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MaFelipe, iStock

MaFelipe, iStock

It has been three years.

Some surprising things have been happening to me in a very short period of time since this past Christmas.

A perfect storm of events has occurred: my kids are sliding quietly into their own, private lives; my mom has gone into care; and the last “big” home (in the Lower Mainland) in our sibling family has been abandoned for more practical, smaller space. Things I counted on as constants have gone missing. There is no longer a central place to hang out with siblings. My own home will soon be “empty”. And I find myself without a companion to share things with. I had no idea how profoundly I would feel this.

I thought I would never seek another mate. Ray and I were perfectly matched. And, without him, I no longer have that best friend to talk to about anything and everything. Without him, I no longer want to run our company alone.

I am left to face the reality of living life on my own. But I now know that can’t do that. I need companionship. I need an intelligent, sensitive male with whom to laugh, share stories and experience these next years. So I have allowed myself to open up to meeting someone new. It has been an interesting few months. I didn’t ever really “date”. I met Ray. That was it. Now, like a life sentence prisoner out on release, I am experiencing a very strange world without any guidance. Dating for 20-30-somethings is often more of a quick hookup situation. Tempting though that may be, I’m looking for something with more roots, as well as the passion. I may be quite close.

I am enjoying what I am learning. Baby steps.

On a bright, crisp day exactly 35 years ago yesterday, Ray and I were married. It was the late 70s, when formal weddings were so last week. I wore a long knit dress I’d owned for years and a garland in my hair made by Thomas Hobbs (locals will know the caché there). Ray wore a brand new navy suit, the best he’d ever owned.
He looked fabulous. We both loved classical music. Our biggest investment in our wedding was Handels’s Largo, Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) and Ave Maria sung by the best voice we could afford. My parish singer was accompanied by our parish harpist and organist. We had no official photographer, just happy snaps taken by whoever had a camera. We didn’t cut a cake, we cut a beautifully dressed baked salmon. (if I can find some photos, I’ll add them later)It was a close family and friends party followed precipitously by normal life. And that’s what Ray and I had — a “normal” life. We built a business and a family and experienced the highs and lows, the losses and the wins that any family experiences. We had the best friendship in the world, wrapped up in a loving marriage.  It was cut just a bit too short. We missed that last third of the curve, the gentling down of stress and busyness towards a more relaxed time to rediscover each other again. But it was a life together that I know was enviable. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had it.

The first time we touched, I was you and you were me. We were bonded for life, bonded eternally. Our energy jumped from body to body, linking us.

This kind of love is so rare. There was no choice to be made — should we stay  together because we felt like this, or should we part if we fought. Our love transcended these conscious decisions. Our souls were one being.

And so, I live fulfilled with your soul still with mine. I miss your physical being terribly. I miss your extraordinary mind, your laughter, your warm caresses. But we are still together. I feel you beside me every moment of every day.

I feel so angry today. Not your garden-variety, annoyed angry, but tears-stinging-your-eyes-to-get-out-and-want-to-scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs-and-break-everyone-else’s-ear-drums angry. Do you ever feel that angry? I’m not sure it has to do with not having your best friend with you any more. It might just be about not being heard, or listened to.

Is this the point at which I give up? Is this where I stop? Can I grow no further than here? Is this all I have…all there is? Am I done? Is it time to “wind down?” Is there nothing more of any significance that I can contribute to the world, or shall I simply continue, a cog in the wheel, until my body fails me and I become yet another burden on everyone younger than I am?

These are the questions I’m asking and the anger I feel. I have applied to an American school for a MBA in Design Strategy. It is the only one in North America. The description reads like I wrote it for myself. But I’m 57 years old. I have more people smiling and nodding politely at me about this than I care to count. I don’t need a Masters degree to make change in the world, but to do it at the level I want to do it — to influence the people I need to influence — a DMBA from California College of the Arts is pretty serious cred. Is it that my friends and loved ones don’t have the capacity to understand what I want to do, or that I am just so delusional that someone needs to slap me upside the head and bring me back down to earth?

I don’t want to die as just another organism that took up oxygen and procreated. I want to be someone who made things a lot better — who saw things more clearly and led others to the light. Ray did that. Is it vain of me to want to do the same?

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 weeks, 2 days. Our 34th wedding anniversary.

It’s dull and grey here today — comfortingly typical west coast weather. This day, 34 years ago, Ray and I were married on a warm, spectacularly sunny day.

We crafted the ceremony around what we loved. I am Roman Catholic, so Ray agreed to be married at Holy Name Parish in Vancouver. We chose gorgeous music that we both revelled in — Handel’s Largo; Panis Angelicus; Ave Maria — and invested our meagre budget in a singer, a harpist and an organist. There were only close friends and family there. Our reception was in my family home. We didn’t even have a cake — we took pictures cutting into salmon. I wore a dress I’d owned for years. And the only photos we have are blurry happy snaps taken by whoever happened to bring a camera.

Out of this simple day came these 34 years of companionship, partnership and strength for both me and Ray. I often wonder about the huge investments and family-splitting tension that some young couples go through to mount a ceremony for a relationship that doesn’t have enough depth to pull them through everything they will ultimately have to endure. Ray and I really did love and support each other until death parted us. I don’t feel parted, though. I continue to feel Ray’s presence in my growing strength in pushing my life forward.

I do feel this anniversary. Tears are seeming to squirt out of my eyes unbidden. But I don’t feel devastation. I feel warmth and strength and tremendous gratitude for having had a relationship so rare and precious. I feel grateful that I still love Ray and that my kids and I continue to enjoy his humorous, intelligent and talented legacies.

Happy Anniversary, baby. I love you.

Two months, to the day

I see a pattern emerging in my healing process. There are certain days where Ray’s presence is palpable and where I feel so painfully wistful, it’s uncomfortable. I spent the day on Monday (Victoria Day) cleaning like a mad woman. I dusted, vacuumed, mopped, purged the freezer and bought fresh flowers. I huffed and puffed and all the while listening to Snatam Kaur cranked up to max. That music has become indelibly linked with Ray, his process of dying, and his defiant battle with cancer. It was his peace. It was his battle hymn. It gives me power, but it washes me with profound sadness as well.

You need to experience that sadness and I think that, sometimes, I need to give myself a shove into the muck of it so that I can get past the buildup and move forward. It’s up, it’s down. But somehow, like the muscle ache you have after working out, it feels healthy.

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