Archives for category: contrasts in life

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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.

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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.

Twelve weeks, to the minute

I am constantly turning to Ray to ask his opinion. I still expect that he’ll be right there — to finish my sentence, give me the name of that celebrity that I can never remember, remind me of what my opinion was when I last expressed it on the subject at hand.

Ray was my greatest fan. He loved me unconditionally, He worshipped me, in fact. I know I didn’t deserve it, but I was grateful for it every minute of my life with him. He saw no fault with me. He always told me I was beautiful. He cheered me on in every shaky moment.

I am about as imperfect as a human being can be. I am a sieve with memory. I can’t remember names (numbers, no problem). I know the music I like, but unless it’s classical, I can’t remember the song, the artist or even the decade. Ray had an encyclopedic memory for music. I would walk into a room with him and silently elbow him and tip my head. He would give me the names of the people in the room from left to right. I would say go right. He would say go left. He was always right on directions.

It is startling how difficult it is to get by without that “other half”. Ray and I were whole, perfect beings, but we completed each other. We were the gilding on our respective lilies. Ray wasn’t perfect. I have no illusions in that regard. He was stubborn, temperamental and an uncompromising perfectionist. He expected the best from himself and everyone around him. It was hard to live up to, but that perfectionism made him support me with complete focus and passion. No woman could ever hope for such unbridled attention.

Now, I have to push myself, by myself. I have to ask, “is this the best I can do? Is this up to Ray’s standards?”. How many widows or widowers can say that that is the first thing they think about in loss? How many knew that they were exponentially better people because of their mates?

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.

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.

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.

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