Category Archives: After Karen


Bad grief weekend. Or good, depending upon your opinion on grief. Is there a certain amount of work to be done? Is it like housework? Am I accomplishing anything? All I know is, it’s tedious. I’m even boring myself, which is why I keep a lot of stuff quarantined here, where I have few viewers. (Why air it at all? Sunlight, contagion, etc.)

It’s hazardous, too. The tears seem to come most often while I’m driving.

I went to Lure, in Ventura, which was a favorite restaurant of ours. She sat across from me in the empty seat, not saying anything or doing anything, because the dead don’t eat. I ate six oysters for her.

A voice would come into my head, and it was a more supportive voice than usual. Yeah, I know, this is what I wanted, right? But it provoked a lot of self doubt. Does she have any sort of existence inside me? (Thinking: you were nearly inseparable for thirty-two years. How can she not?) And then there’s that disbelief which never quite leaves me. Still not past “denial” apparently.

Last night, I dreamed I was pushing her in the wheelchair. She was so quiet and still, I had to ask “Are you okay?” just to get that feedback that would tell me she was still alive. We came to some stairs and I carried her down the stairs, still sitting in the wheelchair. Yeah, not symbolic at all.


Ego, or some such

I’ve been thinking lately about how easy it is to take people for granted. In particular, I’m wondering if this was MY problem — my unique brand of egocentrism, selfishness, call it what you will — or whether it’s just intrinsic to being human. Is it possible to always keep your loved ones in mind, to always keep in focus what they mean to you? I took Karen for granted. She took me for granted. We used to be such an amazing team, but then it all went to shit.

It took long enough. We were together for thirty-two years, married for a little over thirty. This state of fatigue (I can’t think of a better way to put it — we were tired of each other’s bullshit. We were just tired) only crept up on us in the last five years. We used to be a lot more willing to fight for each other.

I’m young (sort of) and I have no intention of staying single until my death. But it worries me that I let this happen, because that means I could let it happen again. Even with all of the rockiness, all of the many things last year that could have focused my attention . . . and yet it was like I only really remembered Karen when I wrote her memoriam. So is that the key? Write a memoriam for your loved ones before they die? I’ve been thinking, it’s a shame we can’t hypnotize people into thinking their spouses are dead. Then separate them, let them live with that loss for a few days before snapping them out of it. It would probably save a few marriages. It would probably end a few more.


six months

Six fucking months today. Just saying.

I feel good, mostly, and then something happens and I feel like toxic waste.


reality check

Is it weird that I expect to find a suicide note? (No, she didn’t kill herself.)

As I go through the files on her computer — I’m paying bills, so I’m using the laptop that has Quickbooks — I keep thinking, hoping I’ll see a file titled “Doug.” The text will begin, “If you’re reading this, I’m dead . . .”

No, I guess it isn’t weird that I would hope for some communication not-exactly-from-beyond-the-grave. I wish we had talked more. I wish we had talked more back when it would have meant something. I keep thinking I will never take a lover for granted again. Why must we fall into these ruts, where we ignore one another . . . and somehow that’s okay?



Great dream last night between 1:00 AM and 1:44. I know the times because I was awake before and after the dream. I wanted to write it all down afterward, but I went back to sleep instead, hoping to get back into the dream. Instead I had a nightmare about Karen. Fuck you, subconscious.

Anyway, in the dream, I lived in an apartment complex with this very cute girlfriend. Everyone was friendly and wanted to get to know me. Everyone was my kind of people: gamers, nerds, folks who raised exotic pets. There was a guy raising baby monitor lizards. There was another guy who had flooded out the basement parking area to create an enclosure for alligators. Life was good.

Sometimes I wish I could shirk my few remaining responsibilities (to work, to Jake) and go off on the equivalent of a walkabout. Just travel, get lost, meet people, see new places. Like people in my generation once said — “find myself.” Find out who I am without Karen. One of my co-workers told me I had to become comfortable being by myself. She’s by herself. I’ve never liked being “by myself” and doubt I’ll start liking it any time soon.


I’m hating it

I’m hating every part of it. Being alone, feeling that pressure in my head coercing me to do stupid things. (Haven’t. Yet.) Looking. Dating. I don’t want this. I want my wife back. I want her back whole and sound, not damaged and pain-racked. Yeah, I don’t want much.

I said in her eulogy (and I’ve said it here, too) that she’s been boycotting my dreams. That’s not entirely true. A few nights ago she was there beside me, and I told her I loved her and wanted to hear her say the words back to me, but it was my damaged, terminal Karen I was talking to and she was too obtunded to respond. Thanks, subconscious.

Just woke up from a dream in which she was alive and whole and well and we were tending the tarantulas together. She needed help with a particularly large tarantula who had given birth. There were a bunch of little tees in the cage, and they very nicely weren’t rushing out when we opened the lid. Karen made a motion to pet the big mama when the bit Tee hissed and went into full threat display. She said Oh, come on, and tarantula whisperer that she was, started petting the mama like a dog or a cat, and mama settled right down.

In the dream, she’d been away for a while. In the hospital, I think. And I’d been making plans without her — lunch dates, dinner dates, all of that, and these things were coming up, soon, just as they are in real life. I had this sudden jarring realization: what the hell am I thinking? I’m married. I was about to confront Karen and say, You need to tell me what you want me to do. Is this a marriage? Are we going to have sex any time soon? Because it’s been a loooong time, Karen, and I would really rather it be with you. Cajoling. Threatening.

From there I drifted into a twilight sleep in which I kept thinking the same thing: Why have I set up these dates? What the hell was I thinking? I’m a faithful husband. Why would I do such a thing? I’ll cancel everything, even if she won’t answer the question.

Then the truth rushes in, like it always does.



Sometimes I think I must still be in the “denial” phase. Happens every morning when I wake up and I expect her to be there. Or when, half-asleep, I reach over to touch someone who isn’t there. I used to do this sometimes to reassure myself that she was still breathing — she would be so still when she slept, it would scare me sometimes. I was that paranoid she’d die. But not paranoid enough, or at the right time, apparently.

I’ll think: she’ll be there when I come home.

I’ll think: she’s away on a trip. She’ll be back.

Only two things seem able to push her out of my head. Maybe three. Patient care does it; I think I knew that instinctively, which is why I went back to work so quickly. If I get caught up in a book or movie, that helps. And thinking about other women, that surprisingly is the most effective trick. This is something I never would have predicted. I would have thought it impossible to think about other women when you’re grieving for someone so dear. Turns out it’s easy. It feels like a physical force, like magnetism or gravity. I want to fill that huge sucking hole. They say you shouldn’t make any important decisions (like marriage) in the first year. I can see the sense of that. And it’s not an irrational urge; I mean, I don’t feel like I want to fill the gap with just anyone. Naturally, I want what I had with Karen, and that is no easy thing to come by.

Just glum right now because I’m working on bills. Procrastinating RIGHT now, obviously, but the bills are there at my left side, waiting to be paid. This is something Karen did for years, and then as she declined, we did it together, but now it never fails to upset me.

I’ve taken to lying to my patients when they ask about my family. Oh, we’re fine, I say. Just fine.


The memorial service . . .

is set for March 15. I mentioned it on Facebook, but I imagine some folks only visit me here. Query me if you’re interested . . . hoffmandscott at gmail dot com.

I guess I am doing as well as can be expected. I took myself off the antidepressants and I’m only tearing up in the mornings, usually. Not sure why mornings should be so bad. Last week, I had a few days of “she’s really not coming back, I’m really never going to see her again.” Amazing, how something like that could take so long to manifest.

I still feel like she left me. Rather angry about that. Not you died, but you left me. There’s plenty of anger to go around, by the way — for myself, for Karen, for the medical community (and Medicine, capital M) that failed her, for friends who could have kept in touch, could have given her more than just me and Jake to live for. Anger, like guilt (plenty of that, too, believe me) — not constructive, and I do try to let go.

It would be easier if she’d make an appearance. In my head, in my dreams, I don’t care. Jake thinks that I don’t dream about her because I think so much about her during the daytime. I don’t think I’m THAT obsessed during the daytime.

I’m tired of reaching over (in bed) and not finding her there. I’m tired of remembering how, towards the end of our relationship, when I’d reach over she would be there. But she wouldn’t be there, not really. She left me before she left me.

Which isn’t fair to Karen. It’s not entirely true. But it was sometimes true.



I want to cook for more people, apparently. I can’t seem to prepare food just for two; I come up with three, four servings. I think about converting the library to a bedroom (which is what it’s supposed to be). Get a roommate. Someone who appreciates my food.

This afternoon, I showed Jake how to make crock pot beef stew, and also Marcella Hazan’s meatballs recipe. Some of the meat, we set aside as hamburger patties. Dinner for the next two days! That meatball recipe is pretty awesome if you use equal parts ground turkey and mild Italian sausage.

Today is a good day, inasmuch as nothing horrible happened. Yesterday was a comically bad day. Felt like Karen was stage-managing things from beyond the grave to give me a last few kicks to the gut. Trying to get back to normal? That’ll show you. But she overdid it. She went too far. I just started laughing after a while because it was all I could do.

I feel like I’m a visitor in an alternate universe. I’m an actor here. This isn’t my life. I’ll wear one of Karen’s shirts and think, “Oh, she’s not gonna like it if I stretch this out,” but then I’ll remember that in this universe, she’s not here to complain. I can fuck up all of her shirts now. This sort of thing happens a lot.

No bad dreams. Jake gets the bad dreams. I only get glimpses, if I see her at all. She’s waiting for something and I don’t know what. Only once . . . I woke up in the dream and I had been sleeping in a different bed because I have a cold (in real life, too). So I was in one bed, Karen was in the next bed over. Like the Brady Bunch, got it? Back when, thanks to the censors, even married couples weren’t supposed to be sleeping in the same bed (let alone having sex!) Anyway. I went over to her bed, we started making out — it was like college again. And it was one of those dreams where I was blissfully ignorant of this world. I woke up before it got interesting. Wasn’t even sad when I woke up.

So she’s waiting. She’s waiting for the big talk, the big sit-down. Or maybe, this last year, we talked our hearts out so much that there’s no talking left to do. But I doubt that.

I don’t know what she’s waiting for. I’m ready.



Someone told me that after a while, all you remember are the good things. I’ll remember Karen as she was when we met, when we married, when she gave birth to Jake . . . all those good years we had together (although I suspect she would have a problem calling them “good” years; but they were good, given the hand that we were dealt). And I won’t be so focused on the last year, the last few months, the last hour. I’ll stop beating myself up.

Because there’s a special horror in this for a doctor, this second-guessing, this wondering — why didn’t I notice that? Why didn’t I take that into account?

Part of me wants to run into a room full of {insert ethnic group here} and yell, “{insert situationally appropriate ethnic slur here},” get the shit kicked out of me, and feel like I’ve paid some tiny percentage of penance for not being a better husband. A better doctor. But then I would be a piss poor father, and I know I owe far more of a duty to the living than to the dead.

So we made it to Asilomar, which is one of my favorite places to be. We drove first to San Jose, to meet up with Karen’s mom, sister, and her sister’s family. Also wanted to pick up a nice vase for some of Karen’s ashes (we’ll be scattering most at sea) but the store was closed today. We’ll have to go back. It was Karen’s favorite store for Japanese ceramics.

It was a hard day for me. I don’t know if Jake noticed. The drive on the 152, Casa de Fruta, the drive up to San Jose — it took me back to my first year with Karen. We made that trip just before she got sick. Back when we thought we had our whole amazing lives ahead of us. These should be great memories. Instead, I’m just depressed and angry.

But it’s good to be in Asilomar. The grounds smell like wood smoke, pine trees, and the sea. I can breathe a little easier here.


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