From Darkness To Lightby Venetia Craze
Mike and I had been partying since early afternoon and we were trying to recruit willing participants to join us. We had no trouble convincing Howard, Mike's brother who was visiting from Alaska, but Mike had to charm his mother Kay into coming along. She was actually grateful for the invitation because there was a time when she was not welcome to go anywhere with him. Sobriety had given her a relationship with her oldest son that she had never dreamed possible. She had to earn the love and respect that he now showed her. Today, especially, she wanted to spend as much time with him as she could, even if it meant sitting in a bar watching the rest of us drink.
Denial and alcohol kept Mike, Howard, and me from thinking about Mike's upcoming surgery. We pretended that everything was fine, laughing, joking, and reminiscing about the Vegas wedding that Mike and I had had only three months earlier. We talked about anything but the surgery. On the surface, we seemed like a happy family just out having a good time, but deep down, we were all tormented by tremendous fear. Alcohol was a helpful deterrent for the three of us, but Kay had only the emotional tools from Alcoholics Anonymous to alleviate her fear and anxiety. (Little did I know how valuable those tools could be.)
Kay had flown down from her home in Alaska about three weeks earlier to be with her tall, dark, handsome son. He was in the hospital again, and she was beside herself with worry. Four years previously, he had had surgery in San Francisco to remove a malignant brain tumor. Even though radiation therapy bought him some time, she knew that the tumor would eventually return and claim his life. In spite of her constant praying and hoping, it looked like that time was fast approaching.
Fortunately, Mike's doctor was able to temporarily relieve the pain that was causing Mike's excruciating headaches with medication, so he released him from the hospital. However, Mike had to return frequently for more tests. Waiting for the results of those tests was agonizing for all of us. After three weeks with still no word, Kay finally lost her patience and called Mike's doctor, demanding to know what was happening. He casually told her that Mike would need more surgery.
Mike was terrified about having to have more surgery; nevertheless, he woke me up at the crack of dawn so we could go to the hospital. I never understood why we had to be there at 7:00 a.m. when the surgery wasn't scheduled until 11:00 a.m. My head was aching, not only from the beer the night before, but from the terrible dread that I was feeling about the outcome of the surgery, but I managed to get dressed anyhow and drag myself out to the car. Mike, who was normally quite talkative and cheerful, drove us to the hospital in silence.
We were met at the hospital by Kay and other family members. The waiting was unbearable. It was ridiculous that we had to be there four hours before the surgery. We all tried our best to cheer Mike up and make him feel as comfortable as possible, but to no avail. There was one point when he said to me, "Honey, I want to go home and just hold you." I wish to God that we had done that. Surgery could have waited.
The sequence of events that occurred during the next four days were nothing short of a nightmare. The seven hours of surgery the first day supposedly "went well," according to Mike's doctor. But when Kay got a phone call the next morning that Mike had taken a turn for the worse and would require more surgery, she couldn't seem to shake the ominous feeling that she was losing him.
When I arrived back at the hospital, Kay was already there. I thought that I had cried out all my tears the day before but somehow I had a renewed supply. While Mike was in surgery, my best friend Sherri came to the hospital to help comfort me. In spite of the doom and gloom that I felt, it was a bright, beautiful, sunny spring day. We decided to take a walk just to get away from the hospital, which was beginning to feel like a second home. I'll never forget the exact moment that I knew Mike would die. I was sitting outside on the deck of Westlake Mall, waiting for Sherri to bring me something to eat, when I got a weird feeling that I'm not sure I can describe. I was wearing sunglasses, staring out over the railing, silently crying, when suddenly I couldn't see. It was as if the glasses had become a blindfold forcing me to look within. I felt like I was in total darkness with no chance of ever seeing light again. I didn't have any religious or spiritual beliefs at the time, so I was a little alarmed by what was happening to me. Then I got this "knowing" that Mike would die. It came to me rather peacefully and it was at that moment that I started to accept the inevitable.
I don't remember what the doctor said when he came into the waiting room to give us the status on Mike's condition after the second surgery, but I do recall quite vividly what he said to Kay when she asked him if Mike could die. To my horror he said, "yes." Even though I already knew it, hearing the doctor confirm it was like having a sword pierce my heart.
I rushed up to ICU to see Mike, perhaps for the last time. His head was bandaged and he was heavily drugged, but he recognized me when I came into the room. He was fading in and out and he seemed deeply disturbed and uncomfortable, which prompted me to ask, "Mike, are you all right?" I was prepared to call for a nurse immediately. His eyes closed as he struggled to answer, "No, I'm not ready yet!" But he wasn't talking to me. It was as if he was responding to someone deep within his own consciousness. Was it that death had come to take him, but he wasn't ready to go? Could he be slipping into another world, but fighting to stay in the one to which he had become? I was actually a little frightened by what seemed so bizarre to me. Then, as if his attention had shifted back to me, he said, "Honey, I love you. Now go home and get some sleep." Those were his last words to me before he slipped into a coma.
I will be forever grateful for Kay. Without her, I wouldn't have known what to do. She suggested that even though Mike was comatose, I should allow him to die by telling him it was okay to go. I didn't quite understand what she meant, but I trusted her nonetheless, so with all the emotional strength that I could muster, I tearfully said, "Honey, go ahead and go. I'll be okay." Then I broke down into uncontrollable sobs. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to say. Kay was also tearful as she told him to "go toward the light." I wished that I had her spiritual beliefs and faith.
Kay spent the whole night with Mike at the hospital, holding him, kissing him, rocking him, and praying for him. She wanted to be with him when he died. Reaching the point of total exhaustion, she decided to go back to her room, near the hospital, to get a couple hours of sleep. While she was gone, Mike died. When she got the call that he had died, she frantically rushed back to the hospital for fear that they would move his body before she had a chance to see him one last time. At first she felt angry, disappointed, and guilty that she wasn't there, but soon realized that Mike wouldn't have wanted her there. She felt a tremendous amount of pain and grief, but that awful fear was gone. As she left the hospital, numbness set in. She felt a terrible void in her very existence. The world looked different to her now, and she knew that her life would never be the same again.
I was at home when the phone call came at 6:00 a.m. on May 6, 1989. My dear sweet husband of three months was dead at only 32 years of age. All of our plans and dreams were shattered. I was writhing in grief, pain and self-pity. I couldn't see how I could possibly go on living. I, too, somehow knew that my life would never be the same again.
I didn't know how I was ever going to get through the intense grief and vulnerability I felt, because I wasn't one to share my feelings or beliefs with anyone. I had drowned them with alcohol for so long that I didn't even know I had any. They were buried so deep within me that I was sure they would never surface, but Mike's death was the shovel that dug them all up and forced me to search for relief.
The cards, letters, and condolences from family, friends, and acquaintances brought me tremendous comfort in those early days after Mike's death. People said things to me that I didn't believe like "God never gives you more than you can handle" and "It will take time to heal." I also got solace from grief support groups and books on grief. But I got the most love, support, understanding, and encouragement from Kay, even though she was having a tough time dealing with her own grief.
Kay felt that a piece of her heart was missing. She was filled with rage and fear that something might happen to any one of her other four sons. She wanted to let alcohol take her far away from the incredible pain. She wanted to die. The thought of never hearing Mike's voice or seeing him again was more than she could bear. She became depressed, but all the while talked to her longtime friends in Alcoholics Anonymous and continued praying. Thanks to AA's 12-step program (emotional tools), friends, and her loving husband, she was able to get through grief one day at a time without drinking. Six months after Mike's death, she attended an Elizabeth Kübler-Ross "Life, Death, and Transition" workshop in Seattle. This marked the beginning of her healing process.
Understanding grief was the biggest challenge of my life, but one that would lead me to discover how much there was to know about living, dying, death, and the afterlife. I started reading everything I could on near death experiences, spirituality, religion, past lives, and reincarnation.
Two years after Mike's death my grief had barely subsided, so a friend encouraged me to seek counseling. I could see that I wasn't getting any better on my own so, reluctantly, I went. Counseling led me to treatment for alcoholism. Once I was out of my alcoholic haze, my whole world began to brighten. As I learned how to live life sober, I got to deal with all of those emotions and feelings that I had drowned out for so long. I learned that I had choices and that it was OK to feel. I got comfort from the AA meetings I attended (and still do), and the many books I read on self-help and recovery. But most important of all, I developed a new relationship with Kay, who is now the most important person in my life. She was not only my mother-in-law, but also my mentor and friend. Her influence, guidance, love, and support helped me find the relief that I sought after Mike died. She said to me recently, "I have lost a son, but God gave me a daughter that I couldn't be more proud of if you were my own flesh and blood." I will cherish those words forever.
My whole outlook on life changed. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and blaming God for a miserable life, I began to thank God for all the lessons bestowed upon me. I started to see how the things that people told me to comfort me were true. God gave me these challenges because I could handle them; time does heal, and is still healing. I learned that wherever there is darkness, there is also light. Just because I can't see the light when I'm in the darkness doesn't mean it's not there. Mike's death was a gift to me. He died so I could learn how to live. Finally, I realized that I needed a fellow alcoholic to guide me out of the darkness and into the light. God sent me Kay.