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Week 41

Forty-one weeks ago, a month before our twenty-fifth anniversary, my wife died suddenly from resurgent endometrial cancer. This is an ongoing examination of how I'm coping with this.

This has been a really weird week. Perhaps because I've suppressed it, or because I'm now able to deal, but for the past month, I have been made increasingly aware that Penny isn't here any more, in every aspect of my life. The emotional pain I feel in response of this is, I am told, 'grief'.

I mentioned before that I've been dreaming of Penny a lot, and that has reducedchanged the nature of this pain from grief. As long as I breathe properly, I still feel it, the loss and the missing-her and the sense of emptiness, but it doesn't make my throat close, and it doesn't send daggers into the knots in my back and neck, and my sinuses don't throb. Surrenduring to it hurts less, the way it hurts less when you break a bone or dislocate a joint and you don't clench around it.

For me, the defense mechanism has always been to be strong. Experience taught that tears are in and of themselves a weakness, that they invite the predators to take a longer, more thoughtful time about inflicting further pain and injury. This meant that I learned to suppress tears as a response to pain, and instead to become angry, to fight back. Fine when dealing with human violence, but not very good when dealing with things that just happen because that's the way it is. Unfortunately, I never did learn the trick of gracefully telling people how I feel about things that might be used against me by the unscrupulous and hurtful, and any feelings of tenderness, of affection, all fall in this category. Junior high school, and high school, were where these lessons were most forcefully taught.

And, I learned decades ago that this so-called defense training was nonsense, that it's better to bend, to let the painful things pass, or if they're inflicted, to redirect the violence to neutralize it. Allowing yourself to recognize and experience pain as it happens means that it won't break out later and mug you in an alley, leaving you broken and unable to move. But still, I don't cry easily; my tear glands are sullen and unproductive. Instead, perversely, saliva wells up profusely, and my sinuses fill so my nose goes runny, but the eyes going wet is the last thing to happen.

Talking about it, writing about it, both trigger the emotional awareness, and if I relax and allow it, then it happens and it's over enough that I can try to function. Except, the last week or two, I am not functioning all that well. I haven't been leaving the apartment except when I have to; I haven't been as aggressive about jobsearching as I should be.

So, my grandmother is dying. She has advanced Alzheimer's disease, and she has reached a state where she no longer uses words, refuses to eat even the can of ensure that was her twice-daily meal, the only thing she's been able or willing to eat for over a year. She won't wake up to have her diaper changed.

And my father is sick, much worse than he was admitting to be when we talked on the phone. He has developed heart disease, emphysema, asthma, and sleep apnea. Well, the heart disease was probably caused by the sleep apnea, which has been around for some time. He did have heart surgery over the last few years. He doesn't fit the standard profile for heart disease. He's not the usual profile for someone with sleep apnea. Unlike me, he's not a fat man by any means (the commonest way that doctors blame their patients for having this particular disease). When I saw him last month, he seemed pretty tired, so I was concerned, but he said he was gaining weight and getting better. Last week, I guess, he went into the hospital or the doctor, and they found out that some of his weight gain (he had a little belly starting) was fluid retention in his abdomen, around his heart and lungs (!!AAA!) and they put him on a diuretic, changed his asthma management, changed the heart medications he was on, and then yesterday, he went to the doctor in Great Falls and they did a stress test. His lung capacity is 25% of what it should be, and his heart is "Not pumping enough blood" so they wanted to see what was up with that. Still, the fluid retention is gone. Maybe they'll actually get him to the point where he can improve.

I guess, from this, that I can categorize my depression, sleep disruption, and utter lassitude as being "justified" in some sense, but that isn't getting my old PC cleared off, files saved on my new one so I can donate the old one, my mail sent, my unemployment check deposited, my laundry done, my job-search aggressively pursued, and my medications picked up. So. Ever since I can remember, I've had a bloody-minded, focused mode that I can go into when I have a clearly identified thing that must be done and finished, and I guess this is time to invoke that, and get out into the world tomorrow. At the very least, mail, bank, and meds.

Perhaps I should examine that bloody minded mode and make sure that I'm not going to mess myself up using it.