I am sitting to write this post on the spot on the couch where Sam sat when he was so sick. I have been avoiding this spot - our entire living room actually. When I'm home, I'm in the kitchen or Birkie and I hang out (hide out?) in our room. But tonight it was time to conquer the couch.
When Sam's pelvis was broken, he couldn't move without pain so we spent a LOT of time on the couch. Our bed was too painful for him to get in and out of and uncomfortable for him to sleep in. We had a hospital bed delivered for him, but he hated that too. So he wound up sleeping, sitting upright, on the couch, in this spot where I sit now, almost the entire 25 days we were at home in Alaska. It's a long couch, so I brought pillows from our room at night and laid next to him so we could "sleep" here together. (we couldn't actually sleep much.) It's really, really hard to sit here. I think I'm learning though that thinking through this all so vividly is just part of it. It makes me feel close to him, sitting here, and then simultaneously it is so painful. But pain is part of the richness of life. I think that's what I'm learning.
Anyway, I didn't sit down to write about this spot on the couch. I am here to write about a thing I did on Friday.
Sam and I picked out matching wedding bands with two evergreen trees on them and the moon shining down on the trees (the moon is a teeny little diamond). I loved the symbolism of the two trees standing there together through it all like trees do in the woods. I ordered my ring while we were engaged and we planned to order his later when we had our wedding (I have no idea why we did not order both of them at the same time). But then our "marriage day" was somewhat spur of the moment due to a twist in his treatment plan. So that day, we went to the jeweler on State Street in Madison and he picked out a silver band, which is what he wore.
I still wear my wedding ring, but someday I will take it off. Another young widow, Norah McInerny, described in her book about the day she took hers off and how she tried not to make a big deal about it because there are so many things that can be big deals when you are a new widow. But of course, it was still a big enough deal to mention in her book - how could it not be?
Because of this drama, I decided to break my "no big decisions for a year" rule to get our wedding band tattooed on the inside of my left wrist. Just like the design, it has two evergreens on the left, which now represent Birkie and I. Then there's the moon - Sam - shining down on us. Then there's another tree added on the right representing whatever comes next. Sam shines down on that too.
I had a fairly significant meltdown the day I got my tattoo. A tattoo is no replacement for a husband and it only has as much meaning as my soul can delegate to it. So that day when I hoped that my tattoo would make me feel closer to Sam and instead it was just a tattoo, I cried a lot.
I'm good and not good at weird things. I keep my shit together all day at work, and then lose it at the grocery store because of the mundane conversation held by another young couple scooping a bag of roasted almonds out of the bulk aisle. I'm wishy-washy. I felt so confident that starting to let go of Sam's clothing was the right thing to do for a friend's garage sale last week, and now I cannot wait to get the stack of items that did not sell back so I can hug them all. I can spend hours in our house, and then cry when I sit in this certain spot on the couch.
Despite these ups and downs, the tattoo was something I thought to do right away after Sam died and never wavered. It's no replacement, but it's a really, really nice reminder of him. I'll take as many of those as I can get. Even if they're sometimes painful, they're rich too.
Grief makes you do stupid things. This ring stain is from a cup of juice I set on my bedside table the day Sam died. It wasn't a good day, but it was the last day he was here.
Today, some friends and I prepped a bunch of his clothes and "non-valuable" stuff to sell in a dear friend's garage sale this weekend. It sucked a LOT. (Who wears men's size small in Alaska anyway?). I parted with dozens of things he loved.
But I can't/won't wipe up this damn cup stain.
"Pain demands to be felt. It won’t be rushed. It won’t be pushed away or minimized. There is no set timeline for grief. There is no bible verse or life truth that can lessen pain’s grip. No matter how much we may try to push it away or pretend it isn’t there, it manifests itself. There are no tricks or tips to lessening the agony. Pain is moving through darkness, one tiny step at a time with faith that eventually a ray of light will break through. We honor our pain with tears and time. We honor our pain by acknowledging its heaviness and hurt. We honor it by recognizing loss and the hole it leaves behind...”
[quote continued below]
It has almost been a month since I have seen, touched, or talked to you. These past few months - while your body was failing and then since you died - have been so, so hard. Much harder than I thought I was capable of dealing with. On the other hand, just as there were during the few weeks toward the end when you were so miserable and I was terrified about you dying, there have been beautiful moments sprinkled in throughout this month, too. I know that beauty is what you’d want me to dwell on, and I am doing so as much as I possibly can.
I want to be honest with you about how terrible your death is, but I don’t ever want you to feel bad for having to die. I know your body was holding your spirit back - we all do - but I have to tell you a little bit about what it’s like with you dead* because it might help make you remember how incredibly loved you are. (*I know the word ‘dead’ can read like a thud. We rarely say it aloud in reference to one person. People often pick ‘gone’ instead of dead, but ‘gone’ doesn’t fit because you are still so present. Dead is the best descriptor, so I’m going with it. I hope that’s ok.)
At first, I tortured myself by replaying the 48 hours before you died in my brain over and over. Thinking about the hours when you were preparing to leave this earth is like stabbing my soul. I finally wrote it all down in detail so I wouldn’t forget all the terrifying and beautiful things that happened that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. When I did, I was able to stop obsessing so much about your final hours. It was hard to let that go because I felt so close to you as you died, but I needed to because they were the most painful hours of my life. I’m grateful to have moved past replaying that time so much because it freed up brain space to allow me think about you and your life more completely.
Since you died, I have constantly searched for meaning, Sam. I have not asked why you had to suffer and die because I know you weren’t too worried about why. But I have asked myself what I took away from living life with you and also from witnessing the full spectrum of the dying process. It has left my brain in a constant stream of metaphors and pondering. I am always thinking about lessons that I may or may not have learned in regards to grief, or the meaning of life, or the importance of love from you. Sometimes these reflections are interesting for a few moments, and then I realize how little they help or matter because you are still dead.
Truthfully, the only noteworthy result of basically 600 hours of thinking about you, so far, has been a firm appreciation of how special our love for one another is, and how much I miss you. Neither of those are profound - they are just incredibly present. Painfully present. Those two thoughts and you - your face, your smile, your essence, your spirit - are always on my mind and heart. You are on my mind when I’m alone, which has been almost never (#extrovertproblems), and you are on my mind when I’m participating in a conversation about something “completely unrelated.” It is always you. It’s beautiful and miserable, thinking of you so much, Sam.
In between missing you and being grateful for your love, to a lesser extent, I’ve thought about how much you became a part of me. I’ve thought some about the importance of prioritizing our time here on earth for doing meaningful things and having new experiences, rather than continuously falling back on the comforts of what we already know. I’ve thought about how much my muscle that gives me ability to handle difficult things has been stretched and wondered if it’ll eventually break. I’ve thought about how glad I am that we didn’t let one another stay mad about trivial things for very long. I realized that you taught me the importance of stopping what I was doing and “turning in” to fully participate in a shared experience, no matter how trivial or what I was doing at the time, and how that lead to connection. I’ve thought about the perspective you gave me about things humans tend to perceive as problems in life that are not actually problems.
Anyway, when I’m not thinking about you actively - when you move from first position in my brain to second or third (it’s never really much farther than that), I start feeling sad right away. I don’t think you’d like this much because I know you didn’t want me to be sad all the time. I’ve talked to some other friends who have experienced a sadness kind of like mine, and they said this ever-present heartache takes time to remedy. I guess I’m telling you in case you’re worried that I’m being sad too much of the time. It sounds like it will get better, ok? These friends have shared a lot of things that have given me comfort knowing that the crazy thoughts and despair that goes through my head aren’t uncommon or permanent. Talking to them about their grief makes me hurt for them and for others grieving who can relate, and it also makes me feel so incredulous about how big of a gaping, black hole grief causes in our lives that we haven’t figured out how to fill.
Everyone mentions the emptiness, or the hole, or the absence when they talk about dying - especially when our most special person dies. They talk about how you don’t ever fill the emptiness. How there really are no solutions. It makes me sad to think about all the people walking around pretending to be normal while we have giant holes of loss cut out of us. It makes me feel a little bit better to know I’m not the only who has had to figure out how to survive with with part of me missing. My Sam-sized hole is a massive crater right now. I can’t live with a crater this big forever, but the thought of my Sam Crater shrinking is pretty terrifying too. Does that mean I will have lost part of you?
See? I’ve fallen into metaphor land again. This happens a lot. Black holes do that!
What else should I say to you about the first month without you here? Oh! I forgot the best part: Thanks to what you told me, I think I’m doing pretty well, Sammy. Since you died, I’ve hiked to beautiful places and had fun. I’ve been taken care of, and have hugged more friends and family members in the last 30 days than I have ever hugged before. Your celebration of life was beautiful, Sammy. We told stories about you and got to spend time thinking about how special you are and how much you accomplished. I sometimes still talk about you or us in the present tense, but I decided not to care about that too much. Birkie has kept me company. We celebrated her third birthday with party hats and sweets last week. I’ve had meals with friends where we talked about silly things and laughed. I've learned how to miss you and laugh at the exact same time. Weird, huh?
You did an incredible job of being open about your thoughts on dying and telling me 800 times that you wanted me to be happy and carry out a full life after you left. I’m so glad and feel so lucky that I got to talk to you about this. I think that helps me carry my Sam-size crater around. We didn’t know about “the emptiness” when we used to talk about life after you died, but you telling me that I’m allowed to be happy in a world that doesn’t have you in it was a gift.
Sam, this letter could go on forever. My inner monologue is now a long letter to you all day, each day. Maybe you’ve heard some of the things I’ve told you? As you can probably tell by the circling nature of that monologue and this letter, I haven’t determined much since you died except, again:
I really, really miss you.
And I love you. Always will.
“...We honor pain by allowing it to wash over us like a tidal wave, and in its own time it recedes a bit. That first ray of light breaking through the darkness is fresh air and we breath it in as deeply as we can. We breath in hope. And hope is the balm that soothes the pain. Just as we can’t expedite pain, hope also won’t be rushed. It comes in its own time. It comes as we honor the pain."
I've been thinking about things I learned from Sam. One biggie is how to "turn in." All the members of his family are experts at it.
I’m not quite sure how to summarize “turning in,” so here’s an example:
Let's say the family was all on a car ride together (not uncommon). If someone saw an eagle out of the window, that person would say something about the eagle and reliably, everyone would stop what they were doing to ‘turn in’ and experience the eagle together for a few moments. The Weises do this better and more often than most families I’ve spent time with no matter how big or little the object demanding their attention may be. They all ‘turn in’ reliably whether they were asked to do so about the weather, or Hadley’s resemblance to Kate and Sarah, or the ice dunes on the lake, or about re-telling an old family story for the Nth time and trying to remember every detail that goes with that particular story together. I think doing this makes them more connected.
I realized that through small moments throughout our years together, Sam showed me how to “turn in,” too. When I had dinner on the stove, and was unloading the groceries, and stressing about work, and needed to return a phone call to someone all at once, Sam would often make me stop, turn in and have a hug and enjoy the quietness of a moment of loving connection even when things were hectic. Sam made me ‘turn in’ and watch funny looking clouds in the sky, or replay a song over and over so we could contemplate the meaning of a verse, or circle back to a bridge we’d just biked over to see if there were any trout swimming below. It created connection and, I now realized, those connections fed our love for each other.
I have a tendency of rushing from point A to point B, and Sam showed me all the magic that there is to be experienced when we take the time to turn in and acknowledge everything else that happens around us but is not immediately in front of us.
Debi, Jim, Kate, Sarah and Sam: Thank you for teaching me to turn in.
I'm distracted from work so I'm taking a break to share something I've learned. First of all, if you are wondering how to talk to me (or anyone else close to Sam) or haven't talked to me/us because you don't know what to say, let me take the pressure off. Please just know that I've been in your shoes. I've had the same struggle with other friends and honestly, I barely even know what to say to myself!
Today I'm thinking about how saying anything is better than nothing. ("Here to help," "Sorry for your loss," "My fave memory is..." etc.) I know your intentions are good so don't worry too much about saying the wrong thing, ok?
Anyway, here's an excerpt from a poem a number of you sent me. I vehemently disagree with parts of the poem, and I love other parts like the two stanzas here:
I know there is a fear that speaking of someone who died might make the griever sad, so it’s best not to bring them up. Maybe that is true for some people, but in my short experience with grief, I'd say the opposite. Talking about Sam fills me with joy. Here's more from an article I read: "Hearing his name makes me smile and floods my mind with happy memories of a life well lived. It makes the grieving sadder when everyone around [me] refuses to say [his] name."
I'm slowly starting to understand the whole, "there is no moving on, only moving forward" mentality. The idea of moving on sounds awful, but forward is something I can do and that Sam prepared me to do. Continuing to talk about Sam makes that easier.
To friends who have lost someone close: I'm sorry if I didn't say anything to you. I was scared. And to be honest, I'm not 100% sure my experience prepares me with what to say, but I know I don't want to say nothing.
If you feel comfortable, I'd love to hear others' experiences with grief and what was helpful vs. not. I am very much still trying to figure it out.