- In 2015 my wife's suffering finally ended.
- 2015 was the last year in which I was able to hold my wife's hand and tell her I loved her. And it was the last year she held mine, and told me she loved me too.
- 2015 was a year in which people, near and far, known to me and also unknown, showed how important my wife and our family was to them, and offered their support when we needed it the most.
- 2015 was a year in which I proved to myself and my family that I could do it alone* (even if I didn't want to)
Those are some of the big, headliner type things that happened in 2015. The obvious, unspoken big baddie also happened in 2015. But man...those other things. I've mentioned before how grateful I am that the family was able to be there with Leslie at the end. Holding her hand, listening to that horrible christian station she loved, telling her we loved her and we were proud of her.
We still talked in 2015. She held my hand. How can 2015 be a bad year when I know that 2016 can't offer the same. Nor any year.
I've said before how this wasn't the way Leslie's story was supposed to end.
I read a lot. Or I used to. Before I grew up and became the man who falls asleep rereading the same paragraph five times before closing the book in disgust and turning out the lights, I was a younger man who devoured books like Galactus devours worlds. I read very few books where the hero died before the end. I wanted to read more about Leslie. I wanted more adventures with her. She was a character I could really get behind. She was authentic. She had a lot of integrity. She made the other characters in the story better than they were.
Leslie's sisters (have I told you this story before?) were (are) very talented. Her older sister is an amazing singer. Her younger sister was (is) very smart. Leslie loved telling the story about how she blindsided her mother by asking her, "Danette is such a good singer, and Lauren is so smart, what makes ME special?" And her mother's reply, "You make people smile" was something that Leslie and I enjoyed talking about. It's a perfectly valid answer, but not, I think, what young Leslie was hoping for when she asked the question, so we would often trot it out as a joking consolation prize...I know you completely wrecked this risotto...but at least you made us all smile.
But I think looking back on Leslie, if there was something that really made her special it was that she made the people around her better. Better friends. Better parents. Better people. She cared. She was genuine.
When I think about my life moving forward in the context of the continuing story that develops when the story of how "Leslie and Jim" ends, I think about the phrase, "On the shoulders of giants". I think about who I am and what being Leslie's husband for 15 years did for me as a person and a parent. I feel like I rode piggy back and watched what she did, and now a lot of who I am and how I parent is the direct result of that 15 year piggy back ride. And I feel like I can do it. But I feel like my ability to see that horizon is because I'm standing on Leslie's shoulders to get a better view. She made me better than I was before I met her.
Somewhere along the way the Jim's story analogy breaks down because it feels dismissive to think of Leslie in terms of "supporting character to Jim's story" even though I suppose each of us is in some way a supporting character in the novel of someone else's life. What I meant to communicate wasn't that Leslie just had a supporting role, but that where I am as a character in my own story is so different than it would have been if she hadn't touched my life. Our lives. Anyway.
She'll always be a part of our story.
Emma and I were watching "Good Luck Charlie" this weekend. It was an episode where Amy Duncan decides to throw herself a "surprise" baby shower for her 5th kid. She invites a bunch of people who she thinks will give good gifts, but talks shit about them in front of her three year old, who then regurgitates the information to the invitees during the shower and causes them all to leave.
Emma said, "Did mommy have friends like that?"
"Like, you mean friends she didn't really like that much but she sort of tolerated?"
I thought about this.
"No. She really didn't."
Leslie didn't use people. Leslie didn't tolerate people. If you were friends with Leslie it was because Leslie wanted to be your friend. She didn't befriend you because she needed stuff from you. She wasn't in it for the perks. She just...liked you.
Christmas was nice. We did pretty well. The big things seem more manageable to me. They always have. The little things sucker punch me, but the big things we've been good with.
2016 is coming, and although I personally have argued that January 1 is an arbitrary time to start "the first day of the rest of your life" it feels convenient under the circumstances. I have resolutions, but I still have stuff to clean up from 2015. So I'll start then.
I have to learn who I am without Leslie. I'm old enough now that I feel like maybe I can do that without letting my baser instincts govern me. For instance, right now I'm frustrated by my inability to do all the things I want to do. I want to get fit. I want to learn to play the guitar. I want to write. I want to read. I want to have a drink. I want to go out with friends. And I can't do all of that at once. And I have to decide...what's more important to me? How do I make it happen?
At night I think...okay, the kids are in bed, I'm free to do what I want...what'll it be? Get on the treadmill? Read a book? Pick up the guitar? And some nights the answer is...just go to bed.
I'm learning that when I don't sleep enough my mood and patience both go down the shitter. I'll have a really bad day, where I'm "blue" or depressed or whatever, and I just don't have the patience for the kids that I typically do, and then I'll get a good night's sleep and it's "fixed" and I'll remember that the previous night I only slept for 3 hours. That light bulb has gone on a few times. I'm starting to remember it.
I also know that sometimes when I'm feeling the most wrung out, stepping up on the treadmill and getting my blood pumping ALSO makes me feel better.
I feel lonely in a way that can't just be fixed with company. I miss "sharing time", even if that time is spent watching TV or reading a book in the same room in silence. I miss wordless communication or just knowing she was my safety net to tag out in case I started to lose my temper with the kids. That kind of loneliness isn't fixed by hanging out with friends and family or by dating. And dating is sometimes lonelier than NOT dating, though I know at some point I'll re-enter that fray. We knew all of each others stories. We were comfortable in each others' space and silence. Eventually getting to that point with someone else seems daunting.
At grief support we talked about the idea of wearing your wedding ring even though you're no longer technically married. I told them how it'd already caused one socially awkward situation (Happy Hour). Taking the ring off seems unspeakably sad to me. I told them I would most likely move it to my right hand. Taking it off entirely seems too sad. Thinking about a time when taking it off doesn't seem too sad ALSO seems too sad. Moving the ring...I'm okay with that, I think. One woman wore hers around her neck on a chain. Another man was still wearing his. Day to day. I was thinking about doing that in 2016. It seems like a sad way to begin a year, but really it'll be sad no matter when I decide to do it.
Learn who I am without Leslie