The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
I usually jump onto James's Facebook account at least once a day. I'll read the posts he left behind and I'll hear the melody of his voice. I'll gaze at the pictures he uploaded and I'll recall his grin. But I try not to disturb a thing. I want to leave his profile much the way he left it.
For someone who generally did not like Facebook, James certainly "liked" a heck of a lot of things on there. His news feed is peppered with Scouting and camping links. He liked TED talks, GeekDad and MythBusters. He liked lots of charities on Facebook, too, like Kiva and FundScrip. James was well rounded in his interests – a present-day Renaissance man.
Today, when I logged in, an article from the Creativity Post caught my eye. I could use some creativity now. I know there was once a time when I had it. I held creativity in my hands. I breathed it. I think I even vaguely remember playing with it. I suspect my creativity is now buried under crusts of responsibility, seriousness and other people's ought-tos and should-haves that were taken under my wing over the years, and have now been adopted as my own.
The article on James's news feed was How to Have More Fun by Elizabeth Grace Saunders. I clicked on the link to read it and I got as far as Step 3 before I shut the electronic window in frustration.
"If you have weak play muscles, it's especially important to make having "fun" as frictionless as possible," it read. "Here are some ideas of how to make these activities an easy and natural part of your life."
Have you ever had a moment when you read something and on one level you can comprehend it, but on another you have no clue what it actually means? After rereading this paragraph five times I still felt as if my daughter had shoved a page filled with Japanese lettering under my nose, expecting me to decipher a strange code.
Play? Natural? Frictionless? EASY? These words do not exist in my vocabulary or my life. My play muscles aren't just weak – they have atrophied to the point of non-existence.
James had fun muscles the size of pythons. He'd wrestle with our chocolate Lab. He'd start tickle fights with us. He'd play online video games, board games, card games. He'd get in the mud and the dirt, laughing like a big kid among all the real kids. For him, life was a game to play.
He played his life right up to the end. He spent his last day with us laughing, playing a rousing bedside game of rock, paper, scissors with our kids. Cancer and chemo had weakened his real muscles, but they were no match against his fun ones.
He tried to teach me about living, playing and having fun. I still had so much more to learn from him. Instead, I've spent the last 10 months trying to learn how to live my life without him. It's a lesson I never wanted or expected to learn at 42.
Now the dog looks at me expectantly, tail wagging, wanting his wrestling match. No dice, doggie. You'll snap me in half.
Our son Connor's StarCraft online gaming buddy is gone, so he turns to me. ME. You can stop laughing. I can't say no to either of the kids, so I let Connor teach me how to survive a level without dying instantaneously. And it takes everything in me not to sob, my tears threatening to drip onto James's laptop, because Connor deserves a high-calibre gaming buddy like his dad, and not some un-fun newbie like me.
When James was here, my identity was clear. Bounded. Defined. I was Mom. I was Wife. I was the worrier. The taskmaster. Brush your teeth. Eat your veggies. Be careful. I cooked the meals. I did the laundry. I got the kids' backpacks ready in the morning. I took care of all the details. The boring crap. This was my wheelhouse.
James took care of all the things that were foreign to me – like having fun. I worried enough for him so he didn't have to, and in exchange he took the kids tobogganing. He also emptied and put out the garbage. Yes, taking care of the garbage probably falls into my wheelhouse of the boring, crappy details, but I detest garbage, so he did it for me. To be fair, James detested cleaning out the cat litter, so I did that for him.
But now I have to do it all. Be the boring, detailed taskmaster AND the fun parent. And I have no idea how to even begin. How could I, when I'm not even sure what fun is?
Even in my grief, though, I am aware enough to know that the answers to these questions will be found in our kids, Morgan and Connor. They are a part of him. Even though my serious DNA resides in them both, they also come from James's fun-loving genome.
When I watch Connor play StarCraft with a determined, take-no-prisoners look in his eyes, I see James. When I watch Morgan sketch, her pencil expertly flying across the white sheet of card stock, I see him, too.
The kids have offered to teach me how to have more fun in my life. My grief counsellor thinks I should take them up on their offer.
Maybe it's finally time to strengthen my fun muscles.
Stacey Paterson lives in Toronto.