Saturday, December 5, 2009

How you live the rest of your life is your choice

One of my old (boarding school) friends (Geoff) and I chat to each other every day on email. At school, he and I would tell each other anything, and even though miles and years separate us now, our friendship is still there and I am so looking forward to seeing him and meeting his wife Linda, as well as his children, next year on my trip to the Southern Hemisphere.

I like to hear the pride in his words when he talks about his family. He's a good father and husband, and he still has that inimitable sense of humour that I remember so well. Over the years he has been graced with the gift of empathy and he has become an invaluable sounding board along this journey that I find myself on. In fact, it is through our "chats" that I have made a couple of decisions recently, such as; where to spend Christmas Day, amongst other things.

Yesterday's email included the following sentence:

You know, you have been dealt a harsh blow to say the least and none of us can pretend to know what it’s like and what we would do but I know one thing. How you live the rest of your life is your choice and if you live it happily ever after then I’m sure Cliff would be happy with that.

Here is my response to that statement:

I keep thinking, if I can just get to January 7th 2010 (Cliff died on January 6th) then I know I can do anything, because I’ll have lived a day and a year without him, and gone through all the anniversaries, the shock, the denial, the anger, the numbness, the bargaining, the guilt, the guilt and more guilt, the despair, the hysteria, the fear, the pain, the final realization after 11 months that he isn’t coming back … next year I think I need to focus on rebuilding my life, basically what you said … it’s my choice. He’d hate me to be unhappy. He couldn’t stand it if I cried, it would really upset him. So I need to get the house finished, get back to over-achieving at work, reward myself with my trips to Oz and the States and Italy next year, accept that I will cry each day, but that the rest of the time I need to just live.

OMG, I have just made the decision to live again. Geoff, don’t think you can understand the impact your statement has had on me, but for the past 11 months I have been saying “I don’t want to be here. I want to be with him.” And I have just made the decision to live.

So, on December 4th 2009, 11 months after my beautiful husband died, I made the decision to live.

I found it shocking.

I mean, I'm amazed I'm still breathing. In fact, half the time I can't understand why I have air to breathe. I think that I just assumed that I wouldn't survive this, took it for granted almost. I never seriously contemplated ending it all, rather wished it upon myself. I wanted some god-like hand to swoop down on me from the sky and scoop me up, whisking me up to Cliff, preferably painlessly.

I punished my body by not looking after myself the way he did so well. I subconsciously starved my body. I laugh if I hit air pockets when flying. If I have a near miss on the motorway, I snigger contemptuously and laugh in the face of death. Death no longer frightens me, it has become my friend. Because I know that death will bring him back to me.

There was only one instance when I almost did the unthinkable. But that wasn't me, it was the pills. The antidepressants that were prescribed to me. I can remember laying in our bath and letting the plug out, thinking how nice it would be to let my blood run out with the water. How peaceful it would be. Then my deaf dog wandered into my line of sight and whined. That's all it took. One doggy whine, and I realized I was in deep trouble. I hopped out of the bath, sought the company of other human beings and then one of Cliff's friends took the meds away from the house. As I've mentioned before, I have a childlike fear that if I committed this act, that I could end up in a different place to Cliff. FOR. ETERNITY. That scenario is worse than the one I find myself in. CAN'T. RISK. THAT. NO. WAY.

This shift in mindset ... this decision to live, rather than wait to die is startling. I still can't imagine a future without him. It's fuzzy and out of focus. I can't imagine beyond next year ... my plans to go to the Conference on Widowhood in August, Italy with Kimberly in February, Australia, Thailand and Singapore in May/June ... decorating the house, throwing myself back into work. Beyond that I don't know. The thought frightens me ... living without him. But at least I've accepted it. It's scary and exhilarating at the same time.

I'll make him proud of me ... I'll give it my best shot.

I've decided to live.

Wow. That's a powerful thing.

Thanks for helping me get there, Geoff.
I just wish you and Cliff could have met ... you would have liked one another.


  1. Great post and an empowering decision, Boo. I'm so proud of you. I remember your comment on my blog after my long night during my H1N1/lung infection illness. You said I had made the choice to live but I hadn't thought of it in those terms until you pointed it out. I was so consumed with not leaving my children as orphans that I hadn't connected it to me yet. But you were right. As sad and as strange as the future looks without him, I also have made the choice to live, until it is my time to join him. And though we will both have a future that is very different from the ones we wanted and planned for, they will be the futures we are meant to live now. And live we will! Italy, Australia and San Diego!!!!! You are a jet setter!!!!!

    Debbie xxxxxxxxx

  2. Thank you for posting about your transformation and the email that led to it. It reminds me of the post J in Wales recently wrote about reaching her "new level." Posts like these really help us all see what is sometimes so clouded behind our teary eyes - that there is still a life out there for us to lead. Not the one we expected or wanted... But waiting for us and like you and J in Wales, I want to jump on the train and not be left behind at the station. I think it is a very courageous step to reach this point!

  3. I'm crying my friend... this was beautiful. After I got home from Hawaii, all I could think of was, "Okay. Now what???" After going there, seeing Warren's name etched in stone, soldiers crying, the haunting sound of trumpets, the image of his flag being folded... it was like the story had been completed. The story of his death had finally been printed out, sent out to the world and published right in front of me. I could not run from it any longer. Warren has died. After coming home... I thought to myself... for 11 months I have been running from that. Running at an unbearable speed away and away until I just couldn't breathe anymore. I could picture his concerned look in his eyes, "Babe..."

    After much crying, contemplating, and realization... that, nope, there is no way easy way out of this... I did as you did. I had a choice to make. Life or death.

    I know everyday from now I on I certainly wont chose "life" everyday, probably more often than not I wont. But... the fact that the choice is there in front of us, and we are willing to confront it.. not run from it... well that, that is something.

    "The most memorable concern of mankind is the guts it takes to face the sunlight again." - Charles Bukowski

    I love you and I am so proud of you.

  4. i am proud of you, happy for you, although i never thought for one minute that you weren't living before. to love someone so deeply that grieving for them this deeply happens when they die is, in an odd way, a gift. i always believed you were living. you felt each emotion deeply. the despair, the anger, the guilt, the fear, all of it was touched and tasted and smelled and really lived through. now it won't torment you again. you know it. you and each one of these emotions have walked hand in hand together.

    it is my belief that Cliff saw you experience each one of these and conquer them. he knows how hard it was for you to have been forced on this journey and i think he is proud you have fought your way through.

    now you're choosing to live looking toward the future. you are walking toward the freedom to remember with love and having deep trust in yourself that when these emotions hit you again, and they will, you are already friends with them and can co-exist until you climb higher up.

    i am so happy with your epiphany. (but i'll say it again. i never thought you weren't living, even through the dark times.) peace and love to you. [ ps - i'll be emailing soon with a smile about a decision i've made. =0) ]

  5. :~~~~) Through my tears, I am cheering you on!!!! What an epiphany!!!!

    You go girl!!!!! xoxoxoxox

  6. Good for you. What a wonderful post.

  7. There's me wittering on about Ikea furniture, and there's you making probably the hardest step in this whole horrid journey. I am cheering you from the rooftops my friend.

    J xxxxx

  8. thanks everyone! I am so lucky to have you all in my life ... and can't wait to meet some of you next year :-)

    It's weird this realization thing is ... think I'll start small with something like housework today!


  9. Darling Boo - it is baby steps, baby steps, baby steps, isn't it? I too am cheering - Hooray - go, go, go. It takes courage to say - "I am alive and I am going to live" and it is such a beautiful realization and turning point. A very wise young nurse walked in the hallway with me in the dark of one night as Tom lay dying and said, "In a year I want to know that you are making plans for your life and having fun. Tom would want it that way - he loves you too much to see you have a life that is bereft of joy and companionship." I know I can say the same to you my sister. xxoxoxo

  10. thanks Suzann, wow what a special nurse to take care of you AND Tom. She must have been able to see the love that the two of you shared - how beautiful that she could and that she shared those words with you :-)

    Thank you for passing those words along xx

  11. I think Geoff is your lighthouse.

  12. What a post, Boo... I'm so proud of you!!! XOXOX
    You know I can relate to every word you wrote, but I never really thought of it in terms of making the choice to live instead of surviving for my kids until now... I guess somewhere in the middle of just trying to make it, I decided to live, too. I do actually feel like since I survived the whole first year without my best friend that I can do anything.
    I haven't decided 100% to go to the conference next year, but most likely I will. I would absolutely love to meet you!

  13. Jude - I have found that my old friends (the ones I went to boarding school with have really really helped me this year ... perhaps the fact that we boarded together for those years all that time ago ensures that the bond and understanding remains even today)

    Andrea - thanks hon. I think that if you have kids it's different because of the exact reasons that yourself and Debbie have described. The maternal instinct is too strong because you are good Moms <3

    I really hope you can go! xxx

  14. Margo

    I've been reading your blog for some time now and have laughed, almost cried and been extremely worried, but also proud of how you are taking each step at a time. After reading today I felt compelled to congratulate you on what is likely to be one of the most important decisions of your life. "TO LIVE"

    I am excited to read of your plans for next year and hope you will have time on your travels to keep us all updated on what you are doing. I'm also hoping that you may have time during your busy year to come to the less glamorous English county of Suffolk to see Frances and I. As we have said on many occasions you are always welcome, and if you fancied a quiet relaxing few days away we're always here. Take care .... Adam X

  15. Adam, thanks so much ... I will be coming for a weekend in the New Year ... just the 3 of us (and cats and chooks of course) and look forward to it.

    I am so glad that my beautiful niece has found "a man" as her grandfather would have called you. She is very fortunate but she knows she is ... and far more smart than I ... it took ME 30 years ;-)

    I am so touched you wrote and knew Frances read it regularly, but had no idea you were too.

    Love to you both

  16. Hi Boo.

    I've been thinking a lot about this post of yours. It is so helpful for me to hear your expression of choosing to live. On Tuesday I was talking to my therapist, and telling him that for the first time I am beginning to have moments when I can tell myself, and believe, that I will get through this. I too have had so many moments where I wish it would all end. What I mean by telling myself this I'm not quite sure. Mostly, I never wanted to lose Michael, as I waited so long to find him. Now that he is gone I can't imagine ever being as happy again.

    I've spent most of my adult years single. Falling in love with Michael was a dream come true. I have three brothers, all of whom have been married for many years. I can get so caught up in asking Why Me!?

    I bet you have made Cliff so happy to know you have come through this with a desire to live, and live it well.


    Right now I am living for my kids, but look forward to the day when I want to live for myself.

  17. Dan, I am so happy that this post helped you a little. Even if all it has given you is a little hope. This journey is the hardest I have ever taken, or ever will take. I believe that you will reach this destination (where I am) when you are ready. Can I suggest that you read Jerry Sittser's "A grace disguised" ... I found it very thought provoking and helpful around 4 months after losing Cliff and it felt like I was ready to read it at that stage. Wishing you strength and peace x

    Suzann - are you getting over your virus?

  18. Go for it. Dream! I'm doing that. It might not work, but I'll bloody try!

  19. Choose life.

    Yup, I'm with you there, all the way. Well done!

  20. Gents, apologies for my late response ... it's good to have you on this road with me.

    Oh and Roads, I've been playing Trainspotting's Choose Life a LOT in my car since I wrote that post, spookily enough!!