Too Much to Carry

Too Much to Carry

It has been a long few months. Those of you who follow me on Instagram are probably a little familiar with my ongoing struggle to internalize my grief. It’s hard to explain what has been so hard about this, so I’ve attempted to visualize it… poorly, but still.

When Mike was originally diagnosed, it was not the first major trauma of my life. I’m sorry to say I had a turbulent adolescence, with more than my share of life-altering, debilitating experiences. But I was energetic, optimistic, and it was worth doing the work to make our lives move along happily. I believed in Mike. I believed in us. And somehow, I believed in myself.

I went about my business pretty normally. It was no doubt harder in many ways for me to live my life than many of my peers, but I bore it well. Everyone said I bore it well. Everyone said what a good job I did of coping with everything. I believe them still. I only recently began to understand exactly how much I’ve been carrying these last fifteen years. At the time, it mostly just felt like this was life. It was hard, but it was worth it. And it was only ever going to get better.

The thing is, as life got better, it also got more complicated. Mike was mostly stable, but soon I was a mom of three. I had my own health problems, I had shit that needed to be done. I was okay, I had a handle on things, but it was hard. And sometimes, it broke me. I had a hard time more often than I wanted to admit, but Mike and I were a team in almost all things, and we were happy, as hard as that can be to believe for people living under as much stress as we were. And we were. All the time. But like I said… I handled it. And I was mostly happy. This was the happiest period of my life, truly. Our lives were as near to perfect as life can be. We just happened to be living with Mike’s brain cancer.

Then Mike got sicker. The kids’ lives got more complicated. And my life was more complicated. And things started to be too much on a regular basis. But I was SO GOOD at handling too much all at once. I was so organized. I was so coordinated. I had my poop in a group. I had my SHIT TOGETHER. I was one of the most detail-oriented, Type A, utterly functional human beings I could imagine, and I was a MESS. I would get overwhelmed by the housework, by too much noise around me, by big box stores. Mike knew this, and he worked so hard to make my environment comfortable for me. To make the kids clean up when my anxiety was so high I couldn’t clean. To do the shopping at Costco so I didn’t get overwhelmed by the endless shelves and fluorescent lights. And so we managed. And when he couldn’t do things like the shopping anymore, we found workarounds. Curbside pick-up isn’t a covid-era invention. I LIVED on that.

I had a complete mental breakdown at one point, but it was short-lived. I got over it. After a few weeks of paranoia and self-hating delusions (yes, I had an honest-to-god delusion due to my stress level), I got back to the business running our lives, moving forward, getting ready for Mike to go back to work.

Only Mike didn’t go to work. He started getting worse. Falling, stumbling, losing mobility and dexterity. I started talking in earnest with my therapist about the very real hints that Mike was nearing the end of his life. And then Jac died. And then I had surgery. And then Mike had another surgery. And then Covid hit in earnest. And then Shana died.

These were only the most public of the struggles I was mustering through. My bubbe was ill with cancer, and failing. There was cancer all around us. My children, old enough now to express their desires about how relatively public their problems are made, had other things happening. I had professional drama. My younger sister had a miscarriage.

But I kept going. It was too important. I didn’t just struggle, in many ways I THRIVED. I started doing yoga classes five days a week. I was on top of my eating habits. I was on top of the remote learning. I was letting go of everything I could possibly delegate and letting other people handle what they could, and I was taking care of my family like a motherfucking superhero.

Taking care of a family that is going through a traumatic loss, taking care of a dying husband, taking care of children who are watching their father die– these are not simple tasks.

Caring for the dying, caring for a person who is dying, caring for YOUR person through their death… There is no way to describe the honor of being given this responsibility. It was not a burden, per se, it was a privilege. But it was also impossible. There was no way to get through any day without feeling that the day had been crafted from start to finish for optimal emotional torture. Mike did not know he was dying for most of this time. The children asked and asked, and how was I supposed to answer? “Yes, but don’t tell him?” Whatever he needed to believe about that time, I owed it to him to let him believe it. When he needed to hear that he was dying, I told him. When he needed to hear there was hope, I told him. And like most people, it was the hope he needed the most.

The children, though, I couldn’t treat the same. To tell them Daddy was going to get better was a lie. For them, I provided comfort, compassion, solidarity, and love. And I promised them we would get through it. And just as much hope as I could give them that he would be HIM long enough for them to get used to idea of losing him forever.

And then Mike died.

What I did not realize when I took off this summer to bring the girls on our ashes-scattering road trip was that this was STRUCTURE, the kind of structure I needed more than the kids. When we came back, when the structure of grieving and living, of having to put together meals around a campfire or order drive-thru, packing up the tent and rolling up the sleeping bags, checking what we needed to do every hour of every day… I fell apart. The structure of caring for Mike was the framework under which I functioned for fourteen years. For fourteen years, including the months after his death, everything in my life was done in the context of his needs, his wants, his requirements, his limitations. The trip was a carefully orchestrated month of proofs that I could function without THAT, but not in a structureless void.

I am free of the restrictions of life with a dying husband now.

On the other hand, I am completely and utterly lost. Without the structure of his appointments, his medication schedule, his scans, I have virtually none. And under the strain of the million other things I have to do, and especially the half-dozen CRITICAL and complicated items like getting Rivka into tutoring through the school district and getting Sophia into her sleep study despite the stonewalling of our medical insurance, dealing with our totaled car and putting the house back together again, I collapsed.

And I could not get up.

I spent several weeks in bed, eating and drinking so little I made myself genuinely ill. I am still recovering from this. It is no surprise to me how many widow/ers die during the two years after their spouses die.

I’m pulling myself together now. I’m seeing somebody new, who supports me in ways I never dreamed I could be supported through this kind of shit. I’m working on getting medicated. I’m working on getting WORKING.

But it’s hard.

Grief is hard, and somehow you have to find a way to keep moving forward. So I’m trying. I’m trying so goddamned hard. Even when I’m collapsed in bed, incapable of making myself eat the cheese and fruit my children bring me, I’m trying.

We’re all getting through this. We’re all getting better.

Thank you for staying with me through it all. I’m trying to get back to writing about the chaos of all of this, about what we learned, and what I understand now about life and death.

But while I work on it, thank you for not going anywhere. Thank you for being there for me.

You can read more about grief here: On Grief and Vertigo

Read my most recent post here: After the Exit, A Scattered Road Trip.

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