The Time Has Come

•March 12, 2011 • 10 Comments

When I began this blog, I made a commitment to keep it up for one year. At the time, only nine days after my husband’s suicide, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that year would bring. I couldn’t bear the thought of living without him for a whole year, and that was part of the reason I committed myself to the blog: It would keep me accountable if I started to feel that life was no longer worth living, if Mike’s final solution started to tempt me. My heart was broken, and I couldn’t imagine that it would ever heal… but I have always turned to writing to understand myself, to make sense of the incomprehensible, to heal. Like a drowning person clinging to a life preserver, I clung to the hope that this blog would somehow help me heal.

I wrote that first post one year ago today. I look back now and am frankly astonished at all that I survived this year. On top of the sudden, devastating loss of my soul mate and dearest love… I also lost the home and family we’d made together, several friends, and my job. I was unemployed and homeless, dependent on family and friends for a place to stay, for seven months. I totalled my car. I’ve struggled with physical health issues as well as depression.

But I found a new car, a new  job, a new apartment. With the help of a therapist, a support group, and a wonderful support system of family and friends, I’m healing and I’m building a new life for myself, one step at a time. In the last week, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I know it’s not THE corner, that the path through grief has lots of twists and turns and often doubles back on itself. I know there are hard times, lots of grieving, lots of tears still ahead. But there are also good times, laughter, moments that make me glad I’m still alive.

It’s no longer my darkest hour. The dawn may be creeping in slowly, and it may take a long time before I stand in the warmth of full sunlight… but I can see the first warm, pink glow tinging the sky and I know that it’s coming.

This will be my last post on The Hour Before Dawn. I’ve done this first leg of my journey very publicly, been very raw and honest and vulnerable. I’ve also been deeply moved to learn that other people on their own dark grief journeys have found comfort and healing in my words. I would like to keep offering that comfort and support, and I may very well be back with a new blog one day.  I just know that I need to take some time to focus on my new life, and that it’s time to let The Hour Before Dawn go.

I want to thank everyone who has taken this journey with me, buoyed me with your support and love. I honestly couldn’t have done it without you. If you want to keep in touch, and we don’t already, you can email me at hourbeforedawnblog@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

In the words of Pink Floyd, “The time has come, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say…”

Dear Mike

•March 9, 2011 • 4 Comments

Hi, honey. I thought of you today when I saw the news that Mike Starr, former Alice in Chains bass player, had died. I don’t listen to their music anymore. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to listen to Alice in Chains again without going right back to the horrific weeks after you died when I could listen to nothing else.

Anyway… Mike Starr was 44, the same age you were. The article I read said that he apparently overdosed after mixing methadone with prescription drugs like Xanax. In the past when I heard this kind of news, I’d think “What a waste of talent.” I still think that, but now I also think a lot about the people he left behind. I don’t know anything about his life or his family. I wonder if there’s a woman who feels today the way I felt on March 4, 2010 — like she’s trapped in a nightmare and can’t wake up, like her life is over. I wonder how his dad, who gave a statement to the press, is coping — whether he’s angry yet or still in a state of numb disbelief.

I saw my therapist today and was telling her how I’ve felt better since I got the tattoo. She wondered if it’s partly because I’ve done something big, something permanent, to honor your memory… so now I don’t have to hold on so tightly. There’s no danger of forgetting because the reminder will always be right there on my shoulder. The word “forgetting” brought tears to my eyes. I think I’ve been afraid to move forward because it feels like moving away from you, and I don’t want to leave you behind. But I won’t ever forget you, my love.

I’m sorry that the roses I bought you last week didn’t last. I guess Trader Joe’s isn’t the best place to find fresh flowers. For our wedding anniversary next month, I’ll buy you really nice flowers, like the ones you always got for me, OK?

I love you so much,
your Liramay

Lightness of Being

•March 8, 2011 • 4 Comments

The last few days I’ve felt… lighter.  The weight of grief and depression has lifted. I had a good time at my friend’s birthday party Saturday night. Sunday I found myself thinking about writing again, mulling over a story idea that’s been on the back burner since before Mike died. I don’t have the energy to actually write it yet, but just the return of the impulse to write is a good sign. The last two days at work, I’ve been smiling more. I feel competent at work, and I realized I haven’t felt that way for a long time.

It’s been this way since Friday afternoon. I think the physical pain of getting the tattoo allowed me to release some of the emotional pain that had been building to an unbearable level. It’s a good thing. None of my usual methods of “venting” had been helping the last few weeks.

I was talking to my mother-in-law on the phone tonight and we were comparing notes about our support group meetings. I mentioned that there are some new widows in my group now, and she asked if I can see a difference between myself and them. A week or two ago, I couldn’t. I felt just as lost, just as hopeless as I did a month after Mike died.

But this week, yeah, I could definitely see the difference. Two of the women were talking about their sleep issues, how they’re lucky to sleep for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, and I realized: It’s not  like that for me anymore. I still can’t sleep without some kind of sleeping pill, but at least I’m getting a full night’s rest. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can usually just roll over and go back to sleep. That’s a huge improvement from even six months ago, when I was up half the night on a regular basis.

I remember when I first started attending the suicide survivors support group. There were a couple of widows then who were a year or more down the road. I remember hearing them laugh and joke and thinking, “How can they laugh when their husbands are dead?” And then thinking, in a vague, wistful sort of way, “Maybe someday I’ll laugh again too.” I could hardly imagine how that could happen, how I could ever find even a moment of happiness again. But you know what? Now I’m one of the ones in group who can laugh and make a joke, even through my tears, and I suspect the new widows are looking at me and wondering, how can she do that…

Forever in my heart, forever on my shoulder

•March 5, 2011 • 10 Comments

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo for a long time, nearly ten years. I first had the idea after I left my toxic ex and moved to California. It was going to be a butterfly, a symbol of my metamorphosis, but I couldn’t decide what type of butterfly or where on my body I wanted to put it. So I thought and waited, and eventually the reason for it didn’t seem important anymore. So I put the tattoo idea on indefinite hold.

About six weeks after Mike died, I had a dream about moths that felt very significant (https://hourbeforedawn.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/moths/). I started thinking then about a moth tattoo and I did some research into different types of moths. I discovered that a particular type of moth, the luna moth, was once thought to carry the spirits of our departed loved ones. As soon as I read that, I knew what I wanted. But I also knew I wanted to get it done to mark the first anniversary of Mike’s death, so I waited.

The day finally came. My dear friend Celeste picked me up around 10:30 yesterday morning and drove me all the way out to Chino (about a 50-minute drive) to Hi-Def Ink. I met the tattoo artist, Sam Scott, and made sure he’d received the photo I sent him and knew what I wanted. Then Celeste and I went to lunch. Here’s the photo we started with.

Sam did some sketches and we talked about placement. I’d decided to have it done on my left shoulder. “It will be like Mike is the angel on my shoulder,” I told my mom.  Sam, Celeste and I all agreed that it would look best on my back, just above my shoulder blade. And that way I can hide it at my corporate job.

I was a little nervous about the pain, as my pain tolerance has always been pretty low. Celeste pulled up a chair and sat next to the table, holding my hand. When he first started doing the outline, it was just a prickling sensation and the vibration was almost pleasant. This is what I’ve been afraid of for ten years?! It did hurt a bit more on certain sensitive spots, but it was nowhere near as bad as I’d expected. When it hurt, I squeezed my friend’s hand and she reminded me to breathe.

When he’d finished the outline, he let me get up and take a little break. This was my first view of the work in progress…

When he started filling in the color, that was uncomfortable in a different way. My skin felt very hot and sore, like it was being burned. I concentrated on my breathing and reminded myself that this short-term physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain I’ve endured this past year. Just as I was starting to think, OK, I really wish it was over now, he said cheerfully, “Almost done.”

Two hours from when he began, I was the proud owner (and wearer) of a new work of art.

The first thing I thought when I looked at it in the mirror was, “Mike would love this!” It’s so his style. He’d be so proud of me, too. Hell, I’m proud of me. This tattoo says I’m not afraid of pain anymore, that I know I can and will survive. It’s also a permanent reminder of the man I love and who loved me, who will always be with me… forever on my shoulder, forever in my heart.

The Body Remembers

•March 3, 2011 • 2 Comments

Well, I survived the first anniversary of Mike’s suicide. I’ve survived a whole damned year. I turned off the phone last night, didn’t set an alarm, let myself sleep until I woke naturally… which was around 9:00. It was almost 10:00 when I finally got out of bed. I felt depressed, heavy, sluggish.

Around 11:30 I powered up my laptop and set to the task of writing about the events of March 3, 2010, beginning with the phone call from the sheriff’s office. I wrote several pages, stream of consciousness, just everything I could recall about that awful day… something I’ve never been able to really let myself remember in too much detail before. Shortly after 1:00 I started to feel strange, physically. My head felt swimmy and I had a strong urge to lie down. I kept on writing. Then I started to feel nauseous and thought I might be sick. I gave in at 1:30, took some Pepto Bismol, and lay down in bed for a nap.

I dozed until around 3:00 and woke up feeling perfectly fine, physically. Emotionally I felt wrung out. I decided to take a shower, then go get some groceries. In the shower, I realized something… though I had to look it up to be sure. The time stamp on Mike’s final email, his suicide note, was 1:20 p.m. That was about the time I started to feel really sick.

“The body remembers.” I’ve heard my support group facilitators say this a number of times. Even when we don’t remember consciously, the body remembers.

Around 5:30 my friend Sheila came over for the evening. We cooked dinner together – oven baked chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans sautéed with garlic – and made a blender of margaritas in Mike’s honor. We ate, drank, and talked for hours. I cried a lot, but I also laughed. When she left, I fell into bed exhausted, thankful just to have gotten through this day.

The Night Before

•March 2, 2011 • 8 Comments

It hasn’t been a bad day. I was busy at work, which was a blessing. Then I had a really good session with my therapist – lots of tears, but also some important realizations. When I left, she told me she’s only a phone call away if the next few days get bad.

On the way home, I stopped at Trader Joe’s and picked up a few things, including a dozen red roses for Mike’s altar. I arranged them in a lovely vase from Crate & Barrel that I didn’t realize I still had until I unpacked in this new place. (I thought my ex had gotten it in our separation ten years ago along with most everything else.) I warmed up the rest of the lemon-garlic shrimp I made last week (overcooked, but I’m learning) and ate them over rice with Trader Joe’s crab cakes, a Stouffer’s spinach souffle, and a glass of pinot grigio. I put on the jazz station for background music, did a little journaling…

Now I find myself thinking back to one year ago tonight, the last night of Mike’s life. He spent most of the evening sculpting, trying to finish a commissioned project before the deadline. I checked in with him when I got home from work and was SO relieved to find him working, productive, not sunk in depression. I took a glass of wine into his workroom and stood talking with him while he worked. I don’t remember what we talked about, except one thing:

A few days earlier I’d learned that an online friend from one of my message boards had ended her life. Her suicide had triggered all my fears about losing Mike the same way, and I’d been crying about it a lot. That night I told him that I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. I wasn’t close to her, so of course I didn’t know what was going on… but even her closest friends said they had no idea she was in such a dark place, and they wondered why she hadn’t let them in, hadn’t let them try to help her. Mike paused in his work and looked at me over the clay hell hound. “Well,” he said, “I think your life is your own, and maybe sometimes you just decide that you’re done.”

I wish I’d known he wasn’t just talking about Bella. I wish I’d known it was our last night together, that the time was precious. I spent most of the evening reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and because I was so close to the end of the book I stayed up past my usual bedtime to finish it. When we got in bed, we talked for a while in the dark. Then Mike wanted to make love, but I was tired and gently brushed him away, promising him good sex tomorrow night. I never dreamed we wouldn’t have a tomorrow.

I miss him so much tonight.

To be honest, there are things I don’t miss. I don’t miss worrying about him every time he got into a bad depression… seeing that bleak, haunted look in his eyes and fearing the worst… holding him close and struggling for the right words or the right touch to give him some hope, make him hold on one more day.  I don’t miss the feeling that I had to hold up the sky for both of us, all the time. And when in time I find a new relationship, I will not be signing up to do any of that again.

I don’t particularly miss living in a messy apartment that had been taken over by Mike’s guitar/creature shop and which I’d given up all hope of keeping clean. I don’t miss discovering that he’d used the good silverware to mix plastic or stained the dining room table with paint. I’m liking my new place with its brand new hardwood floors and no one to mess it up but me.

But I do miss coming home to Mike, telling him about my day. I miss our long, rambling conversations about absolutely everything. I miss his hugs and his neck rubs. I miss falling asleep nestled together like spoons. I miss my lover. What I wouldn’t give to have just one more night with him…

I really don’t want to go to bed alone tonight. I’m glad I took tomorrow off work, so I can stay up late, reading and drinking wine until I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. I miss you, baby. I wish you were here.

No new words tonight

•March 1, 2011 • 6 Comments

Thursday it will have been a year since Mike ended his life. The last couple of days, all I can think about is what was happening a year ago right now… how we were in our last days together, but I didn’t know it.

I can’t find any new words tonight, so I’m going to re-post what I wrote last March about what happened one year ago tonight.

“SIT DOWN” (https://hourbeforedawn.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/sit-down/)

On that Monday night, when Mike came home after taking Sean back to his mom’s house, he took me by the hand and led me to the couch. “Let’s sit down,” he said. He told me what was bothering him, how he felt worthless and hopeless. I did my best to reassure him. I held him.  I told him how much I loved him.

The emptiness in his eyes scared me. I know that haunted look all too well, and it speaks of a dark, dark place. But he’d been to that dark place before and always come back to me.

I didn’t want to go to work the next day, didn’t want to leave him. But he got up, got dressed, made me tea. He hugged and kissed me, and he said, “Don’t worry about me today. Go to work and don’t worry. I’m going to work.” And he did work on a sculpture all that day — I saw the results of his work when I got home. He was still working on it that evening, and we talked a little. I thought he seemed to feel a little brighter. I had no idea it was our last night together.

Looking back on it, I see the sign that I missed in the moment. In the six years we were together, we had most of our deepest conversations either lying in bed in the dark or standing in the kitchen, each with a drink in our hand. Sometimes we stood talking in the kitchen for hours, never bothering to move into the living room where we could sit in comfort.

Only once before had he EVER prefaced a conversation by asking me to sit down: the day he had to give me the news that my father had died.  When he led me to the couch on Monday night, he knew what he was telling me… even though I didn’t.