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.

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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.

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, 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, 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….

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.

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