MaFelipe, iStock

MaFelipe, iStock

It has been three years.

Some surprising things have been happening to me in a very short period of time since this past Christmas.

A perfect storm of events has occurred: my kids are sliding quietly into their own, private lives; my mom has gone into care; and the last “big” home (in the Lower Mainland) in our sibling family has been abandoned for more practical, smaller space. Things I counted on as constants have gone missing. There is no longer a central place to hang out with siblings. My own home will soon be “empty”. And I find myself without a companion to share things with. I had no idea how profoundly I would feel this.

I thought I would never seek another mate. Ray and I were perfectly matched. And, without him, I no longer have that best friend to talk to about anything and everything. Without him, I no longer want to run our company alone.

I am left to face the reality of living life on my own. But I now know that can’t do that. I need companionship. I need an intelligent, sensitive male with whom to laugh, share stories and experience these next years. So I have allowed myself to open up to meeting someone new. It has been an interesting few months. I didn’t ever really “date”. I met Ray. That was it. Now, like a life sentence prisoner out on release, I am experiencing a very strange world without any guidance. Dating for 20-30-somethings is often more of a quick hookup situation. Tempting though that may be, I’m looking for something with more roots, as well as the passion. I may be quite close.

I am enjoying what I am learning. Baby steps.

On a bright, crisp day exactly 35 years ago yesterday, Ray and I were married. It was the late 70s, when formal weddings were so last week. I wore a long knit dress I’d owned for years and a garland in my hair made by Thomas Hobbs (locals will know the caché there). Ray wore a brand new navy suit, the best he’d ever owned.
He looked fabulous. We both loved classical music. Our biggest investment in our wedding was Handels’s Largo, Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) and Ave Maria sung by the best voice we could afford. My parish singer was accompanied by our parish harpist and organist. We had no official photographer, just happy snaps taken by whoever had a camera. We didn’t cut a cake, we cut a beautifully dressed baked salmon. (if I can find some photos, I’ll add them later)It was a close family and friends party followed precipitously by normal life. And that’s what Ray and I had — a “normal” life. We built a business and a family and experienced the highs and lows, the losses and the wins that any family experiences. We had the best friendship in the world, wrapped up in a loving marriage.  It was cut just a bit too short. We missed that last third of the curve, the gentling down of stress and busyness towards a more relaxed time to rediscover each other again. But it was a life together that I know was enviable. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had it.

The first time we touched, I was you and you were me. We were bonded for life, bonded eternally. Our energy jumped from body to body, linking us.

This kind of love is so rare. There was no choice to be made — should we stay  together because we felt like this, or should we part if we fought. Our love transcended these conscious decisions. Our souls were one being.

And so, I live fulfilled with your soul still with mine. I miss your physical being terribly. I miss your extraordinary mind, your laughter, your warm caresses. But we are still together. I feel you beside me every moment of every day.


So much has happened since my last post. I have not given up.

I have taken another healing cruise…this time to the Eastern Caribbean — a place I never imagined going and which I both enjoyed and despaired in some ways. I am a wuss when I come face to face with poverty and, sadly, it is abundant in places like Haiti and Jamaica. It is exacerbated by the contrast with the wealthy tourists who wander about looking for some “local flavour” amid the lack of anything like it.

But I went in order to collect my thoughts for my Leading by Design Fellows Program at California College of the Arts. I was accepted into the Masters Program and went to San Francisco to meet my cohort in March. There, I was talked out of the Masters Program by the Vice Chair, and into her program which is basically the concentrated juice from the Masters program. I am very happy with my choice.

I have had my first residency in San Francisco just a couple of weeks ago. It was stimulating and scary at the same time. Since then, I have been virtually vibrating every day. I have an awesome challenge set for myself and I’m working 18 hour days, most happily.

I am aware, though, how Ray is at my mental fingertips each moment. It is a comfort but is also disturbing. I’m aware of how much I’ve packed into my life in order to avoid feeling the gaping hole in my gut. It’s a really, really big hole. I’m keeping things together by hanging on tight. I’m afraid that if I let the line go the slightest bit slack, I may just fall apart.

I feel so angry today. Not your garden-variety, annoyed angry, but tears-stinging-your-eyes-to-get-out-and-want-to-scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-and-break-everyone-else’s-ear-drums angry. Do you ever feel that angry? I’m not sure it has to do with not having your best friend with you any more. It might just be about not being heard, or listened to.

Is this the point at which I give up? Is this where I stop? Can I grow no further than here? Is this all I have…all there is? Am I done? Is it time to “wind down?” Is there nothing more of any significance that I can contribute to the world, or shall I simply continue, a cog in the wheel, until my body fails me and I become yet another burden on everyone younger than I am?

These are the questions I’m asking and the anger I feel. I have applied to an American school for a MBA in Design Strategy. It is the only one in North America. The description reads like I wrote it for myself. But I’m 57 years old. I have more people smiling and nodding politely at me about this than I care to count. I don’t need a Masters degree to make change in the world, but to do it at the level I want to do it — to influence the people I need to influence — a DMBA from California College of the Arts is pretty serious cred. Is it that my friends and loved ones don’t have the capacity to understand what I want to do, or that I am just so delusional that someone needs to slap me upside the head and bring me back down to earth?

I don’t want to die as just another organism that took up oxygen and procreated. I want to be someone who made things a lot better — who saw things more clearly and led others to the light. Ray did that. Is it vain of me to want to do the same?


In the words of the obnoxiously disingenuous writers of Facebook, “How do I feel today…?”

Here is a snapshot:

1. All encompassing sadness….still. As the anniversary of Ray’s death approaches, each day brings back the horrors of his dying days and makes me ache to take those away from him. The images of his lifeless body are still so horrific to me, I don’t know how I’ll ever heal from them.

2. Doubt, thinking that I didn’t do the right things in those days…that maybe I could have done more to make him comfortable, and more to reassure him and tell him that I loved him. What if he didn’t like something I did and was unable to give me heck for it? I would have loved for him to give me heck.

3. Guilt that I’m still here and he isn’t; that I have thrived rather than shrivelled up and died. I feel like half of me is gone, but I have charged headlong at ignoring that and trying to fill up the other half with “me”.

4. Grief, still, that I get into bed every night with nothing more than his sweater from which I try, unsuccessfully, to pull his scent.

5. Regret, frustration, anger that the quieter days he and I planned to enjoy won’t happen. He was my very best friend and we wanted to spend more time simply enjoying the things we loved to do. He was also my first line of defence IT guy…now I have to figure things out by myself.  He did a lot of reading “for” me, digesting things and giving me the Coles Notes version so that I could choose to read the whole book or just use the take-aways. We were a perfectly matched pair. I still fell like I’m missing a limb.

6. Serenity that I have lived an incredible life and will be happy to be with Ray for eternity when it’s my time.

7. Joy that I have thus far been able to weave him into my everyday life with help from gifts like the Ray Hrynkow Scholarship that he and I started for him, and the portrait spontaneously created by Jennifer Romita (detail above). Through that painting, Ray gazes lovingly into my eyes each day. We will also infuse a new cabin we are building in Tofino with his spirit and name, in this place where he loved to be with us.

8. Gratitude for the fact that I had 37 years with my true soulmate.

9. Fulfilment, so much so, that I know I don’t need any other relationship in my life.

10. Peace when I see my son, daughter and daughter-in-law carrying their lives forward with grace and strength.

Ray Hrynkow, by Jennifer Romita 2012

Ray Hrynkow, by Jennifer Romita 2012

Nine months, one week

I’m trying to look at Jennifer Romita’s exquisite portrait of Ray. She worked on it for months, carefully checking in with me on details and nuance. She did it out of love and compassion. It is a gift that I have yet to fully experience, as it is too real to allow myself to do. I literally cannot look into Ray’s eyes in this portrait. His eyes were always a place I got lost. They were like green stones in a brook, shiny and laughing. Jennifer captured them so perfectly, I just can’t look directly at them yet. Christmas has been hard at times. I have cried, as you can imagine, but I didn’t implode as I expected.


Like the slow building from an early sketch through multiple refinements in black and white through to colour in Jennifer’s work, my life since Ray’s passing has been building as well. I have gone from a “ghost” lost in grief to a stronger and stronger person each day.


There is so much to tell right now. Christmas is just past, and I’ve done really well. I am looking at a year ahead that is full of the unknown, but also full of bright promise. It is a future full of contrast — loss and growth. My mom is losing ground at an exponential rate due to advancing dementia. She has trouble forming full sentences and she has a very loose contact with reality. She is frightened and confused. I look at her and realize I am one stroke away from going down that same horrible path.


My birthday was two days ago. I am three years off the age when she had her first stroke. I don’t smoke. I’m not an alcoholic. But are those the factors that made the difference for her, or is it simply destiny that the women in my family are robbed of their futures by heart disease? Since mid-November. I have been working with a personal trainer through Evernote, an amazing program I’ve used for over three years for all kinds of purposes (including monitoring Ray’s medical records as well as my mom’s), but never my own fitness. My trainer gives me workouts to do through Evernote and we talk every two weeks. He monitors my fitness and nutrition. I’m absolutely loving it and I’m making great strides. I am fighting through a bout with fibromyalgia in doing this, but I have no doubt that I will prevail and be horseback riding and swimming, in addition to my workouts, by April.


I am doing really exciting things right now. I am teaching and loving it more every day. My design practice is going strong. I love my colleagues and clients, and the projects are so stimulating. I have applied for a masters degree and will know if I have been accepted in about a month. My heart beats quickly every day because I feel a sense of future and promise…the kind of thing you feel in your 20s when you graduate, become engaged, married or maybe pregnant. But I’m not in my 20s. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel potential in my life, but I don’t know many people in my age group who feel this sense of “spring” — birth, budding, greenness, hope. I feel like a have a little secret that is somehow naughty — naughtier still because of my mom’s growing loss and the general assortment of tragedies and disappointments that seem to be prevalent in my age group. I am not ready to fade yet. I feel like I am bursting with potential. I can honestly tell you that I plan to make profound change in the world in the next 20 years. I feel a bit embarrassed by my confidence and excitement. But I know that my life experience, my professional experience and my passion are gifts that I must share as widely as I can.

So I’ll launch myself into 2013, without needing resolutions. I’ve made them all and am well on my way to succeeding with them. I think this is the beginning for me. I have had decades of endings, sadness, loss and heartbreak. I am moving forward. There will be hiccups. I will still feel the profound sadness that is just behind this brash facade I keep up, but I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have things to do and big, world changing problems to tackle. Just watch me.

9 months exactly (and the first time I will express this only in months without weeks)


The lake is frozen over
The trees are white with snow
And all around
Reminders of you
Are everywhere I go

It’s late and morning’s in no hurry
But sleep won’t set me free
I lie awake and try to recall
How your body felt beside me
When silence gets too hard to handle
And the night too long

And this is how I see you
In the snow on Christmas morning
Love and happiness surround you
As you throw your arms up to the sky
I keep this moment by and by

Oh I miss you now, my love
Merry Christmas, merry Christmas,
Merry Christmas, my love

Sense of joy fills the air
And I daydream and I stare
Up at the tree and I see
Your star up there

And this is how I see you
In the snow on Christmas morning
Love and happiness surround you
As you throw your arms up to the sky
I keep this moment by and by

– Sarah McLachlan

I miss you, my love.

Thirty-five weeks, three days

The expectations around Christmas are never easy. We all suffer temporary madness leading up to this season which demands that we feel and act in ways that are fundamentally unnatural, particularly when faced with cold weather, financial strain and the inevitable weirdness of family dynamics. Don’t even get me started on Christmas decorations in Costco the day after labour day! These converging realities alone create a perfect storm of emotions. I always feel like I’m dancing with the devil to keep my head above water emotionally during this time of year, and I’m sure most of you feel the same.

Somehow, Ray always seemed to be able to see Christmas through a child’s eyes. He was certainly competitive when it came to lights on the house, the tree and the perfect wreath. But it was a joyous competitiveness, as though each competitor was only in it to make the season more beautiful. I was always the practical one — we can’t afford this, that isn’t realistic. But Ray seemed to be able to create magic out of dust and string. Where I thought money had to be spent, he saw that energy and thought — and sure, a bit of money — could happily be expended to find a creative solution. He did it year after year. I was always humbled by his ingenuity and love around Christmas time.

My little sister, Libby, reminded me that it was about this time last year that Ray, beginning to seriously lose weight as well as his battle with cancer, climbed up on a ladder to put up new lights on the roof. She joked that we were worried about God knows what and yet, this guy, full of toxic chemo, was clambering around in the cold, decorating the house. We were stunned at his strength and will to keep things normal. I’m missing that normality right now.

November in Vancouver is not an optimal environment for anyone with even a teensy leaning towards depression. It is grey, cold, intolerably wet and, to be honest, has always felt like the picture of death to me. Tim Burton has nothing on Vancouver in November. This year I’m doing it without Ray and it’s a struggle.

I’ve been packing my life full of tasks to distract me and, to an extent, it’s working. But I don’t know how well I’m going to do through the next thirty days. Christmas was Ray’s time. He made it magic despite the ostentatious contrivances we have created for this season over time. Ray made November beautiful.

Thirty weeks, 2 days. Our 34th wedding anniversary.

It’s dull and grey here today — comfortingly typical west coast weather. This day, 34 years ago, Ray and I were married on a warm, spectacularly sunny day.

We crafted the ceremony around what we loved. I am Roman Catholic, so Ray agreed to be married at Holy Name Parish in Vancouver. We chose gorgeous music that we both revelled in — Handel’s Largo; Panis Angelicus; Ave Maria — and invested our meagre budget in a singer, a harpist and an organist. There were only close friends and family there. Our reception was in my family home. We didn’t even have a cake — we took pictures cutting into salmon. I wore a dress I’d owned for years. And the only photos we have are blurry happy snaps taken by whoever happened to bring a camera.

Out of this simple day came these 34 years of companionship, partnership and strength for both me and Ray. I often wonder about the huge investments and family-splitting tension that some young couples go through to mount a ceremony for a relationship that doesn’t have enough depth to pull them through everything they will ultimately have to endure. Ray and I really did love and support each other until death parted us. I don’t feel parted, though. I continue to feel Ray’s presence in my growing strength in pushing my life forward.

I do feel this anniversary. Tears are seeming to squirt out of my eyes unbidden. But I don’t feel devastation. I feel warmth and strength and tremendous gratitude for having had a relationship so rare and precious. I feel grateful that I still love Ray and that my kids and I continue to enjoy his humorous, intelligent and talented legacies.

Happy Anniversary, baby. I love you.

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