Lifeboats.

“May I accept the rhythms of grieving. I have enough to worry about without scolding myself that I’m still so vulnerable.” This is the daily affirmation for March 12 from Healing after Loss. Sound advice. So I will not apologize or feel bad about my previous meltdown (or continued blue mood), but in the name of balance, today I would like to discuss something more positive: lifeboats.

After tearfully typing out my previous post I stumbled over to the couch and sank into wretchedness. I was a complete and utter wreck. I tried to read, but could not. I tried to do other menial tasks, but could not. I contemplated leaving my apartment, but could not. So I just sat on the couch and cried. I tried to fend off the tears at first, but once I gave in, they did not want to stop.  As I sat there lost in misery, quickly decimating a box of tissues, my phone rang. It was my friend Mike, asking if I wanted to take a walk with him and his dog and then drive downtown, maybe do some shopping, grab a drink. Oh thank goodness!! It was exactly what I needed and he absolutely rescued me from the the wretchedness of that wretched day. I could not have been more grateful, not only for a reason to leave my apartment, but also for the company. He saved me on a very bad day with the simple act of inviting me out. He listened to me cry as I explained what I was feeling and why, and then we moved onto other subjects. I immediately felt lighter for having talked about it and I  appreciated him asking, and listening. I know it is not easy to sit with someone’s tears and just listen to the stuttering and blubbering (in my case). I’m sure it’s frustrating to know you can’t make it all better, but it is tremendously helpful to someone who is grieving to GET IT OUT (another reason this blog has helped me, but writing is not the same as having a two-sided conversation), especially when enough time has gone by where you don’t feel comfortable reaching out, if you ever did in the first place. Sometimes you don’t know you need to talk until you do it. It was a case of excellent timing, that day. So thanks, Mike.

I will never forget when Mike said good-bye to Alec. He told him: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.” Though we have had our ups and downs certainly, he has kept his promise and been a lifeboat for me many times since Alec left. Such simple things like friendship and companionship can be so comforting (although nothing is simple when it comes to grief, and some relationships don’t survive the strain). It helps that Mike’s dog is his best friend, too. He “gets it” as much as anyone can, although he is as much a stranger to what I am going through as I was before it happened.

I can’t thank all my little lifeboats here, but Mike would be at the top of the list, along with Kristine, who babysat me for a whole month after Alec died, and Cara, who never stopped checking on me and letting me know in a thousand ways big and small that she was there, even though she lives far away. And of course Alec’s wonderful vet (now my friend), Dr. Kristin Sulis, who patiently and with compassion listened to me cry, beg, bargain, deny, rant, talk in circles, and ask a million questions over, and over, and over again in the heart wrenching days and weeks leading up to the awful day when I was forced to separate myself from Alec, forced to make his suffering stop.

When Alec and I were together, I felt grateful all the time; now it is harder for me to access this feeling. But I am grateful to the people — some good friends and some I have never met — who have reached out to me with love and empathy. So, to anyone who has listened to me cry or laugh or just talk about Alec since he died, thank you. To everyone who has left an encouraging word on my Facebook page or a kind comment on this blog, thank you. I realize how hard it is to know what to say in this situation; I get it. If you said something, anything, thanks. It has truly meant a lot to me.

I happen to have pictures of Ali with three of the people I just mentioned, so this helps me with my slow motion project of starting to go through photos. Today’s entry: Alec and a few of my lifeboats…thanks for keeping me from drowning.

Ali and Mike on a sun-soaked afternoon in June 2010, the month before Alec died. Mike will always have an extra special place in my heart because he was there when I said good-bye to Alec. He also took care of me (and many details I could not handle) that night and in the next few days before I got on a plane and fled to Kristine in N.J. I will never forget he was present when I did the hardest thing I have ever had to do: authorize the shot that would make Alec go to sleep forever. This I had to do because he was suffering. I can’t put words to how awful it was, but it would have been so much worse if Mike wasn’t there.

Thanks, Mike, for making (and keeping) that promise to Alec.

Me and Ali and Cara, June 2009. Even though we had not been friends very long, Cara called and emailed me countless times after Alec died and never gave up reaching out to let me know she was thinking about me, even when I could not respond. Thanks, Cara, for being a constant presence even though you were far away.

Isn’t he beautiful?

And last but not least, my sweet sister Kristine, to whom I ran in my darkest hour of need; she took care of me for a whole month after Alec died. After more than 30 years of friendship, we also share a special and uncommon bond. Thank you, Kristine, for sheltering me. This was taken in December 2009 at Kelly Point Park in North Portland.

Finally, to the greatest lifeboat of all. I miss you so much, Ali.

(and I am most grateful to you.)

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5 Comments

Filed under Grief and loss, Love after death

5 responses to “Lifeboats.

  1. Deb

    I’m so glad you’ve had such great friends to help you through these horrible hard months. I’m also glad you’re starting to go through some of his pictures. There’s such joy in them, hopefully revisiting the memories is starting to bring back a little of those good feelings, even while surrounded by the sadness of loss. I think that’s one of the oddest thing about the grieving process, when you start to feel happiness from the memories, even while the grief of the loss is still crushing.

  2. cara

    nicole, i am so honored that among all the countless people who offered you a lifeboat, that i have been included here. i often felt (and still do!) that i haven’t called or emailed enough. however, in this moment it is a TREASURE to know that my love and care for you and ali carried you even just a little bit of the way. that was always the goal and will continue to be. i love you!!!! we didn’t have to know each other long for me to know that! xo forever.

  3. kristin

    Nicole – Reading your post I realized you were going through pictures! I think that is such a brave step. No wonder the resurfacing and reshattering of your loss. Melissa and I were talking recently about Ali’s passing and remarked on how you kept taking care of yourself through it all – even in the confusion and resistance and devastation. I see that now again here. I can see that he continues to teach you (and me too!) so much. Much gratitude, k.

    • Wow, I first read this part about taking care of myself and thought, “who is she talking about??” Then I remembered I did not allow myself to fall apart while Ali was still here; I promised myself I wouldn’t. I still needed to take care of him, which also meant not letting him see me fall apart. I tried so hard to put on a brave face for him. I didn’t want him to be scared and I didn’t want him to absorb my anxiety. I was not always successful, but I tried my damnedest to keep my shit together for him (and Kristin, you really helped me do that! I am eternally grateful to you for those marathon phone conversations). It was only after he died that I let myself fall apart. And started doing weird shit like hitting my head against walls (seriously – Kristine got to babysit me during that fun time). Looking back I am amazed that I made it through at all. But, yes he continues to teach me. You are so right!

  4. Kristine

    Hooray for you! Looking at pictures! And posting sweet Ali for all to see!
    I hope you are smiling much (even if through tears). If your heart felt torn open by such a task, I hope that it also allowed for more healing.
    You’re very sweet for acknowledging me. I’m here for you always. We may be far apart but I think of you often and am so thankful to have such an amazing sister!

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