Archives for category: managing loss

Rope

So much has happened since my last post. I have not given up.

I have taken another healing cruise…this time to the Eastern Caribbean — a place I never imagined going and which I both enjoyed and despaired in some ways. I am a wuss when I come face to face with poverty and, sadly, it is abundant in places like Haiti and Jamaica. It is exacerbated by the contrast with the wealthy tourists who wander about looking for some “local flavour” amid the lack of anything like it.

But I went in order to collect my thoughts for my Leading by Design Fellows Program at California College of the Arts. I was accepted into the Masters Program and went to San Francisco to meet my cohort in March. There, I was talked out of the Masters Program by the Vice Chair, and into her program which is basically the concentrated juice from the Masters program. I am very happy with my choice.

I have had my first residency in San Francisco just a couple of weeks ago. It was stimulating and scary at the same time. Since then, I have been virtually vibrating every day. I have an awesome challenge set for myself and I’m working 18 hour days, most happily.

I am aware, though, how Ray is at my mental fingertips each moment. It is a comfort but is also disturbing. I’m aware of how much I’ve packed into my life in order to avoid feeling the gaping hole in my gut. It’s a really, really big hole. I’m keeping things together by hanging on tight. I’m afraid that if I let the line go the slightest bit slack, I may just fall apart.

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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.

Ray Hrynkow, by Jennifer Romita 2012

Ray Hrynkow, by Jennifer Romita 2012

Nine months, one week

I’m trying to look at Jennifer Romita’s exquisite portrait of Ray. She worked on it for months, carefully checking in with me on details and nuance. She did it out of love and compassion. It is a gift that I have yet to fully experience, as it is too real to allow myself to do. I literally cannot look into Ray’s eyes in this portrait. His eyes were always a place I got lost. They were like green stones in a brook, shiny and laughing. Jennifer captured them so perfectly, I just can’t look directly at them yet. Christmas has been hard at times. I have cried, as you can imagine, but I didn’t implode as I expected.

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Like the slow building from an early sketch through multiple refinements in black and white through to colour in Jennifer’s work, my life since Ray’s passing has been building as well. I have gone from a “ghost” lost in grief to a stronger and stronger person each day.

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There is so much to tell right now. Christmas is just past, and I’ve done really well. I am looking at a year ahead that is full of the unknown, but also full of bright promise. It is a future full of contrast — loss and growth. My mom is losing ground at an exponential rate due to advancing dementia. She has trouble forming full sentences and she has a very loose contact with reality. She is frightened and confused. I look at her and realize I am one stroke away from going down that same horrible path.

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My birthday was two days ago. I am three years off the age when she had her first stroke. I don’t smoke. I’m not an alcoholic. But are those the factors that made the difference for her, or is it simply destiny that the women in my family are robbed of their futures by heart disease? Since mid-November. I have been working with a personal trainer through Evernote, an amazing program I’ve used for over three years for all kinds of purposes (including monitoring Ray’s medical records as well as my mom’s), but never my own fitness. My trainer gives me workouts to do through Evernote and we talk every two weeks. He monitors my fitness and nutrition. I’m absolutely loving it and I’m making great strides. I am fighting through a bout with fibromyalgia in doing this, but I have no doubt that I will prevail and be horseback riding and swimming, in addition to my workouts, by April.

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I am doing really exciting things right now. I am teaching and loving it more every day. My design practice is going strong. I love my colleagues and clients, and the projects are so stimulating. I have applied for a masters degree and will know if I have been accepted in about a month. My heart beats quickly every day because I feel a sense of future and promise…the kind of thing you feel in your 20s when you graduate, become engaged, married or maybe pregnant. But I’m not in my 20s. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel potential in my life, but I don’t know many people in my age group who feel this sense of “spring” — birth, budding, greenness, hope. I feel like a have a little secret that is somehow naughty — naughtier still because of my mom’s growing loss and the general assortment of tragedies and disappointments that seem to be prevalent in my age group. I am not ready to fade yet. I feel like I am bursting with potential. I can honestly tell you that I plan to make profound change in the world in the next 20 years. I feel a bit embarrassed by my confidence and excitement. But I know that my life experience, my professional experience and my passion are gifts that I must share as widely as I can.

So I’ll launch myself into 2013, without needing resolutions. I’ve made them all and am well on my way to succeeding with them. I think this is the beginning for me. I have had decades of endings, sadness, loss and heartbreak. I am moving forward. There will be hiccups. I will still feel the profound sadness that is just behind this brash facade I keep up, but I will keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have things to do and big, world changing problems to tackle. Just watch me.

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, 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.

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.

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