Six months on

Today it’s been six months since we lost Rana.

My therapist urged me to do something today to honor the day and honor Rana. I decided to write about her, about her funeral, and about how I’m doing. But first, this photograph.

Rana (then Ross), me, Damion, and Garrett, Christmas 2003.

This photo is from the last Christmas before Rana’s mom and I split up. Rana (still Ross then) a was a senior in high school. We were gathering for a family photo and someone pressed the button to grab this candid shot. I just love seeing this interaction between Rana and me. Just look at our faces. Those are two people who love each other and are happy to be together. I’m going to cling to this image today.

I don’t think about Rana every day anymore. But often enough something will remind me of Rana or our time together as a family, and I’ll be sad and irritable the rest of the day.

I’m still seeing a grief counselor, and will for some time to come yet. Yesterday we talked about Rana’s funeral, really plumbed the depths of that day. It helped me finally unpack and process it. It was difficult, of course, as the funeral for any loss like this will be. But that day I was the ex-husband in a room full of people primarily from Rana’s mom’s world, and I was very anxious about it. The end of that marriage was 100% my fault and 100% her fault; we both did very destructive things. What did everyone know? Was anyone judging me harshly?

I saw Rana’s biological father for the first time in 20 years, and a great deal of his family. I knew many of them a long time ago, because they were surprisingly open and welcoming to me. A couple times I even visited their farm in rural Illinois when we dropped off or picked up Rana/Ross for a long visit there. They treated me like family.

I also met some of my ex-wife’s new family for the first time. I wasn’t prepared for that, even though I knew it was going to happen. It was awkward for me.

I was extremely disappointed for my ex-wife that none of her family came. She has two sisters, and her father is still living. They live in distant states, but apparently none of them could figure out how to fly in for the funeral. As much as I worried about how I might be judged in that room, I judged her family very harshly for their failure to support my ex in this time of extreme loss and pain.

But the most surprising thing about the funeral was how much time my ex-wife spent with me. She sat with her husband during the service, which lasted all of 20 minutes or so. 75 percent of the rest of the time, she was either with me or within five feet of me. I had not spent that much time with her, or spoken with her that much, since 2004.

There’s no denying that we will always share an important and deep connection because of our children. Even though I didn’t enter the picture until Rana/Ross was 7, I was present and active during the majority of Rana/Ross’s childhood. I was far more involved than Rana/Ross’s bio dad was. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that my ex wanted to spend time with me. Because of that connection, I also was comforted to be with her.

But it was also challenging to be with her, because she was cruel and abusive toward me, especially in the last few years before we split. Appropriately, I’ve since maintained a strict separation of our lives and strong boundaries around our interactions — boundaries that on that day came tumbling down, if only for those couple of hours.

The last time I wrote about Rana I said that I was about to try an antidepressant. The first one we tried improved my mood considerably, but gave me strong anxiety at bedtime and made sleep harder to come by. The doctor added a second antidepressant that he said for most people reduces or eliminates those side effects. The combination is working well for me. I’m happier, I feel hope and optimism, and I’m brighter and more cheerful in the world. It’s the first time I’ve ever had SSRIs/SNRIs not lead to frightening, serious side effects, let alone work. These two meds absolutely make life a lot easier while I continue to grieve.

It’s ironic, I suppose, that this anniversary of Rana’s death falls on the last day of Pride Month. I wonder how she would have participated. I’d like to be able to ask her.

Rana lives on in my heart and mind, but isn’t there anymore to visit, call, or text. This is the most challenging thing for me day to day, knowing it’s not possible to reach out anymore.


Magic family moments

My uncle Richard was laid to rest on Friday. Given his military service, he chose a military funeral. It was brief. Taps was played, the flag was folded and presented to my aunt Suzanne, we drove away.

It’s funny how families turn out. Who knew that my grandparents were the glue holding us all together? We were broken in ways families break when some are alcoholics, but love was abundant. We used to have wonderful family times together, usually at their home on a small lake in southwest Michigan. But after my grandparents died, both in 1987, we all went our separate ways.

I see Uncle Jack every couple years. I was always partial to him; he used to take me fishing as a teenager where he spoke to me as an adult. It devoted me to him. I hadn’t seen Uncle Richard in probably 20 years. He and Suzanne used to come to Indianapolis about once a year for a military memorabilia show. He was a collector and he always rented a booth. I’d go visit. But they stopped, and that was that.

I hadn’t seen Richard and Suzanne’s two children, my cousins, since my grandmother’s funeral. Edward and I spoke briefly but he was busy with his active young son. Patricia hugged me harder than I think I’ve ever been hugged.

Nor had I seen my uncle Dennis since that funeral. His bad behavior that day estranged several of us from him, and frankly I had no desire ever to see him again.

So imagine my surprise when I ended up driving Dennis, Jack, and my mom — the three surviving siblings — from the cemetery to the restaurant where we’d all chosen to gather. Imagine my delight when the three of them sang songs together that they remembered from when days were better. I sang right along when they got to this old novelty tune:

It was a magic moment. It reconnected me to those good days, and healed old wounds.

Still, I expect nothing will change. I’ll see Jack every year or two as always, but everybody else only at the funerals that, given our ages, are bound to come frequently now.

We can’t go back and live the last 32 years differently. We all were who we were, and we all went through what we went through, and it etched the paths of our lives as if predestined.