Steve’s Story

Site created on May 31, 2018

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Journal entry by fiona thiessen

ach, a long two months since i've been on this site.   it is a conversation that i have felt unable to continue for this while.  why is that?  i think in part because i've been completely exhausted with the daily need to communicate with my kids all morning, afternoon and evening. by the time the last one finally roles into bed i'm totally finished.  the thought of saying another word is just too much.  but we've gone off to visit steve's older brother and wife and their kids (close to ottawa) for a week and a half and i am being given respite time.  i have some space to think and write.  

i haven't re-read what i wrote last but i feel it had much to do with my deep, deep dread of the upcoming season of life and all the 'without steve' firsts.  although the last two months have been intense in many challenging ways, the days and seasons that i felt dread about have ended up being easier than i'd thought.  my kids, family and friends made mother's day and my birthday beautiful, unforgettable and special.  i was particularly blessed by the very, very thoughtful gifts the kids gave me on my birthday and a precious time spent with friends around a fire in the evening.  

ember's birthday was a little harder for me.  it ended up being a smallish affair that i had little energy for, but thankfully our little five year old had no notion that the party was underrated compared to previous ones.  i remembered pretty clearly that her birthday last year was either the first or second day of steve's chemo treatments and he was very distressed by some of the side effects the evening of her party.  

june brought my dad's birthday, a special day always . but the ache of not having my mom there to hostess all the siblings and fill the house with her joy and energy and happiness felt just as painful to me this year as last.

father's day.  no easy way through that one.  but back in the cold days of february i'd planted a seed of an idea in the minds of our sports club kids that we train to run the 10k in the MB marathon.  it was met with some boos of resistance but wouldn't you know the love of challenge overtook their resistance to distance running and a group of 9 of us started father's day bright and early with an amazing run.  nadia and ezra are both able to run much faster than i am.  i'm so proud of them.  and it felt so good to start a hard day with an adrenaline laced accomplishment.  together.  (and i just need to add here, that i am so grateful that my grade 12 gym teacher planted the seed of an idea in my mind many many years ago that distance running could be, in fact, deeply satisfying and enjoyable.  he is steve's first cousin no less.)

we spent time with my dad and steve's dad.  we avoided church sunday school.  i took the kids to steve's grave; not something anyone wanted to do but i felt we needed to be there.  i wanted the kids to take the time to stop all the distractions and just cry for a while.  we did.  and i realized that steve's grave is in a difficult spot.  right on an open highway where we are a bit of a spectacle: the single mom and her four kids weeping in a line for the world to see.  

and then of course came 'the end of school' and 'the beginning of holidays'.  this was a time that has always brought great joy and relief to us all with dad done work for the summer and the kids done their school.  i realized in retrospect that we were spared all this in some small way.  a friend had wondered out loud with me back in february if perhaps it might be the right thing for me to do to consider driving to ottawa, with her and her kids, at the end of june, to visit family.  i felt like her invite was a divine invitation and agreed to plan for this.  because we left winnipeg on the 27 of june we avoided the official 'last day of school' drama.  we just kind of petered out with school and then started madly getting ready to drive half way across the country.  no chance to think much about how things used to be.  

although the drive to ottawa was in no way easy, i did it.  we did it.  we even took bikes.  and here we are now.

the big kids and chuck and kenton and i went on a biking excursion that steve had done with the kids and uncle chuck last year.  at the top of the hill is a beautiful lookout of the ottawa river valley.  last year steve and i and the kids all stood there together and someone took a picture of us all in a row, backs to the camera, looking forward.  here we are in the exact same place, but nothing at all is the same.  

(interlude: i wrote all the above but couldn't convince myself to send it.  so i'm gonna add a bit and then i'll hit the button.)

i'll leave off with two bits.  

first, a bit about the hard reality of 'the paperwork' that dogs those who lose a spouse or last parent:

just before we left for the east i had to pay for our vehicle insurance.  steve had attempted to switch the registration to my name already last june knowing our future was so uncertain, but whomever he spoke to at autopac convinced him it would be very easy for me to do in the future should i need to do so.  lies.  

just days before our trip i went to a local insurance company with my papers and a death certificate.  the gentleman i spoke to looked at everything and then told me i also required a will.  sigh.  i already had such limited time to complete this task and i was very frustrated knowing i had to drive back home and come back with more papers.  but what choice did i have?  in my irritation i got the will but then drove down two blocks to a different location to have the work done there.  i was pouting i know.  but my self pity did not pay off at all.  the lady at this other location was dreadful.  a very very cheerful dreadful.  she insisted that a will was not good enough, i had to have a letter stating that the will was probated.  i had no idea what this meant.  sadly neither did she but she insisted she HAD to see this word somewhere to prove i wasn't out to steal some dead guys van.  she very sweetly gave me some more paperwork and told me i had to go downtown to some other official office and have my will looked at by some official person and then i could come back with my letter of probate.  

needless to say my fragile emotional state could not handle this.  it was absolutely far too much for me to have a complete stranger act as if steve might not have been my husband and he just might have had another will somewhere that cut me out etc. etc.  it just cut my heart.  so i quickly smiled, said thanks and rushed out so i could begin weeping.  i cried down the street and getting into my van and decided that before i set out on a fool's errand i'd return to the first insurance business; the one who'd told me i only needed a will.  i did so, composed myself, and went in.  thankfully i went in just before the after work rush hit.  i was seen right away by a very kind man who, even though he'd never done this sort of paperwork before, did not ask for a letter of probate and offered me sincere condolences on my loss.  although the paper work did take nearly 45 minutes and i sat through it all very stressed that at some point a big 'NEEDS LETTER OF PROBATE' would begin flashing across his screen, my fears never came about.  he did all the work, never asked for anything but the will, and i was able to leave knowing the van was insured, and now in my name, and we could drive to ottawa.  two hours after i got home from this errand our lawyer called and explained what a letter of probate was and suggested a widow should not need this in the case of vehicle registration switches.  i wish the other lady had known as much.  

i should say that just today i received a cheque to steve's estate (another story: did you know that when your spouse dies you have to open another bank account under the name 'estate?'  it feels like the paperwork will never end.  and yes i am avoiding reams and reams of it as i just can't handle it all) from autopac.  another big sigh.  i should have cancelled his driver's licence when he died.  they would have refunded me whatever percentage he had payed between now and then.  not a significant amount i know but honestly.  thankfully my sister was wise enough to help me cancel his cell phone immediately and i didn't hang on to that unnecessary bill longer than i had to.  

second, what this feels like:

i am still reading.  but i am only able to read selectively.  some dear friends lent me their copy of a book called, 'lament for a son.'  they have walked through the valley of the shadow of death in terrifying and terrible ways and they are some of the dearest people i know.  i wanted to leave you with a bit of what wolterstorff has written.  because i realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that i will never be able to put into words what this loss feels like; i don't think anyone really can, and i don't know if i really want to. but i want to say something.  so i'll let him say it for me. 

"especially in places where he and i were together this sense of something being over washes over me . . . a moment in our lives together of special warmth and intimacy and vividness, a moment when i specially prized him, a moment of hope and expectancy and openness to the future: i remember the moment.  but instead of lines of memory leading up to his life in the present, they all enter a place of cold inky blackness and never come out.  the book slams shut.  the story stops, it doesn't finish.  the future closes, the hopes get crushed.  and now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memory, i, the survivor, have to bear them alone.

so it is with all memories of him.  they all lead into that blackness.  its all over, over, over.  all i can do is remember him.  i can't experience him.  the person to whom those memories are attached is no longer here with me, standing up.  he's only in my memory now, not in my life.  nothing new can happen between us.  everything is sealed tight, shut in the past.  i'm still here.  i have to go on.  i have to start over.  but this new start is so different from the first.  then i wasn't carrying this load, this thing that's over.

sometimes i think that happiness is over for me.  i look at photos of the past and immediately comes the thought: that's when we were still happy.  but i can still laugh , so i guess that isn't quite it.  perhaps what's over is happiness as the fundamental tone of my existence.  now sorrow is that.

sorrow is no longer the islands but the sea."

when steve was first diagnosed, and we wept together time after time, i often told him that i'd never be happy again.  but as wolterstoff says, i can still laugh, i still find myself enjoying moments and people, so that is not it entirely.  but yes, the fundamental tone of my existence is no longer bright and shiny, it is grey.  
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