Archives for category: Losing a mate

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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.

No one should have to endure watching their mate slide way. I love her and the kids more every day.

I finally screwed up the courage to look in Ray’s most recent journal. I have kept it, along with a few personal items, neatly arranged on my dresser like some kind of shrine. I didn’t intend it….it just happened.

Portrait of Ray and card by KAth Boake; metal flower by Kathryn Diakiw

I have touched the journal many times, wondering when I would have the courage to have a look. There are others around….written when he was more well. This was his last. I picked the book up today as I wanted to make sure this little shrine was pristine and free of dust. As I did, the floodgates opened and I wept loud and hard. I talked to Ray and I felt him trying to reassure me. I told him I missed him and just wanted to talk to him and hear him talk to me. I opened the journal.

The passages were a bit spotty, mostly how he was feeling and documenting the staggering number of interactions with doctors. On January 28, my brother-in-law, Sean (God love him) came to take Ray’s office on the main floor apart and move it upstairs to where our guest room was. The hospital bed came in the next day and it was the last night Ray slept upstairs with me. What followed was the collapse of any efficacy of chemo; daily pain readings and planning for a little shopping trip to Pottery Barn. On February 18, he wrote the quote above. It’s the last thing he wrote in this book.

I find myself looking for crumbs now. In the closet, folded and piled in haste, sits the outfit he wore on his last night, dressing up for his baby sister Savannah’s birthday party. I can’t even think of moving that. I feel like his soul is still in that little pile somewhere. This is the dilemma we face with the loss of someone so important. We imbue “things” with their essence. Their being becomes inseparable from a pair of jeans and a well-worn pullover. Rays’ hand, clearly failing over the last few days of entries, wrote those loving words to me and to my kids. It’s as real now as it was when he wrote it. It is no fainter or duller for the nearly six months that have passed. It is a message suspended in time — and it breaks my heart…again.

Twenty-one weeks, two days

It was our youngest’s 24th birthday on Saturday. Cass and I celebrated with a decadent shopping trip to Seattle this weekend. It was loads of fun, eating and shopping and having some giggles.

I got back tonight aware of that giant hole again. Where was he? Why couldn’t I share this all with him? Sometimes this ache is so huge, I can’t even look at it for fear it will swallow me whole. Everything in my adult, and virtually conscious life, has involved Ray. Even if Cass and I did something like we did this on a weekend, I would come back to Ray, to tell him the stories, and we would laugh. GOD DAMN IT! IT’S SO EMPTY IN MY LIFE WITHOUT HIM!

It’s such as weird dichotomy. I feel joy…I do. I don’t feel guilt about it. But I am so aware of these vast empty spaces where Ray just isn’t any more. There is NOTHING to fill that void. Nothing ever will. Again…that soulmate thing. I could have the best friend in the world again, but never this one. Never that person who knew my thoughts and knew my joy…even before I felt it. No man, no woman will ever fill this space. And I don’t mourn that I won’t have it with someone else. In fact, I don’t want it with someone else. I just can’t imagine that what I had is actually gone. It’s so hard to look at, I avoid it studiously. It is, in a word, unfathomable. And I guess that’s where it stays. Unmeasurable. Unimaginable. Unfathomable.

Seventeen weeks, two days

I see that I have been whistling in the dark.

Having spent this weekend by myself at home for much of the time, I’m realizing how much I miss my best friend — not my husband, the father of my kids, my business partner — but the person with whom I shared excitement about so many things. I’m playing Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert CD, something we bought as an LP back in the 70s. We played it while we’d clean the house, drink coffee or get right wrapped up in an animated conversation. I don’t have that with anyone any more. That realization is devastating. I’ve been so conscious of having lost “my husband”, I completely lost sight of the fact that we were each others’ very best friends. Now that the initial shock of grieving is easing, I’m starting to feel the staggering depth of the loss. There has never been anyone in my life that could have filled Ray’s shoes.

That whole “soul mate” thing comes up again. We weren’t just in tandem harness as a couple. We needed to be with each other. Add up Ray and Casey and you got five. Without that friendship — at times like this when I’m without distractions — I feel massively diminished. It feels so crushing, I’m not sure I can actually stand it. What do I do? Do I run away and hide in the company of others? I don’t believe I need to be with others all the time to be okay, but I realized today that I really do need to continue to have Ray in my life.

I think I’ll need to find ways to fold his consciousness into my day-to-day life in a tangible enough way to make it seem like he’s really here. It won’t be easy, but we have (had) so much in common, that I have lots to draw upon. I think I need to avoid feeling nostalgia for how it was and celebrate how it is…how Ray lives on inside of me. Yesterday, I finished designing something on my own; something I haven’t done in a long time. I felt Ray’s measure in the task. I felt his guidance, telling me to slow down and see the tiny details; take them one at a time and then move on. I feel immensely proud of what I accomplished, and it really felt like I had his help.

So, maybe I am whistling in the dark…but the footsteps I hear behind mine are Ray’s.

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, 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?

Eleven weeks, five days

Again, I am choking out sobs. I have just watched Dr. Wayne Dyer interview Anita Moorjani. The timing is heaven sent.

I have been consumed of late with thinking about Ray’s last hours. They weren’t good. He struggled and fought. He would fight to get up out of bed, even though he was only semi-conscious. His breathing was so laboured. I cannot find a way to calm myself about his state. I can only see suffering of the greatest kind. I can only imagine fear. It has filled my days and nights with guilt, horror, sadness and an overwhelming desire to comfort and take it all away…even though it is now long past.

We cared for Ray at home. He died, in his former office, in a hospital bed provided by the Province, with no less than 10 people with him. His brother, my sisters, my nephew, his sisters, my daughter, son and daughter-in-law were all there — talking to him, trying to comfort him and feeling the impossibility of letting him go.

I have been so haunted by Ray’s last hours. Tonight, I watched a PBS talk by Dr. Wayne Dyer, and he introduced a woman named Anita Moorjani, who had been admitted to hospital in Hong Kong with organ failure in late stage cancer. What Anita Moorjani said gave me some comfort. I’m not in any way relieved, but I feel there is a possibility that Ray was not suffering as profoundly as I believe he was. As she drifted into death, Anita experienced an expansion of consciousness — something Jill Bolte Taylor talked about in her TED talk called My Stroke of Insight. (I encourage anyone and everyone to watch this. I have done so numerous times. It is new information everyone should have.)

Anita saw “the other side”, saw lost loved ones and, at the same time, those grieving by her bedside — but she felt overwhelming peace. For some reason, God gave her a chance to come back.

I think Ray got that chance on the operating table at VGH in March of 2006. The surgeon told me that they had almost lost him. It was a 12-hour surgery with profound complications. The surgeon thought of closing and giving up, but said he knew he had to go ahead. It gave me and my family six more years with Ray, a man more expansive in his generosity and humour, a mentor to young designers, an inspiration to countless people.

We can’t know what passing into death is really like. We can hang onto the words of those who have come close. For me, they give me a bit of comfort. As it happens, I have been present at the death of a number of people — some peaceful, some violent. In all but Ray’s case, I have seen peace sweep over them. I am still so unsure in Ray’s case. He wasn’t done and I’ve said that before. Was he willing to let go? Was he okay with going to “the other side”? I won’t know til I get there myself. Sometimes, I really want to be there, but not in “that” way. Just in the way that I miss him so badly and I want to see him again. I can wait until it’s my time, but I certainly don’t dread that day.

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.

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