One Third of a Year

Catherine died four months ago yesterday.

A few weeks ago I got a call from the Grief Support Coordinator at Hospice PEI. They’d sent me a card after Catherine died alerting me that they’d be reaching out after 3 months; I’d forgotten that. Three months, it seems, is a strategic time: it’s assumed the casseroles have stopped being dropped in the vestibule, and that the darkness is darkening. Not entirely incorrect. But not entirely correct either.

There’s a men’s grief support group starting up at the end of this month: I said I wasn’t interested, that everything was okay, that I had all the support I needed.

The next day I changed my mind, after realizing that everything was not okay, that I was interested, that I didn’t have all the support I needed, and that my decision had more to do with discomfort with the idea of sharing what I was feeling with other men in a similar position. But then I read the layout of the 8 weeks of sessions, and saw bullet points like “Am I going crazy?” and decided it was best to set aside my discomfort.

Once I’d made that decision, it was a short hop, skip and jump to making an appointment with my erstwhile psychologist. Apparently once you realize you can use some help, it’s easier to look for help on many fronts. That’s a good thing to remember.

A wise friend encouraged me to greet fear “as an ally, not an opponent,” and that’s what I have chosen to do, at least for a while.

I have not written much here about what it has been like to grieve, in part because I have been waiting to get to the point where I can tie neat bows on things, come to conclusions, provide insight. “This is what my life with Catherine was all about, and here’s how it felt when that came to an end.” I’m not there yet, and I’m starting to realize that there is no there.

I do not feel helpless; indeed, I feel enormously capable for being able to keep going. Doing the laundry, making the meals, making sure we get outside, making plans for what comes next, staunching the Polygonum cuspidatum in the back yard, getting the windshield replaced, learning how to prune the fruit trees: victories all. The countertops are clean, the cutlery drawer organized, the hat-toque-mitt box prepared for summer storage, our bicycles oiled and getting lots of use.

But lurking under my sense of capability is realization that simply being capable, being able to resume daily operations, that’s the easy part.

Being able to consider what my life with Catherine was about, what it meant, what we meant, what it means to care for someone while they are dying, and how that will affect the rest of my life, and what shape the rest of my life might take, these are all questions I feel extremely incapable of answering, or even having enough distance from to consider at all. Perhaps the best thing I can say is that I have, after four months, enough distance to relax a little into the idea that I don’t have to be in a hurry, that so much of the last five years, ten years, twenty years has disappeared behind an opaque curtain is okay, and that things will emerge as I’m able to confront them.

And it’s not like that curtain is always closed: a song lyric, or an opened drawer, or an “on this day in 2006” in my photos app, these can all reduce me to tears for a moment or two or ten. Tears are good: I almost always feel better after having a cry.

Several have written me variations of a “first your dad died, then Catherine, and now this; how much more shit are you going to have to take” message. Appreciated. But the pandemic has been less another mountain to cross than it has been a chance for the world to catch up to me: I’ve spent years living with an uncertain future, with the real possibility of death in a week or a month or a year. I am well-trained in the art of learning to not care (so much) what happens next because I have no control over it.

Which is not to say that I’ve embraced the pandemic: I could do without the loneliness, and if God is at play here, the “I’m going to take the one you love most, and then, for good measure, I’ll make sure everyone else is kept at bay too” seems like a strange way to operate. But perhaps it’s quiet contemplation that I need, not more opportunities for distraction. 


Joan Sinclair's picture
Joan Sinclair on May 18, 2020 - 08:26 Permalink

You're right, Peter, it feels good to cry. (As if you could stop it!) I appreciate you sharing your reflections on your grief over Catherine.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on May 18, 2020 - 08:37 Permalink

There is no right or wrong formula for the proper mixing of contemplation and distraction...but both are a necessity and each will change in focus as you go further through this.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 19, 2020 - 17:37 Permalink

I originally titled this post “One Quarter of a Year” because I thought that’s what four months was. But it’s not, I realized, thanks to my friend Ton. So I re-titled the post. I cannot imagine how one third of a year has passed.

elmine's picture
elmine on May 20, 2020 - 04:56 Permalink

Thank you for sharing this Peter. Trying to make you feel a little less lonely from a distance one day at a time. Hugs.