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It’s the morning of the seventh anniversary of that day when Don died. Last night and this morning, I’ve been thinking about what to write, as I always write something on this anniversary. Also, I wondered if I should write my post this morning, or wait and write something at the end of the day. I decided that morning was better – so that I can say what I need to say and then start on with the first day of the coming year. I guess you could say that September 6th has become my New Year’s Day. I choose not to acknowledge that other near-universal date.
This morning, facebook did that thing it does where it shows you what you wrote “on this day” a year or more ago. Surprise, surprise! It showed me links to a bunch of blog posts I’ve written on each anniversary of Don’s death going back to when I first started using facebook!
So, well, I looked at all of the posts and decided to do something a little different and perhaps odd. I went back to this post from September 6th, 2012 – the fourth anniversary – and used the photos from that post to write this one. Why? I don’t quite know. It just seemed like a good idea. I guess I didn’t feel like digging around through my photo archives, being wounded by photo after photo. These ones are ideal just as they are. They speak to me in a certain way that befits this time of the year – the end of another summer and beginning of another autumn.
As I began reading the post from 2012, I soon discovered that it actually says several of the things I planned to write about today – almost word for word! I guess the message in that is that I feel about the same now as I did three years ago when I wrote the fourth anniversary post. The truth is, that’s about how it is. However, I do have a few things to add. I guess maybe time and three additional years of wisdom give me the privilege of expounding a little further on some of the matters I chose to discuss that year. I’ve even added a couple of new topics! So, what I’ve decided to do is quote some bits and pieces from my older post – appearing in italics – and add some new musings here and there.
Alright, so let’s begin:
Each year, I ponder over what to write, how much to share, and what to keep to myself. Mostly, I wish for my friends to take a moment to remember Don as a wonderful person. I have met few kinder and more attentive people in my life. He always made time for everyone, even when he was busy and stressed. He rarely found fault with anything and was a joy to be around. I look back on our 34 years together as a great gift, even if it was to end far too soon.
Some (but not many) have suggested that I do that thing that people sometimes do – to idealize someone once they are dead and gone. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not the case at all. Don was all of what I wrote up above. He was a really fine sort of a person. I knew that when we were together, and more than ever, I know just how special he was for the way he cared about people, animals, the environment, our dogs, and me. I always laugh a little when I remember how the mechanics at work used to try to tease him by calling him the Recycle Man, because he would go around the garage picking aluminum drink cans out of the garbage cans, putting them in boxes and bringing them home to put out in our recycle bins at the curb on garbage day. I so admired that he was the kind of guy who didn’t give a damn if people laughed at him for doing what he felt was right.
I don’t really have much wisdom to impart to anyone. However, I would like to write a little about those things I have learned about time. For the widowed among you, I doubt there will be any surprises.
First, in the months after Don’s death, people often told me that time heals all wounds. I did not really believe that and, in fact, it has proven to be one of those commonly stated falsehoods that is accepted as being true. Time doesn’t actually do too much except make you feel somewhat older. For me, it is as though time stopped on the evening of September 6, 2008. I am caught in some strange place called Limbo, where my body moves forward doing what needs done, but my mind is back in some other world, left behind while the rest of you went on with your lives. Now, all time is measured in relation to that date. The new year of my calendar begins at around 7 p.m. each September 6th. Although I know that 48 months have passed, to me, I can still remember the events of that evening four years ago as if they happened last week. In fact, as the hour draws nigh, it feels as though some door is opening back to that very moment and that it is actually just about to happen all over. I have experienced this sensation each year during the evening of this anniversary.
All of the above remains true. However, now, instead of the passage of 4 years, it is 7 years. That thing I mentioned, about feeling like I am in Limbo, remains to this day. Yes, yes, I know. You see me doing all kinds of things, going places, fixing houses, building cabins, planting garlic, and so on. Well, yes, my body is doing all of those things – rather like a well-behaved robot that performs as instructed. However, rather like the Great Oz, the front that appears in public bears only a passing resemblance to the little man behind the curtain who is flipping switches and sending up great blasts of fire and puffs of smoke. Despite all that I do and places that I go, I’m still “me” inside, and I am still deeply wounded by all that I experienced in 2008. I don’t cope all that well with stress, bad news, bad behaviour, illness and death. It takes very little to send me into a tailspin, as I discovered this spring when I returned to Round Hill, only to find that my neighbours, who had become close friends, were in a bad way. Several days a week, I cared for them until the husband died about 7 weeks after I returned home. Before arriving home, I had had some good plans for this summer, but after all of this, I sort of lost my place and mojo and it took most of the summer to get back to feeling okay about things. It appears that my resilience isn’t particularly good anymore. Actually, I already knew as much, but this situation put it to the test and, in a manner of speaking, I failed. My integrated stress-o-meter is just about kaput. That said, I would not have done things any differently. I did what was right and what was needed in a dire situation, but I’m just not the person I was back in 2007 before all the bad things happened. I do not have any magical powers to protect me from harm, or help me bounce back when faced with bad situations. Whatever I once had, was fried forever on the Altar of Catastrophe.
So, what else is to be said in this year’s post?
I suppose it might be useful to say something about how it feels to be me at 7 years on. Well, to be quite frank about it, I’m sick to death of the whole thing, even though I don’t speak the words very often. Truly. Seven years is a long time to be a prisoner in the Penitentiary of Grief. Actually, I busted out awhile ago, but things will never go back to the way they were. No, I’m not sad every day. In fact, I am rarely ever sad. Basically, I just toodle along like a good little widow, finding things to work on every day – because, well, that’s what we widows are expected to do! You know, “Keep busy! It helps!” or “Find a new passion!” or “Volunteer for things!” Yes, yes, yes, I’ve done all of those things you ordered me to do. However, like most widows I’ve spoken with, I’m becoming very tired of living a life doing shit that is not at all as WE had planned. Instead of spending OUR golden years, hiking and canoeing, as WE had spent many hundreds (if not thousands) of hours planning to do for the 35+ years that we both busted our asses off, working ridiculously long hours and putting up with an incredible amount of bullshit at our thankless jobs, here I sit, rather like a hockey player who got sent to the penalty box to cool my heels for about – oh – SEVEN years, while my team mate disappears off to hang out in DEATHVILLE. I tell you, I am tired-tired-tired of this bullshit.
Preemptive Note: No need for anyone to offer placating words. They’ll just roll off me like water off a duck’s back. I’m well practiced at ignoring silly sentiments and advice.
Well, what next?
I’ve gradually come to understand that I like being alone more than I like going out places to hang around with the Normal Folk. Oh, you know… those lucky people who still have their Normal Lives and have not yet been incarcerated in the Penitentiary of Grief. Believe me. I still love all of you, but it just wears me down to hang out around you for very long at a time. A little exposure goes a long way. It’s much easier to maintain equilibrium here in my own little world, which is actually a pretty good place – with its dogs, art, music, insects, brook, crazy old house, gardens, and more! So if I become bored and wander off after a few hours of socializing, never fear. I’ve just gone home to do my own thing and play with my own toys – which is as it should be.
In my 2012 post, I wrote about how photographs can work like time machines. This is what I wrote about the above two photos:
It was an unusually warm September day. We were hiking the Tallow Rock Bay Trail at Charleston Lake. We hiked it many times over the years, but on this day, I can tell you that it was one of our first hikes with Sabrina after she recovered from a truly nasty bout of mange. Our vet felt she might have caught it from being in some place frequented by foxes as there was a lot of mange being seen in the local fox population that summer. We stopped to rest on one of the platforms on the floating bridge that crosses the bay. We often paused there to have our lunch and give Sabrina a bowl of water. It’s very likely that we had chickpea and celery salad on pita bread that day as that was our favourite hiker’s meal.
Well, this brings up another point that has become a touchy subject with me. Memories. Believe it or not, I have quite a few! A year or so ago, I took a lot of flack over having MEMORIES and that I still enjoy talking about them. Apparently, we widows aren’t supposed to talk about our former lives. Oh, you know — don’t you get it? Our “before” lives don’t exist anymore and we aren’t supposed to talk about “the old days” anymore because, well, because. It’s okay for everyone else to talk about their past 5 or 6 decades on the planet, but we aren’t supposed to talk about ours because, well, that means we’re talking about Dead People, and bringing everyone else down! Don’t we realize that no one wants to hear about our memories, even though everything that we did for the past 35 or 40 years, involved this Dead Person that we aren’t supposed to talk about, so, like, we should just STFU and not say anything while everyone else spouts off about their own memories. Yeah, well. I’ll say whatever the hell I like about my memories and my past. They belong to ME and they are part of who I am. I have a life and it includes the past 40 years on this planet living with a Dead Person! Got that?!
Next thing I want to say is that, we humans really aren’t very good at predicting the future. No, we’re actually incredibly shitty at fortune-telling. Take the following example:
The above and below photos were taken in the midst of a conversation about how we could not think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than to hike the Point Trail at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. It had become our annual event and as we lay on the grass with Sabrina nearby, we discussed how we would endeavour to do this particular hike on our anniversary for as many years as we could manage to shuffle our way around the loop trail. I turned the camera first toward Don and then took a self portrait while listening, somewhat bemused, as he speculated on how many more decades it might be before we became too feeble to make it for the last time. We had a similar conversation the last time that we put our canoe in the Barron Canyon River in Algonquin Park, paddling to the falls and back. That was to be our other annual trip that would measure how we were holding up in the battle against the effects of Time. How strange to look at these photos, now knowing that we had so little time remaining and would only be able to do our anniversary hike one more time.
See what I mean? Hubris. How crazy was that for us to think we would have at least a decade, or perhaps even two, to do our annual Point Trail hike, and Barron Canyon canoe trip? Silly, I tell you! Now, when I think of doing anything, I just get the hell packing and go. Seriously. I do a quickie assessment of my physical strength and abilities, finances, state of repair of my vehicle, and just get the hell out of Dodge as quick as I can. As the now popularized saying goes, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” True. It isn’t. We’re broadcasting live, 24 hours a day, each and every day. There will be no second takes, so make it good!
The world can be a weird place. It’s true. Just as photographs can be a time machine, so can familiar places. I have this love-hate relationship with eastern Ontario. I love to remember the many wonderful places that we hiked or canoed. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all of our favourite places to see dragonflies. We knew just when to go to which place to see a particular species of dragonflies. I never seem to be able to figure such things out here in Nova Scotia. Why? I guess because Don and I had decades of hiking or canoeing in particular places at so many times during the season that we just knew when to be in the right place at the right time. Will I ever know another place so well as I know eastern Ontario? Sometimes it makes me unbearably sad to have left. Some don’t understand why I did. I guess it was self preservation….
I have not really hiked any of the trails on our old stomping grounds since Don’s death. On a couple of occasions, I did go out to certain places to look around a bit, but I just could not deal with the sadness of walking those oh-so-familiar pathways alone. Over the decades, we hiked some of those trails so many times that we knew where we were most likely to encounter a Ribbon Snake, or a Slaty Skimmer dragonfly, a Barred Owl perched silently in a particular tree, or a Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle scanning for prey. For me, our old trails became nothing more than a painful reminder of the cruelty of fate that took Don away and left me alone in the world.
I don’t know. I want to return to my old places — the places that I know as well or maybe even better than the back of my hand. However, I don’t think I can. It hurts too much to go there. I’ve become like a wanderer on a distant shore, who burnt her boat when she landed.
And so, I come to the end of this blog post. I am left with my photos and memories – my Time Machine:
Oddly, so many of my time machine photos were of Don looking back as he waited for me to catch up. He and Sabrina used to wander ahead, searching for plants and creatures for me to photograph. I was always a little behind, messing with camera gear and snapping photos. And so it seems I am still a little behind, with Don and Sabrina off somewhere in the distance and me straggling along behind.
These days, I’m not as angry about what happened. I’m still a little sad. Rather surprisingly, against my own wager, I’m still here. I continue to live. I’ve learned a lot in seven years. And, I’m older – now about 4 years older than Don will ever be. Hell, I’ve almost attained sage status. I guess I have earned the right to think and say whatever I feel.
To Don: I miss you and love you. Always.