Friday, February 24, 2012

Keeping us sane

 The three of us enter the small room at the hospice office where we have met with her once a month since January 2011 and take our places at the rectangular table. Richard always sits with his back to the window. I always sit on Richard’s left and have become quite familiar with the big painting on the wall facing me of a wispy, bright orange-red poppy. She sits opposite Richard.

 For many years she taught elementary school children. Then, 7 years ago, her husband died and she retired shortly thereafter. Now she teaches people like us how not loose our minds as we move through the process of processing the death of a loved one.

She smiles. “So,” she says, looking at each of us in turn. “How are you two doing?”

 In our session in January we had discussed some things that I had read Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles her journey through the year after her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack while they were eating dinner at home.

So I tell her
 I am tired. I am just really very tired of Nathaniel being dead. I want him to stop being dead so everything can go back to normal.
 Magical thinking.

She smiles. And nods. She understands.

I mention something Didion says in her book. She could not give away her husband’s shoes, because he would need them if he came back…

Richard sort of interrupts me and starts to talk. This is typical ADD behavior and I understand him, and it is OK.

He begins to tell her about the evening popcorn ritual. There were three snap-lock containers with tight-fitting lids: a round one (Richard’s), a tall rectangular one (mine), and a shorter, fat square one (Nathaniel’s), each with our name on it. Every morning Richard popped the popcorn for that evening, put each person’s share in his or her container, snapped the lid down, and sat it on top of the refrigerator.

Richard continues on with the morning popcorn routine, only now just two containers sit on top of the refrigerator. Richard cannot bring himself to take Nathaniel’s name off his container and use the container for other things. It sits unused on a shelf in the pantry.

It’s his container.

More magical thinking.

I tell her about what happened during the brief cold snap a few weeks ago. Richard wanted the electric blanket for the bed and asked me to find it. I was sure I had given it to Nathaniel the winter before so he would be warm. His room gets rather cold at night. I tore apart his bed to look for it. The electric blanket was not on his bed, and so I began to remake the bed.

Nathaniel was obsessive about his bed. It had to be perfect. All of the blankets had to hang exactly the same length on all sides. No wrinkles were allowed. The comforter or bed spread had to be exactly even all the way around. Sometimes he spent 30 minutes making his bed. As sick as he was when he walked out of his bedroom for the last time on December 12, 2010, his bed was perfectly made. Nobody has slept in the bed since then, except the cat.

As I got the comforter back on his bed, I thought to myself …
Nathaniel is going to be so upset at me for tearing into his bed and not putting it back the way it was. He will not be happy at all.
More magical thinking.

She smiles, and nods. “One of the hard things I had to come to grips with,” she said, “was that I did not have to do everything the way Louis [her husband] would have done it. I could do it the way I wanted, and it was OK.”

But she does much more than just smile and nod at us. Her wise words have helped to keep us sane. Technically, she was supposed to cut us loose in January, but we saw her this month and we will see her again in March.

After every visit I have waited for Richard to say, “I don’t think we need to come back,” especially since I had a hard time getting him to agree to see her the first time. And after every visit, when she says, “Shall we schedule another appointment?” He says, “Yes.”

She seems pleased. She herself is grieving the death of her mother, who died a few months before Nathaniel died. We always ask her how she doing. Sometimes I think she needs us as much as we need her.


Far Side of Fifty said...

She sounds like a lovely person..someone who really understands.
I enjoyed your magical is hard not to have those thoughts..I think they must be part of the grieving process.

Recently my cousin died, she was 41, both her parents are dead, her Aunt said "I cannot believe she is gone, I keep expecting her to call."

Perhaps Richard needs to have a really big popcorn party to bury that bowl:(

Have Myelin? said...

You said: "I am tired. I am just really very tired of Nathaniel being dead. I want him to stop being dead so everything can go back to normal."


Elizabeth said...

Such an honest post.
Heart breaking too and beautifully written.

Oklahoma Granny said...

Although the circumstances are very sad that brought you all together, I'm so glad that your paths have crossed. God is good.

Oklahoma Granny said...

In response to the comment you left me, G1 and G2 will be racing again this year. Hopefully there won't be any wrecks this year. Also, you asked about the naked ladies. I haven't seen any signs of them yet. I'll let you know if/when I do.

Cathy said...

Hello Leilani
I hope this comes through - I've sent you an email.
Take care

Cathy @ Still Waters

Donna said...

Hello Sister in law,
Your post touched me as so many of them have this year. I am so glad that you and Richard are seeing the counselor and continue to see her if you need her. I have had times in my life when I was going through something difficult where I had a counselor. It helped me to have someone who does not know me listen to me. They don't tell you what they think you want to hear like a friend or family member would. The 1st anniversary of my Mothers passing is coming up on the 21st. I am feeling the heaviness that had eased a few months ago returning. I know I have to have these feelings and get through it to feel lighter. Sending you and Richard lots of love and hugs from the west coast. Stay well.