When tough cookies crumble...


As the beautiful southern sun rose yesterday morning, I didn’t feel my usual sense of peace. I felt a lot things…but calm and comfort weren’t either of them. Angst, anger, pain, but not peace. The ache in my chest that, gratefully, has typically dulled down to a “two,” yesterday morning had flared up to a “nine,” at least. 

It’d been building all week. Last weekend, my five-year-old told me he was going to die before his wife, because daddy died before me. It knocked the wind out of me. I lost sleep over hearing his sweet little voice say such a thing, let alone with a smile on his face. It was like he had some epiphany, and was proud of himself for sharing it. This is what’s happening in his head…this is what he’s “learned” from life, that he’s going die before the woman he loves. The stress and the whirlwind of the travel weekend got to me, and I felt myself fall into a cold on the drive home. That’s how I started the week.

As you could probably imagine by the nature of this post, it didn’t get better from there. Rather than draw out the litany of things that didn’t quite make me feel terrific, I’ll sum it up for the sake of brevity: pink eye (not me), a sobering doctor appointment (turns out my risk for breast cancer is double that of the average woman), my six-month-old van broke down and I had to argue with the dealership to get me a new car. It also dawned on me that it was about this time last year that I was grieving so deeply; because I knew my husband was never coming home to me. I’d spent eighteen months with such hope that if I hung tight long enough, I’d get him back—I’d get us back. I’d exhausted myself on literally every level imaginable, with the memories of our life before treatments sustaining me, fueling my marathon of positivity and “can-do” energy.  I was toast. Done. I barely survived until bedtime, as I planned logistics for his upcoming surgery (a year ago next week…when they told us it was undeniably a GBM). I knew it was going to get worse, so.much.worse. And it did. 

On my time hop this week was this picture of him walking home from school with our daughter. Probably one of the last pictures he looks like himself. He’s smiling at her. They’re chatting about her day. I remember feeling frustrated with him because he insisted on coming for the walk, but I was already running late and he couldn’t walk very fast. I remember running ahead and feeling so fucking angry. Angry that he was gone. That he wasn’t coming back. That this pod person who was snippy at me, snippy at our kids, who couldn’t be left alone for a moment was what was left. I wanted that five minutes on that walk. Because for those moments I could take in the warm North Carolina February air and forget for thirty seconds that life was getting harder. Of course, now I’m grateful he was there. That he got to have that chat with Cami girl. That I have one of these last memories of her looking up at him, seeing him in a way that I didn’t anymore, and I feel mad at myself for having felt that anger. I’ve been beating myself up all week for it.

By Friday, it seemed I’d lost control over my world in general. 

I cried big ugly tears. Everywhere. The car. The pantry. My bedroom. The shower. I had “no one” to call. For twenty years, I would have called Kenny. If he wasn’t with me, he would have been texting me the whole time. His voice would have been the first thing I heard. He would have been the first person to hug me when he got home. He would have given me his grin and head nod, and held my hand. If I thought I felt like shit hearing there’s a pretty good shot that I’ll be developing breast cancer, if I haven’t already—realizing there was no one home to care was the one-two punch that would knock me out. The anger that emerged that minute. The absolute fucking FURY I felt; at the pressure to stay alive, to stay healthy, and to have no one to take care of me if I need it…it was never supposed to be this way. No, no, Kenny Courtney was supposed to be there. God fucking damnit, I wasn’t supposed to be alone for any of this shit. The kids. Life. Any of it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stranded. I have amazing friends. I have women supporting me like no one’s business. But having known the comfort of having someone who’s life is so intertwined with mine that the fear of anything happening to me scares them, having known the comfort of having someone just hold me, and tell me everything going to be fine; to not have that…there are no words, friends. I’ve sat here trying to conjure one, and there just isn’t one in existence for that soul sucking void. Of crawling into bed after a week like that by myself, to have so much you want to say to someone, and not be able to say it.

I don’t get moments like this often. I’ve become a veritable grief navigation system these past few years. I chose to share this rough patch because I realize I speak a lot on my strength, but not a lot on the waves that drag me under. I am a tough cookie, but even tough cookies crumble when they’re hit by hammers. I’ll get my icing out and stick myself back together, I always do. I had to remind myself this week that grief isn’t going to just “go away.” I can build the most beautiful life in creation, but things are going to happen that surprise me, and they’re going to threaten my balance. They might even push me right over. I’ll drop all the balls I’ve been juggling. But I WILL get to my knees, I’ll crawl all over the floor to find them again. I’ll get them back in the air, and I’ll do it with gusto, because that’s who I am. Its not always going to happen in an hour (or a day…). In this case it took a week. 

I woke up on this rainy Sunday, and while I can’t say I’m put back together perfectly, the ache has subsided. I watched my kids play with their toys on the floor. Just being kids again. Benny, having let the thought of his untimely demise pass, jumping from couch to couch, asking for a third breakfast. He’ll be okay, I know it in my bones. We all will. We all just need a little extra icing.

Megan Courtney