Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grief: Up the Down Staircase: The Fourth Anniversary of My Husband's Death

There was a book a long time ago called Up the Down Staircase.  I was thinking what to call this weird unwanted yet sometimes quite amazing thing that has been my life since Artie died.  Maybe it should be Up the Down Escalator.  You have to train to run quickly up an elevator going down to get to the top.  Or if you have a key (like the men who carry bags for you at Penn Station) you can just turn the key and the down escalator will start going up.  Sometimes I have that key, sometimes I have it and forget to use it.  Sometimes I don't even remember what the key looks like.

I was going to write this yesterday.  Four years ago I didn't know that Artie was going to die in the early morning hours of July 17, 2009.  On the 16th he was with two of his best friends and a caregiver and I went out to take a break.  I bought a bag full of CDs for us to listen to together.  That bag stayed unopened by the front door for a very long time.  I never understood why people would say, "I was surprised when he died." when they knew the person was dying.  I learned that day that you never expect them to die that day, that hour, that minute.  Just a little more time.  Please don't go yet.  Yesterday was Artie's dying day.

I started out doing well yesterday.  Even the days before.  I had fun with friends.  i saw Emmylou Harris who makes 66 years old powerful and sexy.  I couldn't have done that even last year.  Yesterday morning I ran errands.  I had all intentions of getting things done.  I wanted to write and say how I had changed and how proud I was that I could get through the day.  Then about 4 pm the old familiar sinkhole opened up.  There I was with the overwhelming anxiety and an almost palpable pain in my chest. Artie was dying and I couldn't stop it.  It didn't feel like past time, it felt like present time.  I stopped.  I watched TV, I ate, I stared.  I kept setting the alarm so I could get up and do things.  I didn't.  All my techniques and tools weren't even in my thoughts.  My only thought was my husband might be here in spirit but he is never coming back to hold me again and tell me that he loves me.  He tells me every day - but not in his old voice.  I have his ashes at home and for the first time in a long time I held them on my lap.  I know he's not in his ashes, but they are the only bits I have left of what used to be him.

Today is different.  Today is the actual anniversary of his death.  The first "person" I told when I wandered into our bedroom and finally lay down was his teddy bear.  I said, "I'm so sorry but your person isn't coming back.  I'll try to take care of you."  Today I have to get everything done that I didn't do yesterday.  I am leaving today for Venice, Italy with my daughter and granddaughter - little Gwendy blue eyes.  We are going on a cruise to Dubrovnik, Greece and Ephesus in Turkey.  I couldn't have done that on any other anniversary of his death.  I am more alive with grief now that I am dead with grief.  Most of the time.

Someone wrote beautifully about how long the gestation of our new self takes.  This new self we are forced to give birth to.  The self that lives on without the physical presence of the beloved.  I read again today someone whining about people who mourn too long.  They do not understand that if love is deep and true the missing is life long.  I also read Betty White saying that even after 30 years her husband Allen Ludden is in her home and heart.  My daughter asked me how I would be today.  I said I didn't know.  I don't.  I asked for permission to be quiet or sad or distant - or even happy and involved.  Sometimes I can let in the light - sometimes the window shades are pulled so tight I can't even remember where the windows are.

One thing I know is that for a loner and very private person in normal life - the community of grief warriors has been of tremendous help to me.  Helping each other helps every one of us.  I am grateful for those of you that dance these complicated dance steps with me.  Showing up when I didn't want to has given me many happy memories.  Trying to help others has brought me numerous joys.

I didn't have room for Artie's drums when I moved.  I gave them to a dear friend of his.  I asked him to bang the drums today for Artie.  He said he'd bang them for Artie and for me.  Bang your drums everyone.  Make a lot of noise.  On Facebook I ask people to do something for someone else to keep Artie's smile going.  I got the idea from another widow who asked people to pay it forward for her husband Don.  We make a difference.   You make a difference.

Why bother?  I can't answer that for you but if you bang your drums hard enough you might find the answer in the rhythm of the sound you make.  xo


  1. Jan, I just read your post and truly hope you have a wonderful time on your trip to Venice. YOu are so inspiring. I set myself one task to achieve each day and some days I do it and others I do not. Todays is to go to the cemetery and find a spot to place my Phil. I dont want to go. I dont want to do it. But of course I must. I still have all my curtains drawn and I still dont want to go out or do anything but as I am choosing a place to lay him in peace i will try really hard to bang those drums. My thoughts are with you. Sophie

  2. Beautifully written, Jan. As a grief counselor I see so many being asked to be superhuman and move through their grief in order to make others comfortable. I know, absolutely, that each person moves at their own heart's pace and those who love them will support that. I honor your journey. Therese Tappouni

  3. Dear Jan...Thank you for your Memories of your Artie and your feelings as you go through life now.. It has been a comfort to me as I am walking the same path as you.. March 2009 my husband of 45 years died.