To cope with the increasingly frequent dark times, of which there were plenty, I became a cliché: the boozy mom, uncorking chardonnay once the baby was in bed. This was so much more effective and simpler than going for a run in the park. And yet I held it together so that every morning I was supermom, chirping good morning to our son, making him breakfast, walking the dog. And I knew that if anything should crack (I nearly broke an ankle when I slipped in my clogs on a wet sidewalk one morning, eliciting a major panic attack), the flimsy Sheetrock that held our little family together would collapse.
Over time, I stopped recognizing myself. Back when Justin was healthy, I'd put on lip gloss, straighten my hair and slide on my skinny jeans, and he'd tell me how hot I looked, how proud he was to be with me, how foxy my butt was. It's amazing how all that becomes so insignificant when the adult you care most about can't even register that you're in the room, much less what you're wearing while sitting right next to him. Eventually, I couldn't pull together the energy to even bother with primping.
My daily wardrobe consisted of leggings—some with holes in the crotch, but who cared?—long shirts and sneakers. Grooming came down to a five-minute shower, spent hoping my son wouldn't use that time to impale himself on something, followed by slapping on some lotion, brushing out of the tangles and pulling my hair back with a headband. I began breaking out, partly from stress and partly because I just didn't care for my skin anymore. Mirrors became items non grata, for obvious reasons, as grays overtook my once-glossy chestnut hair and the bags under my eyes rivaled Chanel's spring collection. Let's not even discuss the condition of my hands, feet or brows. Or the last time I pulled out a lipstick. Or filed my nails.
While my own beauty habits fell by the wayside, I was busy writing celebrity grooming articles and what stars did to prep for awards shows. The care bestowed upon them left me almost breathless. How I would love to have someone come to my house and rub the knots out of my neck and spray mist on my face and clean out my cuticles, I thought. And yet, it all seemed so silly, really, and so pointless. Here, my husband lay dying—this emaciated, gray, hairless almost-corpse flailing around in our bed—and I wanted to be at Frederic Fekkai salon chatting about the weather. How insulting to him and his disease.
A friend who lives in another state, and whose husband was similarly ill, encouraged me to care for myself—to take Pilates, to get facials, to not allow myself to physically or mentally decompose. But when? And what if Justin had a seizure while I was at SoulCycle, or what if he had wandered around the house and set something on fire? The ifs piled up. Perhaps I was making excuses. Perhaps not.
In the end, the decision was made for me. As the cancer ransacked his brain, Justin suffered multiple seizures. He never regained consciousness and went into a hospice, where he died 24 hours later. I sat with him on his last day, watched him get a sponge bath, read a crappy paperback thriller and wondered how this was my life. I am eternally grateful he never woke up to see what he had become, through no fault of his own.
Now, at 39, I'm starting over—something that was never part of any plan. Life is diametrically different, yet in some ways the same. My dear friend Julia and I hit Saks the other day and found Chanel shoes that were 60 percent off. For a few glorious minutes, perhaps even an hour, I forgot that I had nowhere to wear them and certainly no one to wear them for and ended up buying a pair of frivolous, gleefully gorgeous silver heels.
Mostly, I owe whatever sanity and stability I have left to my son, who, in therapy-speak, mobilizes me to get out, to run, to laugh, to pretend to vacuum him up when I'm cleaning our house.
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