Gone

My coworker passed away tonight.  News travels fast and, it seems, bad news spreads especially quickly.  It will be a sad group that arrives at the office on Monday.  Fortunately, I am off that day.  This sort of news and how people will mourn can catapult me into darkness.  Tuesday won’t be much better but at least the initial shock will have worn off.  Those first raw conversations will have been replaced by numbness as people reflect on how brutal cancer is.

It is brutal, it is arbitrary, and it is shattering.  Life turns upside down in one fraction of a second.  You hear the words and everything drops away around you.  I vividly recall when Kevin got his diagnosis.  We went to the hospital for a pain in his back.  He left 12 hours later with a death sentence.  But that moment when the doctor came and sat with us to tell us what the pain truly was, I remember so well.  His words,  cancer, advanced cancer, stage 3 at minimum.   That moment in time felt both long and short, the time and place we were in seemed to stand still.  Everything fell away in that one moment of time.  The noise and the chaos of the hospital, we didn’t hear it.  We just looked at each other.  The shock of the moment created a connection through pain.  There is no thought, just pure anguish.

We went home, we were far different people than left that house 12 hours earlier.  Prepared to fight, scared beyond words.  And so it began for us.  It ended, just as it did for my coworker and her family today.  Heartbreak, desolation and despair.  Dark days and darker nights. Here I am two years down the road and I still find that the darkness can press against me.  You never stop loving, you don’t.

Valentine’s Day

Another heavily promoted day to share with those you love.   Coming out of Christmas and heading into Valentine’s, it just keeps the wound open.

For the three of four years before he got sick, Kevin and I would celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We would do it in style, with another couple we were friends with, actually it was a teacher he taught with.  The males would coordinate the meal, serve us and always there was a ridiculously expensive bottle of wine that went with the meal.  That was Kev’s contribution, anything less than $40 a bottle was ‘swill’, and it wasn’t unusual to have a bottle that cost a whole bunch more.  It was always a fun evening, especially if Kevin had a drink, he was not a drinker at all and so things could get pretty outrageous if he had a glass or two. These are the memories I have of Valentine’s Day.

Fast forward to the present, and all around me people are planning their special evening.  At work there is a fundraiser for the United Way, buy a bouquet and support the Way.  All I can think of is the reality that my husband isn’t here to buy me flowers anymore.  Not that he did often, he had a thing about buying something dead (flowers) and giving it as a gift.  Early on in our marriage he’d tell me that he could hear the flowers scream in pain as they were being picked.  Still, occasionally he would get me some.  He’s the only one I ever wanted them from.  No one else.

That’s what Valentine’s Day does for me, reminds me of sadness.  A dull throbbing sadness now, still just as deep, just not as sharp.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  I see people all around me who are on their own, with no one to make their day ‘special’.  I doubt that they get a warm fuzzy feeling about the day.  I suspect it wouldn’t be so bad if big box store marketing campaigns hadn’t made it into such a pressure to celebrate.  It’s really not fair on a multitude of levels, but I never ever thought about it until I was one of have-nots watching from the outside.

The Constant Struggle

I was driving home tonight after a game of cards with my sister-in-law.  It was late and the roads were empty.  I had the radio on to keep me company and a commentary came on called “push and pull.”  Basically it was all about how life was either one motion or the other.  As situations and events occur in our lives we are either pushed into them or pulled into them.

It spoke about the willingness or reluctance of our individual participation.  The monologue was really about striving more to have it be the ‘pull’ than the ‘push’ that influences what we do.  The word ‘pull’ was interpreted more as an attraction or desire drawing us in, versus the ‘push’ which meant resistance, disengagement, lack of interest. The positive and the negative.

It really resonated with me, because over the last couple of years, for the most part, life has been a ‘push’ for me.  I consciously have to battle with myself to make the effort to participate.  With Kevin’s death, I found I had no desire to do much of anything, after all for 30+ years he had been my world.  After he died pretty much everything was a ‘push’ for me.  It’s only lately that I have begun to feel a ‘pull’ with respect to any activities to occupy my time.  I feel the urge to write again – and for me that’s a tremendous relief.

Such a simplistic representation of life, and it describes my challenges completely.  To be ‘pulled’ or to be ‘pushed.’  My gratification and satisfaction levels raise exponentially when it’s the ‘pull’ that is the source of my motivation, so I guess I need to focus more on finding things that I am ‘pulled’ toward.

Another sad good-bye

Leonard Cohen died last week.  He had reached a great age and, as the media reports it, he died a peaceful man.  Cohen had released an album just last month, likely I will buy it – Kevin would have. There are some musical artists that are significant in my life because they were so influential on my husband while he lived.  The more notable ones were:  Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass and Bob Dylan.  There were many more, but certainly these four were right up there.

I can’t and won’t even try to express what Kevin felt about these artists because, quite simply, I don’t have the musical knowledge or education to accurately explain it.  Kevin got music, and beyond that, he loved art and artistic expression; he was a creative soul that understood the nuances, the passion, the frustration and the genius of composition (in multiple art forms). I was just along for the ride.

It was Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing that proved inspirational for a whole series of Kevin’s paintings.  In his usual fashion, Kevin had taken Cohen’s poem, My Mother Is Not Dead, and spun it in his own way.  The particular lines from that poem are:

“Don’t worry about any of your relatives.

Do you see the insects?

One of them was once your dog.

But do not try to pat the ant.

It will be destroyed by your awkward affection.”

This segment from the poem became the basis of Kevin’s obsession with the ant on the hotdog.  He replicated the image over and over, in oils and acrylics, his artistic rendering of reincarnation.

So Leonard Cohen dies and it brings a whole fresh wave of grief for me, for Kevin’s death.  Selfish isn’t it?  Another family is suffering and all I can think about is me.  How life shortchanged Kevin, how brutal and cruel it was to him in the end, and what that meant for me.  Kevin should have had another 20 years to laugh, love and live.  I should have had that with him.  Our kids should have had that.  But they don’t, I don’t.  And sometimes the ache in my chest rolls around my heart until it feels like it’s being squeezed tighter and tighter, and there’s not a darn thing that I can do.  It’s my pain to manage, and sometimes not so well.

 

 

The Ladies

Dinner out with the ladies was, as usual, healing.  There is nothing like meeting with people who are in the same type of condition as you are.  The conversation was a little stilted at first, we seemed to be skirting around why we meet.  Fact is, under any other circumstances we would never have met, we are a diverse group with little in common.  But we did, because of death and loss, and because of our need to find some sort of light to guide us out of the darkness.

Consequently, our fluffy conversations don’t flow.  We can’t talk with ease about the little stuff because we don’t share the same values or priorities.  So we met and tried small talk but it just fell into silence until someone commented on a milestone or accomplishment and we slid into harmony again.  Then the chatter began.  I think at this point this is when we advance this specific friendship.  Like the friends you make at work, you have work in common; and the friends you make at the hockey arena when you’re watching your kids play hockey – you have hockey and kids in common.  We have deceased husbands, it may sound ghoulish, but it isn’t.  We have a common loss.  Talking about it helps.

For me, I usually have specific questions I want to ask.  I need to normalize the things I am experiencing, thinking or feeling.  And these meetings help, for the most part I leave feeling relieved.  I get the chance to ask, ‘am I odd, or has anyone else noticed …’ and ending that question with whatever is bothering me.  I may not get the response I want, but I definitely do get feedback that is informed, practical and sympathetic.

Looking back, it was a good thing all those months ago attending that grief group.  The strangers that I met there have now become an important part of my safety net, and I hope that they feel the same way about me.