end of the rope

“I don’t want to live anymore,” I whispered between the sheets.

And as the tears streamed down my face, I knew it to be true. I was so tired. I was so tired of the sadness, and the anger, and the constant emtpiness. My heart felt empty. The future held nothing for me. I was tired, and at the end of my rope.

“I don’t want to live anymore,” I whispered, again.

And as I repeated it in the darkness, it felt even more certain the second time.

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The Big C. Again..?

“I can’t do this,” I whispered to myself in the car. “I can’t do this again.”

I repeated it like a mantra in the darkness. Over, and over, as I drove in the crisp December night. I repeated it with an overwhelming sense of desperation in my heart, as if by telling the universe in a strangled whisper, it might listen to me, just this once.

The car in front of me came to a sudden stop, and I slammed on the brakes, bracing myself for a collision. But nothing. We emerged unscathed.

I screamed in frustration, and pounded my fist against the wheel, over and over, until my hand was red and throbbing. My voice sounded foreign to me. It was shrill and strangled and I wondered if it was a stranger’s voice from the radio, or if it was really mine.

My Dad had just told me that he might have liver cancer.

The Big C, people called it. I wished I could say that I wasn’t scared. That we did it all before and we could do it all again. That even if it turned out to be cancer, it was very early and we needed to be optimistic. That there was a very strong likelihood that it was nothing at all.

But the trouble is – we had done it all before, with my Mom. We were told that there was a very strong likelihood that it was nothing at all, and that nothing turned out to be something. And that something turned into something more serious. And then more serious again. And eventually everything stopped working, and it was no longer a conversation about what else we could try. It was a room with our family and the doctor and a nurse that cried and cried while I sat on the examination bed and sobbed.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this again.

choose me

It’s hard to separate the heartache from the heartbreak from the grief, when I just seem to feel everything else so acutely.

I feel the absence of my mother for a second year, for a second holiday season. I miss the scent of the turkey roasting in the oven all afternoon, and the sweet peppery smell of the stuffing that she used to make. I miss waking up to the elaborate breakfasts because she wanted to try something new.

I feel it all. And I can’t tell which one it is that amplifies the other, because I think about you, and the way that you go home to your wife every night, and the ambivalence that you feel for each other, and the love that we feel for one another. It crushes me, and I feel angry, that you chose her instead. And I feel the agony of being unable to let you go, that you chose for her to be your sun, and for me to be your moon.

I feel it all.

It all feels empty without you.

It all feels empty without her.

I make plans for the future, and I can’t stop building you into them, even though I know that you won’t choose me. I can’t help but to include a plan B for you, to include a small, tiny wedge in my life, into which you might fit, should you choose to have it. I keep praying against all despair, all hope, all happiness, that maybe, just one day, you might choose me. Because I didn’t choose for my mother to die, although sometimes it does feel that way. I didn’t choose to watch her slowly fade away. But I didn’t choose for you to leave either. And I know that I love you. I’ll always love you. And no matter how hard it might be for us to be together, it’s harder still to be apart. So choose me.

drive

Drive.

It feels like a lifetime ago, that I used to cruise around after work in that white Volkswagen, not quite ready to go home, but exhausted from a day at work. I wasn’t ready to go home for a lot of reasons. I wasn’t ready to face my terminally ill mother. I was supposed to be strong for her, but all I could think of, was myself. I wasn’t ready to face my father, who was coping by pretending that everything was going to be just fine. I wasn’t ready for any of it.

So I drove. I drove up and down the winding roads in the escarpment, looking for relief as the leaves turned their vibrant yellows, and reds, and watched, as the world eventually turned to grey.

I’m not religious by any means. But I remember praying on those drives, hoping against all despair, that she would just make it to see the spring. She had always hated winter, and I hated watching as she slowly lost the ability to do everything that she once loved, in the midst of the darkness of winter. So I prayed. Somehow, I felt that if she could just see the colours turn green again, before she passed, it would make things just a little better. I couldn’t give her everything that she deserved, but at the very least, I would give her the spring bloom.

She passed away March 29. The snow had melted only a couple weeks before, but the world was still in that dormant cold. The buds on the trees were just testing the air, wondering if it would warm up through the day, so they could rouse from their slumber. I wore my winter jacket as we drove back to the hospital in the middle of the night.

Today, the colours are changing again, and while the world seems vibrant still, I can feel the chill in the air, and I know it won’t be long before the world goes to grey again. I feel the ups and the downs deep in my heart. My world is spinning out of control again, but all I can think to do, is to keep driving.

he wasn’t mine to love

It was quite some time ago, not too long after my mother passed away, that someone told me grief was an ongoing process. It comes in waves, they told me. At first, it feels like this insurmountable storm. The pain is so overwhelming, and you feel so hollow inside, that you  can’t possibly remember what “normal” feels like. And then, some days you feel fine. You forget that there’s a piece of your heart that you buried one grey day in April, in a cemetery in North York. Then the days, months, and years pass, and gradually, ever so slowly – the good days start to overtake the bad ones, until the bad days are far and few in between, and normal starts to look different, but you’ve found yourself again.

Even so, the bad days always seem to resurface. It comes when I’m struggling – when I’m flailing in the dark, and I don’t know who to turn to. It’s a reminder of how alone I feel in the world, when you lose the feeling of having someone that loves you unconditionally, with no complications… because my life right now – it feels like it’s so deeply entangled in complications.

You see, I have a confession to make. I’m in love with B. I’m deeply and irrevocably in love with him, but he wasn’t mine to love. Why? Because, B is married, and I had no business falling in love with him, and he had no business falling in love with me, but… we did. We had each fought it for so long, but before we knew it, we were in too deep. And whether or not we wish we could take it back (I don’t), we are where we are, and his wife found out about us.

I’m scared. I’m absolutely terrified, because B is now confronted with having to make that choice between myself and his wife. I’m afraid because I can see how deeply unhappy she makes him – how manipulative and mistrusting she is. I’m afraid of the choice that he’ll make, without any regard for his own happiness. I’m afraid because they have 29 years of history, and I don’t know how he could possibly choose me, even when he admits that he is unhappy with her. I’m afraid because he doesn’t feel that he deserves happiness right now. I’m afraid because he’s the most amazing person that I’ve ever met, and I really believe that he deserves happiness.

I’m afraid because I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. The loneliness that I feel when he isn’t around, is so overwhelming. He’s the love of my life, and without him, my day feels empty.

I would do anything to keep him with me… but more than that, I would do anything for him to be happy. He’s everything that I’ve ever wanted, and I would give up my own happiness if he really felt that going back was the right thing for him. The thought is agonizing to me. I sobbed in his arms last weekend at the thought of it.

We made so many promises to each other. Like how we would never hurt each other. How we would always be honest with each other. How we would see the world together, with my hand in his. How we would always be together, no matter what.

It was foolish. It was naive. But we were so in love, and all we could think about, was being together.

I can already feel his fingers slipping out from between mine. And for me, it marks a return to that feeling of flailing about in the darkness, with nothing to hold onto.

He told me last weekend, that he thought he should be trying to patch things back up with his wife. But he was so afraid.

“I don’t know if there is anything to patch up, but I’ve set a lot of people up to get hurt here. I don’t know what the future looks like with her, or with you. I don’t know what life looks like without you. You’re the love of my life, and I don’t know if I could ever be happy again. But I don’t know if I deserve that. I’m so scared.”

It’s a little odd, because in all of this, it kind of makes me miss my Mom again. It’s not that I could ever talk to her about it. But it’s almost like it feels like I’m grieving all over again, because it feels like I’m losing another person that loves me unconditionally. I can feel the waves crashing against me, once again.

“I prayed so hard, and it didn’t work.”

Although the weather has still been oppressively hot during the day, the nights always seem to cool off enormously after Labour Day. It was a chilly walk to B’s house, and I was so happy to climb under the covers with him that night. Although it was just the day before that I had seen him, I missed him already, and missed the warmth of his body next to mine. I tangled my legs up in his, and traced circles on his arms in the darkness.

He always wore a gold cross around his neck, and my fingers caught hold of it in the moonlight. Sometimes when he was kissing me down my stomach, the cross would trace a line down my chest, the coolness of the gold against my skin giving me shivers.

I turned the cross over in my fingers, watching as it caught the moonlight from the window, and pressed a kiss against his shoulder.

“What’s the story behind your cross?” I asked him.

He held me a little closer, and kissed my cheek.

“I bought it to remind myself that I believe in God. I’ve had it for a long time actually. I don’t remember exactly when I bought it, but it was in my 20s.”

“I wish I had that sometimes,” I whispered.

He paused, and then he said: “I think I lost it somewhere along the way. I think I question it a lot more than I used to. I don’t know if I believe anymore.”

With that, I could feel my heart getting heavy. I wanted to cry. I had always been somewhat agnostic, but it had always felt like this unwavering fact of life, that B believed in God. It was something that I had always wished I had. I was almost envious of him before, for having a sense of faith that I never had. For feeling the spirituality that I never found.

“Why not?” I whispered.

He pulled me so close against him, and I snaked my arms around him to hold him as tight as I could.

“When my mom was dying, I prayed so hard, and it didn’t work.”

The emotion felt so heavy in his heart. I felt the tears spring to my eyes, and I held him so tight against me. I pressed a kiss against his neck.

“I’m so sorry baby,” I said.

He squeezed me tighter.

seeking normalcy

Once upon a time, in the Fall before my mother passed away, I was seeing someone. We weren’t serious by any means. We had gone out on a couple dates, and I slept with him on the night of our second date. I distinctly remember his hand on my thigh, as he leaned in to kiss me on a bench on the lake shore. The gesture was romantic, but I felt nothing for him. We met up once or twice a week thereafter and fucked like bunnies.

I think it was my attempt to maintain some degree of normalcy in the midst of my mother’s rapidly declining health. Although the sex was mediocre, fucking him felt like an escape. We fucked in all kinds of crazy places, going so far as to fuck in the back of his car during rush hour at a busy GO station. Looking back, it was kind of hot, but it was just my way of adding some excitement to an otherwise bland and boring relationship.

He would send me unsolicited dick pics, and I would pretend that they made me hot. He would text me into the evening, and I wouldn’t answer until the following morning, with some bullshit apology. I wondered if he was in love with me. Sometimes I would pretend to be in love with him while we were fucking, and I would pretend to feel something.

We had sex for the last time on New Year’s Day, and I told him that I didn’t want to see him again. I could feel that I had hurt him, and I made up some more bullshit excuses, like how I cared about him, but I didn’t think we were working out. Eventually he left, and I still felt nothing.

He texted me several times in the next few weeks to try to reconnect, but I ignored all of them. I think I was just looking for some degree of normalcy to take away the edge as I watched my mother waste away on the living room couch. I fucked him to shroud myself in a cloak of normalcy in the midst of all the hurt. I felt nothing when he left, but in his absence, I found myself missing my weekly escape.

March 29.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. A year and a half, to be more precise, but who’s counting? There are a lot of half-written blog posts, messy journal entries dotted with tears, thoughts scrawled on bar napkins as I waited for my friends at the local watering hole… but nothing that I was ready to share with the world. Writing always has, and always had soothed my soul, but in the hurt and the darkness of the past year, I just wanted to find some all-consuming reason to live… I needed something to help me forget the hurt, and a tangible reason to exist.

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I wrote letters to my mom. I wrote letters to people I loved. I sat on my roof in the setting sun, and burned some of them. I wondered if heaven was real, and if my mom was looking down on me somewhere. As a long-standing atheist, I hated myself a little for wondering that. The part of me that was quasi-raised Buddhist, found comfort in some of the rituals of mourning that I knew my mother would have wanted me to partake in.

My mom passed away in the early hours of the morning, on March 29, 2015, in the palliative oncology ward of Credit Valley Hospital. I had gone home to sleep for a few hours, and was woken up by a phone call two hours later, telling me that my mother had passed away quietly in her drug-induced sleep.

It still feels surreal to reflect back on that… to try to remember what I felt that night. I can still remember lying back down in bed for just a moment, to find some stillness the darkness, before slipping out from under the covers to pull my pants on, and to wake my brother up. I can still remember climbing into the passenger seat of his SUV, and driving to the hospital in the dead of night. I remember straining to hear the sounds of the radio, as we waited silently at a red light. I remember thinking how absurd it was to wait at a red light, when my mother was dead in a hospital bed. I remember thinking how absurd it was that my mother was dead in a hospital bed.

I know that these things will stick with me for the rest of my life. It’s taken me a year and a half, but I think I am ready to share them now.

Gratitude

(Note: this post was originally written January 2014. It has been revised & edited, and is being posted now.)

Gratitude probably seems like a strange feeling to have at the moment. My mother was given weeks to months to live. Work is as busy as ever. My father has me stressed out of my mind. And yet – I’m grateful. Because I’m surrounded by a loving set of friends and family, who would support me in any way they could.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer back in 2007. That’s just over seven years ago. Scientifically speaking, that’s phenomenal for someone to live so long with advanced colorectal cancer. Speaking from the heart… my heart aches just to think of her suffering for seven years.

I think back to how hard, how scary moving away to university would have been without her. I think back to when I moved to Edmonton for a summer, and how lonely I would have felt, if I didn’t have her to call whenever I felt homesick. I think back to how I could have possibly made it through high school, if she had been given a terminal diagnosis, when I was only sixteen. I think back to how proud she was at my university graduation. I remembered thinking, although she looked a little ragged from the chemo, she looked like she was absolutely beaming.

I hate with my whole heart that she’s dying. I would give anything to take all the pain away. I see her deteriorating on the living room couch, and my heart aches every day that I come back from work. It kills me to see her suffering.

In all this pain, and hurt, and suffering, it’s hard to see the light in the darkness. It feels so easy to drown in the murky waters, and to give up. It hurts, and it’s hard… but I have this tiny glimmer of optimism and gratitude, and I’m doing everything that I can to hold onto it. There isn’t a lot to be grateful for these days. But I am. I’m grateful because although she’ll miss so many milestones… although I’ll really feel the weight of every impending challenge on the horizon… I’m grateful because there are so many milestones that she did witness.

hard as stone

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Only twice, have I seen my father cry. The first was at his brother’s funeral. I was very young, but even then, I understood the significance of what was happening – the unbelievable pain of losing family. The second was today, when we came home and told him that my mother was taken off the final anti-cancer drug available to her; that the only thing left to do, was to prepare for her inevitable death.

I’ve always thought of my father is hard as stone. Stoic. Quiet. But there, in the fluorescent light of our kitchen, I saw the softness underneath once again, as he came face to face with the approaching death of the love of his life.