Monthly Archives: April 2017

Anxieties come from the weirdest places

A dear friend contacted me at random yesterday. They’re having a get-together at a nearby hotel, and asked if I could join them. Dinner and drinks will be served. They set me up with a hotel room and made sure it was OK that I brought Nora and Charlie, not just to the hotel but to the party as well.

I freaked out a bit, and I had no idea why. Mind you, I’m incredibly appreciative of their kind offer and will take them up on it. Still, somehow I was lying awake at 2 AM last night thinking about this and why it suddenly ramped up my anxieties to a fever pitch. I think I can make some guesses.

Dan and I were together for 18 years. In social situations, there was rarely just me or just him – it was usually us together, and I was very OK with that. I always loved spending time with my husband any way that I could. This meant that we weren’t really good at spontaneity, though. Travel required packing and making sure we had all electronics, CPAP, clothes, toiletries, etc. that we both needed. The dogs needed someone to watch them. Dan had food allergies we needed to take into consideration, as well as occasional flare-ups of IBS. So travel required some degree of planning ahead.

Now, within the span of 24 hours, I have received an invitation and will throw the dogs in the car and go spend the night away from home with pretty much no planning at all. Mind you, I did this for the 12+ years I lived on my own before I met Dan so it’s not like I’ve never done so.

I realized that this is a very firm reminder that Dan is gone. And that’s a new kind of pain.

As with so many feelings I’ve had over the last month, I have to acknowledge that pain and deal with it. It’s not going to go away – this isn’t something that gets better. But I will learn to deal with it. I will go and I will spend time with friends. I will have fun and re-learn a bit of spontaneity. I may need to take a break from time to time, but in the end I think I will be glad I went. Certainly nothing good is served by sitting at home alone.

Life goes on, and every day is a new day of learning to cope. Some days I’ll cry, some days I won’t. I will find new ways to press on. But I will never, never, never forget my love for Dan and the wonderful life we had together.

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That Boy Needs Therapy

 

I’ve written about my mental health in the past and how I talked to my doctor in early 2015 about the anxiety and depression I’ve experienced for a good part of my life. Since then I’ve been on a course of Prozac and Wellbutrin that has served me exceptionally well. When I started the medications, though, my doctor suggested (though didn’t insist) that I supplement the treatment with other assistance, like yoga, meditation, or therapy. I agreed it was a good idea, but never really followed up.

Now here we are two years later. I was a couple of weeks into grieving and feeling completely unmoored and drifting. My friends and family have provided an amazing amount of support, and that’s great and so appreciated. However, at night, when the lights are off and it was just me and the dogs, I was finding myself lying awake for hours. At work, the slightest thing was setting off a crying jag. The worst of all was that the last minutes of Dan’s life played in a loop in my mind, over and over, setting off a cascade of guilt and despair.

I finally realized I’d had enough. I thought I could be strong and endure the grief alone. I had to admit that I was wrong. Not only that, but I also had to come to terms with the fact that I was wrong and that was OK. I needed professional help.

This being the digital age, I started where one normally starts: Google. Even the slightest mention of finding counseling or therapy in my area pointed me to the Psychology Today database. Now, I can’t vouch for the quality of the contents of the database, but it is certainly easy to apply filters. I narrowed things down to someone within 10 miles of me, who specialized in grief counseling, and was LGBT-friendly. This gave me a handful of names to work from. I cross-referenced this with my health insurance provider’s in-network database and settled on a therapist ($20 co-pay per visit. I can deal with that). I called and was able to set up an appointment for two days later.

I showed up a little early and filled out the forms, and then Patti introduced herself. We chatted a bit and then got to the heart of the discussion. I provided some background about myself and Dan, and we shared a chuckle because she and her partner had the same experiences we did, going from commitment ceremony to civil union to marriage. I won’t get too specific about the rest of the conversation except to say that it included a very difficult recounting of what happened on Dan’s last day, and what had happened and how I felt since.

Patti sketched out the approach that she thought might be good for future sessions (acceptance and commitment therapy, for those who might know what that means). We had a good conversation about how I tend to think very logically (hey, I’m an engineer through and through) and overly emotional thoughts can seem odd and irrational to me. Part of future sessions will involve reconciling the logical and emotional parts of the brain, and finding some kind of a happy medium.

The most important part of our conversation for me was when we discussed the images and events that kept looping in my mind. Patti explained that this is something commonly seen in people who have experienced trauma, such as those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What is fascinating to me is that this is actually a physical manifestation, not a mental one. The brain is physically changed by trauma, and the looping events are a common symptom of this.

What does this mean, and how do I deal with it? Well, that is part of the conversations still to come. In the meantime, knowing that this is something physical and not a mental aberration or weakness has helped me tremendously. When I start to experience this, I can identify it for what it is. I’m still working on how to cope with it, but even that much is a big step forward for me.

So that’s where I am right now, and all of that after just one appointment. Unfortunately, Patti is on vacation this week, but our next appointment will be next week and I’m looking forward to it. Just having gotten over the initial internal resistance to seeking help was a big deal for me. The fact that I seem to work well with Patti and found the first session useful just confirms that I made the right decision. I know that I’ve got a very long road ahead of me still, but having one more tool to help me cope will make it that much more bearable.

 

The High Cost of Dying

On Monday, the day after Dan passed away, I was still in shock. My amazing sister drove up from South Carolina on a moment’s notice to help me cope with things, and I would have been absolutely and utterly lost without her. Even now, looking back, I’m shocked to think how much of a fog I was in.

In the midst of all of this, the prosaic issues of death and burial still had to be dealt with. I spoke with the assistant county coroner, and she asked which funeral home we wanted to use. I had no idea. The chaplain at the hospital had provided me with a booklet of information that had a list of funeral homes in it, but I had no idea which to choose. In the end, I went with the one that was closest to the hospital because I had driven back and forth past it over the previous four weeks. One saving grace was that Dan’s mother already had a burial plot available at a nearby cemetery, so that was one less thing to worry about.

Four years ago, when we were about to leave on a cruise, we wrote down our advance directives so there would be record of our wishes in the event anything untoward happened. This was fortunate, since it was because of this that I knew what Dan’s wishes were: a simple burial, no funeral, no embalming, but throw a party in his memory. At least I could provide firm answers when the funeral director asked what we had in mind when I first spoke with him over the phone. We arranged to meet at 5 PM on Monday to discuss details.

I arrived at 5 PM, followed shortly thereafter by Dan’s mother. I should say here that Ma is an amazing person, an incredibly kind woman who has welcomed me into their family with open arms, and I love her very much for that. My feeling about all of these arrangements was that, while necessary, they were not for my benefit but for the benefit of Dan’s family. I had said my goodbyes the day before and would again in a few months at the memorial party. Even so, I was going to do my damnedest to make sure that everything Dan’s mother wanted, she got. The negotiations with the funeral director were a little odd because he pointedly looked to me for all decisions, which is appropriate since as Dan’s legally married husband I was the one legally responsible. I was happy to defer to Ma, though. I could see that if our relationship were less cordial this could have been an excruciating experience.

The discussion with the funeral director made my head spin. Because hey, the best time to be  negotiating these details is when you’re in complete and utter shock, right? I had naively assumed that because Dan’s wishes were simple, this would be a quick and relatively inexpensive event. I was mistaken. We spent the better part of an hour and a half hashing over every single detail, with the funeral director preparing a quotation as we spoke in a way that unfortunately reminded me very much a car salesman might do so. As we talked, the numbers spiraled upwards. Transport of the body. Washing, preparation, and makeup (with additional cost due to autopsy). Viewing versus full funeral. Ceremony at the graveside or not. Use of the hearse. All of this came to $4,480.

Next: Silly me, I had assumed that it would be possible to place a body into a biodegradable casket and within months the body be returned to nature. No, the cemetery requires that the casket be placed in a concrete vault. There’s a charge for the vault. At this point, biodegradability is moot. The least expensive caskets are sheet metal, and even those are several thousand dollars. Wood caskets are even more expensive. We walked into the funeral home’s showroom (!) and chose a nice dark-blue metal casket that was $3,100.

Then there were the various ancillary charges: cemetery charge for opening and closing the grave. Installation of the vault. Permits to dig the grave. Charges for death certificates. Obituaries ($325 for one newspaper, $175 for another). All of this came to $2,361. With additional charges, taxes, and fees, the final bill was a little over $11,000. At the end of all of this I signed off on the estimated bill, still very much in a daze and not quite sure where the money would be coming from. (The final quotation is shown above. The full “menu” of costs is shown below.)

There is a slight bit of good in all this news, at least. Dan had life insurance through his employer for four times his annual salary. The life insurance company moved with astonishing alacrity, and had the disbursement check in my hands a week after Dan’s passing. As part of their services, they subcontract with another company that will handle a lot of the details that we dealt with face-to-face at the funeral home. If I had known about that I could have spared us some of this unpleasant process. When I did call this subcontractor they immediately took over the process (with my blessing) and I never had to be involved in any exchange of funds after that. They took the payment directly from the life insurance company, which was deducted from the disbursement.

I will admit that this has been hard to write, but I think it’s important. I don’t write this to complain or to tell some lurid story, but to educate. I would ask everyone who reads this: DO NOT BE SURPRISED BY THE COSTS AND ARRANGEMENTS OF DEATH. Make preparations, please. Do not leave your loved ones to try to figure this out in the midst of their shock. We had no idea what was involved, or what we might encounter. If even one person heeds this advice, this will have been worth it.’

As for advance directives, if you don’t know where to start this is a useful form that you can fill out. You may also want to check around for one specific to your state. I thank you and your loved ones will thank you.

Edit to add: Some may look at this and say, “Man, you got ripped off!” That may or may not be the case, and it’s water under the bridge at this point. What does matter is that even at half of these prices, you want to be prepared for the sequence of events to come, and the financial shock involved.

“How Are You Doing?”

This seems to be the go-to phrase of everyone I have talked to. It’s now been 10 days since Dan passed away, and the answer is, “Not well at all.” I’m not sure that the answer people expect or want to hear though. At any given moment, I’m numb, I want to break down sobbing, I’m looking ahead optimistically to the future, I’m worrying about finances, I’m wracked with guilt over everything I could have done to prevent this (even though there really is nothing that could have been done). And give me sixty seconds and I may switch to any combination of these. Safe to say I’m a fucking mess, really.

I’m incredibly fortunate that my employer s giving me a wide berth and has very low expectations of my output right now. My doctor strongly suggested I stick to half-days this week and I plan to do that where I can. Heck, most of my co-workers are wondering why the hell I’m in here at all. At this point all I can do is put my head down and push on through.

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Just the Facts

At last night’s memorial gathering I realized that the specific details of Dan’s passing haven’t really been discussed or shared. There are certainly no secrets to be hidden – in all honesty, it is simply something that has not occurred to me. Therefore, here is what happened on Sunday, March 26, 2017:

Dan had avoided using his wheelchair the night before, instead using his walkers to move from the sofa, to the stairs, and then to the bed. He was so proud of this. On Sunday morning, when he was ready and dressed, he intended to get downstairs again using only his walkers. He had gotten as far as the bedroom doorway when he suddenly seemed to have difficulty breathing. I called 911. The paramedics arrived quickly, since the station Is just down the road. By the time the ambulance left, Dan was in full cardiac arrest.

The ambulance beat me to the hospital, and Dan’s mom Jackie arrived shortly after I did. We asked to go back to see him. The nurse warned us that they were administering CPR and we may want to wait in the waiting room, but we decided to go back. I’m glad we did. Not knowing what was going on would have made it worse.

When we got to the emergency room bay, there were easily ten people in the small room. We watched as they did everything they possibly could to get Dan’s heart beating again. It is notable that throughout this entire time, one of the nurses (her name was Nancy – I wish I had gotten her last name) maintained a running narrative just for me and Jackie to let us know what was going on and what was being done and why. This was not necessary for them to work, but I cannot begin to say how appreciated her efforts were. Unfortunately, after a full 30 minutes the doctor had to say they had done all that they could.

An autopsy determined that the cause of death was bilateral pulmonary embolism, and there is really nothing anyone could have done. He was on a blood thinner, but between the back surgery, the limited mobility, and the fact that not every blood thinner works for every person, the best you can do is minimize the risk – you can’t remove it completely. Someone is that single-digit percentage who is unlucky enough, and unfortunately that was Dan.

I hope that no one is upset to read this. I think that the facts are important, and the knowledge that everyone did everything that they possibly could at all opportunity is worth noting and recording. This account is not how Dan will or should be remembered, though. It is but a passing moment in a life well-lived, the life of man I loved with all of my heart and will always love.

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