I love roller coasters. The slow crawl up and up and up, while anticipation grows. The way the cars almost come to a stop at the very top of the curve. The swift drop down where it’s hard to breathe and there a sense of losing all control. Losing a spouse has put me on a roller coaster that DisneyWorld would find impressive.
A good friend who became a widower before me put it well. Be ready, he said. Be ready for wildly fluctuating moods that go from extreme highs to extreme lows, sometimes in a single day. Just ride with it, he told me. Gradually over time, the swings will become less extreme; but for now, just hang on.
Boy is he right. I’ve gone from feeling basically Okay, and that things will be good to moods of blackest despair – often within a few hours. This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.
Some days I think that all the good and positive in our relationship will be with me, always, like a cardigan sweater – something that can be buttoned up tight when needed or opened when I feel better. On the up side of the roller coaster, I let myself dwell, just a little, on those aspects of our relationship that weren’t good and that probably wouldn’t have changed much. I realize I don’t miss the bad things, and that maybe, just maybe, I’m a little glad to have left them behind. On the good days I realize that my life is not over, it’s just taken a turn down a road I never expected. It occurs to me that the new road could be Okay. Not better, but maybe just as good in a different way.
On the up days I realize that everything we had together will never leave me, and that memories of our time together (even of the areas that weren’t so great) will be a part of who I am for the rest of my life. Not limiting what my life can and will be, but adding to it. On the good days, I remember what an optimist Rick was, and how much he enjoyed living life and meeting people and doing things, and I realize that the greatest honor to his memory would be for me to do exactly that – to fully engage in life.
Those are the good days. I live for them. Just like a roller coaster, there’s a slow ride up where I feel better and better, and then a hovering, almost a stop, at the top. Followed by… a sharp, precipitous, lightning-fast drop…
to the bad days. Where a song on the car radio, or a picture popping up on the screen saver, makes me sob uncontrollably. It’s a down day when I can’t stop myself from reliving over and over again the last day in hospital, holding him while he died. Down days are filled with “what ifs” and regrets as I consider all the many ways that his death could have been prevented, or how I should have been a better spouse. On bad days I wonder if I’m cursed; my first marriage ended in divorce after 5 years, I was single for almost 20 years, and then my second marriage ends after only 7 years. The bad days have really dark periods where I just sit and stare at the wall, often in the dark because it’s just too much to get up and turn on a light.
Often the switch from down to up, from bad to good, is within a single day. I’ll wake up feeling fine, feeling pretty damn good in fact, and be despondent by lunch. I know this is normal, that it is common, and that there’s not much I can do about it other than making sure I’m strapped into the seat for as long as the ride lasts. And when this ride is done, I’m getting a corn dog and caramel corn.