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  Those first raw conversations will have been replaced by numbness as people reflect on how brutal cancer is.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.

Finished

The task is complete and the room is done.  What a job that was.  Unfortunately, coward that I am, I saved the most difficult stuff for last.  And it was hard.  We had seven photo boards on display at Kevin’s funeral.  Covered with pictures, rich with memories.  After the funeral they had leaned against the wall in that little room.  For the first few months after he died every now and then I would take one of the boards out and run my fingers over the pictures, trying to remember and feel him again.  Silly thing but it was an unconscious need on my part.

I was always the ‘touchy’ one in our relationship, and Kevin didn’t mind that at all.  He’d sit beside me and I’d rub his shoulders or hands or even his feet.  He’d go very still, afraid that if he moved I’d stop.  If one of our cats jumped up on the couch with us he’d know it was game over, I’d start patting the cat.  Kevin did alright though.  So perhaps that’s why I felt the need to touch those pictures, because that’s what I do.

They were the last, but the biggest, hurdle in that room.  Seven boards with 20 to 30 photos on each one.  I sat there and peeled those pictures off the mounting boards and cried the whole time.  It couldn’t be hurried, each one needed to be looked at before it went away.  It was, after all, my life too in each of those images; a way of living that died when he did.

One of the toughest realizations that has come out of Kevin’s death has to do with the extent of the impact on the family.  For those who had him as a friend, you mourn his loss, perhaps profoundly, but the exposure and interaction with him was different – not constant.  For me, and the family, that loss is boundless – that day the light in our lives dimmed, and  part of us retreated to the shadows.

I think about that statement, ‘larger than life.’  I’ve pondered over it more than once since Kevin died.  If anyone earned it, it was him.  He loved life and while he was here he lived it large. Those photo boards were a testimony to that.  They also were a painful reminder of how quickly life can change.

 

The Mystique of the Cottage

The cottage has always played a big part in my family’s dynamics.  It is a special place.  There are so many memories attached to the place that it made it impossible for me to visit it in the year after Kevin’s death.  In the early stages of our relationship, when we were still dating, I remember when he invited me to the cottage. I had met Kevin in a bar, he was playing in the band, and I was there with my mother and sisters.  Yup, my mother – it was her idea actually.  The bar was the Caribou Club, a large, rollicking, boozy club where Newfoundlanders would go to hear some downhome music, mixed in with a top 40’s band.  Kevin was the keyboard player for the band, “Reflections”, and he’d also back up ‘Mean Gene’ the star performer who’d reel out maritime tunes, while pumping away on his accordion, to the delight of the crowd.  Good fun, and my mother, a Newfoundlander, had wanted to go for the music and for the food.  The Caribou Club had a full kitchen and they would serve up traditional fare, like cod tongue; yum, there’s no place like home.

This is where I met my husband, at the Caribou Club.  It was his 28th birthday and he was feeling no pain.  He was working his way through the club on his breaks, trying to kiss most of the women in the bar, or so he said.  No small feat since the club was always overfull – I have no idea how many people, but well over 400.  Anyway, Kevin succeeded in winning me over and within a few months he had invited me to the cottage.  Word got out in the club and I was cornered by some women one night in the washroom.  Drunk women I might add.  They wanted to impress upon me that nobody, but nobody, got invited to Batch’s cottage – so I’d better not be jerking him around.  Sheesh, the last thing I needed was to be accosted by some rabid females defending him.  Anyway, I told him about the confrontation later that night.  He found it funny, but did say that yup not too many people had been to the cottage, it was a place he liked to keep private.

So the cottage factors huge in my memories of him.  We even spent our honeymoon there, and over the next 30 years would host a great number of occasions there.  There were family dinners with upwards of 20 people.  There were fireworks, games of Risk, card games, barbecues and swimming in the river.  It was entirely a family cottage.  The imprint of my father-in-law, Jack, is everywhere.  He build the cottage from the ground up, using hand tools for the most part since the electricity wasn’t in place for a good many years.  And my mother-in-law, a woman truly larger than life; even today we still call the main bedroom, grandma’s room.  I can still see her on the deck throwing orange peels, banana peels, whatever, over the side, laughing and encouraging my kids to do the same thing.  And then there is Terry, a nephew who died far too soon – I remember those times when he would eat too much, he’d try to lie down, his belly overfull, only to have my kids (or his brothers) jump and crawl on him. Or the time he did manage to pass out, the kids put a pork chop bone under his nose and then took photos.  He was such a good sport, Terry was. We did silly things, fun things; all the stuff that large families do.  Poignant memories of days now gone.  Hard to face, but it would be far worse not to have them.

This year the cottage has become a focal point for the family again.  Even though the gardens are overgrown, the siding needs to be painted, and there are a multitude of other maintenance issues, there is still a heart to the place, an essence that blends all the family back to one.  I don’t know that we will ever be able to make it what it was, but while we gather there it’s almost as if those gone are there with us and are happy that the cottage continues to unite us.

What a difference a year can make.  Last year the cottage was devastating to me because of its sentiment and I stayed away; this year I am drawn to it for that very reason.

 

A Good Soul

This week is finally in the books.  Unfortunately in my scheduled return to work program my doctor had increased my working hours for this week.  When we’d done up the schedule I hadn’t really looked at the calendar, it had been a matter of blocks of time.  The first two weeks you work this many hours, the next two weeks increase to this many hours; that was how we had approached my return to work.  I hadn’t looked at the actual calendar, and even if I had, I likely would have thought ‘no problem, I can do this.’  I couldn’t though, and consequently I didn’t quite meet the increased hours.  I nearly got there.  I’ll try again next week and see if I can hit the target.

Every single day I woke up just as tired as when I went to bed.  It didn’t matter if I got four hours of sleep or eight, it just didn’t feel like enough.  The alarm would go off and it was almost unbearable to think about getting out of bed and going in to work.  There was just no motivation to do anything.  It was a week of a lot of reflection and thought about what happened and how quickly things changed.  There was a point – it was Wednesday – where I thought, this time last year we were oblivious to Kevin’s disease, a mere hour later I would be taking him to the hospital and that was when the crevasse opened and claimed my husband.

Try as I may to avoid dwelling on things I can’t change, I can’t change the fact that all I want to do is think about things I would do differently.  If I could.  I so wish that life offered do-overs.  That by some fluke we had of picked up on his disease when it was still treatable.  Lung cancer tends to fly under the radar until it is advanced stages, and it stayed true to this path in Kevin’s case.  He was so brave throughout his journey, which makes me feel so weak by comparison.  I don’t know if I could ever be as brave as him.  He was peace and love right to his last breath. My Kevin.

His was a good soul, a very good soul.

It’s a Narrow Path Out of this Darkness

I can feel the tension building as I get closer to the end of the month.  It will be a year on the 27th.  One year ago we got the news.

I find that as the day approaches the build-up is immense.  Almost unmanageable.  I feel a sensation similar to that of a plane sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off.  Engines pulsing and throbbing as more and more energy courses through, building to a momentum and intensity that will make the impossible possible.  Unlike the plane, however, I won’t fly when I hit capacity – I’m more likely to crash and burn.

I am aware of how tightly strung I am. Getting through this week may mean withdrawing a bit.  Sometimes the thoughts in my head are too hard to explain and the feelings too raw to reveal.  It’s easier to shrink into the background; it’s less demanding.

So there’s nothing to be done about it.  Just get through the week and hope the next one is better.  That’s pretty much how it has been going for the last few weeks anyway.  It’s a narrow path out of this darkness and the ground can often give way, leaving me scrambling for a foothold again.  Then I get back up on my feet and try and refocus.   Groundhog Day.