When Jim encountered rough stuff—say, work turning in the wrong direction or frustration from his ex-wife’s unwillingness to coparent—I’d listen, usually feed the fire, then stop and ask, “Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?”
His answers were consistent. “I have a great relationship with all my kids. I love my wife. I get lots of sex.” Even though big things might be rotten, bigger things were good.
I’m struggling. A lot is wrong. The business of death is a hassle and draining. I don’t have motivation to get myself out of the house for anyone but family and the Allens. I wish I could help the kids feel better, but I know nothing will to work. Most of all I ache like hell for my husband.
It’s a more difficult exercise now, but—Okay, what’s good? What’s going right?
I have a good relationship with all the kids. They’re my people. I get to hang out with Katelynn. I went flying this weekend with Dustin and Tjaden. I hear from Jo a lot. Ben sends me jokes. We don’t get to see each other nearly as much as we’d like, but when we were last all together Ben said, “This is like Disneyland.”
I’m mad as hell about it, but Jim left us ready. We were ready to be family without him. A year ago, we all wouldn’t have been able to brace up and enjoy each other without him around, but we’ve spent enough time together under Jim’s influence to have built trust and love enough to fashion our own support structure.
What’s good? What’s going right?
I have words. I have the ability to write about all this awful stuff. It blunts some of the despair. Writing and posting about losing Jim is like opening a carbonated drink, some pressure leaves, but all the liquid is still there.
By way of both my blood-family and my in-laws, I have a big bunch of family that I love and love me. My mom moved in with me for the month after Jim died. She went where I told her, waited when I couldn’t move, made me food, and even now if I told her that I can’t do this alone and I need her back, she’d be on the road in minutes.
I was in Utah this weekend to see my niece in a play. Before the show started her 11-year-old brother leaned across my mom to ask, “Hey Aunt Megan, how’s life?” “Shitty.” I replied, feeling only a little bit guilty that I cursed to a kid. Accuracy over prudence. “I’ll bet,” he said. Top to bottom, my family gives a damn.
I used to be superstitious. If I say something’s going to happen, it won’t. I lost that conviction in seconds. I am not dramatizing when I say that I wrote the last bit of my Terminal blog post as a specific mechanism to prevent loss. I first wrote the last paragraph as only disbelief at my good fortune. But then, afraid that my unrestrained happiness would spur some terrible event, I added as safeguard, “I know as well as anyone that things can—they will—change, fast, and life may not always look like this.” Despite my concerted effort, it was less than a week before life didn’t look like that.
Along that same hollow line of thought, I was counting on odds to give me more time with Jim. With a 16-year spread between us, I always expected to outlive Jim, but by how much? Brandon’s death gave me what I thought must be at least 20 years; best friends do not die close together. The remote chance of losing Jim soon after losing Brandon was enough for me to settle into relief that I didn’t need to worry about losing my person for a while.
Never tell me the odds. I need that on a shirt or tattooed on my body. Though the odds looked to be in my favor, they never were.
Two dead dads. When the Allen kids lost their dad, Brandon, the next best thing was Jim. He couldn’t be their dad, but he could love Traci and her kids like family. He could keep the memory of their dad fresh. He was consolation prize far from what they wanted but enough to be some kind of solace.
Nope. He only got to carry Traci’s post-vacation suitcases up the stairs one time. The only thing he got to fix at her house was the door to the playhouse. He only got to drop Brandon’s jeep off at the mechanic, never pick it up. The Allens only got to feel Jim’s runner-up support for four months.
What’s good? What’s going right?
I have Traci. Along with friendship, I have close and complete understanding from the other widow. After Brandon’s death Jim took comfort that he left behind a capable wife; Traci would do a hell of a job figuring things out after losing her love. I have that example to draw from.
I have my dogs. Since there are heartbeats waiting for me, when I come home it’s not to Entirely Alone.
I have long-suffering friends who let me have time and distance. They offer help of whatever kind I can accept whenever, if ever, I can.
I have yoga, the teaching and the taking. Yoga is somewhere to go that’s familiar. I told Cameron a few weeks ago that I appreciate that I’ve been doing yoga long enough that new studios don’t scare me. I’ve always gone to class when I travel—my husband loved that about me—and wherever I go yoga studios are places where I know what to do. With the teaching I have that slice of time when I really can ditch my sorrow and focus on someone else. I get ringside seats to students’ progress and change. It’s a reward I get paid to receive.
I have the team at Victory Woodworks, a group of talented, big-hearted A-players. A couple weeks ago I was having one of the extra rotten days, and if I hadn’t already said I would go by Victory to drop stuff off, I’d have stayed home all day. But I followed through and went to the office, and their kindness and hugs and success lifted me such that I left feeling a little bit better.
A while into my relationship with Jim I apologized to one of my sisters for being so off the grid. “I used to be a good sister,” I told her, “I used to be attentive and thoughtful. Sorry for being absent.” She said my absence was good, it meant I didn’t need them, that Jim was filling my needs. She was happy for me instead of resentful. There were so few of my needs that Jim couldn’t fill.
Because the biggest thing is rotten, I have a hard time seeing through the grief to identify what’s right. People. I read through what I’ve written above, and I see that what’s good, what’s going right, is lots about people. When I have the ability to pause and look what’s right, it’s there by way of the living.