Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Five weeks, two days

I spent the day yesterday with my mom. It’s been decades since we spent time the way we did. I think it was because I knew I only had myself to worry about. So we sat and talked for a couple of hours over coffee. We had lunch. Then we made our way to the garden shop to buy geraniums and hostas. And while she had a nap, I planted the flowers for her. No rush. No feeling that I had to be somewhere else. We even went out to dinner. It gave both of us a great deal of joy.

This was a reawakened experience for me. Mom and I used to hang out for hours like that, before I was living with Ray, before I had children, a real job — when life was less complicated, I guess. I didn’t know what I was missing. I’d forgotten this lovely aspect of my life and I’m enjoying the thought of having it back. It takes more time now, as mom has Alzheimer’s, but I had the time yesterday and we luxuriated in it.

Note to self…I can have my old life back to a certain extent. I can remember the times I walked down 41st Avenue after school and bought my Mom a single bloom and took it home to make her smile. I had no one to think about but me and Mom. And life can turn circles on itself, and you can rediscover past happiness. It doesn’t mean that I’ve let Ray go, but that I am a whole person, still. That is reassuring. I am rediscovering me.

Not all cancers are death sentences. Not all cancers are fast killers.

I need to get this out of my system. If you are a cancer patient, hear me out. Not all cancers are death sentences. Not all cancers are fast killers. However, pancreatic cancer is a difficult diagnosis to have.

Please, don’t despair. Don’t give up. I think it is 90% attitude and Ray is a testament to that. In the 6 years he pushed back at pancreatic cancer, advances were made. He was not the only one to live far beyond the expected statistical norm. Steve Jobs passed him by a year. And I know of people with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis who are still alive after 15 and 20 years. If you have a new diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, who knows? Don’t rely on statistics. New drugs, new advances are coming on stream every day. Our oncologist, Dr. Hagen Kennecke at the BC Cancer Agency did everything new he could find. Granted, Ray was exceptional. He never allowed cancer to have any power over him. And Hagen and the staff at BCCA battled right along side him.

Look at diet, it’s important. Look at acupuncture, yoga, meditation. All of these have immense power over your physical systems and can extend your life in a very healthy way. You can have control over this and you need to use it. You are not a victim. Fight back. But — most important — be invincible because you can be. Your next 5 or 6 years may be the time that we find a cure. Be strong. Live every day.

5 weeks to the day

My emptiness is like a belly full of drying leaves, all crunchy and dry. It’s not just a hole, it’s a smouldering, angry space.

I went to physiotherapy today and while I lay on the heat packs, I listened to Snatam Kaur on my iPhone. I began to weep. It just happened. I can be fine one minute and not the next. The lack of Ray is hard to describe. It is always there to some degree, sometimes right in my face, sometimes just a nagging feeling in the back of my head. It keeps me in the moment. I can’t really look further than about 20 feet or 20 minutes ahead.

I am attempting to fill the emptiness with busyness. There is lots of work work for me right now. My office is busier than it’s been in a couple of years. When you’re self-employed you work when you have the work. You never know what you’ll have next month. I also have the job of keeping myself healthy right now. I need to concentrate on eating and exercising to keep endorphins flowing and my body working. I just plug things in my schedule and move from task to task hoping it will make a difference.

But I am missing a big chunk of me that was sewn tightly to my soulmate for 35 years. It’s not that I’m not a whole person. But like a companion tree planted right beside me, Ray shared the ground we both grew in and we became a matched pair. With him no longer there, my balance is off. The light seems different. The lack of him feels raw and foreign. I guess that is what healing is about —letting things close up and knit back together. I know it will happen.

Four weeks, six days

I knew Ray would die. Everybody says, “Oh, you could be crossing the street tomorrow and…”, but that’s not really the point, is it?

When someone you love has cancer, there is, suspended in air, a shoe. The first one hits the floor at the moment you hear the diagnosis. Cancer. The second one hangs there…

I stood, rigid, for I don’t know how long while a hotshot young GI specialist doing an ERCP poked around with a probe down Ray’s gut fishing for what he was looking for. He knew all along that he would find an adenocarcinoma. I was standing right outside the door. I heard every word. While he poked around — Ray moaning in discomfort the whole time, and the nurse telling him to hold still — the doctor talked to his team about his weekend. Workaday stuff this was for him. Afterwards he swaggered out and said, “yep, it’s cancer”.

Here’s the thing. No one had had the cahones to tell me that they suspected cancer, not the GP, or the phalanx of emergency doctors to which he sent us. They all kind of hoped someone else would do it. So this guy threw it at me like yesterday’s news. I remember the cool wall touching my back as I sunk into it. I remember thinking I needed to get to Ray. I remember hating that cold-hearted SOB for not even considering the human element in this equation. He gave it to me like an invoice for a car repair.

I didn’t know the first thing about pancreatic cancer. As knowledgable as I am about human anatomy, I wasn’t entirely sure what a pancreas did. I learned most of it within 48 hours. And I wept. Pancreatic cancer takes no prisoners. Most die within a year. The 5-year survival rate is under 5%. I remember calling my son and daughter, even less prepared for this, to tell them their dad had cancer. I had so much trouble forming the words. Who the hell knows how you are supposed to do this?

There is an epic story that follows this event which I will get to at some point in this blog, but my point tonight is that it is somewhat bizarre knowing you’re living with the love of your life while they are dying faster than you had expected. You don’t know how fast, or how it will all happen, but you can pretty much count on not having those halcyon days of sweet retirement together. That home looking over the vineyards in the Okanagan where we would enjoy the hot sun and play with our grandchildren — not happening. It’s blunt. It’s cruel. You know that other shoe will drop. It hangs there…suspended…waiting.

Four weeks, four days

On Friday, April 20, there were two tragic deaths in my community. One, a young twenty-year-old girl, newly admitted to med school and visiting Hungary, full of promise; a volunteer; great parents; a family loved in our community. This girl was good to the core in every way, but she got sick with an infection earlier in the week. She died. She DIED! She was a baby! She was good. She had done no wrong. Why was Ariel Olsen taken?

The other death was a mom, close to my age. She left a daughter, my own daughter’s age — and a cousin to one of my daughter’s friends, without any family. Any. Seriously?!

Somehow my loss seems insignificant. I cannot fathom losing a child. And my greatest fear when I was younger was losing a parent. Being left without either parent is unimaginable.

This is not about me. But I can’t help wondering about how God works. Was Ariel so good that she needed to do no more work on earth? What about her poor parents and all of her family who loved her? What could possibly be the right in this? And, why would a young twenty-three year old be left on her own. By today’s standards that is an independent age, but I couldn’t imagine my own daughter left without anyone.

So here am I. My husband, my soulmate, was 58. Young by death standards, but he was taken at his real prime. He was well known and highly respected. He had “made his mark”. I remember a young friend in his late twenties dying of AIDS and raging at the injustice of not being able to make his mark on the world before his body failed him. Had Ray lived another 15 years, would people still know who he was — how exceptional he was? What about the war vets who endured God knows what to defend our freedom, but as 80-90-year olds were seen only as “old men”, not the valiant young men who gave all of their lives, if not literally but emotionally and are, at best, patronized.

Loss of a loved one is profound, no matter who it happens to our how it happens. Violence, accident, suddenness or lingering pain make no difference.

For me, I think this lesson is about context. It doesn’t lessen my loss or make it any less significant. But it puts it in persecutive and helps me understand the company I keep. Loss, for the young, the less young and the older is no less wounding. I will ponder this.

  1. Four weeks, one day

Coming home to an empty house. How cliché. It happened so many times while Ray was alive and I thought nothing of it. Now it’s different, of course.

I think about the things he’d notice coming home: dishwasher not emptied and reloaded…the f’ing ants all over the counter…again! Why is this still here? Why doesn’t anybody remember to put the freaking front porch light on?! But all of those words are in my head now, not coming from Ray. I still hear him and anticipate his every complaint.

There is nothing to do but what I need to do for myself. The dishwasher. Dispatch some more ants. Turn the porch light on…after the horse is long gone. It’s quiet. Thank God I have my dog, Willy, otherwise I’d be talking to myself and I know still I’m too young to be doing that. It’s funny how your arms and legs feel superfluous and somehow awkwardly in the way. Not sure what that means, but I used to do things for Ray with them. They seem so “extra” now.

I remember, as did Ray, coming home with our first child. We walked in the door. Now what? We took him upstairs, walked around in circles a few times and then put him in his crib (which seemed laughably large for him). Now what? We walked around in circles a few more times then went downstairs and sat on the couch — and stared into space. Now what?

I guess these giant shifts in life are like that. You don’t really know what to do with the extra bits. I can hear the dryer going downstairs, but I can also hear molecules of air moving by my ears. I only ever heard that sound when I was alone. I’m going to be alone a lot now. Now what?

Twenty-seven days

Although this seems “sound”, I don’t know if it is is the secret to getting me on the road to normalcy, but it seems like a good idea. I plugged some routine tasks and some exercise blocks into my iCal yesterday. There was an exercise block for 8 am this morning. I didn’t quite make 8 am, but I was in the gym by 9:15. I did my half hour of cardio and some lower body strength exercises. My shoulders are “in treatment” now, so I did the little exercises the physio gave me yesterday. I’m not a regular gym person. I’ve tried for years to stick with it but I always fall off the wagon. At this point, though, I think I need to be a bit more disciplined as it’s not just a “nice to have”. I think it’s critical.

I won’t lie. I didn’t love it, but at points during the walking I pushed my speed up because it felt good to lengthen my leg muscles and stretch out. I also felt really good about doing it even though I hadn’t wanted to. At this point, I’m operating on logic, not instinct. My instinct tells me to stay in bed and be extra nice to myself, but I know that the endorphins that exercise provides will help lift me up. I have a lunch meeting today with a friend/client I enjoy, so that’s another thing to look forward to.

Which brings me back to my iCal. It’s a framework for real life. I can look at the day or the week and see these little rocks and branches I can hang onto in the middle of my swim up river. The more tasks I plug in, the more secure I feel. I wouldn’t recommend booking yourself solidly, unless you do that kind of work. I’m in the “creative” industry. I think for a living, so sometimes I need to leave myself long empty blocks of several hours to do that thinking. If this is the kind of work you do, you need to do that as well.

So, I’ll keep you posted on how this framework works for me.

Twenty-five days

I don’t know where you are in the loss process. I’m not sure where I am. But it occurs to me that I have the ability to write and to rationalize my experiences. So, in the feint hope that I can help another person who is newly facing loss or who is raw from the loss of someone so important to them that the loss seems insurmountable, I’ll document my thoughts.

This is my first post, so bear with me. I lost Ray, my perfect soulmate on March 23, 2012. Three weeks and two days ago. I have the ability to distance myself from my own reality on occasion, as I’m sure we all do.

Ray was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on March 17, 2006. I was gobsmacked. He was only 52 years old! We were successful…planning our lives….making a difference, and then everything changed in a blink of an eye. I had to call my kids and tell them that their dad was seriously ill…but he was fine yesterday.

I’ll write about the in-between some other time, if you want me to, and if I think it’s needed. But for now, let me tell you that six years of knowing that someone is likely to die does not diminish the shock. We had times of absolute bliss where the cancer seemed so distant. But it was always that “other shoe” and we waited for it to drop. I always thought we were “just kidding”. Ray was one of the stoic people who never acknowledged the illness and just kept going. So, when he finally started to show signs of weakness: a cane, a wheelchair, a dependence on oxygen therapy, I had to start seeing the reality. It was a short reality. From the time he needed that cane and oxygen to the time he died was three short months. He went from a robust 200+ pounds to I don’t know what in that time. He was light, frail and struggling to breathe in such a short time. How could this happen??

Ray was well known in our professional field. Three hundred people attended his Celebration of Life. Countless others watched it via live feed and later watched the recorded version from all around the world. That makes this not greater or less than your loss. It’s just that I find it difficult to understand how someone so loved and respected could be plucked from life when he had so much more to do. I am struggling with that right now.

Here is what I worry about. People will give me and my children time to grieve. But it will be far, far less time than we need. My doctor sat me down last week and, though she never does this as she knows I’m “in control” she told me, “let me tell you something about grief”. She told me that I will need a minimum of one year…to start. That’s for all the anniversaries. Each day will be a day without Ray. The year won’t do it, but the problem is, friends and maybe even family, won’t give us even that one year. They’ll give us weeks, maybe months. Then they’ll want to get on with things and expect that we will do the same. But we can’t. There is a smoking, meteor-sized hole in our lives. We just can’t fill it in that fast.

If you are reading this and you’ve lost someone, fight for time. You deserve it and you need it. If you are a friend or family member, back off. Allow the loss to settle. That settling time will be long — likely much longer than you will understand.

I’ll write more as I see that I can.

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