When Marv had his first cancer, prostate, in 1999, I fell off the rails. As I was telling that story to a mutually grieving friend last week, I thought back to what a therapist told me at the time: “Sounds like you’re bouncing along the bottom.”
Here’s the situation as I described it in Caring Lessons: “After class one day, an older student lagged behind. ‘Are you all right, Dr. Roelofs?’ I assured her I was fine, while I marveled at how perceptive she was. I was not fine, and faculty, too, had been asking me. I had assured them I was hanging in, that I was getting the help I needed—a euphemism for finding a therapist to help me get my raft to calmer waters. When I’d told the therapist about my personal and family events, over ten in a fifteen-month period, each qualifying for a crisis on any life event scale, I heard, ‘Sounds like you’re bouncing along the bottom.’ As I mopped up my sopped face with tissues from the ever-present box in therapists’ office, I thought, Wow, good ‘therapeutic communication’ response! My students could have done as well. But, indeed, I needed help to get back up to the water’s surface” (p. 209).
I described to this friend that I don’t feel like I’m “bouncing along the bottom” this time, after Marv’s fourth cancer scare, the one that took his life. And the only way I could explain why not ties in with what I wrote here last time, that I’m feeling numb, like Did it all really happen? Did we take all those trips to say goodbye or is that a fabrication in my mind? Where was my mind during the seven months of his illness? Was I completely alert or did I cope by dissociating from reality and carry out necessary tasks by rote?
I have no answer. Yet. As I puzzled over this feeling of hazy distance, I thought, Ok, I’m not bouncing along the bottom this time, but I’m skating along the top. I was pleased to have that new phrase come to mind, because it felt so right. I’m smoothly gliding through the motions of life; I’m neither icing below the surface or skidding into the air, but just being steady Eddie (or Edwina) going forward without any fancy Axels, flips, or lutzes.
Steady, as in numb.
In this state of numbness, last week I asked the receptionist at my fitness center, after a massage, for a tip envelope for Laura. As soon as I said it, I asked, “Did I just say Laura?” She smiled and said softly, “Yes, Lois, but I knew who you meant.” Laura was Marv’s massage therapist, not mine. I apologized. She assured me that was fine, that my getting mixed up was perfectly understandable after what I’ve been through.
In several other situations, I think I passed for normal, whatever is normal for someone in my situation. I can’t use the word widow yet. In fact, I don’t like the word at all. Reminds me of spiders. And I don’t like spiders.
So, for now, I think I will say I’m single (if anyone asks) and will skate along and see what life brings. A Chicago friend is flying here this week to be with me for five days. What a pleasure that will be–to talk about the single life, one she has lived for a long time, and to show her around my new town.
And to share my stories and our memories of Marv.