It's Kris Fuller. I'm writing to continue the journey...after my blog CancerWifeNinja.
Just because Ben's battle with cancer is over doesn't mean mine is. My sweet husband, Ben passed away on July 16, 2020. I write about my life and experiences because I'm a writer and it helps me. I share because, well, I'm a sharer. And though it was one of the things Ben equally loved- and hated- about me, I doubt it will ever change. 'And Now' is my journey after I said goodbye to Ben.
It's also the phrase we used when we wanted to lead the other one to a conclusion by design. I would say 'let's go for wings' and Ben would mull it over, as we shopped in Home Depot. At the til, I would lead, 'And now....?' Ben would reply, 'I think we better go for wings.' (that's right.)
Or he would say, 'let's BBQ steak tonight' while I was painting and as I was cleaning up he would lean over and draw out, 'Andddd nowwww......?' and of course, I would reply, 'I think we better get some steaks on.' (that's right.)
Ben has passed away, too young, too soon, too sudden. And I am now left, wondering and navigating this question... 'Andddd nowwww....?'
July 16, 2020
Ben is Gone
Ben passed away around 4:30am with his mom (Carol), my sister (Lisa) and myself by his side. His last breath left a thin, rake of a man. I do not recognise him anymore, now that the warmth is gone. His beautiful blue eyes were gently closed by the last nurse and as he lies there I think about how much I hate those plaid pj pants that he's wearing. They are orange, thread bare and scruffy. I want the pants to go away. Stupid pants. Stupid dying. I can't wait to leave this room.
His pain is over, but mine has just begun.
July 16, 2020
Leaving in a Daze
When the nurse tells us we can take our time, his mom said, 'He's already gone, my Ben is okay, wheverever he is.'
And me? I am relieved that his mom is ready to go. Me too. I blurt, 'We don't want any of his things, just so you know.'
Lisa whispers, what about his wedding ring? And I snap, He took it off months ago because it was too big for his hands. She nods and I feel like a jerk.
I just meant...that ... I don't want him undressed... that those stupid pants can stay on him.. that I don't need that old grey T-shirt and he's not even wearing socks. He has so little with him...and of course, I want his ring... I just know it's at home...
In a haze, red-eyed and somber, we leave the hospital together. We walk slow and I don't know who is setting the pace. I want to run. The dim light of dawn is upon us as we exit.
Nobody speaks but after 10 steps, huge sobs thrust out of Carol's body and her knees buckle. Instinctively, I wrap my arms around her ribs and hold her up.
I'm in shock, dizzy from leaving Ben's side.
I'm broken-hearted walking away from him.
And now a wave of anger and worry flood over me. I can't look after mom right now. Please don't go down, I pray. I hope she keeps her feet and in the mix of emotions, I grit my teeth. I can't imagine how it is to lose a son but I don't want this job. A wave of guilt floods over me as I stand by Ben's mother. Lisa has joined Carol on her other side and we sooth her with what feels like...meaningless... words, 'It's not fair. We've got you, mom. He was too young.'
Mom says she can't drive anywhere. She is going to wait at the hospital in her car.
No way. I'll drive you, mom. I offer without thought, but I know she is in no shape.
I can do it, I say. I can drive you to my house.
Then we can see....
Lisa takes my keys and I go with mom.
I stuff myself into the tiny red mustang and she fusses about the water bottles, snacks and trinkets in the way of the drive shaft. It's fine, I say.
We leave the hospital.
I start stories about how wonderful Ben is, how sweet he is and as I ramble on, I realise I have no audience for it. No one to share with in this moment.
Mom is silently weeping, gazing out her window.
I exhale and stop talking.
We two women, in pain, together. But alone.
It's the longest 22 minutes of my life. I don't know what she needs. I don't know what I need. I focus on the road.
We both need- a safe ride home. That is all I can concentrate on right now.
We arrive at my house. Mom has caught her breath. I ask if she wants to come in. To sleep or sit or...?
She says she just wants to go home. She can do it now. She just wants to be home.
And I get it.
We hug and she drives off.
Lisa is in the driveway and we enter the house together.
I forgot how we left it. For a split second, my mind thinks I've been burgled....
I forgot that coffee tables were thrown aside for the paramedics.
I forgot that bedding was haphazardly around the living room as we navigated oxygen tanks and a wheeled-chair.
I forgot that his paperwork was strewn all over the coffee table.
I forgot that we packed overnight bags in a hurry and there's clothing everywhere.
I see it all from the threshold and sob again. My hands cover my face and Lisa rushes to hug me.
It can't be like this, I exclaim. Am I dismayed at the mess... or the memory? It doesn't matter. Lisa understands and without a word, we start putting my house back together again.
Texting to Cancel
I realise we have a whole slough of appointments today. We are supposed to meet with the OT, PT, GP. A hospital bed is being delivered today. The funeral director is doing a house call today. The floor to ceiling poles are arriving today. TODAY is Day One of planning our new future. Ben and I. It's like I'm just been smashed into a brick wall.
It's not even 6am, too early to call. But not too early to text. I text our PT. He's been kind, empathetic and understanding. And I have his cell number.
I text: Ben passed away last night. Can you please cancel all our appointments? I don't even know what they all are.
The house is tidy, the text is sent (I don't wait for a reply, but true to form, he handles it all. Not one knock on my door all day, and I am grateful).
I go find my bed. I'm physically and emotionally exhausted. I curl up with a pillow and cry.
Lisa sidles in behind me and wraps her arms around me.
For a moment it feels good. I haven't been held like this in a few weeks now- Ben's been too sore. We used to spoon on top of the bed all the time. Whenever I was sad or out of sorts...or just in the mood, I would just find him and say, 'Your wife needs a big spoon.' and he would stop whatever he was doing, met me on the covers and just hold me. 'How's my wife now?' he would ask. Better.
So, now, my stark realities hit all over again.
My big spoon is supposed to be 6'2, not 5'9, and certainly, there are not supposed to be boobs on my big spoon. It feels nice, but it's not him.
I cry in Lisa's arms until I fall asleep.
Coffee Sounds Like Love
It's noon when I wake up. Lisa's putzing around, doing dishes, doing laundry, just being around me, doing the busy work that we do.
She hears me stir and comes immediately to my side.
Hey, she says and I smile weakly.
Do you want coffee? and I nod.
Words are not with me yet. I am so grateful for my sister. I cannot imagine being alone right now. At all.
Coffee. I don't even know if I like it. Or want it. But it's so family to me. My heart pangs as I think of the family funerals I have been at. A whole crew of Olson's, making coffee, drinking coffee, talking about how Norweigans like it strong. Who makes it right, who makes it taste burnt. Is this urn for 40 cups enough? Black or maybe some cream or milk. No sugar.
Coffee sounds like love to me now... and Lisa has to be all 37 cousins and aunties. She is more than enough. It hurts so much, but I am not alone.
Front Deck Oasis
We take our coffee to the front deck. Lisa admires the deck and it feels wonderful to me. Even in the mix of darkness, having a coffee with Lisa on this front deck has a special hint of sparkle.
It was our oasis. The only spot in the house where everything is completely done. The front yard has beautiful stonework, woodwork, flowers and herbs. The trim is done, the fence is built. There are no projects here. The neighbours see a picturesque farmhouse with craftsmanship and love. And that is what Ben and I wanted. Especially Ben. Keep the mess in the back, have a front yard to be proud of. I feel that pride as I sit and sip with my sister.
Our deck chairs are oversized and comfy. This deck has a special feeling for me and I love this moment. This moment, when the world does not yet know. This moment when maybe coffee can make everything better. This moment when maybe it's just not true after all. This moment is just too quiet and too perfect....today.
I see tears trickle from Lisa's eyes and in seconds, I join in.
He was just the best! I'm so mad! It's not fair! I loved that stupid man so much! Lisa has rallied beside me, but now, it is her turn to rant. I fervently nod and agree with all her points. Fresh tears flood our eyes and we bawl into our coffees on the front deck together.
I phone Angela and update her. Ben is gone. I tell her the whole story of our last night. She knows some- I called her at 2am and told her then. She answered right away. She listened as I told her about our night at home, ER transport and Ben calling it. His death was not news, but still upsetting. She listened and cried with me.
I feel the weight of this news like another ripple inside me.
I'm moving in water, struggling to do simple things.
Feeling the weight of this. This heavy, awful weight.
Angela wants to be right here with me. Right now. I know you do. It's okay, I say. I will see you soon.
We talk a while longer, then I am too tired to talk and we say 'bye for now.'
One Phone Call
Just before we left the hospital, I had to tell them what funeral home we wanted to use. My brain reached for the information and with Lisa's help we remembered. Scraps of paper on the island, notes on my calendar. We will call them for Ben, but you need to call them later today for a meeting as well. My head swims. We didn't get to meet with James. I only talked with Ben a little about his memorial. I don't want to call. Ever.
But I have to. I just can't, though. I just cannot imagine talking on the phone right now. At least, not this call. Lisa calls the funeral home for me and makes us an appointment for the next day. Through my tears, I'm so grateful. Beyond grateful. What would I do without her?
When Lisa did laundry, she sorted some of Ben's things to the side and checked with me. Yea, I don't need to keep his scruffy underwear and socks. I will keep his clothes in the closet for later, though. That's harder. But there's a pragmatic side to me, and I would say I'm about a one on the pack-rat scale- not a saver at all. So I allow a few things to make their way. I remember the huge job of cleaning out moms' house. It was so much all at once. I don't want this for Ben. I want to do small, bite-sized pieces that don't make my heart too sad.
Lisa asks what I want to do. Just sit here, I reply but after 5 minutes, I renege my comment and say No, I can't just sit here. Can we do some tidying? She is on her feet in an instant. We start with some light tidying in the yard and she worries that it's too much, too soon. No, I tell her, it's not. Ben and I talked about his gardens and this yard a lot. We knew there was a lot to clean up. But he's such a saver, a 'just-in-caser', an 'I might need THIS screw'...every little cut-end, scrap of wire, piece of insulation, solo bolt, lone nail... has been haphazardly stored, randomly around the gardens and sheds in tubs, cans and containers.
I had discussed cleaning up for him, with him, while he was still here. I even brought small tubs of items for him to sort, but he just couldn't seem to let one thing go. It was an exercise in frustration, but I realised our hope was directly tied to all those bits and pieces. Those saved, recycled, broken items. Those were all things for Ben to use, to fix, to build with. In our future. So, we never cleaned up....because we wanted him here.
So, now I am ready for phase one. I have felt overwhelmed with our unfinished projects, yard chaos.
But I have also felt paralysed in doing anything about it. Slowly, today, I begin. I don't last long. Sheer fatigue kicks me down so hard.
After 10 minutes, I sit on the deck and watch. Good, Lisa says, I don't want you working. Just sit there. She walks items by me and I nod 'yes' to them all. Old lumber, used insulation, garbage. She piles it beside my deck and reassures me, 'You can still take a look and veto anything. Once we get a truck here, we can load it, but you are the boss.'
I smile a weak smile. I love being the boss. I love managing. Ben would always say to me, 'Stop managing me.' whenever I was getting too heavy handed with great ideas. I wish he was here now, for me to over-manage one more time.
Rubber Boots, Wine & Squash
Minda's coming over, Lisa says, I thought it would be okay.
Yes, definitely, I nod. Lisa knows what I need, what I will agree to. She's handling me and, for once, I am happy about it.
Minda and I have been friends for a long time and once when she was down and out, I wrote her a poem. Or maybe it was a rap? Or was it a poem that I rapped to her? In any case, the main points were about how we were like a Sunflower and a Squash in a garden. They grow really well side by side. The squash needs the shade, the sunflower benefits from the nutrients that the squash doesn't use. It was a delightful analogy and I likened them to the two of us. (I honestly don't know who's who anymore but we frequently sign off with 'sunflower' and 'squash' to one another.)
She arrives with donuts, pizza, and rubber boots tucked under her arms.
"Who's boots are those? Are those my boots? Are you giving me boots?" I am slightly delirious from lack of sleep, and of course, bad news. And I cannot fathom how boots are an acceptable item in lieu of a death.
"Yours?" Minda laughs gently. "No, those are my boots."
"Why would you bring boots?" I notice that they are not even clean. I'm so confused, "Are you doing yardwork?"
What a weird day to help in my yard, I think to myself.
"I put the wine in them," she answers.
"What? Really? Why?" I demand. I'm irritated about these boots.
I just don't understand but with Minda's patience, it soon becomes comical.
Lisa helps, 'I think the boots are just wine holders.'
"Wine holders?" I bellow, "Who puts wine into boots? Are you sure they aren't my boots?"
The girls laugh and Minda pulls out a bottle. Finally, I see. The boots are literally wine holders. I'm grumpy that I didn't get it.
"Would you like a glass?" she asks.
"Yes," I purse my lips, "and yes to pizza!"
I realise I'm starving and devour a slice in seconds.
We stack ourselves up on the couches and eat pizza, donuts and wine together. Is it still really the same day?
Chips and Dip
Vince appears around the same time. Lisa's husband. He's been like a brother to me since Day 2. Day 1, I wasn't sure but he quickly won me over. (That is a true comment... as Lisa and I met Vince at the same time on a houseboating holiday. I was suspicious of the guy hitting on my sister and annoyed that he was ruining our girls trip!)
His first stop is a huge bear hug for me and I welcome it. I shake with newfound rage in his arms. Lisa hugs me too and I'm in the centre of a loving group hug. Full of tears, anger and love all at the same time.
When we finally let go, he asks if I need anything.
This day makes no sense, so of course I answer, chips and dip.
Minda chuckles but I am adamant. I want chips and dip.
Vince doesn't hesitate, he zips to the store. A job that can be accomplished! Yes, on it. My chips and dip are delivered to me in under 10 minutes. I pour more wine and chomp away.
Vince also worries that I am doing too much too soon. I tell him I want to just clean up a little. And I want to finish our house.
Vince is at my services and I ask him to finish our front panel on the hot tub. It's where the doors are - for access to the motor and chemicals. I don't know what the plan is... right now there is just two holes. And a pile of wood ready to go. Ben finished the other three sides, but not the front. Carefully, he inspects the job. He's happy to do it and I'm grateful. It's a job that requires a craftsman. It requires love and care.
I'm more of a demolition girl, so this job overwhelms me. He plans to take the wood home. Hinges okay? he asks and I reply yes, perfect.
Chinese Food & Inappropriate Jokes
At supper, another friend arrives with Chinese food. We visit, eat and chat. This shared day has helped me so much. The bustling of friends and the feeling of love. I haven't lifted a finger once and though numb, I'm well fed. And loved.
Looking around my small house, it's so crowded. The living room has a day bed, electric bed, couch, and heaps of blankets. We joke about it being the perfect set up for a quaint little brothel. Orgies in all the beds. My newfound income, right here in my own home. I laugh and cry at the same time.
In the early evening, the friends have hugged me goodbye. Vince is about to return to their kids, and leave Lisa in my company. I can't stop crying for their show of love. Of course, I'm not going to leave you, Lisa says. I'll stay as long as you want.
My eyes light right up and I quip, "See you in 5 years, Vince!" They chuckle at my silly joke and she walks him to his truck to say goodbye.
I start texting my family. Beth, Auntie Ruth, Auntie Gloria, Erin, Susan, Stacy.... and then I don't stop... I message all the Olsons I can think of. Phone calls bounce back immediately but I can't answer. I see them, and feel the love. Texts flood back and a fresh wave of hurt crashes over me.
I text my closest friends, too. I want to share, but just a little. My blog has paused... as of Tuesday... but I need my inner circle to know.
It's late when Lisa and I go to bed. We share the queen and sleep comes slowly.
My heart hurts and my mind replays the day over and over and over again.
I start out of bed and for a moment, I panic. We missed the early alarm for meds!
And in that same instance... oh, no... no,no,no. There's no meds to give....
Lisa was up early and comes into the bedroom when she hears me rustling... only to see tears trickling down my cheeks. She hugs me and I sob. My chest hurts and my head is throbbing. He can't be gone.
We bustle around all morning, how is there so much laundry? How did the fridge get so wild? The yard is still a beast, too. So much to do.
Vince arrives around noon. I didn't know he was returning today, but I'm glad to see him. Lisa and I are getting ready to go meet the funeral director and we fire a list of jobs at Vince before we head out.
I'm not looking forward to this meeting. It's stiff and uncomfortable. It goes on too long. At one point she tries to lighten the mood but ends up making a horrible joke about losing weight during grief. Uh, that's not my M.O... I say. Food has been a huge comfort to me this year. I've put on the COVID-15, the Cancer-15 and it's actually going to be a struggle to get back on a healthy track. I'm irritated by her comments.
We ask for advice about in-laws. This is my first funeral with ... a wife and a mom. When my cousin died, he was 17 and his parents were in charge. When my mom died, she had no spouse so us kids were in charge. When my uncles died, their wives handled things. And now, with Ben... I know his mom just wants things at her farm, but I don't think that's for us....for Ben...or me. Funeral lady's only suggestion is to have a talk together. Thanks, tips.
It still leaves me unsettled: who's the captain? But I know there are no answers for me here.
I select an urn that's covered in sunflowers. That's the only part that feels good to me. As soon as I see it, I know it's the one. He was planting sunflowers for FullerGreens. He wanted to wrap each order with a pretty sunflower, just that extra touch. And we love growing them along our fence line. They are his flower.
We leave with a folder of information about grief, banking, legal... next steps for what to do. I must email the obituary and final decisions before Monday at noon. I hate this folder, and I hate these jobs. Lisa and I grab a snack before we head home.
Phoning Ben's Mom
My head spins as we eat and I tell Lisa, I need to phone Ben's mom. But that meeting was just too much. I can't talk anymore. So, Lisa does it for me. She calls Carol and let her know we made arrangements - he's being cremated and Kris will be holding a memorial next weekend. She need a little time to sort out the details, though. Can we call you back soon?
She offers her farm. Come out here and let his ashes rest on my land, she suggests. It would just be perfect. Lisa tells her we don't know yet, but I think Kris wants it all in Enderby. We will call you soon.
When I hear it, my heart pangs. I predicted this but I just don't know how to navigate it. I don't want to let her down... but I want him in my home, our home, our town. With me!
I'm exhausted and worried. I just don't know what to do.
When we arrive home, I am thrilled with my living room. I had asked Vince to adjust it. Just fix it. Handle the excess furniture...somehow... and he did it perfectly. The area rug from my bedroom was back. (Ben and I had moved it out of the living room in case of spills, vomit, tripping...we just wanted the living room to be easy, smooth access.) The electric bed was packed up and my house looked normal. No longer over-crowded and congested.
I sit on the couch and admire the room. A small weight is lifted from my shoulders as I sit in the clean, organised living room.
Lisa and Vince continue tidying, and garden care. Watering, weeding, tending to our greens. I sit on the couch and thumb through Ben's journals. It feels illegal, but I can't resist them. Mostly, they are records of his daily events. Eating, meds, energy, pain. My heart wrenches as I flip through the last month. Pain: 7,7,8,7,8.... so much pain. And not a word about it. Why didn't he tell me? Why didn't I know? My poor guy was suffering so much.
I keep flipping and I find a new page. It's got the funeral directors information in the top corner and he's titled it 'My Wishes'. There are three bullet points on this entry:
I laugh and cry and run to share with Lisa. Listen, I say. And I tell her what he wrote.
We laugh about it together. So precise and short. Just like Ben. In preparing for the meeting with the funeral home, Ben and I had talked a little. I knew he wanted cremation and nothing religious. He asked what I wanted and I said it would be great if Lisa could speak... I don't think I will be able to. And in true Ben form, he summed up what would have taken me pages... in.. three neat points.
No time for shenanigans or dramatic extras. Just simple and to the point for my Ben.
Ben's sister Carrie is already in town. She came as soon as she heard. I'm so glad she was here two months ago to spend time with her brother. She arrives with Amanda for a visit. I love these sisters and am grateful they just show up. It's perfect. We visit and plan for them to come sleepover on Sunday- to give Lisa a break and to spend more time with me. They offer their hands, they want to work in Ben's garden and do whatever I need.
The sisters leave and Vince is close behind. He takes a load of garbage away and Lisa and I settle in for the night. She rubs my feet and paints my toenails. It's really nice. And not something we usually do. I just can't get the pain out of my head. My temples hurt, my eyes hurt. I cannot believe how tired I feel. I lie on the couch like a zombie- my eyes staring at the ceiling as my sister treats my feet.
Busy Bees and Plants for Entertainment
Lisa and I continue to chip away in the morning, unleashing our inner Marie Kondo. Tidy, tidy, tidy. Every corner feels new, unknown, messy. I'm surprised by so many piles, boxes, projects, unknowns. How is it possible that we spend the last 3 years together at home, and things feel foreign to me. So many tools, plant items, notebooks, lists, seeds, wires, and more.
But no knick-knacks. Never knick-knacks. We were both highly opposed to them- and for that reason - we keep zero shelves in our house. No mantle, no floating shelves, no book shelves. Our walls are covered with art and photos but no shelves, no items without a purpose.
Every one of Ben's items is for a purpose. Bits of plumbing here- for future irrigation and watering plans; bits of wire there- to fix an old drill, pieces of wood for greenhouses, deck fixes and other small projects. His presence is everywhere on this property. There's not one corner that hasn't been engineered or designed by Ben. I breathe in, with pride and of course, more tears begin to fall...just looking at what this man has built for us ... me.
And speaking of purpose, literally everything had to have a purpose in our yard. It was such a battle to get this man to grow flowers. His reason? They serve no purpose. He would say, 'What do you want to grow flowers for? Entertainment? We can't eat them.' (and he would only acquiesce with a few yellow marigolds- whose purpose was to draw in bumble bees for pollination). Over the years, (five short years at this house), I would slowly win the battle for 'one flower a year', and only if it didn't 'need attention'. These plants for entertainment....sigh...
On our first anniversary, I bought him a red flowering plant- I think it was a red columbine. It's so pretty and made me smile.. but the reason I bought it was the serious write up on the tag.. This plant is known to deter bears. What a job! Deter bears? Yes, please. Now, there is a plant that will work in our yard. This plant has a purpose so tally-ho red flowers.
I called it our 'love plant' and reminded Ben how hard it worked, earning its keep- holding bears at bay. Every spring it boasted green leaves and every fall those hard-working red flowers would appear. Ben scoffed at it's 'description' and rolled his eyes at the 'supposed job'. But we never had a bear in our front yard once (as I liked to point out) and he tended to it without a word, and eventually started calling it our 'love plant' too.
I walk to the front yard and see the Love Plant - it is slow to bloom this year. It makes me sad to see the plant struggle and it dawns on me... it's my fault. It hasn't been watered and tended to. The silent attention Ben gave it is now so obvious. It grew because of him, this stupid plant that he didn't want. It flourished and boasted huge red flowers every year because of him. And now, this season, I have neglected it. It's pushing out green buds ...but it's late, it's dry and not where it usually is this time of year. My shoulder slump and I go in the house. I'm too tired to water it now.
Our friend Dana stops by with her 2 year old... and 2 month old. It's delightful, they are so sweet, but I'm also super nervous. This place is a war-zone. We have hauled out tools, boxes, jars, machinery. There's no clear path and not one safe area. It's a mix of worry and joy for me. I get over my worries (sort of, okay, just kidding, not at all... I follow that 2 year old around like a shadow and worry every step he takes will result in injury).
Both Lisa and Dana tell me, 'He's fine. He's fine.' but I'm not convinced. Their visit has cheered me up, but I'm glad that it's a short one. I'm exhausted when they leave and I lie down again.
Hands in Service
Cousin Beth called to tell me they will be on the island on the day of the funeral but they really want to stop and see me. Is that okay?
Yes, of course, my heart smiles and I answer with joy.
And, she continues, we want to offer our hands in service. If you have any jobs for Dean and I, we would love to help out.
My eyes well with tears and I tell her yes, please. I have lots of little jobs. I don't know what will need to be done, but their hands would be so welcome.
Dean's pretty good at... building and... stuff... so don't hesitate. We want to help.
Okay, I say. Got it. And I know what you mean... Ben's pretty good at building and stuff too... I mean, he was... and I cry because I can't stop using present tense. I can't stop saying 'he is' and 'us' and 'we'. I want to finish 'our' house and 'we' really want the trim to be done a certain way.
It's true.. it was 'our' dreams... it was 'we' and it was 'us' but... the gravity of thinking of it being 'me' and 'I' ... well, it just hurts me all over again.
Nieces and Nephews
Lisa hasn't left my side for 3 nights and I touch base with her. She was on the phone with her kids while I chatted with Beth.
"How are you?" I ask.
She misses her kids, misses Vince, misses her home. But she's more concerned about me. She's trying to plan a time for her and Vince to tell the kids together and I'm shocked. It didn't occur to me....they don't know yet. They haven't been here. Vince comes every day, but every night he goes home for supper and tucks them in with love...but without Lisa, without their mom. Of course she wants to be there for the news, the heart aches, the questions.
"You can go tonight," I say.
"Are you sure?" she asks tentatively. My silence fills the room, I bite my lip and start to tremble.
She wraps her arm around me and comforts me: "No, no. Not tonight. I will be with them soon."
"I'm so sorry," I wail. "I... just.. I just... I'm not.. ready.. to .. be alone. .. yet."
And as I say it out loud, I realise... it's coming. My time to .... be ...alone. It's coming and I can't stop it. I can't stop these stupid tears, either.
I turn and sob into Lisa's shoulder one more time.
She stays another night. Vince heads home and they both reassure me, it will be okay.
Babies & Friends
Sunday. How is it Sunday? I've set the memorial for Sunday July 26. I text my sisters and brothers and 4 friends. That's it.. in these times. The reality of COVID is still a worry. Small gatherings are best and it hurts me so much to keep it small. I know it's for the best, but it's weird, and hard.
Friends of mine stop by to visit. Tina and Kelly. Kelly brings her sweet one year old and it's perfect. She's less busy than a 2 year old boy and cuddles her mama. She makes us all smile with her cuteness and antics. We visit and it's a nice change of pace. No Marie Kondo today.
Shortly after Tina and Kelly leave, Ben's sisters arrive. Lisa visits with us and after a while, she's ready to go home. These girls have got me now and Lisa's family is calling her. Amanda promises to take good care of me. She says I need to get into some water..the lake, the river.. something to refresh me. Water always brings her peace and she's ready to take me to the river....literally.
Reluctantly, I agree. We drive to Canoe and it's the best thing ever. It's the first moment that I've left our house, and a breath of relief washes over me as we head to the beach. I'm okay, I think to myself. I'll be back soon.
We dip into the lake and the coolness of the water heals me a little. My head feels release as cool water surrounds me. I float in the beauty of the Shuswap. Families surround us, laughing, splashing, playing. We float and laze on the grass. Some chit chat, some silence. For a small moment, I am free.
Take Away and Stay!
We order Chinese and I decide I want to eat at home. I'm ready to go back. It surprises me- this yearning to be home. But it's fierce and it's all I want. The girls understand, we take our food to go and head home.
Once home, we chat about their amazing brother. I hear stories of drunken Ben (what!? never!) in his late teens- pushing his sister in a shopping cart down the streets after a bar night out. We talk about their lives growing up and how he was as a brother. How Amanda and him were just getting to know one another- here in adulthood- ten years apart and finally connecting. He promised her that one day he would go to Shambala with her... and now I've picked up the torch... and made the same foolish promise. Ha,ha. It's hard to say 'no' to her. She makes it sound so amazing and fun and wild. I secretly smile to myself... if bedtime isn't at 9pm, then me and Ben are out.
At some point, Amanda calls her daughter. It's late- after 9pm and when she says, 'we might leave soon'... I burst into tears. She sees my pain and quickly changes her comment, 'Or actually, it looks like Auntie Carrie and I might just see you tomorrow.' She says good night to Isabelle and I'm relieved.
Thank you so much. I just realised, I don't want you to go. I just... I like...
It's okay, she says, I want to stay too. I don't want to go, either.
Carrie chimes in and agrees, 'Yea, we're staying.'
We stay up talking, crying, laughing... until midnight. I talk about the memorial and my struggle with decision making. The girls tell me firmly, 'Kris, you ARE the captain of this ship.... we are here for you. You decide.' And it brings me the peace... and permission... that I crave.
Eventually, finally, exhausted, we find beds and try to sleep.
I wake in a panic. I didn't send his obituary yet! I log in, it's 9am and still early. I'm surprised that my gmail knows the address and I do a quick review of my 'sent' folder. I sent his obituary at 12:32 am. Quickly, I re-read it. It looks good. I wrote it before the sisters came and they read it, and nodded approval. Good for me! Operating in the wee hours of the morning.
I also ordered 5 of the sunflower urns- the smaller version. I have planned one for each sibling and for his mom (and me). They can release Ben's ashes at the river with me.. or they can take him home and plant him in their gardens..whatever they choose. I'm so happy with this decision, I feel peace. And they are so touched to be included this way. It's a small miracle and I'm grateful for these sisters, on this night. The night before my decision... they were the perfect team.
We continue the organising and cleaning of the yard, just hanging out and being together. They feel Ben here, and I'm in no hurry for them to go.
I call mom and tell her of my plans, and the 5 urns. She is quite touched and happy about getting one for her own. I tell her about the memorial on Sunday and BBQ to follow. I ask if she wants to speak... and she doesn't know.
That's okay, I say. You can let me know later. Or decide that day. There's room for you no matter what.
She asks how I am, shares her heart and worries for me. She's looking after me. It feels nice, but weird. She just lost her son! Our talk is good and we promise to see each other soon.
Tacos' and Solo
Beth and Dean arrive in time for supper. They offered to pick up take away for me, and whoever is around.
"Oh, please, can we have tacos?" I text, "I'm so tired of take-away. I need vegetables...I need home food..."
The answer is of course, yes. They get it. Ben's sisters have left, my sister's family is on the way and a taco feast is in our future.
"Is auntie making normal tacos or something weird?" An important question from Lucas.
Tell him it's fine, it's a Taco package from the store, not my own mix.
I smile, thinking of Ben in this moment. I hate using recipes. I love mixing, tasting, exploring with food. It's what makes me a terrible baker (I hate measuring!) and a great cook. But all too often, Ben and I would eat a meal and he would comment, 'Oh, this is amazing. Save THIS recipe and always make it like this.' or he would say, 'Make the chili how you made it on March 14th.' and I would scoff and sputter in reply. I have no idea how I made that or what was in that chili... it's always basically the same... but.. you know... each time, I just taste to see. He was often shocked that I didn't use recipes, save recipes or rely on tried and true formulas. He would never venture out like that. But he always loved my cooking- he was adventurous and game for anything new, cultural or different (despite the fact that I could never make the same thing twice).
I realise I am smiling as I cook the beef and am surprised by how happy it makes me! But of course, it makes sense. I haven't done a single thing for anyone in the last four days, not even myself. Cooking (even one small thing) for family brings me so much joy.
I realise this is the first moment that I've been totally alone at our my house. The beef simmers and I wander, looking, remembering, wishing. There's so much to do... and I just want Ben to do it with me. I'm grateful for the family helping hands, but it's not him. I turn the beef to low, smile at my recipe-resistance and slump on the couch.
The taco dinner is perfect. I take Dean on a tour of the house and highlight way too many projects. Part of it is the pride I feel- showing off our home, showing off Ben's work (and yes, not going to lie, pointing out the things I have done.. with or without a certificate). He's interested, and aware of the difficulty of all of the work, jobs, corners, creations.. he just gets how much work has gone into it all and I'm grateful for his attention to our sweet house.
I highlight a corner near the bathtub and two door frames that have complications. Those projects are what I'd like Dean to think about. I don't even have a starting idea. He takes it in and says he will mull it over. (He also tells me straight up, these 3 jobs are what I can realistically get done in one day... not the other fourteen.) Got it. I'm over zealous, for sure. It's not that I want you to do all seventeen jobs, it's just that I wanted you to see the scope.. and then pick something. (I am grateful, but don't want to force him into a job he hates.)
Eventually, they all pack up and I'm left alone for my first night.
Yes, yes, I'm okay. I can do it. It's one night and I will see you all in the morning.
Night Alone with Mia
Once they leave I look for Mia. She's not around so I head to bed. I leave my room door open and lie awake. I listen. For what? I tell myself I'm listening for Mia, but I'm not sure that's true.
Eventually I hear the cat door. It's 2am. I bolt up, head her off at the pass and force her into my arms. We cuddle on the couch, and I cry with Mad Ears clinched unceremoniously in my arms.
They say our loved ones visit us, touch our hearts, brush up against us in moments that we don't expect.
The first morning home, I saw a huge yellow butterfly in the garden. It landed on the loveage- that's a plant that is for seasoning soups (sort of like a really strong celery). Ben introduced it to me. This year, our loveage is over 8 feet tall. Don't cut that down, he cautioned me. That is the strongest, tallest, best loveage I have ever seen. I want it to seed and use it in the seed library, what a specimen!
That beautiful butterfly swirled right in front of my face.
Then it went to the tip-top of the loveage and perched quietly there. That was my moment. I felt it was him, saying he's okay. Telling me he's still with me. And reminding me about the loveage seeds, too, of course.
As I wait for the cavalry, I see the butterfly again. He's absolutely huge, and so gorgeous. He lifts my spirits, and brings tears to my eyes at the same time.
Beth and Dean arrive at 10am, and we begin work. Beth joins me in staining trim and Dean begins his projects. It's perfect, he says. I like to work alone, get in the zone. He tells me he will ask if he needs anything.
It's hot out so we stain in the shade. Beth's company is perfect. I chatter on about the past few weeks, the weight of it all, the stuff of my reality. She listens and loves me through it. I'm sure a few boards will be tear-stained but it won't matter. There's something very therapeutic for me in finishing our house. In my heart, I feel like Ben will see it. I wish I could share these final projects with him, though. See that grin, hi-five my husband, and of course... receive my next batch of certificates.
Lisa joins us at some point and we finish the staining. Well, Lisa tends to the garden. She arrived and asked, 'What jobs do you have?'
"Staining," I say.
She hesitates then says, "What else?"
"Staining," I repeat.
"What about weeding?" she leads with a hopeful lilt.
I smile, "I get the feeling you do not want to stain..."
"I hate it! I will do anything... but that... unless you really, really need it... " (dramatic emphasis on really, really)
"No, it's fine. The garden needs work too. Beth and I can handle it."
We girls work outside for the afternoon, then eventually head to the river for a cool dip. It's perfect. The river that is one block from my house has been a highlight for me every day since Ben passed. Why haven't I gone to it more... before?
When we finish work for the evening, Dean tells me, "You know, today was really great. I loved working with Ben's tools and it was one of those days where everything worked on the first cut, the first line, the first measurement. Those days are the best when working. I just wanted to let you know how great it was."
For some crazy reason, I'm proud of Ben's tools. Like they had anything to do with it... but it warmed my heart to hear Dean mention them. And I'm so glad his work day was smooth, and stress free.
Alenna & Preston & the Weiners
Alenna and Preston bring us dinner. They feed my family, too. BBQ chicken. And their little weiner dogs bring me so many smiles. Sullivan and Meehla. They love sniffing around my yard. We know there's a cat here somewhere!
They feed us, stay for a short visit and go. Lisa leaves and the Jarretts stay to visit. We recap the day, talk about the house, talk about Ben. I wish my extended family had gotten the chance to know him more. We had just decided to do a 'fall tour' in Alberta and make it our annual thing. Every fall, a trip to visit siblings and cousins... and now... we can't.
I feel so robbed of our future! I am so mad that he's gone and we can't do the fall tour together. They let me be mad and cry all over again. Eventually they head out and I tuck in for a night alone.