They say grief comes in waves. Yes, grief does come in waves. It comes in giant, smashing waves. And just when you come up for air, you get smashed by another one. And you can’t tell which way is up. And you’re being pulled in every direction. Pushed and dragged at the same time. You can’t breathe. And a sort of panic comes over you as you struggle against the mighty, crushing water. Only to find that as you come up exhausted and shaking from the struggle, that you’re pummeled again. And again. And again.
That night I sat staring at photos of Dean and I together. I could hardly see them though because the tears wouldn’t stop coming. I sobbed so much I coughed and gagged. My stomach muscles strained against the gut wrenching sobs that went on for hours. I made inexplicable sounds. My body shook and writhed. I was completely exhausted and yet continued to cringe and wince and sob with the Agony. Unspeakable Agony that gripped me. The Grief pulled at every muscle, distorting my face. I was caught in the avalanche. I had fallen off the cliff. A tornado had come through. And it was all gone. Utterly ruined. Devastation. There I was. Surrounded by the broken pieces of my broken life. And I was trapped in the torrents of emotions, under siege by the carnage without and the turmoil within.
We started making arrangements for the funeral. I was feeling so many different emotions that it was difficult to distinguish them all. Let alone try to articulate them to anyone. Much less, actually understand them. I was fuming mad at Dean. I had so wanted to sit down with him and talk to him about what he wanted for his funeral. I wanted him to write letters to the boys. I wanted him to talk to the boys. He just couldn’t accept that he was leaving us. That didn’t help me though, I was so angry at him. Dammit Dean. Anxiety and the stomach knots were still compounding. Sickening. Oddly it felt like I couldn’t properly grieve until he was in the ground. Knowing that he was just laying on a table somewhere still gave me a great deal of uncertainty. As though he might just sit up again and come home. The idea haunted me. The life we’d been living was so tormenting. It wasn’t life, it was torture. My worst nightmare is that it would continue, unending.
I booked my tickets back to America only shortly after Dean’s passing. In the days that followed. It wasn’t even a decision I had to make, I knew I had to leave Esperance. As it was, whenever I left the house, I felt that I had no privacy. No room to navigate these emotions freely. I felt I was being watched and talked about. Living in a fishbowl. It’s not that people were being rude and judgmental, well, not all of them. They were genuinely concerned and I’m sure just wanted to know how I was coping. The last thing I wanted was an audience of onlookers with their opinions and suggestions. Well meaning as they may have been. I could not wait to leave.
Tensions still ran high between family members. It was all so raw. We were all in so much pain. We were all so sensitive. And all of us could only see things through our own point of view.
My computer became my bedtime companion. I would fall asleep next to my laptop, listening to music, looking at photos. Wake up next to it. It was warm. It didn’t judge me. It didn’t give me unimpressive backward glances or silent disapproval. It was impartial. And always there. And as such, it was a lifeline for me. And a place that I could communicate with the few people in my life that actually understood to some degree what I was feeling. People that I could be honest with. People that I could swear to. Tell them how angry I was at Dean. Tell them how sexually frustrated I was being married to a man with terminal illness. How judged I felt. How misunderstood. How much I wanted a new life. I could tell them how much I fucking hated fucking cancer. And the fucking hospital. And the fucking drugs. And just fucking all of it. I loved those that didn’t try to fix me. Preach at me. Give me a bible verse. Tell me that I shouldn’t swear so much. They just loved me. They listened. They were empathetic and compassionate. They made me laugh. They laughed at my dark humor. They were there. I knew they were for me. They helped put me at ease. I didn’t have many of these friends, but the ones I had became more precious than the rarest treasure. They kept me going. They kept me alive. They kept me sane.
I put together a garage sale. I sold most of our furniture and belongings for whatever price I could get for it. It felt good. It felt good to be packing and selling and doing something. Like at least I was moving forward in some sort of way with some sort of plan.
Anxiety continued to advance territory.
The day of the funeral came. It was drizzly and cold. It was fitting. Like Esperance itself was weeping for Dean. I wanted to get it over with. To do what had to be done. I was a broken pot trying to hold my shape. I couldn’t fall apart here. Not now. You’re almost there, Cassi. Almost there.
It was a full house and the service was long. We wanted to pay him proper tribute, and that took time. I was happy with how it all came together. I wasn’t at ease though. I can’t explain what it’s like sitting in a room with your husband in a coffin. It’s surreal. I was still falling off that cliff. Still mid air. I felt at any moment he would pop out of the coffin and the nightmare would go on and on and on.
You thought that this would end Cassi, but it won’t. You’ll never move on.
Haunted. These thoughts like bats swooped.
I gave my speech.
You changed my life. Before you… there was just me…I thought I had my plans, my path I had set before me. Then suddenly you were there; this amazing handsome rugged Australian man… full of life, laughter, and love. You had a way with people that’s hard to describe, you could win anyone over with your jesting, teasing, and charm. I could not pretend that you had no effect on me, because, truthfully, your eyes saw into the depths of my heart. And although I was young, and fickle, and against the advice of others… you took a chance on me… you reached for my hand and made me your wife. You challenged me, encouraged me, lead me, taught me … taught me patience, kindness, friendship, and compromise… taught me how to listen without judgement, how to love without fear, and live without worry. You taught me how to enjoy moments, make memories, and seize the day. You taught me faithfulness, loyalty, and strength. You are the strongest and most loving person I’ve ever known. I am so sorry, my love, that you suffered so much. I am so sorry that you had to leave the boys and I before you wanted to. Thank you for fighting so hard to stay here with us, as the doctor said, it is the ultimate act of love. I am so happy that you are free now. Healed. Restored. I’m going to miss you, your voice, your laugh, … you’ve been my everything for so long…
Until we meet again… Cass
There is a reason that grief comes in waves. If you experience the whole lot at once, it will kill you. Simply. If I were to feel all of the emotion of losing Dean on that day, they could have dug a hole for me as well.
I was relieved when the funeral service ended and they put the coffin into the hearse. I knew this day would come. God had been preparing me for this day for a long time. My dad, Ginny, the boys and I all went together in the car that followed behind. We drove in her shadow. As she carried my love to his early resting place. As she had been so eager to do for so long.
Maddox said, “Mommy, is God going to give us a new daddy?”
Tears filled my eyes and I turned away from him. I couldn’t answer. I hope one day my love, I hope one day.
We pulled into the cemetery. People were streaming in. Black jackets, boots, umbrellas, lots of familiar faces. The day was as dreary and bitterly cold as ever. We drove all the way in, following behind the hearse. God help me do this. This is where it ends. And something else begins.
It was odd burying Dean. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had lost him so long before that day. I had been grieving the man I had married, the fun, outgoing, healthy man I once knew, for a long time. Felt like he’d been gone for years. So the funeral…felt late.
They rested Dean’s coffin on wood planks above the fresh hole that had been dug for him. There was a large mound of sand next to it. There must have been some prayers or something said, I can’t remember. I just remember when the pole bearers started lowering him into the ground. Their faces strained by the agony of the mortal goodbye. Knowing that you’ll never see your loved one on this earth again. The dam of uncertainty that held my tears was nearly ready to give way. After Dean was lowered into the ground and they started putting handfuls of sand over the top of him, the dam could no longer contend with the pressure. Deep, heaving sobs surfaced. My dear friend, Cindy, hugged me as the reality sunk in. He’s gone, it’s over. He’s really gone. It’s really over. He’s not coming back. It’s done. Dean. My Dean. My lover. My husband. The father of my children. That body that I know so well. It’s lying lifeless in a hole. In a grave. My husband is in a grave. Oh my Lord. Dean is in a grave. He’s gone. He’s gone. The claw of Anguish dug its nails in deeper and deeper.
People started to line up. They hugged me. One at a time. Offering their condolences. Is this what people do at funerals? I hadn’t been to very many. So much love from so many people. All with such sincerity. I could tell that they felt for me. It truly brought me comfort.
Praise God for the innocence of children. The boys were playing with their two cousins on the mound of sand next to the hole for Dean’s grave. My stomach kept doing flips looking at them. Afraid that one of them might fall in. They were just being children. They weren’t yoked with the burden of expectation. They didn’t know that you aren’t supposed to “play” at a graveside. You aren’t supposed to have “fun” and be “happy.” It gave me hope though. These children are playing on their father’s grave, there must be hope for our future.
Maddox came over to me, “Mommy, daddy’s not down there.” He pointed at the coffin in the hole. “He’s up there.” He pointed to the sky.
Praise the Lord. My son knows. He knows where his dad is. His daddy is in heaven. Not gone. Not lost. Just in another place. Another realm. A far better place. Far away from sickness and hospital walls. Where Invisible Beasts are not permitted.
“That’s right, my love. That’s right.” I squeezed him. I have to keep going for my boys. They are my reason. My reason to keep going. For them. I’m all they have now. Oh Dean. How am I going to do this? Why did you leave me? Why did you have to go?
The mind tries to comprehend death, but it cannot. Our minds are not programmed to be able to understand it. We were never meant to endure it. This is Dean’s hometown? He was born here? He was here before? How is he gone now? How can he be gone?
I had known that he would be going for so long. I had seen it coming a long way off. And in the end, I ushered it in. I knew it was time. I knew it had to happen. But now that he was gone, I was left with all the questions.