My parents called last Sunday.
Dad: “We want to take you and Frank on a river cruise through France.”
Mom: “Why aren’t you jumping up and down?”
Me, after a moment’s hesitation: “It’s that plane thing. I’ll let you know by the end of the day.”
WTF, you ask? Why did I not give an immediate YES to a river cruise through France? I hate to fly. I don’t just hate it, it’s the one thing that can blow my cool. It’s not flying. I’m not afraid of being in the air or anything. It’s being squished, belted into fourteen inches of chair-space with no place to put my legs for eight hours. Eight hours packed in like sardines. And being an overseas flight–in the dark. It’s enough to get me hyperventilating just thinking about it.
My amazing stepson gave me a standing offer a while back–if I ever wanted to fly, he’d get me an upgrade to business class. I called him. It’s all set. My own bed! My own cubby! Restaurant quality meal, including an ice-cream sundae if I want it, movies. This, I can do. I called my parents and told them we’re in.
Why wasn’t I feeling it? I’ve never been to France or flown first class. A river cruise through the country, then a few days on the Riviera, in Cannes? Two weeks in Europe? Of course I’m excited. Something kept niggling at me, and it manifested in a single thought and instant shame–We never could have done this before Chris died.
Ker-pow. Right to the gut. Like the fear of finding him dead no longer hangs over me, so too has the fear of traveling too distantly lifted. And that makes me feel terrible in ways I can’t describe.
There was a brief time when I thought he was ok–really ok. I wrote about it here on this blog only a few months prior to his death. I believed he was going to finally start living the life he worked so hard to have. I believed we would no longer live anticipating the next catastrophe. Through earlier years, we’d learned not to travel too far. Frank and I had to drive home through the night more than once because he was in crisis. It hadn’t happened in a long while, but until he moved out and seemed to be on his way in his own life, we were prepared for that mad dash if ever we did go away.
Friends tease us for always going to the same restaurant in town every weekend. Well, first of all, we love it. If I’m going out to eat, the food has to be better than I can make it. They treat us like family there. But that’s not the only reason we went there most Saturdays since it first opened. It’s close. Chris spent too many lonely weekends home alone. We had to walk that line between being with him and keeping our date nights–for us, yes, but also so he didn’t have the guilt of ruining our evenings alongside the loneliness. I’m not sure we succeeded in that, because while we did go out, the cell phone sat on the table with us, just in case. I always found a reason to text him. Did he want us to bring food home for him? How about dessert? And instead of going to the movies afterwards, which is what we’d always done before, we’d come home and watch a movie with him.
My life, our lives, revolved around Chris. There were things we didn’t do because we didn’t want to leave him. That was a rock and a hard place, because leaving him left him vulnerable and lonelier than ever, but sticking close made him feel bad. There was no right choice, so we made the one we could live with. During the ten months prior to his death, Frank and I learned to let go of that fear. He was fine. Happy. Social. He enjoyed the freedom of being home alone. Then he moved out and “empty nest” became a thing of beauty I truly loved.
Empty nest has a totally different meaning for me now. I can’t love it any more. It implies things I can’t even think about, and hurts too deep down in my soul. But I do have to find a way to let go of the life that existed before Chris died. All of it. It’s gone. I have to learn to live without his smile, his hugs, hearing him sing his heart out. And I have to find it in me to embrace the peace that comes of knowing not only is he free of all that mental and physical pain, so am I.