/v. trænsˈfɔrm; n. ˈtrænsfɔrm/ [v. trans-fawrm; n. trans-fawrm]
–verb (used with object)
1. to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose.
2. to change in condition, nature, or character; convert.
3. to change into another substance; transmute.
Readers of this blog know that Samantha died on April 12th. That's two years ago today. I had forgotten, but Tuesday marked the 35th Anniversary of my brother Matt's death. Maybe that contributed to the numbness I felt on that day. In any case, the numbness is back today, taking care of me as I go through the process.
I think transformed would be the correct word to use, when I think about what has happened in the two years since Sam breathed her last breath in our home as I held her. The whole process was transformational - for both of us. And for the kids. It transformed our sometimes fumbling marriage into a well-oiled machine, us against the disease. It transformed Samantha from an attractive woman in her 30s into an apparition. Cadaverish from the waist up, bloated and blistered from the waist down. No wonder our children are so mature now, having lived with that every day, watching their mom disintegrate slowly in front of their eyes. To contrast, when Matt died by ingesting an entire bottle of 1-a-Day iron supplements, I saw him briefly in the ER, and that was it. He was just gone. I can remember him being the vital, busy toddler he was - there was no slow decline.
So the process transformed Samantha, it transformed me, it transformed the kids. When she took her last breath, she transformed into something completely different. Her body stopped fighting for its own survival, and her soul or whatever spark of energy that made her human became invisible as well as intangible. The moment of her death transformed me. I held my first real love in my arms, kissing her softly on the forehead, whispering consolation and words of love. By that point, she'd been mentally gone for a couple hours... still, I think she could hear me. And more importantly, the feelings were expressed.
It's no secret that I seriously considered suicide by morphine for an insane couple of minutes. Sleep and food deprivation over the prior week had combined with the trauma of helplessly watching my wife die and culminated in a malfunctioning self-preservation instinct. I was alone in the room and had access to a lot of leftover morphine. I didn't think I could face the pain. But face it I would have to, if not for me then for our children... my children. The easy option wasn't an option after all, but it sure was the closest I'd ever come to really doing it (and I'd come close in my early teens).
I wasn't really able to begin the mourning process because the wagons were being circled around my dad, who was informed of brain metastases right before Samantha's memorial party. There was no time to mourn at first, with almost daily trips to UW hospital. Cancer transformed my father from a vital, healthy, articulate, intelligent man into a pale, frail victim (a role he never voluntarily took, but by the end of his fight, after multiple surgeries and laying in the ICU with a tube in his skull to vent cranial pressure, he was made cancer's bitch - something I say with all due venom and anger).
So how does the death of one's wife and soulmate of 20 years and one's beloved father just one month later transform one? I'm sure you see similar traits in combat veterans and witnesses to violent crime. PTSD. Depression. Insomnia. Nightmares. Vocational obsessions (workaholism). Increased alcohol intake (and other forms of self-medication). Emotional breakdowns. Uncontrollable sobbing. Social withdrawal. I certainly displayed all of those. Yet, at the same time, as the cicatrix was forming over the wounds, I felt a new strength and capability grow within. A new perspective.
Admittedly, I dated too early in the process. It's a pitfall to which many in the widowed community succumb. Fortunately I wasn't reckless - just incapable of emotional involvement. Nobody was badly hurt. I'm still friends with the first woman I dated. But when the house disasters occurred (Christmas Eve flood, Valentine's Day fire), I knew it wasn't the right time for dating or any kind of romantic relationships. I transformed again, focusing on the reconstruction of my home, the children and several creative projects. The house was transformed from a 1920s patchwork remodel to a fully renovated home with all-new everything. Out of the ashes rises the phoenix - literally.
I do get weepy if I allow myself to get caught up in the details of Samantha's death, or remember the last phone conversation with my father the day he died, or the phone call from the doctor saying he'd had an embolism and they were working on him right now... but I suppose that will always be the case. It's horrible, tragic stuff... it's life. But whereas two years ago today I stood shakily on an unknown threshold, feeling like the universe had ripped everything away from me and left me raped and bloody on the sidewalk, today I look back as a totally different man. Transformed. In charge of my life and future. Active instead of passive. Raising two amazing children, and teaching them to fearlessly embrace life. Engaged in much closer relationships with Sam's family than when she was alive. Being content in the now and looking at a bright future, despite (and perhaps due to) past trauma.
These anniversaries will always require a bit more contemplation than an ordinary day, but with patience and perspective, it is possible to emerge from the initial darkness a whole hell of a lot more awake and aware, patient, capable and strong, energized and loving.
P.S. Thanks to Jason P's friend Jeanine, who is running a Team-in-Training half-marathon in Portland this weekend and has added Sam's name to her jersey. I appreciate it immensely.