Of all the various anniversaries and holidays without Ez, his birthday is consistently the most difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong, the anniversary of his death is always a doozy – days if not weeks of traumatic memories that I compulsively relive. But I’ve gradually learned to live with those memories and to make my peace with them. And it’s not that birthdays mattered so much to Ez, because they really didn’t (though he always prepared a beautiful Greek feast for mine, and we threw a hell of a party for his last). Even Thanksgiving, which was his most favorite day, our most favorite day, has gotten a little less painful. But whereas other holidays and anniversaries bring memories and feelings that become distilled and more familiar with each passing year, his birthday brings up ambivalence and apparently unresolved feelings. I want to celebrate his life, but I still have so much rage over his death. I want to think about him and the time we had together, but instead I spend the day ruminating in his absence from my life and in my own grief.
A year ago, on Ez’s birthday, I was determined to channel this rage into recovery- to overcome my depression, finish my dissertation, rebuild important relationships from which I’ve withdrawn, maybe just maybe find a partner for this next phase of life. But just as soon as I put that sentiment out in the world and committed myself to get on with it, I got mononucleosis. And like chicken pox and other pesky viral infections, mono infections tend to be worse the older you get them, which my case confirmed with gusto. After several months of acute infection, my symptoms ever so gradually began to subside. But they’ve never gone away, and my immune system is in some kind of disarray. I have chronic fatigue and I’ve had one acute illness after another, with never more than a couple of weeks of feeling just OK. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten on with what I had hoped to over this past year.
I have, however, learned a few things. I’ve learned how extremely difficult it is to be sick for a long time- and mono is nothing compared what Ezra experienced or what so many people with chronic and terminal illness experience for months and years on end. With this tiny bit of insight into the particular flavor of misery that chronic illness entails, I wish I could go back and take better care of Ez and of myself. He knew he wasn’t long for this world, so he stopped thinking about the long game and lived as fast and hard as he could with the time he had- fair enough! I tried, stupidly, to keep pace. I went so hard, every day, trying my best to take care of him and to do anything and everything that needed doing. I was often frustrated with his manic drive to produce and perform, without realizing that I was driving myself right into the ground. And I kept on doing it well after he died, even after I getting mono and being put on bedrest. Working in overdrive on this or that project that suddenly seemed urgent and important until I completely exhausted myself and alienated everyone around me, which is more or less where I find myself now.
This never would have happened on Ez’s watch. Until he got very sick, he had a sixth sense for my stress level and was expert at heading off a threat, calming me down, helping me find my balance, even if he was in a manic frenzy. He used to do this thing where he’d put his hand on my chest and just wait until I settled. Or he’d say let it rest babe, and I would.
I think I’m finally beginning to see that self-destruction through taking care of someone else, or this or that thing, has been my primary way of coping – with stress, pain, uncertainty, loss – and that it’s not sustainable. Learning this about myself has been incredibly slow and difficult.
I’m still not feeling well and I’m still learning how to take care of myself, but going into this next year, I want to try, again, to get on with it. I want to channel my rage into recovery- to overcome my depression, finish my dissertation, rebuild important relationships from which I’ve withdrawn, and maybe just maybe find a partner for this next phase of life. And for help with this next leg of the long game, I now have Dory the wonder-dog, who in four months has reminded me how to love, play, and show up every day. We’ll see you out there.