Archives for category: Pain in Grief

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.

Advertisements

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, 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?

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.

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.

Since he’s been gone, it’s like my heart just don’t beat right.

— Joyful Noise

I relied on Ray to be my protector. In fact, the name Ray means protector. Ray didn’t back down from things…sometimes to my horror. I am an appeaser and peacemaker. I want everyone happy, everyone to feel good. Sometimes his willingness to step up and testify made me uncomfortable…perhaps because I feared doing it myself.

Ray was unyielding to a fault, particularly around design and social issues. He was a deep thinker and he knew what was right on many fronts. He cared. Nothing was off limits when it came to defending the power of design and how it could make our clients successful. He was tenacious.

I take comfort in seeing these traits in our newly married Sarah Taliunas, our senior designer who Ray trained with love and intent. She is his protegé, and she does him proud. She shores me up when I feel like caving.

I see Ray — certainly in my wonderful kids, Peter and Cass, and my daughter-in-law, Kristen, his brother David and all his sisters, but also in Sarah — in Matt Warburton, Angie Opdahl, Melissa Keith, Dylan Staniul, Jim Skipp, Kirsten Skipp, Paul Roelofs, Kathy Boake, Perry Danforth, David Gray, Adam Rogers, Kim Blanchette, Victor John Penner, Albert Normandin, Phred Martin…There are dozens and dozens of people we have employed and worked with over our years in business and Ray touched every one of them. He is still alive in all of them. He schooled each of us in some way.

I miss him so badly. My guiding star — my compass is gone.

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.

%d bloggers like this: