road trip

Ben and I spent a significant amount of time traveling together, getting from point a to point b for some sort of treatment for most of his life. Sometimes that trip was a couple of miles from home, sometimes it was across the country. He generally sat to my right and I’m just now getting to the point in the grief journey where my muscle memory is allowing me to finally accept that, this time, when I look to my right, he will not be there. The dryness in my throat doesn’t automatically take over and my body doesn’t feel like it’s drowning under the avalanche of adrenaline I’ve become accustomed to since Ben died. I’m trying to welcome each phase of this bittersweet journey without feeling the agony of defeat in every cell of my body, but man. This is some overwhelming stuff. I miss my traveling companion, but even missing him has started to feel routine. The shock has quelled to a dull, incessant ache.

That first road trip we took without him was quiet: the road from the Hospice Center to the house. A night of firsts: I didn’t have to remind you to take your meds or brush your teeth. Didn’t need to ask if you wanted or needed anything. Did not get to kiss you goodnight in your room and this time when I woke up in the middle of the night it wasn’t going to be to hover over your wounded body while you fitfully slept or to rescue you with morphine when the pain was too intense. But tonight was the first night in a long time that I didn’t have to be on alert. I naively expected a bit of comfort to come when I was relieved of that duty, but quite the opposite happened. I lost my job. And I freaking loved my job! Yes, yes, I hear you that he is no longer in pain. He does not have to hear another host ask if he needs crayons with his kids menu. He doesn’t have to be sick or sedated or radiated or any of those things any longer. Cancer beat him up. Tortured him. Held him hostage nearly his entire life. And while I understand the concept of “at least he’s no longer suffering,” I’m struggling with finding comfort in that. I’m not glad we don’t have to go to the hospital every day. I’m not happy that I can’t hear his laughter through the wall. I miss his smart-ass comments. I miss his kind and gentle heart. I just miss him so much. And now that the numbness is starting to dissipate, I’m left with a searing agony.

Well, duh. He was an extraordinary young man. A loss of that magnitude is going to hurt for the rest of our lives. But we’re trying. We’re getting back into our caravan of living despite missing a key member of our group. And some of these towns that we visit along the way are going to break our hearts. We can take the outer belt around some of them if we’re not ready. But every town, every road, has to be visited eventually. There will be road blocks but you’ll figure out another way. There will be construction that prevents you from moving further, so stay put and learn to breathe through the inactivity. Ignore idiots with road rage because they’re mad at something else, not you. Heck, maybe they’re going through the same thing you are but haven’t yet traveled to the place where they learn to forgive themselves. I kinda need to revisit that town myself. I might need to take up residence there for a while.

It’s a journey. Some roads need to be repaved. Some exits offer no respite. Many of the diners have gone out of business. But keep your eyes open because sometimes the cheesy roadside attractions are worth the stop.  It undoubtedly hurts, but I’m learning it’s better than simply driving by all of these moments in life. There’s so much more to the journey. Even in the devastating face of loss, there’s just so much more if you allow it.

And if you’re not ready to fuel up at this exit, you can come back another time. Trust yourself. This is a horrible, beautiful, ridiculously painful, yet full of love journey.

I’m going to allow myself to feel every bit of that.

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