This weekend [N.B. end of October] marks six months since Michelle passed away. Half of a year has passed since the person I spent over a third of my life thinking I’d spend the next forty years with left this world.
The truth is that although my heart still aches, in many ways I have been able to move on. It is surprising to me how much this is the case, to the point where I find myself second-guessing if I really am doing well, if I should be doing the things that I’m doing, or even questioning my emotional maturity and self-understanding.
Readers of this site know that this blog has become a sort of therapy for me, so today I want to itemize some things I’ve had in my head and try to work my way through my thoughts and feelings around this feeling of second-guessing, as well as talk about some things specific to my experiences.
All through this summer and fall, I’ve realized that certain circumstances about what happened this year were unusual and allowed me to perhaps heal faster than many people are able to in similar scenarios. As terrible as all of this has been, I have still been incredibly fortunate.
I was struck reading a New York Times interview with Patton Oswalt published just this week about how he feels that he’ll “never be at 100 percent again”. His wife (also named Michelle) died suddenly, also in April, exactly one week before my Michelle did. She was ten years older at age 46, but that is also tragically young. Patton and his wife were together a year or two less than Michelle and I were. But Patton had no time to prepare for the shock of her death—it was indeed a true shock. And it has hit him hard, affecting him profoundly to this day.
Michelle spent five months ill and from the beginning we knew that it was incredibly serious. Though we mostly avoided speaking of the possibility that Michelle might die for morale reasons, I personally had to be ready for the outcome. Part of me had to contemplate the idea of living without her. For months, the idea of life without Michelle is a concept that I lived with, albeit not at the forefront of my mind. While her death also affected me profoundly, I had nearly half of a year to consider what might transpire, all the while experiencing kinds of grief—for our past, “normal” lives; for health; for innocence; for good fortune.
The entire time Michelle was sick, from December through April, I had incredible flexibility with my job. I did not have to work, hassle with finances or insurance, or have any schedule save the one I needed in order to focus on her. This allowed me to spend all day, every day with Michelle (save a few sanity breaks) caring for her and spending time with her.
Similarly, after she passed away, I had carte blanche to take the time that I needed to focus on my grief, adjusting to my new life, and taking care of all of the logistical details. Hardly anyone gets this sort of flexibility, and few people even get to focus on anything in their life with such intensity, let alone something as critical as grieving a spouse. This has had incredible effects on my healing.
Both when confronted with her illness, when both of us had to accept its reality, and when I was confronted with her death, I feel like we skipped the first three stages of grief and loss—denial, anger, and bargaining. I am, and Michelle was, a wholly realistic person who faces facts.
I never had a moment after we found that Michelle was sick where I said “this cannot be”. It simply was. It was the new normal.
Neither of us got angry about things. In fact, in the eulogy I gave for Michelle, I mentioned how she herself never got angry at the situation. What good would it do? There were more important things to focus on.
And because I was able to focus, and because I worked my butt off doing research, communicating with medical professionals, and understanding the scenarios that we faced, I never had a “what if” about if I had taken a different path. That way leads to self-destruction and it’s a thing I simply would not contemplate.
Even after her death, as I learned more about the nature of the rare and serious disease that she faced, itself even more terrible than the wholly awful pancreatic cancer, I realized that there was no other way that this would have gone down save an unexplained, statistically impossible event. It just was.
Or rather, lack thereof. I have none. This is a remarkable thing to say, but I have no regrets about how I was able to spend my time with Michelle and care for her during her illness, but, more importantly, neither do I about our nearly fifteen years together. There were essentially no opportunities that we did not seize. Sure, there were many things that we still wanted to do together—see the rest of the great apes in the wild (we saw orangutans), travel to so many more countries together, make a little getaway home in the country someplace, and just continue so many adventures. But there was so much that we wanted to do together that we did, that we made time for, that we pushed through those little fears for.
For often, those fears are the only things actually in your way.