I just returned from being in Montana for a week with Mark’s parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and Mark’s two best friends (and one of their sweet wives). A long time ago Mark and I discussed last wishes. It was in a we’ll-never-die-but-when-we-do-it-will-be-eons-from-now way. As it turns out, thank goodness we had that chat because it was the only time Mark ever mentioned where he’d like his physical body to spend the afterlife. In Mark’s late teens he hit a hole-in-one on the golf course in Whitefish- it was one of the happiest, most exciting moments in his life- and it was there that he wanted to be scattered.
On Thursday at dusk, we all piled into Mark’s parents’ van and trundled off, ashes and beers in hand, to covertly release Mark into the night and toast his beautiful soul. It was another step in the grief process for all of us. Another wrenching of the heart. Another goodbye.
I stood there with the people Mark had grown up with and loved deeply and I felt a part of something intangibly binding. Years ago when I’d met those most important to Mark, they had each welcomed me with open arms into their lives. I was accepted because they loved Mark and Mark loved me; a testament to how pure and kind these beloved humans are. They were always there for Mark and now they were there not only for him, but for me, and for the honor of setting Mark free. It was celebratory. It was painful. There were tears, but there were moments of laughter too. Memories were shared. Cans of stout were passed around and sipped (or chugged!). The weather was perfect, the sunset gorgeous, a slight breeze cooled our cheeks and dried misty eyes. If Mark was there, if he could see us, I think he would have approved on every level, but most importantly, I think he would have felt so, so loved.
As the week in Montana progressed, people slowly left- back to their home states, to their families, their work, their lives. The last night in Whitefish was just me and Mark’s parents and I was super emotional. The three of us decided to scatter Mark’s remaining ashes around the cabin. For some reason this was much harder than the golf course and I couldn’t stop crying. There was also something horrifically sad about watching Mark’s mom carry her son’s ashes. No mother should have to bury her child. It brought back so many memories for me of her caring for Mark when he was in the hospital that last time. The way she tenderly held his hand and gently washed his face or cleaned his teeth. I remember her bent over his hospital bed, cradling his head in her arms and I thought my heart would break in two.
That last evening in Montana was not only full of grief, but also fraught with uncertainty for me. Coming home the next day wouldn’t exactly be… coming home.
I have desperately tried to settle into my townhouse without Mark, but I can’t do it anymore. I know it’s not smart to sell right now- not with rent and mortgage interest rates both being so high. Every responsible part of me screams not to move. But every emotional part of me howls, “I hate it here!” I was talking with another widow about my dilemma and she said, “If you look around your house and all you see is cancer instead of Mark then you need to go.” That’s it really. I see cancer everywhere- all of those horrible days and nights… I feel trapped in the most grotesque of haunted houses. By forcing myself to stay and be responsible all I’ve really done is make myself miserable. What an awful, awful thing cancer is. It stole Mark and continues to steal happiness in its after-effects. Someone said to me, “But wherever you move you won’t have memories of Mark there.” This is true. You see, it’s a lose-lose for me. I can’t win either way. It’s important to make smart decisions, but trying to heal from intense loss doesn’t always align with what’s “right”. In my soul I know I need to leave the place Mark and I shared. Yes, there are many, many good moments to look back on, and I think of them often, but they are shadowed by sadness and sickness and all of those fears that crouched around every corner. In my previous blogs I mentioned The Bear… and The Bear is still here, in this house, taunting me. He knows he won. He knows I’ve lost not just my husband but my home. I’ve been displaced.
Because when I flew away from Montana it was with a new realization that husband and home are one in the same. Mark was my life, my shelter, my refuge and wherever he was- that was home.
Our townhouse goes on the market this week and I am relieved. The memories… both good and bad… will continue to alternately comfort and plague me and I know that’s part of the grief process. But a fresh start in a different place will be good for my bruised and battered psyche. I’d like to be in a small condo for me and Jovie. It’s just us two girls now and we need something… cute and pink and… somewhere cozy to lick our wounds and try to piece together the shreds of our new reality.
I started a job a few weeks ago and its work from home and everyone there has been so, so kind and patient with me during training. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given because I know it probably wasn’t easy for them to decide to hire an out of work widow… my resume doesn’t exactly offer a solid, staid career trajectory. A lot has happened over the past four years, and the pain and emotional damage cancer ravages on a family has no place in a cover letter. Yet, that’s the human side of trying to find work: life doesn’t bend to corporate mentality. The company that hired me… they understand that; they’ve shown compassion and sensitivity and I know these are rare employer gifts indeed. I am thankful working from home will allow me to live anywhere in the valley. Whatever fate has in store I hope she’s kind. I hope the perfect little place comes along.
But most of all I hope Mark’s spirit will be there, his handsome face smiling while he holds the door open… waiting to welcome me home.