Archives for the month of: May, 2012

Since he’s been gone, it’s like my heart just don’t beat right.

— Joyful Noise

I relied on Ray to be my protector. In fact, the name Ray means protector. Ray didn’t back down from things…sometimes to my horror. I am an appeaser and peacemaker. I want everyone happy, everyone to feel good. Sometimes his willingness to step up and testify made me uncomfortable…perhaps because I feared doing it myself.

Ray was unyielding to a fault, particularly around design and social issues. He was a deep thinker and he knew what was right on many fronts. He cared. Nothing was off limits when it came to defending the power of design and how it could make our clients successful. He was tenacious.

I take comfort in seeing these traits in our newly married Sarah Taliunas, our senior designer who Ray trained with love and intent. She is his protegé, and she does him proud. She shores me up when I feel like caving.

I see Ray — certainly in my wonderful kids, Peter and Cass, and my daughter-in-law, Kristen, his brother David and all his sisters, but also in Sarah — in Matt Warburton, Angie Opdahl, Melissa Keith, Dylan Staniul, Jim Skipp, Kirsten Skipp, Paul Roelofs, Kathy Boake, Perry Danforth, David Gray, Adam Rogers, Kim Blanchette, Victor John Penner, Albert Normandin, Phred Martin…There are dozens and dozens of people we have employed and worked with over our years in business and Ray touched every one of them. He is still alive in all of them. He schooled each of us in some way.

I miss him so badly. My guiding star — my compass is gone.

Nine weeks, four days

It’s has been a fascinating experience watching people on the vessel of my healing cruise. 

There must be a master/slave gene in some people that makes them treat staff like mindless numbered units. I’ve seen it at other times throughout my life and it has always made me angry. I saw a American woman today (identifiable by accent) wave limply at a busser and circle her finger around the top of her table indicating that he should hustle on over to tidy her table. Yesterday in the spa there was a woman who just couldn’t seem to be civil to anyone. She brought in a big dark cloud with her. Then there is the wealthy Indian family who look at everyone else on the ship is a stinking pile of poop, passengers included. It would be funny if it wasn’t so distasteful. Hello people! You’re on a luxurious cruise, having your every need attended to by young people who could easily be your own sons and daughters. Lighten up!

On the other end of the scale, I have seen love in action. I thought I had the only perfect marriage on the planet, but it appears there are others. There is a Chinese couple from Victoria. She was a stay at home mom and took that job very seriously. They have two grown daughters of whom they are very proud. She had wonderful wisdom about her astute child-rearing decisions. He was the breadwinner. And now, they are reacquainting themselves with each other and appear to be having a comfortable love affair. They beamed with pleasure at being in each other’s company.

This morning I met a lovely couple from India. She is missing a leg on one side and an arm on the other. She spread a towel on a lounger and hauled herself out of her wheelchair without a hitch. I offered to give her a hand but she said she likes to do things herself. No fuss, no muss. Then a man walked in and she said, “Oh, and here is my husband” as if she was announcing the arrival of royalty. Again there was a loving warmth between them that was palpable.

Being a lone female on a cruise is an interesting experience. Pretty much everyone is coupled, even with a sister or brother. I feel as if I have a vapor bubble around me that no one is comfortable touching. It makes it very easy to people watch. I’m invisible, so I can stare at will! It is a unique learning opportunity of which I will take full advantage. It reminds me what a gift Ray’s love for me was and what an incredibly good person he was. It reminds me that I am a good person, too — that I love people and that I’m never really alone.

Nine weeks, three days

This is my first full day on board the Celebrity Century, cruising to Alaska. I have dedicated this voyage to getting myself back on track, on my own terms. I am on my own and very glad to be so.

Yesterday, I had a body composition consultation and a hot stone massage to kick it all off. Today, I worked out in the morning. As I did my 3.5 MPH on the treadmill, struggling to balance on the slowly bucking and pitching ship, I caught sight of a whale spout off the starboard bow (really, it was the starboard bow!). I watched it bob up and wave its tail flukes and disappear. It is surreal to be doing something so routine in such new surroundings.

Healing from loss is like that, too. Your life goes on, but in many ways, everything is new. It gives you a different perspective on the every day.

Two months, to the day

I see a pattern emerging in my healing process. There are certain days where Ray’s presence is palpable and where I feel so painfully wistful, it’s uncomfortable. I spent the day on Monday (Victoria Day) cleaning like a mad woman. I dusted, vacuumed, mopped, purged the freezer and bought fresh flowers. I huffed and puffed and all the while listening to Snatam Kaur cranked up to max. That music has become indelibly linked with Ray, his process of dying, and his defiant battle with cancer. It was his peace. It was his battle hymn. It gives me power, but it washes me with profound sadness as well.

You need to experience that sadness and I think that, sometimes, I need to give myself a shove into the muck of it so that I can get past the buildup and move forward. It’s up, it’s down. But somehow, like the muscle ache you have after working out, it feels healthy.

Seven weeks, five days

I was thinking about the pathway of my life yesterday. I was re-evaluating the pressures I was experiencing when my children were younger and realizing they are much fewer now than they once were. I was working long, long days; keeping our kids in activities; trying to make ends meet for our business as well as at home. I was constantly stressed beyond my capacity.

Now, after losing Ray, I no longer carry the weight of his daily medical and emotional care and the constant stress and sadness attending that. But it goes deeper and farther. I no longer have that “other shoe” I talked about  in Knowing Someone Will Die, suspended above my head. My children are now young adults. There is a shift from me worrying about them to them starting to watch out for me. My business, no longer in its infancy, hums along fairly well most of the time.

So I feel somewhat more secure and less like the sky is falling every day. Perhaps this is the calm before another storm but, rather than anticipating it, I’ll just enjoy these smoother seas for now. Living in the moment was never a better idea than it is right now.

Seven weeks to the day

Unless you’re a masochist, don’t attempt a funeral too close to your own loss. Although we can’t control when the next important someone passes away, unless you really need to be there, take a pass. I went to the memorial of an old friend’s mom today. I’d attended her father’s funeral some 35 years earlier and I will never forget it. This time, I figured I had it all under control. I didn’t.

When we said the Lord’s Prayer, I couldn’t even form the words. The last time I said it, I had repeated it over and over in the process of saying decades of the Rosary while Ray lay dying. And yet, I felt profoundly detached from the religious aspect of this memorial. I think I am really pissed off at God.

I feel that this has set me back about six weeks. I am in such a deep hole, I feel like I’ll never get out. I know that I will, but right now I just want to sit under a heavy table and rock back and forth.

Six weeks, 5 days

The farther away I get from the day I lost Ray, the more images of his face turn me inside out. I want to run my hand over his face and feel his softness, both external and internal. His smile would light everyone up. It changed over the short time in which he declined, but he could still pull a grin up to the last couple of days. That smile came from deep inside him, but it manifested in his beautiful, smiling face.

I wonder if I am just now really feeling that he’s missing. I have known it intellectually, but I think I have denied it emotionally. He’s really gone. He’s not coming back. The desperately ill images are fading and the real ones are coming back into focus. The face that adored me. The face that praised my cooking with a look of rapture. The face that took professional passion to an entirely different plane.

I look at images on Facebook and I’m shocked by how emotional I am now…God I miss that man.

Six weeks, 4 days

I find the fatigue associated with grief to be almost completely debilitating at times. I’m shocked at just how profoundly tired I am most days. I don’t know whether I’m tired, or sick or sad. Or maybe it’s a nasty cocktail of all or some of those. I’m physically sore as well, all day, but most of all when I’m trying to sleep. I wasn’t actually prepared for this part. I imagined sad, teary days but being able to manage life other than that. What I am finding is that it is a real struggle to get up when I am still so tired, and push through when the discomfort just won’t let up. My eyes feel puffy and unfocussed. I’m doing exercise, accupuncture, physiotherapy and I’m trying to mediate (although this is going to be a lifelong project, not an instant fix) and I want to get to more yoga. I’m told the yoga and meditation are key, so perhaps I’ll swing more of my focus that way over the coming weeks.

In an effort to try to see forward, I’ve booked a cruise to Alaska. I’ll go in three weeks. I’ve never done that, and I’m going alone —  very happily. I’ve had no personal time for reflection and healing and I like the idea of being able to do this alone, but surrounded by about 2,000 other people, in case I feel the need to reach out for conversation. I like the fact that on a cruise, you needn’t think about what to eat, it’s just there. Food is really important to me in terms of quality and variety, so a ship offers a great option to preparing it myself.  I likely won’t be able to resist writing and staying in touch via Facebook.

I’ll take my books, my binoculars, camera, tripod and my iPad and snuggle in to a self-centred routine for 7 days. I’m excited about seeing some birds I don’t know about, maybe even photographing them. I am an accidental birder, but a fanatic all the same.

I’m using the coming summer to “get a grip” so that I can launch myself into the fall — with new teaching commitments and new projects — with some kind of renewed energy. I’m thinking of it as getting some momentum built up so I can head up hill again with greater strength. My daughter, son and daughter-in-law will all go to Tofino for 4 days in July as well. We had a fabulous trip there during storm season last November with Ray. We want to revisit that trip as a family and have a bit of a group healing in this magical place.

It’s interesting how “getting away” seems to be an important part of healing. Maybe it’s to create new memories or to get away from old ones. I wonder who else has found this to be helpful.

Six weeks, two days

Although doing is good for moving forward and not dwelling on grief, I have felt that I have had no time to simply be with myself since I lost Ray. I got a bit of that this weekend at the Glen at Maple Falls, my sister’s great little place near Mt. Baker in Washington state. I planned to go alone with my dog, but my sister was able to join me.

There was a bit of laughing, a lot of walking, a romantic comedy and a few glasses of wine. I eschewed my usual pattern of playing primary cook. Although cooking is my passion, I haven’t been feeling it much since Ray died. I was just happy to have simple meals and use the time to enjoy doing nothing. Probably not enough nothing, though, as I am so tired tonight, I feel like I spent the weekend rock climbing. I’m curious to see how I feel tomorrow.

I am making an effort every day to do what I think is the right thing to move forward. Not every effort is a smashing success, however. I do feel “unburdened” somewhat by simply getting away and having some personal time. I want my energy back, though, so I can jump back into my life with renewed commitment.

Five weeks, four days

I was wondering where this would go, Ray’s 59th birthday. I felt quite unemotional today — and oddly guilty because of it. Not sure if I was afraid to let myself feel it. I kind of think that must be it as I’m feeling sadder now as time goes on. But, true to form, my family was so there. We had a “Ray Day” dinner. May Day, Ray Day, Ray of Sunshine. Ray’s Birthday, May 1, 1953.

We decided on having a feast of Ray’s favourite foods: Greek salad (thanks, Kristen!); prawns with garlic and lemon on spaghetti; Thai garlic bread (thanks, Monica!) and chocolate ganache torte (thanks, Libby!). We started with prosciutto wrapped greens and Saint André cheese with pita crisps (thanks, Savannah). In case you haven’t guessed, our family revolves around food!

We ate, we talked, we laughed. And there may have been a glass of wine or six. Cass, my sweet daughter and Libby, my superhero sister, brought balloons. I stood back, unsure.

Then, around 9:00, someone brought out a Sharpie and the kids started writing love notes on the balloons. Then the adults followed. I grabbed a pile of Kleenex and wrote one, too. It was symbolic and it was strong. Then, with dogs and our unsteady Mom in tow, we ventured outside and clumped up in a few groups. Among us, there were nine balloons…mostly purple (Ray’s favourite colour and the colour for pancreatic cancer).  Cass took charge and asked if everyone was ready. Then we let them go. They floated in a group (and yes, we had a spirited discussion about the whales and our dastardly impact on them by doing this beforehand). They chased each other up and forward, into the sky. They raced playfully upward and we felt like we were sending our love messages up to Ray. It was cathartic. And symbolic. I think it will become a new tradition.

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