I am happy – no, horrified – to report that I am no longer furious with my dead husband. My anger has drained out of me like a bathtub once the plug was pulled. Glug, glug, glug – gone.

And as expected, anger was a far easier emotion to bear than what replaces it.

I had a fascinating session yesterday with Regina, the 5K-running biofeedback counselor. I have no idea if the biofeedback really is training my brain to be more efficient. How could I possibly assess the biofeedback’s effectiveness when Regina keeps hitting me with truth bombs every single week?? It’s not like I have a clone who’s getting JUST the biofeedback without the counseling, to judge the effectiveness of “brain training.”

Last week, you might recall, she came to the session bearing an offering on a silver salver – more priceless than gold, myrrh, or frankincense: the concept that you could have ANGER without BLAME. It took me a solid week to get my arms around the concept; I haven’t even begun to shape it to fit into my daily life yet…

…but this week’s gift was even more profound. Like – DAYUM.

After hearing Jonathan’s story filtered through my highly-subjective telling, she offered that it sounded like Jonathan’s brain implications (whatever they were) resulted in him being trapped in a permanent “threat” mode.

I sampled the concept, assessing its flavor. If that was right, then everything would be a threat to him. It wasn’t his choice, any more than you could see a coiled snake in your path, hissing and rattling, and decide to think “All things have a place in this world; I am entirely neutral to that serpent.” No – it’s a threat. No matter what you decide to do, neutrality is not an option.

Can you imagine being trapped in that mindset for FOUR YEARS? It would be an unending nightmare. You’d be afraid to leave your home. You might take to your recliner and come up with excuse after excuse to stay right there. You might see a perfectly normal stranger on the street and mutter to yourself (and whoever was near you listening), “That lady’s scaring me.”

You’d refuse to even consider switching to decaf coffee, in deference to failing kidneys.

Oh, fuck. I’m beginning to understand. At last. And I don’t like what I’m learning.

“But,” I said desperately, “Jonathan could go back to being normal – funny, engaging, kind – when he was with other people. I used to love to get him to go out to dinner with people or get involved with others because it reminded me that he was still in there.”

Regina was so kind in her delivery of bitter truth. “That tells me how important you were to him.”

What, now?

“The most powerful emotions get inverted. The people he loved the most became the greatest source of stress.”

She had more to say on the subject, and it was far more scientific than I’ve recaptured here; I kind of got rolled by the tidal wave and missed the details. But the point is – if Jonathan was ever an utter bastard to you (and I remember him making Karol cry at a summer reunion at Kathy and Gerry’s house, or suddenly announcing we had to leave and rudely walking out of Robs’ house), then now you know how close you were to his heart. Alas.

He was horrible to his mother. He was perfectly awful to his sister. He filled me with such a swirling, oily cloud of fear and rage and tears and unhappiness that I’m still trying to scrub the residue off the walls of my soul.

The only exception was his son. Jonathan acted as if he was Rusty’s brother; he was constantly playing with Rusty and giggling with him and uniting with Rusty against me, The Stern Authoritarian. While this was entertaining for my son, it was also confusing to him, and put Rusty in the unenviable position of needing to be the parent to his own father. Still, a smile from Jonathan during his last four years was rare enough that Rusty and I were both happy to get that much.

It’s not very typical that one is given The Answer to a bad situation; it’s more like someone has poorly translated instructions in a foreign language. You have to pick up a lot in the syntax, and there is often unintentional hilarity and confusion in the translation…

…but getting this explanation – the fact that Jonathan was in threat mode for four solid years – fits like a key in a lock. It opens up understanding. Now I know what he was going through, and my anger at him is … gone. Pouf.

What replaces that anger is much harder to contain. I feel such profound pity for him. I know I didn’t treat him with anything like the compassion he deserved. He needed to be protected and cared for, and I didn’t know. He didn’t know. No one knew… so he suffered, trapped in the unyielding prison walls of his own cranium, and I just rolled my eyes at him and gritted my teeth. At my best friend ever.

I feel like I betrayed him. I feel ashamed. I feel huge tidal currents of sorrow. I want to apologize. I want to help and fix it, and I can’t.

Yeah. The anger was easier.


The last photo I ever took of Jonathan was of him, typically, playing with Rusty – who, you can see, is just trying to make a cup of coffee.

3 thoughts on “Threat

  1. You need to be gentle on yourself. As you said, you didn’t know, and that is like working without a net. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time, and with all of the stresses crashing down on you. You don’t strike me as an uncaring person, and it is obvious how much you loved Jonathan. I’m just glad that this explanation has helped move you forward.


  2. These new “knowings” are so important. Give yourself credit for being courageous enough to go through them with your eyes and your heart open. 💙💜💚


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