We will all face great loss in our life. It’s one of the few things of which we can be certain. Every one of us will be forced to make choices about how we deal with it. Some of us will face our loss and grief head on. Others, like me, will try to run. I ran until I could run no longer. And when I stopped, grief was right there waiting for me.
Cindy MacKenzie took her last breath on March 26, 2010. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning, just like she intended. Cindy was my wife and the mother of our two daughters. Bipolar disorder robbed her of everything.
I spent two thousand days watching Cindy die. She ended up battered and broken beyond repair. The woman I had been with for sixteen years was gone forever. My last words to her at her funeral were a whispered promise to raise and protect our daughters. Nothing else mattered.
I told myself grieving was nothing more than a crutch for the weak. It was wallowing in self-pity while the strong took care of the business at hand. I was strong and logical and no amount of crying would bring Cindy back. It would only interfere with my doing what needed to be done. I turned the page and moved on. At least, that’s the story I told myself.
I delivered on my commitment to myself and my girls by building a new life. I remarried a wonderful woman who became the mother to our girls. Everything was going according to plan. Except for the part where I was drunk every single night.
I started drinking during the darkest days. I was home, alone in the dark, clutching a bottle and wondering what misery tomorrow would bring. I tried desperately to forget what my life had become, even if just for a few hours. Maybe tonight I could drown the nightmares that awaited me when I closed my eyes.
For four years after Cindy’s death I drank every day. I told myself and my wife all the pathetic stories that drunk people tell. By the summer of 2014 my lies had become utterly desperate and pathetic. I was out of options. I hated who I had become and on August 30 I swore off alcohol forever. In so doing, I unintentionally created the time and space I needed to heal.
The decision to stop drinking changed my life. I abandoned all the pretenses I had labored under for so long. I slowly discovered my authentic self. I found a real person I respected far more than the persona I had been hiding behind. I began to experience and embrace the full range of human emotions I had run from for my entire life. I also found myself thinking about Cindy more than I had at any time since her death.
In the summer of 2015 I felt compelled to ride my bike to her grave. It was a two hundred and eighteen kilometer round trip. It was the farthest I had ever ridden my bike and I knew it would be a struggle. I wanted Cindy to see, one last time, that she was worth struggling for. The strength of my feelings was unfamiliar and uncomfortable but I faced them. I refused to run.
When I got to her grave I read a poem from a friend. And I wept harder than I had since the moment she died.
No one knows the inner sadness
The festering wound
The rusty bits around the soul
Eroding, deteriorating the flesh.
Faking smiles, while the inner child dies, slowly.
My suit is pressed, attention to detail to hide the fact that I no longer want this life.
I no longer want this rusty soul, this dying child.
I started writing about Cindy’s life and death. I found myself thinking about her, our lives together and what we’d lost. There were times when I broke down sobbing. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew I needed to allow it to happen. I worried my wife would find this unsettling because there were many times when I found it unsettling. I needn’t have worried. Her support has been nothing short of miraculous.
Almost six years after her death I was finally grieving. Sobriety created the space for it to happen. Vulnerability gave me the strength to experience it fully. I stopped trying to run away. I talked to my wife and daughters about what I was going through and we’ve become closer because of it. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. The most important thing I’ve learned is that everything I think and everything I feel is OK. It’s part of my humanity.
I find myself thinking about Cindy less lately. The process of thinking, writing and healing was important for me. Grieving is a natural process that has helped me understand my feelings about the loss I’ve experienced. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and nor do I need to. I will face whatever happens with openness and authenticity.
And I will no longer run.