Archives for category: Rediscovering myself

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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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.

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.

Cass celebrating the wild surf at Cox Bay

20 weeks, five days

I’ve fallen in love. Besotted, drunken, stupid love. But it’s not with a someone. It’s with a some place. Ray and the kids and I went to Tofino, BC last November in the worst weather. But that’s the objective with this crazy place, open to the Pacific with only Japan to spoil the view. It blew. It rained. It did what the Pacific Northwest does best, but in an environment that one couple from Minneapolis I met described as “fairy-like”. There is a reason that this is where they filmed Twilight. It is a deep, magical place. It is wet, mossy and spectacularly green. During our three days there, we walked on the beach, stood in the wind and cuddled by fireplaces — both in our cabin and in our favourite restaurants. Where could someone like me — deathly afraid of dark, sunlight-starved winter days — feel so happy in one of the wettest places on the planet. We vowed to return.

Tragically, we returned without Ray this July. We decided to test Tofino in “summer” (in quotation marks because we have waited patiently for summer here on the “wet” coast and it has just shown up in the second week of August). It was cool but not raining. One day, it was even sunny. I have never felt more relaxed or more well than when I returned after that trip. Something about this place is so healing and exceptional. I don’t know what it is, but I am drawn to it like a bee to honey. On returning from this trip, I felt compelled to see if I could find a place to live here….at least part time. And it is here that I have started to doubt my sanity. I have listened to my sisters with their gentle caveats: don’t rush into it; it’s your “first year”; don’t do anything rash. And, having lived these 50+ years, I know that it’s important to hear out the people who love and care about you. My life has taught me the perils of ignoring those who have the guts to stand up and say,” look out”. And yet, I am thinking about this place all day, every day.

I went back on an exploratory mission to look at homes and land there last week. My idea is to have a place that my family and I can use, but rent when we’re not there. I’ve consulted with one of the better rental agents in Tofino to learn what will rent well and what I would be best to acquire. I didn’t love any of the houses. One was okay, but in a “neighbourhood” that felt like a street of houses. I can live anywhere and have that. What I did gravitate to was an uncleared lot — a half acre, across the road from a path to the beach.

The lot, as yet untouched

I walked it and timed it. 12 1/2 minutes to one of the most spectacular beaches on earth, Chesterman Beach. I have walked through the lot twice. It is soft and silent and beautiful. I can see my friend Paul, a seasoned and talented architect, designing a magical place for us to be. I can see it built. I can see my dog, Willy and I setting out each morning to walk, having coffee and then settling down to work — remotely — with my office in Richmond. I want my family to use this place. I want friends to use it. The bonus of renting for 10 – 20 weeks a year makes it feasible and worth considering. So, am I mad? Wouldn’t something somewhere else work better? Couldn’t I skip the 2 hour ferry ride + 3 1/2 hour drive on a road that would make Mario Andretti pale? How about a nice rancher in the Cariboo? Or a house looking over the orchards in Kelowna? Why not any Gulf Island: Mayne, Pender, Galiano, Saltspring? I guess there are a few reasons. One: I’ve never been to any of the Gulf Islands save for Denman and Hornby, lovely as they are, I could never see myself there. And when I broached the subject of the other Gulf Islands with my kids they said, “but that has no sentimental link for us. Tofino is linked with Dad”. No other place we have ever been as a family has had this impact on us. We are all besotted to a point. So, what do I do. Stop drinking the Koolaid and get a grip? Listen to my heart and buy the land? Would not buying it be my greatest regret? Or would buying it be a massively stupid decision. Am I mad? What should I do?

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.

Nine weeks, four days

It’s has been a fascinating experience watching people on the vessel of my healing cruise. 

There must be a master/slave gene in some people that makes them treat staff like mindless numbered units. I’ve seen it at other times throughout my life and it has always made me angry. I saw a American woman today (identifiable by accent) wave limply at a busser and circle her finger around the top of her table indicating that he should hustle on over to tidy her table. Yesterday in the spa there was a woman who just couldn’t seem to be civil to anyone. She brought in a big dark cloud with her. Then there is the wealthy Indian family who look at everyone else on the ship is a stinking pile of poop, passengers included. It would be funny if it wasn’t so distasteful. Hello people! You’re on a luxurious cruise, having your every need attended to by young people who could easily be your own sons and daughters. Lighten up!

On the other end of the scale, I have seen love in action. I thought I had the only perfect marriage on the planet, but it appears there are others. There is a Chinese couple from Victoria. She was a stay at home mom and took that job very seriously. They have two grown daughters of whom they are very proud. She had wonderful wisdom about her astute child-rearing decisions. He was the breadwinner. And now, they are reacquainting themselves with each other and appear to be having a comfortable love affair. They beamed with pleasure at being in each other’s company.

This morning I met a lovely couple from India. She is missing a leg on one side and an arm on the other. She spread a towel on a lounger and hauled herself out of her wheelchair without a hitch. I offered to give her a hand but she said she likes to do things herself. No fuss, no muss. Then a man walked in and she said, “Oh, and here is my husband” as if she was announcing the arrival of royalty. Again there was a loving warmth between them that was palpable.

Being a lone female on a cruise is an interesting experience. Pretty much everyone is coupled, even with a sister or brother. I feel as if I have a vapor bubble around me that no one is comfortable touching. It makes it very easy to people watch. I’m invisible, so I can stare at will! It is a unique learning opportunity of which I will take full advantage. It reminds me what a gift Ray’s love for me was and what an incredibly good person he was. It reminds me that I am a good person, too — that I love people and that I’m never really alone.

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.

Seven weeks, five days

I was thinking about the pathway of my life yesterday. I was re-evaluating the pressures I was experiencing when my children were younger and realizing they are much fewer now than they once were. I was working long, long days; keeping our kids in activities; trying to make ends meet for our business as well as at home. I was constantly stressed beyond my capacity.

Now, after losing Ray, I no longer carry the weight of his daily medical and emotional care and the constant stress and sadness attending that. But it goes deeper and farther. I no longer have that “other shoe” I talked about  in Knowing Someone Will Die, suspended above my head. My children are now young adults. There is a shift from me worrying about them to them starting to watch out for me. My business, no longer in its infancy, hums along fairly well most of the time.

So I feel somewhat more secure and less like the sky is falling every day. Perhaps this is the calm before another storm but, rather than anticipating it, I’ll just enjoy these smoother seas for now. Living in the moment was never a better idea than it is right now.

Five weeks, two days

I spent the day yesterday with my mom. It’s been decades since we spent time the way we did. I think it was because I knew I only had myself to worry about. So we sat and talked for a couple of hours over coffee. We had lunch. Then we made our way to the garden shop to buy geraniums and hostas. And while she had a nap, I planted the flowers for her. No rush. No feeling that I had to be somewhere else. We even went out to dinner. It gave both of us a great deal of joy.

This was a reawakened experience for me. Mom and I used to hang out for hours like that, before I was living with Ray, before I had children, a real job — when life was less complicated, I guess. I didn’t know what I was missing. I’d forgotten this lovely aspect of my life and I’m enjoying the thought of having it back. It takes more time now, as mom has Alzheimer’s, but I had the time yesterday and we luxuriated in it.

Note to self…I can have my old life back to a certain extent. I can remember the times I walked down 41st Avenue after school and bought my Mom a single bloom and took it home to make her smile. I had no one to think about but me and Mom. And life can turn circles on itself, and you can rediscover past happiness. It doesn’t mean that I’ve let Ray go, but that I am a whole person, still. That is reassuring. I am rediscovering me.

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