Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Then and Now...and...

Grief is open-ended. The more I live it, the more I know it.

One of my co-workers came up with a way to yell my name which is similar to the way Mr. Spacely, of The Jetsons fame yelled George Jetson’s name (“JetSON!!”) so he’s been calling me “BurRAGE!!”, raising the pitch toward the end for effect.

Hearing my name out loud, with the emphasis on the last syllable caused me to keep repeating my own name over and over until it no longer sounded familiar. If you have ever done that, you already know that you end up feeling like you don’t really know why you’ve done it.

Burrage didn’t used to be my last name. I didn’t take Chris’ name when we got married. I didn’t want to change my name at first, and then I became confused by all of my options. I could change names completely, hyphenate my name or not change my name at all. I didn’t take Chris’ name until after he died. Once he was gone, I became aware that I wanted to carry him with me throughout my life, and taking his name was a very visible, deliberate way of doing so. I dropped my middle name, slid my maiden name (Orloff) into its place and snapped Burrage onto the end.

I remember Robin Orloff, but I can’t quite relate to who she was, anymore. That girl is long gone and somebody so much better; so much more patient, understanding and giving; and so much richer has replaced her. Robin Orloff was shallow, needy, attention-craving, a little self-centered and lacking in perspective.

Since Chris had to die, I may as well be happy about the positive changes that took place within me as a result. Without having to say, I would obviously rather be shallow, needy, attention-craving, self-centered, perspective-lacking Robin Orloff, but since she died along with Chris, I choose to be nice, giving, caring and happy Robin Burrage.

Grief is open-ended. I cried for an hour and a half last night because I want Chris to come back and be my husband, again. My journey has bypassed the two-and-a-half-year mark. I just read, in my Adult Development & Aging textbook, that widowed people report having grieved up to and beyond eight years! I laugh when I remember thinking “I don’t have a whole year to grieve!” when Chris first died. Oh the things I didn’t know, one of which was that I was living a virtually pain-free life up until his death. Nothing really ever went wrong in my life. I complained a lot and screamed enough to make the most avid nay-sayer believe my life was a turbulent cesspool of unfairness, but the truth is that I used to cry regularly if I wasn’t cast in the leading role of a community theater production for which I had auditioned.

The lessons I have learned and those I have yet to learn.

Janus: In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, and endings. His most apparent remnants in modern culture are his namesakes, the month of January and the caretaker of doors and halls: Janitor.

Janus was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of future to past, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. He was also known as the figure representing time because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Tonight was the last class of my Infancy & Childhood Development course. For the past four weeks I, along with a group of other students, navigated through 12 weeks worth of intensive information about children and how they develop physically, cognitively and socially.

The class opened my eyes and my heart to the possibility of becoming a parent, giving of myself to a small person who depends on my love, guidance and knowledge in order to grow into a productive, functioning, loving member of society. Class left me with a spark of desire to have a child of my own, someday. Physiologically, I have a few years left to make that happen if that’s what I choose to do.

After class, I chatted for a while with a fellow student. I told her I thought I’d like to have a child. She began encouraging me, telling me that I could do it. “You don’t even have to be married,” she said. “You can do it single.”

She had no idea. She assumed (I’m assuming) that I am “that single, outgoing, independent woman of the oughts”…or maybe I projected that assumption onto her. At any rate, I needed to let her know. I told her about Chris and how he died and then I told her a truth that I have been suppressing for while.

“I never wanted kids. Neither of us did,” I said. “But now that I want to have a child of my own, I wish he was here to have one with.” The tide inside of me began to rise. I could feel tightness constricting my throat, but nonetheless, I kept a stiff upper lip.

I do wish Chris could father my child. In a way, he will father my child. If I do become a mother, I will be teaching my son or daughter all of the things Chris taught me, like love, patience, acceptance…and, of course, microbrews. No child of mine is going to drink the leading brand..

I’m not the type of person who feels sorry for herself or who feels that life is unfair. I don’t mope around. I get things done. I move forward. I help others and I love as much as I can. But last night I was so overcome with self-pity and anger that I wanted to put my fist through the train window, the escalator, a parked car, some trees and my front door.

Last night, I welcomed a brand new aspect of grief into my life. I’m not quite sure what to call this latest surge. A post-grief backlash? Anger rewound? Sadness about something I can never go back and get? I was grieving about something I never wanted when Chris was alive. He has been dead for two years and seven months at this point, so having his baby is so impossible that I can’t believe I have entered this state of sadness. It won’t last, but it sure hurts right now.

Ever since Chris began chemo and the doctors told us he would be sterile, I had maintained that I didn’t care, that I just wanted him to live. Babies meant very little to me and next to Chris getting well, they were demoted to “nothing’ status. I had become so accustomed to suppressing, that I told myself over and over I had no regrets, that we didn’t want children together, so the fact that we never had kids simply was not a regret of mine. Last night, I got blindsided by my admission that I wish I had our child, that I wish we had put Chris’ sperm into a sperm bank before he was poisoned with chemo. Then I got double-blindsided by the reality that a child of Chris’, without Chris here to enjoy that child, would always make me sad.

The woman I was talking with after class said to me, “You always bring him with you.” I already know that, and even though I was thankful to her for talking to me and not running away, I suspected that she really didn’t have a true understanding of what it feels like to say that’s true only because you have nothing else left. I told her of my plan to name my child Christopher (boy) or Kristofer (girl). I want to honor him that way. It felt really nice to say that out loud to somebody so caring and open to talking with me.

And now I’m sitting on the orange line train on my way home, writing this, choking back the same old tears I smothered behind the cover of Stephen King’s “Desperation” back in November of 2001, as I sat on the green line trolley, in the grips of terror at the thought that Chris might die. His death was only a possibility back then.

Grief doesn’t get better. It gets different. Clay has said it again and again. My experience is that grief remains painful and maintains its ability and natural tendency to ambush at the most inopportune moments, like after a 3-hour class, when I’m alone on campus, at night, at Ruggles station, where the most warmth I can find is the T official smiling through the window of the steel-gray, bullet proof (I assume) information booth.

I’m okay. I just need to see Clay.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This too shall pass.

I just got the oddest urge to ask Chris if he knew he was dying before he was actually told he was dying. One thing about the death of a loved one is that the feeling that the person is still reachable…by phone, by e-mail…never really goes away.

There are so many things I would ask him if I could. Did he know? Was he hiding truths from me and Bonnie? How did he survive fourteen months if he knew the outcome? Did he love me? Does he still love me? Does he know my pain in the way that a spirit can know the pain of others without actually feeling that pain?

My dating life has been very fun for the past couple of months. I wonder if my rediscovered feelings of joy in the realm of romance have anything to do with the recent return of my memories of the hospital and from Christmas Day, on.

Monday evening, on my way to pick up my car from the garage, I remembered something Chris used to do to me. I’m not the most focused person, especially when I’m having fun with my friends. Completely losing track of where I’m going and/or what I’m doing is not out of the ordinary for me. If Chris and I were walking and talking, on the street, in the supermarket or elsewhere, and I forgot myself, I would quite often walk right past our target destination, yip-yapping the entire time. Chris never said a word. Without missing a beat, he simply placed both hands on my upper arms and turned my body in the direction I should be heading, placing me back on track. Also without missing a beat, I always simply said, “Thanks.” Nothing lost.

I remembered that about us and then my immediate task became choking back the surge of grief rising in me like a flash flood.

I arrived at the garage, only to be told my car wasn’t ready, yet, and then walked the fifteen minutes home concentrating to keep my breakdown at bay. Once inside, I let go and didn’t catch hold of myself again for two hours, when my mechanic called to tell me my car was ready.

My co-worker, Marc, who looks, sounds, talks and could be a 99% personality carbon-copy of my Chris told me he feels “smooshy” about me. Chris used that word all the time. In fact, for a short while, my nickname was Smoosher and then it became Smoosh. With no knowledge of my past nicknames, Marc just IMd me, saying he would call me “Smoosh” from now on. Seeing his message appear on my computer screen made me feel like the message came from Chris. Same demeanor, same creativity, same everything.

Yesterday, I became very dizzy at work, to the point that I couldn't walk down the hallway. I assumed I was experiencing an anxiety attack, so I just drank some water and willed it gone.

I’m fragile, again. Happy, no less, but very fragile. It’s okay. This too shall pass.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Arrested Social Interaction

I’m still studying. My book came an entire week after the intensive 4-week Prenatal and Neonatal Development class began, so I began this weekend playing a hefty game of catch-up. I am now reading chapter five of the seven chapters I have to catch up on before I take today’s test. I’m actually making good time. Class material is fascinating and exciting so the material should stick. Even though the exam is online, my professor asked the class to close our books and notes when we take the test. I have to respect her instruction. Anybody can ace a test with an open book. I prefer an open mind.

I do plan on getting on my bike (hopefully) and taking a 20-mile ride today, just for fun. I totally deserve to release myself from Textbook Penitentiary.

This class is making me want to have a child of my own. Chris and I never wanted children of our own and we were both quite happy with that decision. I think my feelings changed after having taken care of Chris while he was ill. I didn’t know I had the capacity to care about somebody else more than I care about myself before that. I think I would make a tremendous mom. I have a lot to give, a lot to teach and an enormous amount of patience, understanding and acceptance ability. I hope I get the chance to experience motherhood, whether I make the child (my own pregnancy) or take the child (adoption). I don’t want to raise a child in a one-parent home, though. I’d like for my kid to have both parents present and I would also like to have some help raising him/her.

I feel so much better today. I think my “test-prep captivity” was messing with my mind, yesterday. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel today and I feel good about this test. I also feel good about the realization that this test is important to me. It’s nice to know that I care about things. Proving my engagement in my own life takes the edge off of my periodic grief-eruptions and makes me know that I’m not as depressed and hopeless as I may feel during those moments.

I’m off to finish serving my two-day sentence, which will culminate in my online test parole board meeting. I have confidence that I will be able to leap back into life on the outside quite easily, a more humble, more educated me.


Saturday, July 7, 2007


I wrote this and then didn’t want to post it and then thought that I probably ought to. I have been honest in all of my posts from the start and I don’t want to start concealing the truth now.

I’m very, very, very, very depressed. I studied for a test all day today and I need to continue my efforts all day tomorrow. Even so, I managed to get out and take a 5.5 mile run and do fifty pushups. I’m good.

I miss Chris so much that it hurts me physically.

I’ve moved on while holding on. I can’t let go. I can’t want to let go, and I’m ashamed, on top of being sad. I should be able to not cry anymore, but I I'm not able to stop.

The truth is that I ran 5 miles because I stopped in the middle and walked part of the way. Then I started running, again. When I turned into my driveway, my tears just came and they wouldn’t stop. That happens, sometimes, when I tax myself physically. And it doesn’t help to wish Chris was upstairs waiting for me.

I’m tired and I little panicked over this most recent resurgence of grief. I’m tired of it. I want it to stop, but it doesn’t, and I can’t begin to explain to anybody why that is.

I’m seeing Clay, my therapist, on Wednesday and I’m even ashamed to tell him that I'm still grieving. My therapist. What is wrong with me?

People just don’t know how long this lasts. It’s like the statute of limitations on my grief has runs it’s course and everybody thinks everything is a-okay with me. That isn’t their fault. I don’t tell anyone that I’m still sad.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I just want somebody to hold me, again. If I asked any one of my friends to do that for me, they would do it in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sweet Frozen Treats

Up until Sunday night, I had forgotten about the popsicles.

During Chris’ last few days alive, his brain became very childlike, due to the morphine in his system. He was cute, but the experience is still a very sad one.

I didn’t want him to go. In some ways, I’m just beginning to realize that, now. Back then, I was so intent on giving him what he needed, and leaving his life is exactly what he needed, that I never stopped to think about how his impending departure from my life would make me feel.

Sunday night, I sat on my sofa half-enjoying a root beer flavored popsicle, all the while distracted by the frozen dessert’s tastelessness. I contemplated throwing the remainder of the treat into the trash, rather than continuing to half-delight in its watered-down, sub-par sweetness. Suddenly, and without warning, I was taken by a memory of Chris, sitting on the bed in his hospital johnny, enjoying a lime popsicle, the excitement of a five-year-old on his face. That expression of happiness on his face each time he tasted the frozen citrus filled me exactly halfway with joy and exactly halfway with sadness. He had become a small boy in so many ways. He was incapable of taking care of himself. He became incapable of eating anything other than popsicles and yogurt. Actually, he had even stopped eating yogurt, and if the hospice care giver who visited and bathed him hadn’t sternly fed it to him, he would have gone to the other side hungry.

I remember the hospice care provider talking to Chris, telling him to believe in God. “You must believe in God.” he kept saying. I listened on the other side of the door, knowing full-well that Chris didn’t believe in God, that he fancied himself an atheist. I wanted to run in and shush the caregiver, but just my anxiety had taken over, it began to dissipate as I started to think that maybe my husband had decided, in the last three days, to believe in God. Maybe something had changed. Maybe he needed to believe. He wasn’t fighting the man, in fact, I remember having a sense that he felt saved by this man, taken care of by this man and thankful to have a man help him get nourishment in his last couple days of life.

I was deeply in tune with Chris’ needs and I believe his opinion had changed during his last few days on earth. I think he finally knew the fight was over and that he could guiltlessly give up knowing that the time had come. I don’t remember witnessing any anger on his part during those days. He seemed happy…and ready.

The popsicles make me sad, though.