The most difficult aspect of pouring your soul out before all to see is knowing how it affects those closest to you. Family and friends are troubled and upset. It is a natural reaction. I know I am distressed when I learn how someone I care about is hurting. The thing is to understand that we all suffer at times, and talking about our afflictions is just a form of therapy. Nobody has to fix anything, though I know my greatest flaw as a parent has always been wanting to make things better for my children. Most of the time, though, all a person needs is just to be able to express themselves. I am in the habit of ruminating over things in my mind. I have always done this, mostly because I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Throughout my childhood, my time in that church and in my marriage, I was always told to bear my burdens in silence, whether I heard it over the pulpit, or learned it through the actions of those around me. And I don’t really mind that now. It has taught me to commune with God, knowing that He understands every little heartache I have. But it is becoming evident that I have a need to put my thoughts down in black and white. I’m not sure why, whether it is a form of validation or a very necessary part of my healing.
And I thought I was going to sort myself out while travelling. Ha! No, I had to stop moving in order to do that. I’m pretty embarrassed that I have been suppressing my grief for five years. Just because I wrapped it up and squeezed it into the tiniest fragment didn’t mean it was going to disappear. But all is as it should be. Had I grieved back then, I’m not sure how my family would have faired. They were wretched enough without having to watch their mother unravel. On the other hand, it may have been cathartic for them. I will never know. How I handled everything at the time was really the only way I could. I had to keep my emotions in check because my children were trying to grasp the fact that their dad had taken his own life. They were weighed down with guilt over not divining the signs Greg displayed prior to his death. How could they? Yes, the signs were there, but only to someone involved in crisis counselling or the likes, or to someone who had been close to a victim of suicide. We all felt we had let him down. It was up to me to keep us all from falling into that pit of despair. At least I thought it was. I didn’t actually succeed in that. Each one of my children did whatever they could to hold themselves together.
But that wasn’t all I needed to deal with at that time. My son and son-in-law worked for Greg, as did a few others. It was my intention to shut down the construction business because I knew I couldn’t run it. But, then Greg’s right-hand man came to me and told me I couldn’t do that. I had to keep things going because it was his livelihood. I listened. I shouldn’t have. Without Greg running the show I just went farther and farther into debt until I had to let everyone go. That was pretty devastating as most of my family had relied on the company in one way or another as a means of living. My son, Matthew, carried on, trying to convince our builders that he was very capable of the same high quality work his dad had executed throughout the years. I continued to support the business with monies from the sale of my house (more on that later). As a young man, facing the tragic loss of his father and the bewildering job of trying to run a business that had been thrust upon him with no previous knowledge of how to do that, he soldiered on while I went even farther into debt. My son has managed, through the years, to continue working for one or two homebuilders and has, at last, established himself, and a fine reputation, in his trade.
Meanwhile, I was scrambling at what I could possibly do to keep things afloat in the absence of Greg’s income. I went back to school and took accounting. After doing really well in my first term, I realized that, besides not being that keen on accounting, I couldn’t afford to keep going to school. It was at that point I had to step out and find something, anything, that would pay some of the bills after having been absent from the workforce for over thirty years. First came the house-cleaning job until my body told me I could no longer continue. Then there was overnight stocking at a bookstore chain. I didn’t mind that, but in the midst of all of this, my family had expressed a wish to move. Greg had designed and helped build the house we were living in and it was just too painful for them to continue living in it. So I sold the house and moved to a different area of the city. As it was a very long drive to work and I would find myself nodding off on my drive home at 6:00 am, I put in for a transfer. There was an opening at a store closer to our new home, so I took it. Unfortunately, I was only really needed for one weekend during inventory, so slowly but surely my shifts became fewer and fewer. I gave my notice.
I then began my own food business, “Quinntessentially Vegan”. (I do know how to spell “quintessentially”. This was a play on my surname.) Unfortunately, the stress of single-handedly building and running a food business from the ground up took its toll on my health and I became ill. I lost over 20 pounds. Oh, for those days! I didn’t have to watch my weight or count calories! While contemplating my next step, I received a phone call from the Calgary Public Library. Was I still looking for work? Yes! I stayed there for a year and a half before I realized this was not the job to carry me into retirement. I was a lowly shelver and I used to wonder what I was contributing to society by placing books on shelves day after day. I may be forced to search for similar employment in the future, but I just couldn’t keep doing this. I felt the same way when, at the ripe age of seventeen, I went to work on an assembly line in a bicycle factory. I lasted a week. Please don’t misunderstand me, many folks fill these positions and work happily at them for many years. And some people have no choice. I probably don’t, either, but I’m still not ready to accept that. And that was how I came up with the idea of travelling and writing. Give up everything, sell the house, leave the family behind……..
I’m reading a book called “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye”, by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair PhD. I had to chuckle upon reading how, following a sudden unexpected loss of a loved one, you shouldn’t make any big decisions such as selling your home, moving to Hawaii, etc. Sound familiar? It is also suggested that you be kind to yourself and pamper yourself at times. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I sure was being kind to myself! Let’s see, why not fly to Washington for a travel writing workshop. And then maybe I’ll fly to Paris for a photography workshop and, while I’m on that side of the pond, I may as well visit my relatives in Scotland and England. And then I’ll come back to Canada and begin my journey to Ecuador. Woohoo, this is fun. Look at me, I’m a world traveller. I’m sure relieved I was only as far as Mexico before I finally admitted defeat. What a lot of money I spent, and what a fool am I!
It was all for a reason, I know, and I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t done all of those things. I have some wonderful memories and I met a lot of terrific people. I have learned a lot, about myself and a few other things. I did need to deconstruct my life in order to pick out the significant segments and be able to build it into something that will carry me through the next phase. (Tremendously important segment….family……duh!) Maybe I didn’t have to be quite so extreme, but then that wouldn’t have been me.
I would like to recommend the book, “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye”, to anyone who may be grieving. It resonates with me as the authors reiterate again and again how we are all different and so grieve in our own unique ways. I appreciate this as I know very well my behaviour in the days following Greg’s death was not what folks would have considered appropriate. I didn’t cry. I joked at Greg’s memorial. I’m sorry, everyone, I didn’t mean to offend. It was just the way I was moving through that time. The authors also discourage self-medicating. I know I was prescribed anti-depressants to get me through and I did take them. Then I stopped. And then I began crying uncontrollably. So I began taking the anti-depressants again. But I have long known that pills are a band-aid. I won’t dispute the necessity of certain drugs for various mental conditions. I am speaking for myself and I know that my medication was numbing me and was not a long-term solution. Besides, I found myself on a few occasions, refusing to get out of bed for days while I was in Mexico…….by the beach……the sun shining! Man, I can do that just fine without the help of anti-depressants. In order to recover from such trauma, I believe, as do these authors, I have to face my pain and embrace it. I have to take it out and hold it in my hands, turning it around to examine every facet of it. Once I have become so familiar with it, recognizing it as a friend who has encouraged incredible growth, I will then be able to place it gently back where it belongs and step back out of the shadows………
I would also like to offer my apologies to Greg’s other family, his brothers and parents, who suffered loss as well, but who I neglected shamefully, being all-consumed by my own troubles.