Two weeks ago I lost a true friend, and it feels much worse than I could have imagined. I thought I was prepared as I knew the day was growing near, but it turns out you just can't prepare for something like this.
Last August began with promise--Ben was going to be moving in to the suite downstairs at the end of the month, and we were all so excited for a new beginning and many pizza/movie nights in our future. But only days after he moved in, before the boxes were even unpacked, we received some startling news. He had been struggling with debilitating back pain for a while, and it reached a point where he knew it had to be looked at, so he took himself to the hospital. Ben had texted James late one night, saying that he was in emergency waiting to see a doctor. We were very concerned, but figured he would have a scan done and get some treatment, and everything would be ok. It wasn't like that at all.
The next morning, I woke up to a text from Ben, asking if James and I were awake and ready to take a phone call. He wanted to put us on speaker so we could all talk. I swear my heart stopped when I read the message, but I told him that we were ready, and we both sat on the couch, nervous as hell, waiting for my phone to ring. It happened almost immediately. He said that he had something to tell us, and that it was pretty heavy. He said that the doctor did a scan, and it showed that he had cancer. I must have blurted out something like OH MY GOD! James and I asked him what we were up against and he said "It's pretty bad, it's everywhere." I just bursted into tears as I typed that, probably because I tried so hard not to cry when he initially said it and now I feel like I have no reason not to cry. The three of us talked for a short while, and I promised that he would not go through this alone. I think I kept that promise.
Later that day, James and I went up to see him at the hospital. At that point, nothing seemed real. It was Ben, in a hospital bed, being hilarious as always, despite being in a tremendous amount of pain. It just felt like he was going to be ok. I think in the early goings, we didn't really know what was expected. We weren't sure what treatment options were available and if they were going to help him or not or to what degree. Over the course of the next 4 months, he tried everything. We watched him bravely face every goddamn thing that was thrown his way. He had radiation, immunotherapy, was on and off of the most potent painkillers available. We sat at his bedside while the nurses administered blood transfusions, we went for walks with him, watching him use all of his strength just to move down the hallway, or even just from one side of his room to another. He did not give up. And he did not stop being funny.
I remember sitting with his family and friends at various times at the hospital when Ben was completely out of it, and he would still look over at me and say something that made me laugh. He would still fist pound and give high fives, and still gave the best hugs. The nurses and doctors loved him because he was so genuine and funny and kind and grateful for everything, even when it would have been so easy to be angry about what was happening. Every time I walked into that hospital room, he would smile and say "HELLOOOOO!" I would often arrive after work around 8 at night, and even when he was exhausted his face would light up and he would be as present as possible so that we could visit. It was worth it to be at his side, as difficult as it was, because it was still Ben. Even when he didn't look the same, his spirit was fully visible and vibrant.
For a short while, the treatments were helping him. He suddenly had some energy and colour in his face, and even gained some weight back. At the time I did not know, but people with terminal cancer often get better before they get worse. Sometimes sudden improvement is a sign that the end is near. I say this because it might help others to know, should they ever be in a similar situation. Reality sure can suck balls, but it's better to be aware of the balls rather than just have them come at you out of nowhere. Having said that, here I sit alone in my house. A house that he spent a great deal of time in, and I feel like I was run over by a bus. My body hurts, my heart hurts. I knew that this was coming. I saw the balls, but I didn't know how big they were.
As I look around this space, I still see him everywhere. He probably sat in every single seat in this house. I picture him laying down on the ground, making friends with Beans, or sitting across from me when I've had too much to drink, offering a comforting smile. I can hear his laughter and it makes me sad. I know that one day it will make me happy, but I still haven't processed that fact that I am never going to see my dear friend again.
Two weeks ago Ben died in this house, downstairs in his suite, surrounded by his family who were there for him during the toughest of times. I remember months ago when things were getting worse, being afraid of the possibility of him dying in our house. I thought I couldn't handle it. I thought that it would be too hard, too painful. But in the end, I was so glad that he was here. That he was able to feel peace in his own home. A home that James and I set up for him, imagining that he would have some time to enjoy it. More time than he ended up having. The last time I saw Ben I didn't know it would be the last time. We said I love you to each other, as we always did, but I didn't know that it would be the last time I would say it. If I did know, I'm not sure that I would have done anything differently, which I guess isn't a bad thing. I just wish that I had more time.
The morning Ben left this world, James and I were preparing to go downstairs and visit him, but while we were getting ready, we received a message from his mom, saying that he was gone. I can't describe what I was feeling at that moment, but I know there was pain. And I cried. I wish that I had gone to see him the day before, which I thought about doing, but I just didn't know that I wouldn't have another opportunity. I couldn't have known that. You just never know.
As I sit here at the computer, I have a wonderful view of the tree in our front yard. We have a bird feeder on it. Feeding the birds, squirrels, rats, mice, and whatever creatures may come along has always meant so much to me. It meant a lot to Ben, too. In fact, one of his favourite things to do while approaching the end was to sit in bed and watch the birds eating the seed. James and Tia, our lovely neighbour who lives downstairs, set up some bird feeders in plain view so that Ben could see them each day and enjoy watching the creatures come to visit. He really loved it. In fact, that was one of the last things we talked about. We were looking out his window, watching James and Tia hang another bird feeder up, closer to the window. He told me that he loved watching the birds and the squirrels. It brought him joy. I remember sitting there with him, watching him blow kisses at James and Tia. Watching the smile on his face as Enya filled his room with beautiful relaxing music. He was content in that moment, and that made me happy.
The day he died, I sat in my room, looking out the window. I said "Ben, if you're out there, would you give me a sign?" Immediately after, a bird flew right by my window. I gasped, then cried. I know, some of you shitheads are thinking well, duh, it's pretty likely that a bird would fly by. Sure, you keep thinking what you want, but I took it as a sign. The universe showing me that, although I will never see him again in person, I will always feel his presence. I will always know that he's here. And how wonderful to associate my beautiful friend with birds and squirrels, because I see them and hear them every day. I will constantly be reminded of Ben. Lately, when I'm feeling overwhelmed with emotional and physical pain, I try to focus on the birds chirping. On being present. On being alive. Because, as cliche as it sounds, I don't know how long I have here, and it's time to start seeing things differently.
I promise that I will start living my life the way I want. I will do more things that I enjoy. I will spend more time with those I love, with people who are supportive and who bring a loving energy into my life. And, I promise to keep my distance from the people who are unsupportive and who bring a negative energy around, because I just cannot be bothered anymore. I don't care. I promise to start caring more about myself and to take better care of myself, because I deserve it. Ben would have wanted it that way. In fact, I'm going to start asking myself more, what would Ben do? What would Ben say about this? How would Ben feel about this? I want to honour his life through the way I live mine.
Now I will leave you with a message Ben sent me years ago, followed by one of his favourite songs. A song I've thought of often over the past 4 months or so, but haven't been able to listen to. Now I will listen, and remember.
You are awesome
I am proud of you
I believe in you
Knowing you gives me strength
You will find the answers you seek
You are like a force of nature
Once unleashed, you are unstoppable
Clear decisive action
Do not fear your awesome
Thank you for speaking from your heart with me
You have a profound effect when you express yourself
You are worthy
You are powerful
It is you at the centre
You are awesome
This was Ben's message to me, which he sent completely out of nowhere, but it was really his message to everyone. He was kind, he was gentle, he was generous, he was encouraging, he was grateful, and so much more. He was a wonderful friend, and I hope to carry his energy with me and share it with the world.
I never wanted to believe that someday we would have our own X-file, but here we are. A while back, at the beginning of summer, I did something scary. I sat down with my partner in crime of four years to talk about how things weren't working and how we needed to make a plan to move forward. Although he agreed and we had a very calm, mature conversation, it was still painful.
I've had my share of breakups and whatnot, but walking away from this is entirely different. I'll spare you the drawn out relationship recap and just say that things essentially changed directions. We had previously acknowledged it and made attempts at steering things back, but to no avail. It was about as exhausting as watching the Steelers try to slay the dragon in the AFC championship game last year, and equally difficult to accept.
You see, James is the Mulder to my Scully, but we had shifted into these weird roles and it began to feel more like Mulder and Scully in the "Arcadia" episode when they pretend to be husband and wife, only less funny.
It's like we were pretending to be a couple for so long, when in actuality we were just friends. Friends who slept in the same bed, rolled away from each other. And you know what, our friendship suffered too, because we'd been holding in so many feelings and weren't really being authentic. It's so easy to allow yourself to become resentful and bitter when things aren't what you want them to be. I mean, how could this not work? We both love and respect each other so much and enjoy each other's company, but we're not in love. Isn't that the way these relationship things end up eventually? I suppose it really doesn't matter if the answer is yes or no, because neither one of us was satisfied, and we both deserve better.
During this transitional time, we continue to live together as roommates, trying to be supportive, encouraging and respectful. But it's not easy. This holiday season has made things particularly emotional. Stockings with our names hang above the fireplace, Beans' in the middle. That's the other thing...it's not just us. Yes, a cat is different than a child, but at least things can be explained to a child. Beans has been adjusting to the fact that mommy and daddy sleep in different rooms now. She always begins the night with James, then sleeps the rest of the time on me. She's clearly trying to divide her attention evenly, which is both heartwarming and sad. I wish I could explain things to her. I also wish that I knew what was coming. Where Beans was going to end up. Unfortunately, I don't.
But I guess nobody really knows what's coming, right? And this scenario is not a tragedy. I live with my best friend, and most the time it's ok. It's expensive to live in Victoria, so we're taking advantage of what we have--a great affordable place in a fantastic neighbourhood, blocks away from the ocean and the most beautiful cemetery. I feel incredibly grateful for that. Sincerely. But then there's the part of me that knows that this is temporary, and that at any moment it's all going to change. This is not good for my anxiety.
My depression has also ramped up big time and my therapist suggests I try antidepressants for a while. I'm seriously considering it, though it's scary because I've never taken pharmaceuticals for these conditions. Also, I recently went back on The Pill for health reasons and it's been absolute fucking hell. But the thing is, I've been through hell before. I try to remind myself of that often, but sometimes a voice interrupts and says "You're such a loser. You never make anything work. You don't even know what you want to do with your life." Thankfully, I'm learning to interrupt that voice with the occasional FUCK OFF, and I've even started to interrupt with something I thought I'd never say...I've got what it takes.
That's the real me. But sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I buy into the idea that I can't do this. That I can't get through it and I've got nothing to look forward to. I have to believe that that's not true. That I'm not really stuck. That I can do this dance and will be fine, even if I'm just dancing with myself (cue Billy Idol). To anyone else who's stumbling, trying to find their footing, remember that you do have what it takes to keep going. There's so much good stuff ahead, even if you can't see it yet. I'm looking forward to celebrating with you, dear friends, and hopefully celebrating a Steelers Super Bowl win. Here we go!
Ted Bundy saved lives. I think. Of course we all know that he killed tons of people and had sex with their corpses, but he also worked at a crisis line in Seattle, perhaps quite literally talking people down from the ledge. Lately I've been teetering close to that ledge and have considered calling a crisis line, but then I picture Ted on the other end being like, "It's all good girl, you've got this! Now tell me, are you in a sorority?" Yes, I have trust issues.
Recently, I told James that I was considering calling a crisis line, and he responded by telling me that he had already called on my behalf and wrote down a bunch of resources that I might find useful. I think I looked at him and said, "Oh. Thank you?" It kinda got me thinking about what happens when you get caught up in something and everything else--everyone else--stops existing.
Now, rather than feeling guilty about this and getting down on myself, I'm going to give myself some credit. It's not as though I decided consciously that I was going to become caught up. I feel pretty proud for actually having the decency to treat myself well in this situation, because it's not easy. That's the thing about depression--not only does it make you feel like shit, but it makes you feel like shit about feeling like shit.
It's now the end of December, a time of year that tends to have people feeling like shit. Part of this is because the end of a year can get you doing this sort-of "year in review" thing. One thing I like to do at this time is to watch the annual year in review on the various sports channels. But what happens when you're the Cleveland Browns and not the Pittsburgh Steelers? Yeah, I had to get that burn in there. Haha. Honestly, though, what can you take away to make yourself feel better? For the Browns, they can focus on that one win--the fact that they did not go winless this season like many thought they would. In fact, the Cleveland Browns inspired me last week. Their win against the San Diego Chargers--watching them celebrate--got me thinking. Thinking about the small victories.
The Browns beating the Chargers meant nothing in the grand scheme of things; both teams were already eliminated from playoff contention and most people didn't care about the result. But what happened after the Browns' fluky win (yes, there was luck involved) warmed my heart. It was kind of like when the Grinch listens for the Whos' sorrow after stealing their presents, etc, only to discover that they were still celebrating despite their setbacks. That day, after defeating the Chargers 20-17, the Cleveland Browns celebrated. Hard. It was like they had just won a playoff game--maybe even the Super Bowl. It was strangely uplifting.
What really struck me was the emotions that the players displayed, particularly in the locker room. As I watched the players and coaching staff shed tears, I began to tear up. These guys worked hard all year and almost had nothing to show for it. In the end, this win was their Super Bowl. They deserved it and I loved that they were celebrating in such a big way. It reminded me of a podcast episode I listened to awhile back. I can't remember which podcast it was from, so that's not very helpful, but the host was talking about celebrating those small victories. For some, that means allowing themselves to get excited about that promotion they just got at work, for some that means being happy about finally finding that raincoat that both protects them from the nasty weather and looks fashionable (yeah right), and for others, that means just being happy that they were able to get out of bed today.
As the new year approaches, I am going to be careful about resolutions. Instead, I think I'll just work on the little things--appreciating what I've got and being proud of my accomplishments, no matter how small. Although the Browns won their game last week, they likely will not win this weekend against the Steelers (even though the Steelers are resting their best players), and I'm not holding my breath for finding that elusive fashionable raincoat, but I will continue to get out of bed each morning, and may even have more to celebrate soon enough. I suppose after mentioning a midlife crisis and small victories, it's appropriate that I leave you with some Faith No More. Enjoy! Happy New Year!
I've always loved tarot cards, especially the death card, and am excited to see various interpretations. Contrary to what I once believed, the death tarot card does not actually signify death, but rather generally represents an ending or transition. You will notice in the images above that the card in the middle is the only one that actually has the word death on it. That's because, long ago, it was thought best not to use the word as seeing it could trigger a feeling of unease. I find that super intriguing, because death is one of the few things that we all have in common. If you are reading this, you are going to die. For some reason not many people want to discuss it to this day, but I do, more so now than ever. Let's talk about death.
I think the first time I actually considered the matter was when my parents told me that my cat Rebel was "being put to sleep." I cried because they cried, but then I asked when she was going to wake up. Clearly, I had absolutely no understanding of euthanasia. It wasn't my fault, either. Nobody had ever talked to me about death. I probably didn't know that Rebel was ever going to die, and I certainly didn't know that I would someday meet the same fate. Now that "dying with dignity" is a thing in Canada, I actually might go out on the same note as my beloved Rebel. How fascinating! I just remembered something else. My favourite pet for a very long time was a bottom feeder named Brutus. I had a hard time finding him in the fish tank sometimes, then suddenly he would reappear. I later learned that the original Brutus died and my mom kept replacing him. I was at first shocked, then felt betrayed, then laughed because it's actually really interesting to think about how far people will go to avoid talking about death (or avoid disappointing their children, but that's a topic best saved for another time).
I, for one, think about death every day, and I probably talk about it every day, too. According to someone close to me, my mind generally moves in two directions...sex and death. He's probably right. No wonder I have such a strong connection to horror movies. In any case, I find it strange that those two things are probably thought about the most and are often the most uncomfortable to discuss.
Recently, I became aware of a relatively new phenomenon--the Death Cafe. I was immediately intrigued, so did a little research. Basically, a group of people gather to discuss death and the feelings associated while drinking coffee or tea and eating treats. How cool! The very first Death Cafe took place in London England in 2011, and Canada's first Death Cafe emerged in my home town of Victoria, B.C. in 2012. Today, nearly 4,000 Death Cafes have brought people together in at least 40 countries. I love this! Why should we wait until we attend a funeral to gather in the name of death and dying? If discussion breeds understanding, which I believe to be true, then why are we avoiding talking about the one thing we are all guaranteed to experience?
It's scary. I can admit that. It's weird to think that one day I will take my last breath, and I have no idea when that will be. It might be right now...or...now. Or later. But it will eventually happen.
I look forward to participating in a Death Cafe in the near future, and am considering organizing one. I'm also considering organizing a Sex Cafe, because that could be super fun and interesting as well. And potentially awkward and disturbing. Haha. But, honestly, awkward and disturbing are two things I find to be entertaining, so at least these cafes have less of a chance of being totally boring. Maybe I'll steal Samantha Jones' (Sex and the City) "Starfucks," but instead of a brothel full of hot men, it will be a coffee shop full of weirdos (like me) discussing sex. It could happen.
Circling back to the topic of death, I will leave you with Caitlin Doughty's TED Talk about the business of death and how much our culture's relationship with the dead has changed over the past century. She encourages us to be involved in caring for the dead, and not just through grieving. According to Doughty, "Death is not an emergency. You can take the time to sit with the person, hold their hand, tell stories." In closing, she says that "There is a gorgeous reality when you allow yourself to be closer to death." Hmm. I'd like to chat with my funeral home homies and get their opinion on all this. Until then, I will continue to wonder and won't fear the reaper. Or at least I'll try not to.
I'm finally doing it--pulling my insides out and splattering them around for all to see. Here we go!