Finance & Money
Navigating Grief: A Male Perspective
A raw, heartfelt personal essay about caregiving, grief, joy, and loss
Jarie Bolander shares with CoveyClub an excerpt from his memoir about navigating grief, Ride or Die. He sets the scene for it here: This scene takes place the day after my wife, Jane, died after battling leukemia for 15 months. She was 36 years old, and we had been married a little over two years. The day she died, I spent the night at Jane’s parents’ house because I could not bear the thought of spending the night at our apartment. During our brief marriage, we would routinely spend the night at her parents’ home and would stay in her childhood room.
The next morning, I woke up in Jane’s childhood bedroom not knowing where I was. Confused and groggy from too many hits from the vape pen, I reached over to the right side of the bed to hug Jane, but she wasn’t there. The nightmare was real. Jane was gone.
I checked my phone and quickly realized that Ria, Jane’s friend from high school, would be over soon. It had already been 24 hours since Jane passed away.
Ria carried that sense of duty to be the best friend she could be — to us and to any of her friends. Maybe it was her upbringing as a first-generation Indian American or some other magical nature versus nurture thing. Regardless, I was just glad she was there, and that Jane had a friend like her. That was reinforced even more that morning.
“Um. I don’t know what to say,” Ria said as she hugged the family. “Jane and I met up a couple of weeks ago,” she told us. Her hands were shaking. “She gave me these cards for you. She wanted you to have these if things went bad.” Each of us — Tim [Jane’s dad], Emily [Jane’s mom], Eric [Jane’s brother], and I — took a card.
We could not contain our tears or look each other in the eye. I excused myself to Jane’s room and opened my card:
Dear My Love, aka Babesteins,
You are my heart… My dream come true. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of finding the love of my life. The day I met you at Alice, I had no idea what lay in store for us. What I did know was that you are a kind soul… with sweetness, generosity, beauty, and all the other wonderful things a girl could want.
Thank you for loving me with all your heart and taking care of me the way you did. I will miss you every day and am with you always.
A familiar lump shot into my throat and made me gasp. My chest and throat constricted as if a python were crushing me. Tears streamed down my face as I read the words over and over again — Jane’s last words to me.
I could not believe she was gone.
Grief and anger swept over me again — another crashing wave, drowning me and stinging my eyes as I gasped for breath.
The python coiled tighter.
I kept crying, thinking that somehow I could get all the pain out and make it all stop, but the waves kept coming. Wave after wave of sorrow and fury. It was hard to breathe. My nose was full of snot that kept dripping onto a wad of tissue in my hand.
Greenie [Jane’s favorite stuffed green frog] sat on the chair Jane had been sitting in a few weeks before when she’d posed for a picture snuggling up with him and smiling. He was silent and calm, just like he’d been every day since she introduced him to me as our fuzzy green son.
“Now what do I do?” I asked him between sobs. He wouldn’t answer.
After about 30 minutes alone, I emerged to find Tim, Emily, Eric, and Ria at the kitchen table, where we convened to sort out what to do next.
“Thanks for coming over, Ria. I know it’s hard to have to deliver these.” I gave her a big hug. I’m glad Jane had friends like Ria to help us sort all this out. The burden to hold on to those cards and have that last conversation with Jane must have been intense. Few friends would take that on. “Now I guess we need to figure out what to do. Jane didn’t want a funeral or anything like that. More like a party — a ‘celebration of life’ is how she put it.”
I had finally regained my composure and was in “let’s get it done” mode, which helped me to numb the pain.
For the next hour, we came up with a plan to find a venue, get a caterer, and remove much of Jane’s stuff from our apartment. That last one, removing Jane’s stuff, was something that Tim, Emily, Eric, and Ria helped me with. I’m not exactly sure what the urgency of it all was, but it somehow felt right — and both awkward and satisfying at the same time — that Jane’s family and friends were helping Jane unclutter her life here so she could move on to the next. It was surreal. Sometimes I felt as if I were walking with the weight of 100 feet of water pressing all around me. At other times, the dullness felt like diving into the ocean, forgetting to close my eyes, and getting a gallon of water up my nose. Hazy. Dull. Stuffed up. Always on the verge of a sneeze — except with grief, the sneeze turned to tears. The world was murky, mute, and sour. Sometimes the air around me stung like a dozen jellyfish. A gray haze hung over the whole world.
I was sad, mad, and clueless all at the same time.
I was hopeless and Janeless.
Throughout the next three days after Ria’s visit, I would go back to Jane’s childhood room every hour or so to reread her note, stare at her things, and talk to Greenie.
“What to do? What to do?” I muttered to Greenie as he stared back at me. “She always knew what to do. I’m lost.” Greenie still did not answer.
Jarie Bolander is an entrepreneur, writer, and storyteller. He is the author of seven previous nonfiction books. Ride or Die, which navigates caregiving, grief, joy, and loss from the often-overlooked male perspective, is his first memoir. Excerpted with permission from SparkPress. Connect with Jarie on Instagram @jariebolander or on Facebook