I can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but I can’t fool me. Maybe it’s because it’s coming at me from four directions today that I find myself sliding again into that big black hole.
When we dropped Nick off at law school two weeks ago, I was determined that I would head out of Boston with a smile on my face, no tears in my eyes, happy that Nick was where he is meant to be and confident that his mom would not fall to pieces upon walking through the door of our now empty nest. Since Harvard had so kindly given Nick a year’s deferral after they learned that Ben had died, we were given a reprieve, allowing us an extra year to still be “hands-on” Mom and Dad. Now Nick’s at college, Gina’s in her apartment a half hour away, and Benny is gone. It’s officially empty…for the first time since December 16, 1985, the day before Benny was born. So, here I am, bobbing about, with my mind in a whirl and my heart all jagged.
When we decided to cut our trip to Boston short last week so that we could get home to Jack as he was dying in the nursing home, I knew the next several days would be busy ones. I’d be OK. I wouldn’t be home long enough for the empty nest idea to register. And when I went to sign Jack up for hospice the morning after our return, I assured myself and the hospice people that “This is nothing. My son died. I can handle this. Jack’s 75 and “only” a friend. Nothing can be worse than my son dying.” But Jack was like family. Divorced and estranged from his only uncaring daughter, he had spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, baptism, birthday, First Communion, Confirmation, etc. with us, celebrating every milestone of our kids’ lives with us. I spent all day last Sunday with Jack in the nursing home and he died early Monday morning…in the same nursing home that my mother-in-law also lives in. She’s been there for 3 years with Alzheimer’s, and two days ago the RN told me it was only a matter of time for my mother-in-law too since she had stopped eating.
The “sucking in” or “sucking out”, whatever you call it, started yesterday afternoon when I looked for pictures of Jack on my computer and in the big box of Benny’s pictures. The box that holds most of his pictures. The box we have to grab if our house ever catches on fire! After about a half hour of looking through pics, I emailed the funeral guy and told him I couldn’t find a decent picture of Jack. But really I didn’t have the strength, the heart, to look at any more pictures. My heart was breaking. So, I gave it up, feeling guilty that I had no strength to continue to look for a nice picture of Jack for his obituary. When we were shopping last night and I told Ben what I had emailed the funeral guy, he said he’d look through the dozens of other boxes of pictures we have so that we could find a nice picture of Jack and also a nice one of his mom since we would soon be needing one for her. Wanting to spare him that pain, I looked through about 4 boxes this morning. But I discovered there were lots of pictures of Benny still in them! So, hiding my pain from my husband, I gave up. I couldn’t look at pictures of my baby any longer!
And just now my husband, cleaning out a cupboard, came across a lunch box with Gina’s name on it and I said, “Oh, yeah, there’s one in there too with Nick’s name on it.” And then, struggling to get the words out, and debating whether or not I should do it, I told him about the two post-it notes that I had just found in the picture boxes. Both written by me when Benny was about 2 or 3, quoting him: “Mom, I are big now” and “Mom – did you ever hear ‘Don’t let your boys grow up to be cowboys – let them be nurses'”? So I told my husband about them and it was all over. Me as Mom and him as Dad, standing in our empty kitchen in our empty house, both of us sobbing, hugging each other, in tears, mumbling about how overwhelming this friggin’ nightmare is! “Oh, Benny! Oh, Benny!” my husband cried.
So, today the life is officially sucked out of me. I’m officially down and out. I’ve surrendered. The bravado mask I’ve kept plastered to my face has been tossed to the floor. Time to be nice to me as I sit in our empty nest….. no faking it today. So many pictures of my son!!! So many memories !!! And reading the email from my sister-in-law with a draft of my mother-in-law’s obituary… preceded in death by her grandson…..” Looking for a picture of Jack. And realizing that 9 years ago today Dad died. Dad, one of my best friends, who I could talk to about almost anything. Death surrounds me on all four sides. It envelopes me. Suffocates me. I miss my Dad and I miss Ben so much that I can’t see beyond today. What is life? What is death? How does one go on?
It’s like having a balloon, inflated, held tightly in hand, but un-knotted, air always seeping out of it. I know I have to keep going on. To search for strength when I feel I have no more. To find it somewhere, somehow. And to live my life so that, if there is a heaven, I can hug my baby again. But the air keeps seeping out of me, out of this “balloon” and it takes so much effort to keep it inflated and so much of my energy to keep puffing “life” back into it. I’m trying so desperately to hold on tightly to “keep it inflated”, but it’s so damn hard. I can’t stay inflated all the time, I can’t keep smiling, I can’t keep fighting. Today I give in to my sadness. Death is wrapped around me today, closing in, sucking my spirit out of me, ripping my false bravado away. I am limp and lifeless and I have surrendered. I can’t fool me. I hurt!! My heart is broken, never to be the same again. Mom and Dad are home alone with the pieces of our hearts co-mingled in the wreckage of our dreams, our family. We bleed each other’s blood. Dear God, keep me inflated………..
I miss you, Ben, with every ounce of my being!