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State of the Justin
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jducoeur
Two months on, and it's time to pause and reflect. Part of me is horrified that it's already been two months, and my life is spinning away at high speed again (after crawling horrifically during the three months of Hell); part of me looks at myself and is actually pleasantly surprised that I've done this well this quickly.

In a word, I'm improving. That's damning with somewhat faint praise, but I *am* doing okay, especially under the circumstances. Truth to tell, I think I'm doing better than some of our friends: I've been in mourning for so long, and I've very deliberately allowed it such free rein, that I'm pushing through it relatively fast.

I'm falling prey, occasionally, to what I'm coming to think of as "griefquakes": overwhelming fits of grief that hit very, very hard and leave me crying uncontrollably, but are generally pretty brief. The onset is usually sudden and rather unpredictable -- I'm honestly unsure about whether the triggers are more meaningful in themselves, or if they're simply puncturing the surface of the emotional magma underneath. (Okay, "griefcanos" may be a better metaphor.) For instance, the most recent was finally getting around to watching this year's Doctor Who Christmas special -- admittedly a slightly maudlin episode, and the themes of loss are fairly blatant, but I was unprepared for how hard it hit me. Again, though, I'd pretty much regained my composure after a couple of minutes.

Those aside, though, I'm having more good days than bad, and am starting to get real about moving on with my life. It helps that most other people have begun to move on, which in a very real sense gives me *permission* to do so. I don't think it's obvious to those who haven't been through it what it's like to be mourner-in-chief. It's not just that my own grief is especially intense, it's that everyone else needs a focus, a way to feel like they are doing *something* -- and consoling the grieving spouse is a way to do that. So the Pelican in me felt the need to receive that in the spirit offered, even when sometimes it got a bit overwhelming for me. Now, unsurprisingly, most people are getting on with their own lives and no longer feeling the loss quite so keenly, so it's not all focused on me so much. This means that the emotional support structure under me is weakening a little, but so far that's okay: my friends are still providing a lot of help where I need it (in particular, social interaction and distraction), without my feeling the pressure to *think* about the situation quite so much.

That said, folks need to keep in mind that I'm not going to avoid the topic of Jane and our life together, or even her death: it *is* the most defining fact of my life at this point, and while I'm not wallowing in it, I can't dance around it either. I've noticed a bit of discomfort with that, and I'm sorry for it, but it's the truth of where I am. It's not consuming my every waking moment any more, but it's still often top-of-mind, and I'm pretty sure that avoiding the subject too consciously isn't going to be good for me. Frankly, I'm not going to be able to truly celebrate her life, as I need to do, until I can face all of it honestly.

I'm gradually pulling out of my mental cave. I'm still procrastinating far too much and not yet focusing to the degree I'm accustomed to, but I'm getting more willing to step forward and take little leadership roles again. That's become very natural to me over the years, so it feels pretty comfortable -- I just need to move up that ramp gradually, and not overload myself. I *am* applying Rule #1 ("Do What's Fun. Don't Do What's Not Fun.") very rigorously, which has been changing the balance of how I spend my time a bit. (More gaming, at the expense of neglecting Masonry almost completely -- I'm afraid that, after 20 years as an officer, I'm just plain burned out. Fortunately, my Lodge has gotten some promising younger guys the past few years, so I think it'll get by.)

On the practical life-rebuilding front, I'm gradually coming to understand how daunting the task of picking my own life out of our combined one is; thank heavens that Susan took on the clothing task, because otherwise I think I'd have buckled under it. The bulk of the clothes are now out of the house (and filling almost two full storage units); as a result, I'm pretty much rattling around in all the now-empty closets and dressers. I'm starting on the more persnickety book project: going through all of our books, one by one, and deciding which ones to keep. Once that's done, probably sometime in May/June, I will be having a pretty serious book giveaway to complement the clothing one. I still need to go through all the accessories -- along with the clothing and shoes, there's also going to be a lot of costume jewelry, perfume and suchlike at the Clothing Giveaway. (Opinions: I'm going to include unopened cosmetics. I assume that opened cosmetics are simply trash?) And then there's the garb -- I haven't even started on that project.

All of that is, needless to say, pretty damned hard. But there's a real element of ripping off the scab: it's something that needs to be done, and moreover it's something that *I* need to do. There are a lot of moments of sadness in it, as I find favorite items of hers, but I'm learning to kiss each one, reflect on it a moment, and then pack it away. That's difficult, but it's better in the long run than either letting it sit and fester, or having someone else do it and not getting the closure.

Emotionally, I'm starting to really reach out and connect again -- really, more than I've done in at least five years. That's quite deliberate: I'm trying to find the raw emotional openness and honesty that I had in college. That's dangerous as hell, and not easy -- I'm intentionally tearing down walls and scar tissue that have been building up for the past 5-10 years -- but I think it's essential if I'm going to actually be happy again. Among other things, if I'm going to find love again (and I do think it is strictly necessary for me to do so -- while others may be able to live without it, I have pretty objective reason to believe that I can't be happy without), then I need to work my way back to feeling loveable.

So that's the update. I'm burning the candle at both ends, probably a bit more than is good for me, but all the distraction is helping me heal, and all of the out-and-about is reminding me that, while I'm nominally an introvert, I'm a fairly gregarious one. My thanks to everyone who is helping there, and forgive me if I am occasionally allowing myself to get overstretched...
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I definitely wouldn't want to use any cosmetics that were obviously used, or anything that looks dirty or old. Those are trash. But anything that's still sealed is just fine.

Since you're avoiding what obviously isn't fun, would you like to postpone doing my income tax this weekend?

Love,

Mom

Nah -- that's just plain necessary. And frankly, your taxes are so *easy* that they're not severely unfun, so I'm not too worried.

The less-fun bit, which is going to become necessary soon, is for the two of us to start spelunking in the office. I could definitely use the help of the longtime legal secretary in grappling with all the files -- Jane pretty much owned the office, and I barely even know what's where, and now there's six months worth of back filing to be done. We might start on that this weekend, but I'm under no illusions that we're going to finish it...

"I have pretty objective reason to believe that I can't be happy without"

Sounds like there's an interesting story there. I'd like to hear it some time.

Not a story, just a fairly well-trained understanding of how I tick: stepping outside myself and observing is long-trained habit in me. (Okay, far from *entirely* objective, granted.)

Remember that it took me until college to really figure love out, and the loneliness of high school damned near killed me. I've found over the years that I am a romantic to my core, and more passionate than I would ever have expected of myself -- having someone to focus that affection on, who is willing to receive it (not a minor consideration), has proven very important to my long-term emotional stability, not to mention happiness.

That's a fairly hard-won lesson, and didn't come for free: our marriage had some years in the middle that were rockier than I think most people realized, simply because we had both lost sight of it and let ourselves drift. The last five years were in some ways among the best in our marriage, precisely because both of us became really aware of the plain fact that it only works if you put the work into it. And that did much to pull me out of my utterly black depression that some people may remember from five years or so ago.

It's not a panacea (as a dear friend pointed out a while ago, I need to be careful about hanging all my hopes on any single thing), but the plain truth is that the only times I am truly *happy* are when I am in love. That doesn't have to be the easy first blush of love: there's a lot of satisfaction in the cooler but deeper sort a dozen years down the road, and I'm willing to work at that with all my heart. But either form has some excellent feedback loops that resonate powerfully for me...

This I understand: love is not a panacea, but it is a wonderful, secure place to have as a jumping off platform for all the other things one does - and a platform to return to.

(I don't do very well without it either.)

Absolutely you should talk about her and your life together. She was there, the experiences you had with her happened as they did because she was there. She had likes and dislikes and did things that you remember fondly, and there is no reason not to talk about them -- after all, you wouldn't avoid talking about her if she were still with us.

I talk about Wolfie, because he formed the best part of my life. I can't *not* talk about him. People who have a heart will understand. Those who don't... pfft. The heck with them. It's their problem, not yours.

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Thank you for being so open and honest with your "journey" through grief. I can't begin to imagine what it's like and as someone who highly empathizes/wears his heart on his sleeve, the thought of losing someone so close really does scare me.

But what really impresses me is your truly analytical way of self-examination: reference of the grief-canos (I was prone to those during my more depressive/anxious times and sensory input, e.g. certain music or visual media was often the culprit) to looking at the gradual and normal pull-back of your support network while still reminding folks you may indeed call upon them.

Your self-awareness in this situation is extraordinary and really awe-inspiring. Thanks.

This. He said it so much better than I could have. Thank you.

Thank you for the update.

I'm very glad you are able to post like this, both because it is clearly good for you, and because I feel a little closer for hearing how you are and what you are up to.

I am happy to hear how you are doing.

Sort of a sidebar. Sort of not....

Regarding Freemasonry...I've been neglecting it myself for a few years now, for reasons you may discern, but I'm about to get back in the game, at least on the sidelines. Perhaps if I tweak you yet again about York Rite, it may get you back in the game as well, while giving you some additional out-and-aboutness. Something to contemplate, anyway.

Possible, yes. In particular, it's possible that I'm at a place now where I can get around the main stumbling block with York Rite: the fact that I'd like to take the degrees but am *not* likely to become deeply active. I don't like that, on principle, but the fact is that I'm already a bit over-stretched, and not looking for commitments.

So we'll see. I will admit that life has gotten me thinking about the Mysteries project again, and I'd like to do York Rite before that turns at all real. (To get a richer knowledge of how Masonic ritual works, if nothing else...)

If you're ever feeling like low-key hanging out social, I'm generally up for dinner/coffee somewhere in town (preferably Camberville) on weekends. You can always e-mail me at this name at gmail...

That sounds appealing -- help me remember, and let's find a time one of these weekends. (You busy on Sunday?)

Drop me an e-mail (this username at gmail) so I have your address? I'm trying to organize a trip to go ice skating this weekend, but if that isn't Sunday then coffee or dinner could be fun. (Would you like to go ice skating?)

Sounds reasonably normal and healthy at this point. Your comments about being in love hit a resonance point within me; I too feel like I need it and that's why I'm unwilling to completely let go of some things ... and why I'm still in love with someone who is "just" a best friend. But yes, life moves on, and let us never forget our past lives ... and wives. They were wonderful, and we are who we are in large part because of them.

I had a thought on "rattling around in the now-empty closets" - you could fill them with your old comic books, and maybe (after May) get rid of ALL your storage units!

Also, regarding the book giveaway - I'd be happy to have you bring what pass-on books you have at the time to the Great Giveaway, as that would hopefully have your target audience for the books (at least on Saturday).

Thanks, but I intend to deal with the books separately, on a separate timeline...

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