Normally, I’m pretty unfiltered, but I filter a lot these days. I don’t know what parts of my newly widowed life people can handle and what parts they can’t. I’m so used to compartmentalizing that it comes easily, but the fact is, my life is complicated and I’m a little frayed around the edges.
It started with basic widow stuff. Impulsivity. Distractedness. Confusion. Sleeping problems. Headaches.
It got worse. Rampant disorganization. Forgetfulness. Strange little personality changes. My whole sense of personal style seems to be evolving. I basically never yell anymore.
But then there were the other things, the things that started before Mike died. The weight loss. The hair loss. The exhaustion.
And worst of all, the aphasia. As a writer, the moment when you find yourself repeatedly struggling to find a simple word and simply cannot locate it, that stings. When you open your mouth and you sound like a slow, stumbling Sheriff of Rottingham, the sentence coming out in a disordered jumble. “Dinner kids, is time table to set it’s ready to.”
I asked my therapist if grief was exacerbating my long-suspected undiagnosed ADD. She asked about symptoms I always have, dysautonomia symptoms. I told her about the details of the aphasia. And she said, “I don’t mean to worry you, but those can also be caused by a brain tumor.”
The last time somebody said that to me was May, 2007. It resulted in my dysautonomia diagnosis, and was followed shortly thereafter by Mike’s seizure.
She made me promise to go to the doctor, which I did. My new doctor, with the insurance I had to get after Mike died that didn’t cover my old doctor. My new doctor, in Mike’s old hospital system. My new doctor, who gave me the exact same piece of paper I got after all Mike’s appointments, with the phone number highlighted for where to call to schedule the exact same brain MRIs, with the exact same questionnaires. Only my name is on the top instead of his.
It’s probably nothing. It’s probably stress or grief or whatever it is that makes your brain stop working properly in the days or months or, god help me, years after you lose somebody you would never have described as “my everything” but are learning all the time kind of was exactly that. Everything.
They call it “widow brain,” and it’s like being constantly stoned and also hungover and also like you’re riding the best fucking roller coaster on earth. It’s like being a teenager, except also like a world-weary grown-ass woman. I feel like the world is opening up for me. But at the same time like it’s all a fever dream and nothing at all is real.
The highs are amazing. I feel beautiful and loved, I have two adorable new kittens who sleep on me with the cutest kitten smiles on their faces, my children hug me and talk to me and listen to me and we share our grief and also our joy. We’re excited about things. Our lives are changing in thrilling ways. The twins are starting middle school in the fall, god help me again.
And then I sit with them and I ask myself, “Do I need to tell them I’m getting an MRI of my brain to rule out brain cancer before we can start treating me for something like ADD?”
And yeah, I needed to tell them. So I told them. I explained how my dysautonomia always looked like brain cancer, how when their daddy was first diagnosed he and I used to joke that he had the tumors and I had the symptoms. And that’s now closely we fit each other.
But of course he’s gone now. I have to do many things he used to do. And although I know it’s unlikely, there’s the threat that one of the things I might have to do is have brain cancer.
I’m sure I don’t, but I worry. I know I can’t do this for myself. I can’t be the advocate for myself that I was for Mike. I can’t be the rock-solid optimist for myself that I was for Mike. I can’t be the support for myself that I was for Mike. And if I’m the person who gets sick, brain cancer or skin cancer or cervical cancer (possibilities I am constantly enduring scans and biopsies to observe) I can’t be that for them.
I used to think that me-the-advocate was my best self. Now I’m not so sure. I’m better than I used to be. Calmer. More even keeled. In some ways, more open. At least as a mother. I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time. I’m growing more than I have in a long time. Stretching myself. Willing to learn. Open to all kinds of newness.
I’m getting out quite a bit. Into nature and into the reopening world. I make the bed in the mornings. I never used to do that.
But sometimes I collapse.
On Friday, I scheduled the same MRI I scheduled for Mike hundreds of times. Brain, with and without contrast. I told the scheduler on the phone that she had to update my emergency contact, that my husband was dead, that he died of brain cancer. When she asked me to spell my name I recited my email and phone number, and started on my wifi password before I realized what I was doing. When she asked me for my address I gave her Mike’s date of birth. She said it was okay that I was flustered, MRIs are scary.
I told her I wasn’t frightened of MRIs at all, but she had no fucking idea.
Occam’s Razor would imply that the only thing wrong with me now, the only thing that wasn’t wrong with me already, is the thing we already know is wrong with me. That I have dysautonomia and I’m suffering a terrible set of losses. That in the madness of Mike’s decline I never had space in my brain to mourn my sister. That in the madness of Mike’s illness, I never had the space to grieve anyone.
So next week I’ll get my MRI. Only instead of Mike it will be me with the IV. Me laying in the noisy tube. Me calming myself with the promise of a noisy nap.
But I’m not going to be waiting for me. Mike’s not going to be waiting for me. No matter how confident I am that when they get back to me with my results it will be a lot of nothing, the waiting will be new. There will be no joking with my everything, no gallows humor to share, no kisses and cuddles and confidence.
I’m fine. Really. Everyone has medical scares. It’s not even a scare, it’s due diligence. It’s not even really a thing.
But like so many other nothing-things these days, it will just be me, learning whether or not this is something I am capable of doing on my own.
You can read more about waiting for MRIs in May here: Playing Would You Rather for Brain Tumor Awareness Month
Read my most recent post here: It’s Fine. I’m Fine. Everything’s Fine.
Our gofundme is still active: Love for the Grovers
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