I (finally) wrote back to an acquaintance who is in very similar shoes as myself. I hate to cop-out & be lazy with a copy-paste, but the content is pretty much the same. The update:
The only option we really get is to just muddle through it as best we can; discovering who we are again without our other halves; realizing all the ways we let our others complement our selves over the years. I can barely remember to feed the beta-fish or pick up dry cleaning –previously foreign concepts to me.
Michael used to handle that. I’ve inherited his hobbies – the patio gardening, the turtle pond (and its nearly impossible home-made filter), etc. It’s actually very peaceful to have gotten a grip on things. All the random things we collect along the way in life, which we then just leave behind alongside our bodies upon death.
I haven’t gone through all of our/his personal stuff (cuz how much stuff can you really squeeze into a smaller 1 bed/1 bath condo?), but I’ve cleaned & organized things, threw out a lot of unnecessary things, and left the rest in a storage bin for another day. That can wait in the bedroom till I’m ready to go through what remains – too many moments captured in photos; too many personal notes & holiday cards; things that can wait for now.
My big push was to find the stuff that Michael’s sister might want to keep in the family – like Michael’s father’s engineering equipment. Even has an old slide rule calculator. That kind of stuff should be passed onward to Michael’s nephew. I’m hoping to send it out this weekend with an IOU on photos & other things.
It has been especially hard finding folks to communicate with. While the grief counseling has been helpful; even that has become a bit redundant. At least it provides some forward moment. I’m running out of things to talk about, I ask for homework, but even that has started to wane.
This past 4th month was kind of hard – by now everyone has gone back their own lives. Some of my closest friends are young parents – they already have pretty full schedules. There’s just a few of us stuck in this upside-down world. Most people want to be empathetic but very few want to speak about death – especially suicide. People dance around the issue. Sadly, I suspect we probably need to talk about it more often in society.
So life has definitely gotten a bit lonelier & my support circle has shrunken a bit. Thankfully I’m lucky to have a small but strong group of friends supporting me through this; and I’ve been purposefully pushing myself to get out & stay busy, or just enjoy company at home. But I struggle hard with energy & motivation. Wish I could get myself to the gym. (That energy/motivation thing.)
I’ve found a handful of things as I’ve gone through our things & cleaned up the condo. Michael’s challenges were lifelong, and he dealt with quietly and inwardly. I found journal entries from before our time together that spoke of low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, living only “for other people.” He was mostly afraid he’d hurt his mom if he killed himself; he was the baby of the family. But he noted even then that he wasn’t sure how long he could live for his mother alone.
On that back page he’d jotted down notes about joining his friend Matt for Sacramento Gay Pride, where we met. We had a great romance. The passion waned over the years, with its ebbs & flows – happens to every couple. But I can only hope that our 13 years together somehow stretched his time here.
So aside from a few new flavors of loneliness, the only other real change is that I find myself thinking more about the future than the past. That’s pretty new – I was bogged down bouncing between cycles of grief. Depression, guilt, all the “what ifs” and unanswerable questions. I’m emerging from that. The future feels wide open & full of options.
I don’t mean that optimistically – I’m more of a pessimist/realist; but the statement is true all the same. I have to rediscover who I am; decide what kind of man I want to be; choose where I want to live & figure out what I want to do with my career. An open book waiting to be written.
But I’m sticking to the “no big changes for a year” thing.
I’m going to keep my 1x per week grief counselor appointment in place – who knows what the future might bring. Not gonna hurt to have my resources lined up. I went 2x per week for the first two months after Michael passed, and then I down-shifted to 1x per week around in the third month. It’s more tolerable.
Having a gay therapist is especially useful – he’s walked in our shoes, understands our lifestyle & its lingo, as well as the attitudes we were born into (and all the baggage that came with it – the typical gay self-loathing for those born before the internet). Now it seems fashionable to be gay. Our younger counterparts take too much for granted unknowingly.
I never had a chance to say a last “I love you.” I wasn’t given that opportunity. When I woke and found Michael; it was: 1) get him down & onto the bed; 2) call 911; 3) call my closest friends to come; 4) call my family to come.
It wasn't until after the parade of badges (fireman, paramedics, police, coroner's office) when they were removing Michael's body from the condo. The coroner had asked us to wait on the patio because I guess seeing a stretcher & dead body freak people out. I appreciate the sentiment, but I needed to say goodbye. I had the coroner open the body bag, and though it was hours into his death & physical changes had begun to occur. I kissed his forehead, whispered an I love you, a thank you, & that goodbye kiss.
I have to say I was quite surprised that my family managed to get out of their small CT town and out to LA in the same day. We (my twin, who lives up in West Hollywood) had come down & we both stayed the night with friends. We had my family head down to Orange County the next morning.
They wanted to come straight from the airport, but they’re in their 70s and we didn’t think that the emotional toll & the exhaustion of travel would help them navigate through LA traffic down the 405 to Orange County. That they were able to get to LA on the same day was impressive enough.
An odd thing: I have found that this incident has allowed me to develop more adult relationships with my parents. The whole “feeling like an insecure teenager” thing has largely disappeared. These kinds of traumatic losses really give cause to rethink priorities, purpose, what is & is not important.
(It’s probably close to that feeling that old folks get when they can tell people to f-off at whim, without much concern for consequences.) My relationships with my challenging family have since become stronger and more independent.
Cooking for one does indeed suck and it’s not very economical. I’ve been learning how to make larger batches of things & then split them up over a week or two. Sundays I prepare for the work-week – the few groceries, a few loads of laundry, cooking batches of steel-cut oatmeal & berries; dividing it into containers for each days’ breakfast. I have lost some weight in the last few months – probably 10-15 pounds. Eating doesn’t interest me much.
I’ve heard appetite disturbance is 2nd only to sleep disturbances. I’ve experienced both. My psych doc tried a Lunesta prescription – and it worked kinda OK. I had some trouble falling asleep but once out, I was out. But I also overslept; ended up late for work; missed client meetings. It was a bad fit. After 2-3 days I gave it up. Now I save it for weekends when I want a good lie-in on Saturday or Sunday.
If I were to try and describe how I feel now, it would be:
I spent a lot of time trying to be a good husband and a good provider. I did both well, but I lost a lot of myself to that effort. I’m learning who I am again – or who I’m going to be. It’s impossible for you to have your world turned upside down and not expect changes.
So that’s my new challenge: I feel like a stranger to myself & it’s time to meet me.