Archives for category: losing a loved one

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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.

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, 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?

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.

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.

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?

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