Archives for category: Healing after loss

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

Wintersong

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.

Twenty-one weeks, three days

Today, I am overwhelmed. I cannot process anything. I am picking away at menial tasks like updating my credit card information for my Nexus pass. I am dusting random surfaces. I can’t work at my job today. I can’t do anything that requires any real brain power. When I walk around the house, everything I see and touch is Ray. I’m looking for things. He knew where things were, but I can’t ask him now. There is “stuff” that I flop from wanting to bundle up and throw away so I don’t have to be reminded of my loss, to thinking I can’t touch at all. I have no idea how I will deal with the truly personal things that were his. I feel like I’m drowning in decisions and, even though my home is quite orderly, I suddenly feel like a hoarder.

On days like this, I think that I probably won’t be able to continue to exist without Ray. Things seem meaningless. I am weepy and feel as heavy as a pile of bricks. How can I feel like this on a sunny, warm day? How in God’s name will I be able to manage in November? I feel like an empty shell, simply going through the motions of living because I’m supposed to.

And yet, I know that a week ago, I was functioning just fine. So, is this really how I feel and I’ve been burying it, or is it just “one of those times” where I can’t stand up by myself? It’s kind of shocking how you can be emotionally whipsawed from stable to frail in what seems like the blink of an eye. I feel like I can’t count on myself. Will I be like this tomorrow? Or will I be the powerhouse that people think I am?

Seventeen weeks to the day.

It’s interesting to see how long it’s been since I last posted here — four weeks ago. It reminds me of the almost folkloric “Rule of Fours” described by our lovely nurses in Ray’s last days. If a patient seems worse than their last four years, or four months, or four weeks, or four days…or four hours, there will be irreversible change.

I have seen huge change in my last four weeks, but in the other direction. I have found a seed of my own self. I didn’t recognize it early on, because I’d never really seen it before. I moved from an alcoholic home where I simply survived, to a beautiful relationship with my soulmate. He nurtured me, shared with me and we built a life together. But it was never a life apart. It was never my life. It was our life. That doesn’t mean that I feel in any way diminished by that process. It simply was. Our old friend, Kim Blanchette, said in Ray’s Celebration of Life that it was always “Ray and Casey, Casey and Ray”. We were inseparable. We were one being and one mind.

I always knew what I thought. That had its own life. I had passions about teaching and mentoring that were my own. I believe in growing my own food. Hell, I’m likely to take up fishing and hunting for keeps any day now. I’ve never shied away from getting up in front of a whole lot of people and tell them things with a microphone in front of me. I still think it’s strange that I developed a quirky love for watching birds and now have a yard full of them. But now, here I am on my own. I sleep with one person, and I’m not really sure I know who she is. So I am in the process of learning who I am — what I like, what I want and what I need.

I started some Pinterest boards in the last couple of weeks. I’m mapping what my taste in a home might be…on my own. Do I really like concrete modern? Yep, I think I do. Can antiques work with it? Yep, I think they might. I am planning a future of my own. I am seeing life under my control. I am seeing growing old, what I will need and what I will want to give me joy as I age. I am rebuilding Casey and, although it’s a bit scary, it’s a very cool adventure. I know Ray is cheering me on, telling me to go for it.

Twelve weeks, three days

Father’s day was a surprise for me. Throughout my life, I have been less than enthusiastic about “Hallmark” holidays. These commercialized creations have always irked me, but I play along for everyone else who seems to be drinking the Koolaid.

I was unprepared for waking up in tears on Sunday morning. I guess I might have been sipping that Koolaid, or maybe it’s just one of those “firsts” in the year of grieving that becomes significant in spite of your attachments to it.

Getting out of bed was a chore, made no easier by having my daughter curled up in the same state beside me. When I’m sad, I’m so tired. Getting out of bed, getting something to eat, washing my face seem to be Heruclean tasks that I’m simply not up to tackling. I did it, though, and asked myself how I could honour Ray with this day.

I went to see my father-in-law…the only father that I’ve had since 1976 when my own father took his life. My father-in-law is now 96, and his smile still warms my heart. I could feel Ray’s support and his joy that I made this effort.

I screwed up some energy and decided to make a great meal for my daughter, visiting niece and her boyfriend. I was in an Italian mood. (Ray was ALWAYS in an Italian mood!). I busted out and tried something as old as time, but new to me: eggplant parmesan. In fact, this entire meal was built around my discovery and purchase of two exquisite baby eggplants at my local green market. I have to say that eggplant parmesan is one of the great finds of Italian cuisine and I highly recommend it. It is a cheesy, tomatoey creation with panko crusted eggplant rounds tucked in to create a fabulous texture.

Eggplant parmesan…..yum!!

I also cooked my standard, but always popular, spaghetti with tomatoes, garlic and basil and served a tart made with the first local, sweet strawberries called Crostada di fragole e ricotta. Oh, so heavenly!! I am not, as a rule, a baker. This sort of thing is challenging for me, but I loved the result and plan to make it often.

My very own Crostade di Fragoli e ricotta

The fact that I am circling around again to food is significant. Creating great food has been one of the greatest pleasures in my life for a couple of decades. I am enchanted by the colours, smells and textures of food. I am excited with every moment of planning a meal and how it will all come out “à la minute” — hot and perfect.

The crostade was the crown on a beautiful meal. it looked like a shiny red sun — celebrating the father of my children, who we always called our Ray of Sunshine.

Twelve weeks, two days

Loss is sometimes defined by context. I was talking with my son recently and we realized in unison that the further out we get from Ray’s death, the harder it sometimes seems. That would appear to be inverse logic, but it’s because we can only absorb grief in small amounts at any one time.

If you haven’t experienced a significant loss, you might imagine that grief would be so overwhelming that you would simply be crushed under the weight of it. Sometimes it does feel a bit like that, but then you can shake it off and proceed with life for a while more. The human mind simply cannot contain massive grief, so it processes it a bit at a time. That measured grief goes on and on. What happens with time, at least for our family, is that we realize more clearly as time goes on that he is actually gone. Ray isn’t coming back.

I said this to my son and then apologized for making such a childish observation. But he corrected me. We haven’t actually gotten that far in processing the reality. To do so fully would be unfathomably painful. So we do it in those small chunks, but in turn, we are struggling to get our arms around the size of it. I would equate it to looking at a pebble and then trying to comprehend the size of Earth on which it rests. The scale is just too much.

We are blessed with this coping mechanism of only looking at a small part of it at any one time. It’s a slow process, but it means we can survive it….

Ten weeks, three days

I’ve stumbled into an unexpected new phase in my healing process and it feels like a big step backward. I have constantly been on the verge of tears since I got back from my cruise. Everything I see, touch and hear that reminds of Ray makes me well up. I can’t even say his name right now.

It seems strange to have this happen so far away from his death. I feel his presence much more tangibly now, more so than before. I feel agonizingly wistful for his thoughts and ideas. With everything I do, I realize that Ray would have done it differently and I feel somehow guilty for not doing it the way he would. I know that this is neither logical nor healthy, but I need to take it out and have a look at it and figure out why I feel this way. I know that I am my own good person. I know that I am intelligent and kind. I know that I have my own specific talents. But I miss Ray’s talents. I miss his opinion. And I miss his kind and gentle spirit.

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.

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.

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