Friday, August 16, 2013

Technologically Advanced Grief

If Joe were still alive there would be no way that I would ever be allowed to write this post. He was much too shy and private for even this watered down version. But then again, if he were still alive there wouldn't be a need for me to write it.

Over the course of the past week, I have dealt with a facet of widowhood that I'm pretty sure was not a part of the paperwork just a generation ago. It started in March when I got the first notice from the Sperm & Embryo Bank of NJ that the annual storage fee on Joe's "account" was coming due. It's no small fee - $575 a year - to maintain the vials that were stored just prior to the start of his chemotherapy treatments.

Last year, when I got a similar notice 3 months after Joe died, I knew that it was too soon for me to make any decisions about what to do so I paid the storage fee and let it leave my mind.

This year's notice was perfectly timed to arrive just in time for my 35th birthday. It contained all the instructions I needed on how to transfer the account officially into my name (by this point they received notice Joe died) and the various options of continuing storage, donation, or destruction. It probably goes without saying that I wasn't very interested in dealing with "this" issue at "that" moment in my life. Between my birthday and my biological clock the emotions were just too overwhelming. 

So, to the bottom of my TO DO pile it went. 

Several subsequent notices always seemed to arrive when I was too busy at work or just too overwhelmed in general so they joined the initial one at the bottom of my TO DO pile. 

Before I knew it, the calendar was showing August and those nice people at SEBNJ finally decided I needed a kick in the pants. It was the "pay within 15 days or we are sending this to collections" notice that arrived a few days before my scheduled vacation time for work. I knew that I had run out of time and added "SEBNJ" to my already lengthy TO DO list for while I actually had some time off from work.

On Monday, August 5, I called SEBNJ and managed to hold it together through the 5 minute conversation with a nice woman named Sandy. She expressed her sympathy for my loss and explained to me what I needed to do in order to transfer the account officially into my name and then to officially give permission for them to destroy the vials if that was going to be my decision. She said that she would email me the instructions she had just given me along with all the necessary paperwork. After we hung up I cried.

Does anyone realize that this decision feels a little bit like your husband DYING AGAIN? There's this piece of him (that I happen to know helped create a pretty damn amazing kid not so long ago) that's still here. On earth. With me (sort of). And I'm completing a NOTICE OF DESTRUCTION for it?!

But then, I caught sight of a photo of Joe I have in the house and I pictured what he would have to say about all of this. While we didn't talk specifically about what would happen to these vials if he died, I knew my husband and the relationship we had. Every time I have contemplated this issue I have come to the same conclusion and have had the same visual of Joe laughing and saying "what are you crazy? Don't give them any more money. You have a life to live with Domani."

And so the next day, I faxed over the documents to change the account to my name. After a couple of days, I made the arrangements to have the Notice of Destruction notarized. It was Sunday and I'm quite sure that Domani had no idea what was going on when we went to visit our family friend after church. He was more talkative than normal and I was feeling peaceful after being caught by the hymn Trust and Obey during church. There was something about it that brought me calm in spite of my fears of the future. Many of those fears are wrapped up in my current relationship situation that has left me questioning whether I will actually find someone who is as interested in me as I am in him, whether I will find someone who wants to have kids, and whether any of that will happen with the timing that would make it all possible. That was what was weighing on my mind on Sunday just before I signed the Notice of Destruction and why these words especially got to me:

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear, Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief nor a loss, not a frown nor a cross, But is blest if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love, Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows and the joy he bestows are for them who will trust and obey.

I thought of other dark periods in my life and what it felt like then to be unsure of the future and then I realized how richly I was blessed out of that darkness. There was no question in my mind that this was the right decision, but I needed the courage to do it in the midst of uncertainty about my own hopes and dreams for the future. 

On Monday, August 12, I sent the notarized Notice of Destruction to SEBNJ. That night I had a helpful conversation with Joe's mom which brought me even more peace about the decision. Today, Thursday, August 15, I received a letter from SEBNJ acknowledging its receipt and specifying my pro-rated balance due. After opening the notice, I cried at the finality of it. Domani was there to give me a sweet hug and kiss and to "make me smile" as only he can do. Thank God for that kid.

So, now as the clock ticks past midnight and the date changes to August 16, I'm thinking back to this day 5 years ago when Joe and I were married. There are more tears as this has been a hard week and getting through tomorrow won't be easy. But I'm also right now remembering the "conversation" I had with Joe and smiling just a bit about the fact that I'll be using the balance of the money I won't be paying to SEBNJ this year to take Domani on the road for a Mets game in September. I think Joe would approve.