A glimpse into the grieving.
I really feel the time I spend in the group is not only helping me but the others also. I've only shared a certain part of my story, while they've eventually shared most of theirs. Still, I sense that healing takes place inside them and me. Our meetings aren't formal or rigid, so when it's my turn to speak, I sit instead of stand, lounging comfortably. "Hi everyone, I'm Belle."
Everyone responds with an uniformed warmth, "Hi Belle, we're glad you're here." In their voices are the invisible hugs of comfort and tears of sympathy that come from our shared experiences. Often times, when the meetings are over, The Twins come to physically hug me, encouraging me, telling me things will be ok.
The Twins are Ruth and Bertha Stone (nee Aldric), both in their 70s, and both grieving the same man. From what I gathered of their stories, Bertha first married Johnny Stone in the late 60s, divorced him in the late 70s, and moved away. Her sister, Ruth, in turn married Johnny during the late 80s, but they later divorced in the 90s. Ruth had told the group, "I didn't talk to this vicious bitch for almost thirty years," and then hugged her sister powerfully.
Sometime after September 11th, 2001, Johnny went to his doctor and found out he had prostate cancer. He called his ex-wives, begged them to meet with him, and through a little bit of cunning, forced them to talk through their anger, ending several decades' of silence. Johnny pulled through the chemo and surgeries, feeling he had a renewed lease on life, with the exception of one part: he was now impotent.
This didn't deter Johnny's new found vitality. He made a bargain of sorts with the Stone sisters, and the three of them moved in together, all sharing the love they felt for one another in this new life. There was no jealousy now, no resentment, no tension. The only arguments were over whether they were going to watch "Jeopardy" or the local 5 o'clock news.
"Three years," Ruth would say. "Three years of pure bliss. With two other people, mind you. And none of this messing about, kinky 'threesome' shit you damn kids do."
Bertha blushed, "Sister, you shouldn't speak like that." Then she would look to the crowd, "But she's right you know. People having those, those, those 'orgies' and 'sexting' and 'menage trios'...it's an abomination, you know."
I can only smile at the memory of that conversation and continue my introduction for this week's meeting, "Allison has been gone for three years and I'm noticing that I don't think about her every day. Hell, I've gone a week or two and been so overloaded with work that I don't think of her at all. Then I'll hear one of our songs. Or see a yellow Labrador. Or a damned, silver Camry."
By this time a tear is already trickling down from my right eye and I use my shirt sleeve to wipe it away and staunch the flow from the left side. I don't look at any one, staring straight past them. I don't want to see the hurt in their eyes, the concern, the care they are all psychically and emotionally trying to send my way. I know I'm not lying, but I know this isn't the truth either.
I need this release, to be able to talk with someone who understands about this level of loss. That's why this group helps me. Before I can continue my thoughts aloud, before the water works can really get into full effect, Martha hands me a box of tissues. I smile, chuckling, "As always, ever ready. Thanks Martha."
Martha is a little older than me, in her early 40s I guess, and she had a very simple life. She never went to college, dated a bad boy, sky dived or got a tattoo. "I've never done much of anything," she said. She had married her high school sweet heart and worked as a waitress while he went to college and delivered pizzas. After he graduated, passed the bar exam, and became a junior partner at a well-known firm, they immediately started having kids.
"James, Sarah, and Michael. Boy, girl, boy. What I'd always wanted. From the day James was born, and until we lost Sarah--that was the best time of my life" Michael was the last to be born, but not quite. Growing alongside him was a tumor, so the OBGYN performed a caesarian two months before the due date, delivering the baby and the tumor simultaneously.
Ultimately the tumor would cause a good deal of cancer to spread throughout Martha's womb and ovaries. Several months later, she had an additional surgery to remove the last of the cancer and Martha was left sterile. This only added to her misery, since Michael had not made it through his first week at the hospital. Martha rallied back quickly however, since she had two children to heap all her love on.
"When Sarah started K-5, she got a cold. She got better after a few days, so I sent her back. Within a week she had another cold. I wasn't worried, kids pick up all kinds of bugs in their first year, right? But then she started bleeding from her nose. Then her eyes."
She left out a lot of the details, for which I am thankful, and told us that Sarah had an inherited immune deficiency. "The doctors said it could have been passed down from either side, since neither my husband nor myself, or any of our parents, showed the gene. It was very dormant and could reveal itself at any age. There were cases where patients didn't have symptoms until they were well into their 50s." Sarah was five-and-a-half.
She was put into an air tight room but it was too late. "It's kinda like muscular dystrophy in your immune system, they said. Once it starts, it only gets worse. It had an 'aggressive rate of replication', they said." Martha and her husband visited the hospital daily, and often times they would take the oldest boy James to visit his "little sissy". "Every time, before we would take James home, he'd put his hand up to the plastic sheet around her bed, and she would put hers to his. Together, they would say their bedtime prayers, like they had always done. Regardless of what time in the day it was, if he left, they prayed."
Sarah stayed in her plastic world for several weeks, and then one day, she slipped into a coma. After Martha got the call from the hospital, she quickly put shoes on James as tears streamed down both their faces. "I didn't tell him what was happening. I never even said the word 'hospital' while I was on the phone or anything. He just knew, I guess. I told him to go wait by the car and I would be right out."
James was 8, with tears blurring his eyes, and he knew his little sissy was dying. All he could think about was how much he would miss her. Martha guessed he was so caught up in his thoughts, that he didn't notice when he walked past the car and into the street. He died when the truck struck him and Sarah would die later on that night. Marsha had their funerals on the same day. "When they lowered them into ground, I was fine. A bit weepy, you know, but ok. When they threw the first shovel load of dirt on their little coffins, I lost it."
It had taken Martha several weeks to divulge all this. There were other details we didn't know still, like what had happened to her husband, why they were now divorced, and how long did she spend in the psych ward. I was the only one who knew she was in the psych ward, because I was there too.
I went for alcoholism. It was an intensive, 8-week rehabilitation program, and when I got there, Martha was already a patient. When I left, with a clean bill of health (even though I would relapse only a week later), Martha was still there. During the whole 8 weeks, she and I never spoke; we never even made eye contact. Although she was physically there, I think she was somewhere else mentally. Maybe it was the drugs they put her on or maybe her brain just couldn't handle all that had happened.
It took me a few weeks to get my bearings straight once I got out. I forced myself to stop drinking, with no meetings, but I did it. Yet I was still struggling, still trying to find a crutch to help me stop obsessing with Allison. I wanted so bad to be over her, at least to take the next step in coping with my loss. Then I found it.
I saw in the local classifieds that "Once Loved, Always Loved" was a support group dealing with the loss of a loved one and they met on a weekly basis. I showed up at the very next meeting. Eventually, so did Martha. She came to mourn her loss of her marriage, her children, her womb, her whole life.
I take the box of tissues and hold them in my lap. I look down at the floor, then continue, "What I want, I guess, isn't closure. I know Allison's gone, I know I can never see her again, never hold her again, never tell her how much I love her still. I get all that. What I want is to not feel any more. I know that's not possible, but I'm so, so damn tired of hurting."
I can never bring myself to tell my full story. How Allison is still alive, how she demanded I stop contacting her. I can't tell them how I have her phone number still memorized after three years of no contact or of all the other crazy things I done. From the minor annoying things, like drunk texts at 2AM, to the absurdly insane things, like driving 60 miles just to sit outside her house. Eventually, Allison threatened to put a restraining order against me, so I cut myself off completely from her. I had to make her dead inside my mind and my heart.
That's why I started drinking. Then I would get in fights with people, just to see if they could beat me, just so I could feel again. I died once, while drinking, from alcohol poisoning. The second time it happened, I checked myself into rehab. These meetings have helped me more than AA ever did, because alcohol isn't my problem. It's love.
I look to the faces around me; to Martha, then the Twins, and then I end my thoughts for this meeting. "Love isn't supposed to hurt. That's all I've got tonight. Thanks."