Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: grief

Hard Drive

My heart, like a hard drive, is permanently partitioned. Part of it comprises my 26-year marriage, the raising of my children, the hopes and dreams I had, and the sickness and death of my wife. The other part is unwritten upon, ready for a future I can’t even begin to understand. The problem is that at any given point it can switch between partitioned sections rendering my personal operating system glitchy and subject to crashes.

Such was the case this past week. While performing within normal parameters, my system suddenly switched to the hidden partition, and it has left me grief stricken and paralyzed. There was no warning. I understand that this switch was not the result of bugs or a virus. It is the result of a significant loss and the fact that I know I will never be whole again.

The hard part of all of this is that while attempting to begin a relationship with a woman, my first since I was 22, this wave of grief has me questioning whether I am being unfair to this woman; if I am incapable of giving myself wholly to another given my permanently partitioned heart. The grief tsunami that hit me this week, like all others before it, came without warning. There needn’t be a trigger. More likely, it was a thousand paper cuts, memories rising up during the past few weeks, poking me in the heart, not causing any immediate damage but collectively, over time, shattering my heart again. Now I am emotionally frozen, inextricably operating in a painful past, and incapable of addressing the present or the future.

I like to write because, while I assume that no one will ever read what I write, it usually helps me to understand my position on a topic or my underlying feelings if I put them down on paper (or up on a computer screen). However, while this usually is the case, dealing with grief is a topic no reasoning or processing can vanquish. I was incredibly sad for several days over the past week. It seems that every small event over the past few weeks correlated to something either my wife did, we did together, involved our kids, or it was something we planned to do together. Today I find myself bridging the realms of sadness and anger, perhaps on the path toward processing this wave and getting on with life, perhaps not. Perhaps these steps lead nowhere. Perhaps I will transition back to sadness, or onto negotiation, maybe even onto acceptance. I don’t know how to end this note. All I know is that I am stuck where I am, and no good wishes or caring hugs can hope to dislodge me.

Tony Webster, the protagonist in Julian Barnes’ excellent book The Sense of an Ending comments at one point that he “avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival” and “for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels.” He is a character who, like all of us, has a faulty memory, and has used Time to smooth out the jagged parts of an ordinary life to put meaning to his existence. I have never been one to live in the past. In fact, because of a terrible memory, I remember very little about my past. You would think that would force me to live in the present, to appreciate those around me, to smell the roses and embrace those around me. However, while I did not live in the past, I neither lived in the present. I did not appreciate those around me and assumed daily events had no significant bearing on my expectations of the future I believed would exist. No, I tended to live in the future. Everything I did was for some future date. At 15, I had figured out that in the incredibly far off year 2000, I would be 35, imagining what life would be like. I have always faithfully contributed to my 401(k) in the expectation that I would cash it out at some point and travel the world with Lisa or buy a two-room shack on a beach somewhere to live out our lives together. Now I find that I live in the past. Not the archetypical love of any lost high school glory, but of my life with Lisa. Even after eight years of caring for her as she underwent one barbaric medical treatment after another, and experiencing her withering and eventually dying while our children and I sat around her, I cannot help but to relive the life we lived together as a couple and a family and lament paradise lost and a future that will never be.

And so, awash in memories and residing in the past, my permanently fractured hard drive (my heart) is expected to give over control of the operating system to a brain that understands that life goes on. A mind that knows that while these waves of grief will never recede and will continue to destroy me forever, the troughs between them will, over time, expand, and it is in these troughs that I am expected to forge a new life and build a new future. It all seems so logical for a computer system, but my heart bleeds blood, and my eyes cry tears, not bits and bytes. Makes me wish I were a computer sometimes. I don’t know how to end this note. It just is what it is.

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365 Paper Cuts

 

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“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”     ― Thomas A. Edison

It was one year ago tonight that my best friend died. God, it hurts to write that. It seems like a lifetime ago and also as if it happened last night. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I rest my hand on her pillow every night before praying that sleep will gently take me away to her, but I never dream, about her or anything else. I have come a long way since that night in September, but in other ways, I feel I have never left that room. The kids and I have experienced the “year of firsts” without Lisa as if this is some magical milestone beyond which grief is forbidden to pass. I miss so much about her that my heart aches just thinking of the reasons.

I miss her laugh. I miss her smile. I miss her voice. I miss her nose. I miss her driving. I miss her honesty. I miss her eyes. I could go on for as long as my fingers can pass over this keyboard. Edison’s quote seem particularly applicable today because I don’t feel that I’ve survived one year without Lisa as much as I have endured 365 daily paper cuts without her that will never heal.

 

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”     ― John Wayne

One thing I do not miss is the suffering she had to endure. I taped the above quote on the refrigerator of the house we rented in Texas during her first round of treatment. I put it on the fridge for her to see, but now I see that it was meant for me. From chemotherapy to surgery to radiation, she never questioned or hesitated. She enthusiastically embraced every option offered to her until her physician assistant (in tears) told her there were no more options. Lisa was prepared to do more, but medicine had failed her. I look back at that quote now and see that the courage I wanted her to embrace is now exactly what I must adopt to survive her death and carry on.

My brother was in the hospital recently for treatment of a minor infection. It was the first time I’d visited a hospital since Lisa’s death. I hadn’t given any thought to how visiting a hospital would affect me. It was just what you do when a family member is in the hospital. My children were both concerned how visiting the hospital would affect me. As soon as I walked through the doors, all of the emotions swarmed me. Fortunately, my brother was well enough to be discharged the next day. However, shortly after that, my mother in law was taken to the hospital because she bumped her head when she fell. It was nothing serious, she was only taken to the hospital due to a state regulated precautionary requirement, but it required me visiting another hospital in the same week. As I sat there with her, waiting for her discharge papers, I can’t tell you how much I wanted to get out of there. Nothing happens quickly in a hospital and the memories exposed while sitting there were not healthy. Everything took me back to Lisa and her seven years of treatment. After having called M.D. Anderson a second home during all of her cancer treatment, I can’t conceive of a situation where all of the hospital memories won’t come flooding back to hit me in the face. We knew every corner of that hospital and felt like unofficial ambassadors because we ended up helping newcomers so often. In the end, there was no longer anything they could do for her so we both went home where she would die. Thoughts of hospitals paralyze me now.

 

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”     ― Seneca

Lisa’s suffering is over, and we’ve had a year to establish a life, living only with her memory. We have made progress because life goes on. The kids have graduated from college. We have moved back to Rhode Island. We live in a condo in an area we’re not familiar with but which is close enough to family and familiarity to provide some comfort. However, the idea of starting a life without her is at times challenging and at other times seemingly impossible. I still feel guilty for living. I feel guilty for never dreaming about her. I feel guilty for not making the most of this time with my kids, who will be gone this time next year. If our roles were reversed, I could imagine Lisa doing much better than I am now. I feel as if I’ve aged 50 years in the past 365 days. But life goes on, and I am trying to do the best I can. I hope the next year sees me and the kids continue to develop a new “normal” where we can laugh about the good times and not dwell on the bad; where we can think of Lisa as the beautiful, energetic whirlwind she was, full of flowing blond hair and a joie de vivre rather than the pained shell we saw at the end. I’ve survived 365 daily paper cuts without her. The wound will never heal but hopefully, the nerve endings will dull a bit. This week will be particularly strenuous. In addition to today’s commemoration, the kids’ birthday is Tuesday, and Lisa and my anniversary would have been Friday. At least I have the kids to lean on. I treasure my children and am so glad to have them around for the time that I do. They have gotten me this far. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them.

I’m ending this post with a poem by Hermann Hesse titled Stages. I hope you appreciate its message and hug your loved ones tighter today.

 

As every flower fades and as all youth

Departs, so life at every stage,

So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,

Blooms in its day and may not last forever.

Since life may summon us at every age

Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,

Be ready bravely and without remorse

To find new light that old ties cannot give.

In all beginnings dwells a magic force

For guarding us and helping us to live.

Serenely let us move to distant places

And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us

But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.

If we accept a home of our own making,

Familiar habit makes for indolence.

We must prepare for parting and leave-taking

Or else remain the slave of permanence.

Even the hour of our death may send

Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,

And life may summon us to newer races.

So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

Sharks and Cancer

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So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest…”  Quint, Jaws

It has been a very difficult year and a half. First, in November of 2014 my father died after a brief but excruciatingly painful fight with lung cancer which had spread to his bones. Almost one year later, last September, my wife died after a long fight with breast cancer which had spread to her lungs. And then only six months later, my dog died after a painful fight with a soft tissue cancer which had spread to his bones. One year, then only six months, part of me wonders what horror will befall us in three months. But I have to believe that the pain and suffering have ended now.  I can’t help but appropriate Quint’s quote to, “So, five of us went to Texas, three of us come home, cancer took the rest…”

Cancer has targeted my family for far too long now. I don’t want it to have any more power over us. My children have spent fully one-third of their lives living under the threat of cancer taking their mother and then their dog. Almost their entire teenage years, years difficult enough without cancer moving in to live with us, has been spent living under that dark cloud. They are 21 years old now and, in spite of these added pressures, will both graduate on-time from the University of Texas at Austin, each with over a 3.5 GPA. How they have been able to stay focused amazes me and is a testament to their strength of character.

I know people have had it harder than we have. I don’t claim to have a corner on suffering. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to steal from cancer by moving to Texas and seeking treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I’ll never regret that decision. But if we could have a break from any additional pain for a short time, that would be great.

Each of us is dealing with these losses in our own individual manner. Certainly, grief counseling has helped, but we still face a world in which neither Lisa nor Delbow will walk with us any longer. We have had long discussions about faith, heaven, philosophy, and all of the accompanying topics. We disagree as much as we agree but the discussions are always lively and fascinating. I hope that we can each find some comfort in our positions.

Finally, there is the issue of moving forward. The house, already quiet from Lisa’s absence is now even quieter without Delbow’s rambling about. The kids are on spring break this week, so I have a respite before facing that still house alone. I now have six months of experience without Lisa and living alone. I hope this serves me well when the kids return to school. But before we know it, school will be over, graduations will have been concluded and we will be packing up for our trip back to Rhode Island. I hope it goes well and we can begin our new lives healthy. No sharks, no cancer.

Kindling the Flame

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My birthday was last Monday. This was the first birthday I’ve ever been alone. Yes, people wished me a happy birthday at work (in fact, they took me out to lunch), and I heard from several people in person and many people wished me a happy birthday on Facebook, but when I went home at the end of the day, I was alone. That was a first in a long year of firsts.

I have been alone a lot lately and I understand that is the nature of things at this point. Friends seem far away and while I have a spark that my life is beginning again, the sparks right now seem only to flicker and then fade. I am hoping some of them kindle and flame. I’ll keep going because as Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

Things will change. I’ll be moving back to Rhode Island in June. I found a nice condo in East Greenwich big enough for me and the kids (who will be with me until they start graduate school). Getting back to Rhode Island will be going home. There is familiarity in it, even though I know nothing about East Greenwich. We will be close to family and friends once again and life will further kindle for me. I look forward to being home.

I know I need to start my life again. Whether that involves new hobbies or new people, I do not know at this point. I know that I want to get out of Texas. I want to leave all of the bad memories here and start anew. A friend of mine told me that I needed to find a meaningful life whether that involves happiness or not because it will be rich with significance. I hope I do have a meaningful life rich with significance, but I also hope it involves some happiness.

Soon, I will be putting the house here in Texas on the market and begin packing all of the belongings Lisa and I took to Texas to fight her cancer.  I do not consider it a lost battle. We gained seven years beyond her initial horrific diagnosis. I still marvel and shudder at what she endured to survive those seven years. More blood sticks that I can count, radiation burns, the barbaric side effects of systemic chemotherapy, radical surgery, wild clinical trials, nausea, neuropathy, headaches, coughs, colds, trips to the emergency room on holidays, and she waged this all-out war with an easy going manner to everyone else around her.

I still want to talk to her. I still reach for my phone to text her something funny. I still miss her every single day. When I’m especially down, I hear her in my head telling me to get on with my  life. And so I try, try, try again. I am alone, but I try not to be lonely.

I think the ultimate kindling is friendship and I am grateful for all of my friends. The ultimate flame is meaningful significance and I hope to be living that life. Happiness would pour gasoline on that fire.

Dear God

Creation of Adam“Take your anger and put it into an imaginary being. That way you can yell at the entity and throw it out when you don’t want to feel the pain of the anger anymore or if you don’t have the time to deal with the anger.”

These are the words of the grief counselor, to whom we (the kids and I) have been going since mid-December. I told her that I am angry about the fact that cancer first took my father, then my wife, and now will take my dog. First she said, “Why do you have to do anything with the anger? Aren’t you allowed to be angry? Aren’t you justified?” My response was that there is no outlet for the anger, no target. I cannot remain so angry for so long that I shut down emotionally and socially. I have enough problems being social as it is!

So I, as my homework for this week, am to create an entity, an imaginary being, to whom I can ascribe the evil characteristics necessary to house my anger. I could create a virtual punching bag and anthropomorphize it to the point where it has horns and a tail upon which I can stomp and to whom I can scream. However, that form does not appeal to me and seems shallow and unfulfilling.

As an atheist, I have a better solution. God. How could a benevolent God inflict my wife with a terminal disease that would kill her? How could a caring God do that to my children? To me? How could a loving God condemn a dog to three separate forms of cancer within it’s short life? How could a generous God condemn my father to an incalculable amount of pain in the months before his death? And on a grander scale, how could an altruistic God kill thousands of children each year through malnutrition, starvation, disease, or war? Because I can conceive of no rational reason for such a dereliction of duty, I choose to believe there is no supreme being above. It is easier for me to believe that nature simply evolves in chaos than to believe a God could be so inept or uncaring.

So, if there is a God, I do not believe he/she is omnipotent and all powerful. That said, and as part of my grief counseling homework for this week, here is my creation of an imaginary being to whom I can bequeath my anger. God. And now my letter to God:

Dear God,

How could you? How could you either give my wife cancer or allow her to contract it? How could you do that to my children? How could you make her suffer through the barbaric treatments you have allowed medicine to create in an attempt to counter your unholy and defective DNA? How could you take her when she was still so young and we had a future planned together that now is reduced to ash? How could you? Why?

How could you put my father through so much pain that it killed him? How could you allow that much pain to transfer to my mother who now survives him but cannot live without him? How could you put my brother and sister through the act of watching him suffer with no ability to alleviate his pain? How could you? Why?

How could you give my simple, silly dog, whose sole purpose in life is to love us and make us happy, three different forms of cancer in his short life? How could you take his eyesight and force him to endure countless surgeries to save his back legs from your poor design? Why do you make him suffer so much and force us to euthanize our pets without allowing us to end the suffering of our human loved ones who endure so much pain? How could you? Why?

How could you allow the children of the world to endure unwarranted pain and suffering simply because of the circumstances under which they were born? How could you allow men to create war against one another for, ultimately, silly political, geographic, or religious reasons?  Why do we have to suffer so much on this earth? How could you allow all of these things to occur while remaining unseen and unresponsive? How could you? Why?

Are we simply to fall back on “faith?” A faith that you are really there and listening and that we will be rewarded in paradise for all of our suffering. Well, I don’t buy into it and find that if you do exist, you are either malevolent, uncaring, or incompetent. If you are malevolent, you are not worthy of our deference. If you are uncaring you are also not worthy of our blended knee. If you are incompetent you are to be pitied and not revered. Occam’s Razor demands that the most likely solution is that you simply do not exist. But for the purposes of grief mitigation, I will allow that you exist, but only for the purposes of my derision, my anger, and my pain.

Most sincerely,

A Note To My Children This Christmas

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Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when you indulge the child within; a time when the twinkling lights and Christmas songs fire the imagination and spark precious memories. When decorating the tree reminds us of all the Christmas’s past as we hang our favorite ornaments. When a trip to the Providence Civic Center to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and their “frickin’ lasers” would indulge both the seasonal sentimentality and the rock show need in us.

However, this Christmas there will be no Christmas tree, no Trans-Siberian Orchestra, no lights or lasers. When we lost your mother, we relegated those good times to memory, never to be added to – only to be recalled. There will never again be nine Christmas trees decorating 3 Deerfield Drive. There will probably never again be a house built with an outlet beneath every window so that electric candles can easily be displayed.

We always had a beautiful garden. I say we like I had anything to do with it. I pruned and weeded, but your mother designed the garden and hand-selected all of the plants within it. Now I will move to a condo with no garden, and the best I can do is a patio tomato and a house plant. No more luxurious rose bushes, the names of which I had committed to memory. Now it is all only a memory. I will miss those roses. I almost cried the other day when we went to Kroger. As we filled the carriage with supplies, we passed the florist section. I would normally buy a dozen roses. Mom and I had a ritual. I would buy them and bring them home. She would complain that we couldn’t afford to buy roses every time I went grocery shopping. I would lie and tell her I had a coupon. Now there is no need for me to buy roses. Another painful reminder that she is gone forever.

Nothing makes you appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I had life by the balls. I had a wonderful wife, two great kids, a beautiful home that we had built, and a job at which I could make a decent living. I had a fluffy white dog and two nice cars, everything but the proverbial white picket fence. I thought I appreciated everything I had and, to a point, I did. However, it wasn’t until cancer visited our house in 2008 that I began to see how fragile my grasp on this reality was. And now, my wonderful wife is gone, our beautiful home is gone, you two are one year away from beginning your lives apart from me, and Delbow is old and in constant pain. I had my time. I had my life. Now it is your turn. I do not begrudge you the incredible futures before you.  I simply wonder when it was agreed that cancer could shatter my future at fifty. I still have a nice car and my job is better than ever, but my world has slipped over the event horizon.

I am so grateful for you both. You have been through hell. And despite that, you both completed the fall semester of your senior year with amazing grades. But I know you are hurting. As long as we continue to talk to each other we will get through this and into a different “normal.” It has been three months, and this is a difficult time in our grieving process. We realize Mom is no longer coming home now.  We are beginning to understand that and wow, it hurts.

Some memories are fading, like the names of all of the medications she was on at the end. Something so important at the time has begun to fade and, despite all reason and rationale, it begins to fester within me as guilt that I am beginning to forget her. I know that is silly, but the guilt is incredibly real. I also feel guilt for being the one to survive, given how close you were to Mom. I wish it could have been me that had cancer and died. Not because I would want to miss anything of your lives or the incredible things you have yet to experience, but because I know what an amazing person Mom was and how disgustingly unfair this all is to her.

Seven years of fighting did nothing to prepare us for her loss. And I know that any smiles or laughs we have are met with the urge to share them with Mom. The fact that she’ll never be there again is the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt. My one wish this Christmas would be to stop your pain by having Mom back –and healthy. But I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore and even if I did, I believe that this wish would be beyond his reach. I’m so sorry. I hate this new normal, but I love you both so much.

Reliquary

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Sacred items and memories dominate my thoughts now. There are the design elements throughout the house, all selected with great care by my wife. There are the memories of daily events now lost forever. There are the fountain pens bequeathed to me following my father’s death. Everywhere I turn in this house I am reminded of cancer’s cost and the future’s lost. This house has become more museum than home. I don’t so much live here as exist; a docent residing after hours at the gallery.

I am told that I need to move on, to build a new life, a new future. But I am shy to begin. How can I be confident enough to embark on a new future when the one I spent 25 years forging was so easily destroyed? It has been three months now since her death and I am lost.

Small things both ground me and terrify me. I find comfort in the daily routine. However, I now carry a debilitating loss of confidence I never expected. I also have a terrible time concentrating. Both of these developments are troubling to me. I can’t read a book without my eyes glossing over after two minutes, regardless of the content. I love to read and have too much free time in which I could theoretically be reading. However, I cannot concentrate enough to read. It is incredibly frustrating. I feel like Burgess Meredith in that famous Twilight Zone episode where he is a quiet librarian who’s single wish is to be left alone to read. After a catastrophic nuclear attack, he finds himself the lone survivor with all the time in the world and all the books of his library at his disposal. However, at the very end, he accidentally shatters his reading glasses.

Photographs set off a cascading series of memories, and the house is flush with photographs. However, there will never be another photograph, never a new memory. How can I understand that this is forever? This new “normal” is terrible.

I do not remember my dreams, if I do dream. The kids dream of Lisa, sometimes it is sad, sometimes it is fun and I don’t know how to feel about that. I am not burdened by dreams of Lisa sick or dying, but I am not visited by her in better dreams either. All I have are memories. I am living out of a reliquary.

My Shifting Memory

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‘Tis in my memory lock’d,

And you yourself shall keep the key of it.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, iii, 85

In an episode of The West Wing, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman experiences a breakthrough in his repressed, post-traumatic stress disordered memory when he realizes that the sound of music reminds him of sirens following his being shot during an assassination attempt on the president. Pleased with himself, but wary of any ongoing associations, he asks his therapist why he shouldn’t be worried. The therapist, while packing up his belongings at the end of the long session, replies simply, “Because we get better.”

This scene reminds me that while time goes on, if we’re lucky and listening, we understand ourselves a little better each day. So it is with my grief and the grief of my children following my wife’s (and their mother’s) death 80 days ago. We seem to have undergone, while no one was looking, a transition in grieving. We have all felt it and didn’t know why we were being buffeted by our loss differently than before. No longer are we, exclusively, thinking of the night Lisa died or the days and weeks leading up to that day. Rather, because of daily life, we see the future and are having a similarly difficult time grappling with the concepts of never seeing Lisa again and that lasting forever. “Never” and “forever” dominate our thoughts now.

I don’t know where any of this falls on the great wheel of grieving, and I don’t care. I find the entire Elizabeth Kübler-Ross paradigm, as presented in popular culture, flawed. I do not see it as a linear progression, while acknowledging it was never intended to be. However, society seems to think that you go cleanly from one phase to the next on your way to eventual acceptance and a return to “normal.” Instead, I find that through each step of grieving, as we did in our various phases of Lisa’s illness, we establish a new normal each day. Some days string along neatly with the previous while others strike us as different. However, each day presents us with what we consider to be normal. We get up, we shower, we go to work or school. When we repeat this structure enough, it becomes our “normal.” When our thoughts focus on a specific concept of grieving, that too becomes our “normal.” And so, we each seem to have transitioned to the difficult process of understanding and accepting “never” and “forever.” That is not to say that we cannot, at a moment’s notice recall the last night or last few days, but the details are becoming fuzzy around the edges. No longer can I recall the names of all of the medications on which Lisa was dependent at the end. I can recall their color but not their names.

This transition to a new normal also carries with it significant guilt. If I can no longer recall the names of the medications, which were so important to her comfort and survival, doesn’t that, by extension, mean that I am slowly forgetting Lisa? When details fade, it portends an overall and irrational fear that all will fade. When I think of Lisa now, the first thing I think of is not her death or even her illness, but her smile and her laugh. This reordering of thought worries all of us. The mind is an amazing thing, and we carry memories in our mind the way we think we recollect the actual event having unfolded. And what was critically important to me might not have been important to either of the kids, while something so critical to them might have escaped me and faded in my mind before it settled into theirs. This is another form of guilt. How can I not find the important events in my children’s lives important enough to remember?

Memories are ethereal and, ultimately, shapeable. Just as witnesses to an accident fail to make reliable reporters, so too, I find, that our memories morph into something we can easily recall. And each time we recall that memory we recall the memory shaped in our mind, no longer the actual event. Over time, the recollection of the actual event fades, and we can only recall our individually shaped memory. Perhaps that is why I can no longer recall all of the medications. My memory is being reshaped. I would like to think that Lisa has had a hand in reshaping my memory. Over time, perhaps, she will reshape my memory to no longer feel the horrible pain of her loss. It is locked in my memory, and she has the key.

Wrestling the Unseeable

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When Lisa was suffering the horrific, barbaric, debilitating effects of chemotherapy, first via standard treatments and then later clinical trials, there was nothing I could do to alleviate her pain. I was constantly chasing the speeding eight ball trying to understand the side effects of her treatment, knowing all the while that I was helpless to mitigate them. The best I could do was to be with her. In seven years of treatment, I never missed an appointment or treatment with her. I was where I needed to be, by her side, as her husband and her friend. In truth, it was all I could do for her. Unfortunately, we wrestled the unseeable and lost.

Now she’s gone forever, and I’m still helpless to alleviate anyone’s pain or suffering. This time, it is my children who suffer as they try to come to terms with losing their mother. It is as if Lisa’s cancer continues to punish my family. The bad dreams at night and the painful realizations in the light of day are both beyond my ability to ease. I’m tired of losing to cancer. All I can offer them is loving words, long distance hugs, and a virtual shoulder.

At the party we held in Lisa’s honor after she died, the kids and I each gave short speeches. Cameron stated in his that, while Lisa had died, cancer had not beaten her, she had taken the bastard with her. Unfortunately, I think he overstated it a bit because he, his sister and I are still suffering from cancer’s destructive forces, this time in the form of grief. I continue to wrestle the unseeable and lose.

Thanksgiving (or Fortunate Enough to Hurt)

45604227_mIf you’re lucky, once in a lifetime a love comes along that shakes you to the very center of your being. If you are lucky enough to have been afflicted with such a love, you must acknowledge that one result will be that time will speed up. There is a phenomenon known as Vierordt’s Law, which states that short-term time is overestimated and long-term time is underestimated. In short, days seem to last incredibly long and years fly by. This can be best summed up in an example. When the kids were first born, everyone we met told us to enjoy these times because time would quickly pass. At the time, all I wanted was one good night’s sleep. That was 21 years ago, and I finally understand what those wise people meant.

Now I suffer from another phenomenon, hiraeth, which is a Welsh word meaning “homesickness for a place you can never return to.” It is when you lose that special person that these two phenomena fuse in a pain we simply call grief. Time has slipped away, and we cannot go back to that happier, simpler time. It is simplistic to suggest that one has a choice to appreciate the time spent with that great love or to begrudge the time stolen by disease. To choose the former is to ignore the heart-wrenching hiraeth felt by the loss. To select the latter is to ignore the joy of a lifetime spent in Vierordt’s miasma. Rather, it is reasonable to expect to experience both options (often within the same day). To acknowledge both the joys spent with a great love and the pain of their loss is the price of having such a great love. To easily overcome such a loss indicates that the love was not as interwoven into your soul as you thought. To find the loss debilitating at times means a genuine, deep love and an equally devastating loss.

And so, today I must give thanks for both the time I had and the pain I feel now because I now know I cannot have had one without the other without preceding her in death.

There was a time when I was alone and happy to be so. At least I thought I was happy. What I was was lonely and determined that I didn’t need anybody. High school friends were off doing things I was not comfortable doing (drinking, drugs) and I was unwilling to give up that kind of self-control.

Now I find that I am lonely and determined that I do need people. However, after spending a lifetime eschewing friendship as an unnecessary protuberance of my streamlined and happy life, I find myself without friends when I need them most. I have many acquaintances, genuine and sincere, but no friends. It is my own doing and based on the platform that I had married my best friend so any more friends would be superfluous. Besides, I was not bright enough or socially sophisticated enough to handle more than one friend. Now she is gone, and I am both alone and lonely, left to my thoughts and memories. I miss her so much. And I acknowledge that I must suffer this great pain because I have such wonderful thoughts and memories.

To all of my acquaintances, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving and hope you appreciate, most importantly, your family and friends. Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate those who have given you so much, especially love.