Grieving at 16 Weeks: Things I’m Not Ready to Do Yet

I talked last week about what seems possible now. Today, I’m thinking about what, 16 weeks out from Tom’s death, still does not feel possible:

  • Going camping and rafting. Every rafting trip I’ve ever been on involved Tom as captain, and in the time Tom and I were together, I only camped once without him. I love both activities and suspect I’ll make my way back to them, but for now the activities feel too connected to memories of Tom. A friend told me about “grief floats,” rafting trips specifically for grieving people, and I’m thinking a grief float in the late spring or summer might be a good way to dip my toes in again (pun intended).
  • Going to restaurants we went to together. I have only gone to restaurants a handful of times since Tom died, but every time, I was careful to choose a place Tom and I never went together. One of my favorite restaurants is our neighborhood Italian place, and I do miss the food, but when I think of the place, I think of sitting at the bar with Tom, how we’d always reminisce about the time an obnoxiously drunk patron confided in us about some sexual escapades, how we’d order too many oysters and then too many appetizers because we couldn’t not order our favorites. As with camping and rafting, I believe I’ll be able to go to the restaurant again at some point, but not today.
  • Watching shows we watched together. The night before he went to the hospital for his last surgery, Tom and I started watching Downton Abbey (yes, very late to that party). I’d love to watch more, but when I think of the show, I think of Tom’s last night at home, how relaxed and normal the evening felt, and then I think of the unexpected news just a day later that he wasn’t waking up after surgery.
  • Reading for pleasure. I just don’t seem to have the attention span to get lost in a book yet. Before Tom died, I had started reading Sallie Tisdale’s Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them), and now four months later I’m only about halfway through it. The book is wonderful, but I find I can only read a few pages at a time and what I’m reading doesn’t sink in, so I often have to re-read those same pages when I come back to the book.
  • Making sense of the garage. Tom’s majestic garage, AKA the Garage Majal or Man Town, has always been mysterious to me—full of things I can’t name or even imagine a use for. Tom’s organizational skills were always a little shaky, so there are motorcycle-related items side by side with distilling supplies and carpentry tools, and how am I to know the difference? Before his stroke, about every six weeks, Tom would announce, “I’m going to take back Man Town,” by which he meant put everything in its place. “Taking back Man Town” was a two-day process for Tom, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be up to the task.
  • Doing something with the last of the knife sharpening stuff. After his stroke, Tom took up knife sharpening as a hobby, and in his typical overboard fashion, quickly amassed an incredible quantity of equipment, which took over the entire front of the living room. After he died, I gathered up the vast majority of equipment and donated it, leaving just one small shelving unit full of sharpening implements. In the last month, I redecorated the living room, carefully redecorating around that shelving unit. I smile every time I see it, a little reminder that I can redecorate all I want, but the living room will always be at least somewhat his space, too.
  • Getting rid of the juice in the fridge. I gave Tom a glass of grapefruit juice every night with his drugs; some evenings he only drank a few sips, just enough to help him swallow the drugs, and then asked me to put the mostly full glass in the fridge for the next night. The night before he went to the hospital for the last time, he took his requisite few sips and then I put the glass in the fridge. It’s still in there, the juice long evaporated and the pulp residue in a thick layer at the bottom of the glass.
  • Getting rid of Tom’s shoes and leg brace. It’s funny how the things Tom and I hated the most—his big giant shoes and leg brace—are among the items I can’t bring myself to part with. Before his stroke, Tom wore cowboy boots, hiking boots, or Tevas, but after the stroke, his leg brace necessitated very different footwear. The only shoes we could find that would accommodate the brace were athletic shoes 1.5 sizes larger than his usual size and in extra extra wide—yes that’s two “extras.” The shoes are big and ugly and Tom hated them. Putting them on was an act of finesse that required getting the angles just right. I thought I’d be happy to never see them again. Instead, the clear bag the hospital staff put the shoes and brace into sits untouched in the corner of the guest bedroom. I think I’m unable to even touch the bag because its contents represent Tom at his most vulnerable. There’s also an element of pride in my caregiving: Tom used to brag to his therapists that no one could get his brace and shoes on as efficiently as I could.
  • Deleting the recurring reminders on my calendar to help Tom with stretching, getting dressed, etc. My life as a caregiver was so mind-blurringly busy and overwhelming that I depended on calendar and phone alerts to remind me to do many recurring tasks related to his care: dispense his drugs, stretch his left arm, get him dressed, etc. Although I haven’t done any of these things in 16 weeks now, I can’t bring myself to delete the calendar reminders. The reminders are oddly comforting. Every day, for example, when my 9 am reminder to stretch Tom’s left arm pops up, I remember how we would laugh and make jokes about the Midnight Creeper, as Tom dubbed the arm that seemed to have a mind of its own.

I’m sure some of these things will seem more possible in the future and some will never seem possible, and that’s just fine. Perhaps my living room will always feature a shelf full of knife sharpening implements. I’m ok with that.

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