: the strength of the bond with the person who has been lost. Understanding the relationship between degree of attachment and intensity of grief brings great relief for most patients. I often tell them that the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love.”

Todd and I had such an amazing, wonderful bond that stemmed from our compatibility and attraction to one another but developed and grew because of our intense situation.  At such a young stage of our marriage, we found ourselves skipping through decades of phases most couples go through in a lifetime together. And, certainly the depth of our love could fill an ocean.

O’Malley’s article continues to explain the debilitation his patient suffered during her time of grief. It’s true there have been days I’ve wanted to stay in bed and let my sadness and loneliness cover me like a blanket but I had the boys and they needed me as much as I needed them.

I feel unbelievably lucky (I don’t know if that’s the right word) that during the days, weeks, and months following Todd’s death I never felt debilitated. Instead, I was able to compartmentalize things  - for better or worse – into two separate rooms within my heart and mind. There was the room for the boys which was filled with a lightness and joy that, as a new mother, I hadn’t felt before. Then there was the room that contained my grief for Todd. The idea for the rooms began as a figurative image in my mind but as time went on I realized it came from a literal place.

The boys were only 4 months old when Todd started sleeping downstairs in his hospice bed.  Moving Todd out of our bedroom and into his new, makeshift room was the second worst thing I had to do. (The worst thing happened about a month before - when I had to walk into Todd's hospital room and tell him that Hospice was our only option.)  As a family of four, we hardly spent time together in Todd’s room. It was just too difficult. Twins. Alone. Hospice. I spent most of my time with them either in their nursery or the kitchen. So, I would wait for the boys to fall asleep at nap-time or bedtime before I could sit in Todd’s room.

Very recently the two rooms I created and separated seemed to connect for the first time. The boys and I were lying in my bed, watching the sunrise, and snuggling.  William pointed to Todd's hat on the dresser and asked, “Mama, is that Pop Ricky’s hat?”  I told him, “No, it was Todd's.” Andrew then asked, “Now it's yours?”  I nodded my head, “Yes.”  Quietly, we watched the sunrise until Andrew asked very sweetly, “Mama, where's Toddy?”  I couldn't answer. My eyes welled up with tears. Breaking the silence, William whacked me on my nose by accident causing a few more tears. They each snuggled up closer to me and Andrew said, “Don't worry Mama, I'll take care of you...”

Yes – the sun still shines – sometimes even brighter than before. It’s a different kind of sunshine though. And, when I am in that room alone dealing with the loss of Todd as a companion, husband, best friend, and more it just “makes no difference…”