Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Lisa

Happy Birthday

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Happy birthday, Lisa. You’ve been gone from us for over nine months now, but some days seem to last nine months. I miss you so much. Today is one of those days.

I wish you were here to see how well the kids are doing. They prop me up when I am down and remind me that the small, daily frustrations are nothing compared to what we’ve been through together. You would have loved their college graduation, and you were surely missed. The day was beautiful but hot. Samantha and Cameron each graduated with honors and the commencement the following day was very special. All of your efforts throughout their school careers paid off. The work ethic you infused in them has brought them to this point in their lives. They’re still working on where they want to attend grad school, but that effort, like all of their others will reflect your hard work and their determination. Samantha looked beautiful at graduation. When she radiates your confidence, she is stunning, and nothing can stop her. Cam’s thesis was printed and looks great. I still have to read it and, no doubt, he’ll want to discuss it with me beyond my capabilities.

I wish you were here to see the new house. The “bones” of the condo are fine, and I think it will fit with our lives well, but the decorations leave something to be desired. Again, though, these are small things compared to everything else. I wish you were here to help me design each room. As good as you were, I’m not (remember the dining room chandelier?). Sam has offered to help me, and she gets her excellent fashion and design sense from you, so I know we’ll redesign the house well.

Today is one of the tougher days. Your birthday was always a cause for celebration for all of us and your absence today is deafening. I miss your laugh. I miss your smile. Everyone’s roses are having their first blooms of the season right now, and people keep commenting that it makes them think of you. How special that you had such a wonderful impact on so many lives. The void you have left in us can never be filled, but the wonderful memories we have get us through.

You continue to inspire me. Whether it is admiring the chipmunk as he scrambles over the grass or seeing mulch in the front of the condo as a ready-made planting bed for your favorite rose, you inspire me. Whether it is facing a tough situation head on or dealing with an uncertain future, you continue to inspire me. I continue to talk to you, and you continue to lead me to my better self.

So the kids and I will celebrate your birthday today. We will be somber and reflective, but we will also laugh. Your absence will be felt acutely, but our love for you cannot be impacted by death. We miss your presence but love you just the same. We hate the cancer that took you from us but love you as much as ever. Keep inspiring me, Lisa. I love you, and I miss you so much.

Dear Lisa

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Dear Lisa,

It’s been seven months now since you left. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re not suffering anymore, but from a selfish perspective, I miss you dearly.

In case you haven’t been able to keep up, let me tell you a few of the things we’ve been up to since September.

As you can imagine, none of us wanted to do the whole Christmas thing, not even putting up the tree. Instead, we took a trip. We went to NYC and saw a couple of plays. We spent some time with Sue, Phil, Bella, and Jackie. They were kind enough to invite us to spend Christmas dinner with them. From NY, we flew to Burlington, VT to spend a couple of days with Mark and Martha. It was beautiful. You would have liked it so much. Then we went to Rhode Island for a few days just to relax. It was the first time (and probably the last) that I had to get a hotel room in Rhode Island.

Since Christmas, the kids have been running flat out toward graduation. Cam has been writing feverishly on his thesis. He completed both parts and the conclusion late last week. Now he has to edit it with his professor and prepare for his defense in May. Sam has been working on her painting and installation projects. She laments the fact that she doesn’t have studio space this semester. She’s a lot like you.

I’ve been working and trying to get the house in shape, so we can move back to Rhode Island after the kids graduate. I bought a condo in East Greenwich. You would like it. I’m relying on Sam’s interior design sensibilities, a talent she got directly and completely from you! I’m sure there will be a call for milk pail paint on the walls. I’ve involved a realtor here in Texas to get our house on the market. He thinks it will go quickly thanks to the beautiful job you did designing the interior.

The kids and I have been doing the best we can with the fact that you’re gone. The hardest part for me is when I’m in that space between sleep and being awake when I begin to dream and then snap out of it. Invariably, I want to talk to you about something. Then, like someone with the beginning stages of dementia, I learn all over again that you are gone. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. No amount of rationale can remove that pain.

I’m also worried about meeting people. As you know, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world! I don’t want to go to a restaurant alone or a movie alone, much less a bar. Also, since I’ll be working from home, there is even less opportunity to interact with people. It will be good having the kids around until they go off to graduate school, but after that, I have to come to terms that I will likely be alone after that. I can’t imagine how I’ll meet people. And don’t even get me started on dating again.

As I’m sure you know, Delbow died last month. I can only hope that he is with you, and you are keeping each other company, both of you happy and healthy. He is missed, especially by me because he was my only companion at home. He wasn’t just a dog; he was my friend. The house is even more desolate without him. No amount of television or music din can replace life in the house. The kids were with me when he died. It was awful but the right thing to do. He was miserable and in so much pain.

I donated blood again this past week. I donated plasma, which took about half an hour. It was an interesting process, but I got such a headache from it, along with being lightheaded with chills and nauseated. I can’t imagine how you did it with all of the sticks you were subjected to during your seven years of treatment. And yet you never complained. Even now you continue to amaze me.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on since you left. The kids and I miss you so much. If you have the power, take away some of Sam’s and Cam’s pain. I’ll figure it out myself, but bring some peace to them. That’s all I’ll ask.

Missing you like crazy and still deeply in love,

Me

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.

Disappointing the Page

The blank page stares back at me, expectantly. My head aches from coughing, and my throat is on fire. My eyes and nose have sprung leaks and drip incessantly. I’m sitting here alone listening to music and trying to write something intelligent. The Benadryl is in full force, and my head spins, looking for a pillow with which to snuggle. The kids are back at school, and I am alone. The dog has pneumonia and pancreatitis and sits below me looking at me as if I might have some noble answers for him. I do not.

Shouldn’t I be up doing something? Don’t I have a honeydew list somewhere and if so, does it matter? I am lost in the music, searching for that perfect place in that perfect song when the guitarist goes away within himself on a live recording. He can no longer hear or see the crowd, but disappears within himself and the Fender extension of himself. If I could play like that on one song, I would be happy and never pick up the guitar again.

The rain has stopped, not that we had any flooding in my neighborhood. I understand that two people in Houston died during the storm. In other news, four people were beheaded by ISIS and all souls were lost aboard a Russian jet when it crashed in Egypt. Happy news from all around the globe.

It’s Halloween, the day when Lisa would answer the door full of excitement to see the costumes worn by the youngest children. It is the first holiday I have spent alone. I am not happy about it but resigned to the fact that I am now alone and forever shall be. I am not the bar hopping type and feel too old for that anyway. And I don’t think I’ll be going on Farmers Only anytime soon to set up an account. Can you imagine? I am constantly adding to my retirement account but have no idea why. I tinker with the assignments and track results meticulously. To what end? I guess I’ll have a nice nest egg for the kids to split when I’m gone. I honestly do not see a future for myself.

If this is the grieving process, I can’t wait to get my certificate of completion. I had the first dream I can remember about Lisa the other night. She was not sick, in fact, she was healthy and full of life. She told me she was getting married, that our marriage was over, and she was moving on without me. What a mix of emotions I had when I awoke. In the months preceding her death, I had only one other dream about her that I can remember. She was sick and knew she was dying. She told me to buy a condominium on the water in Newport. Not sure what to do with that.

I don’t’ know what to do anymore. The house is bereft of life, food, and interest. My heart aches all the time, and I cannot turn without feeling the knife plunge into my chest as I see another design accent Lisa created or how she took this dwelling and made it home. When does this end?

I hate to sound as if I’m complaining. I have it pretty good. But without anyone to share it, it is meaningless. I am hanging on to my children with eagle talons, unwilling to acknowledge that they are one year away from leaving me for good (as they should). I insinuate myself into their lives to belong. Without them, I am a shell. It is hard enough being a single parent without facing the fact that even that job will expire next year when they strike off on their own. Oh, sure, I’ll be here in case they have a problem, but the family unit will be broken permanently. My eyes are leaking again. But I don’t think it is the fault of the cold I have. No, this is from deep inside and beyond the reach of a virus. This is emotion and truth. My chest hurts and all I want to do is talk to Lisa about it. I want to feel better; I want to feel like I did when I had a future. But she is gone, and I am alone.

How long do I wear my wedding band? Is there a book somewhere that tells you what is acceptable? I am an atheist, I think. Therefore, there is no heaven or hell, only this life. So if it is until death do us part, I should be able to remove my wedding band without guilt. So why do I want to hold onto it? Is it in case there is an afterlife? Do I still have a chance to spend a future with Lisa beyond this realm? My head says no, but I continue to wear the ring as if it is some ticket to a future paradise. I cannot square that circle in my head.

I have written 1,000 words now and have said nothing, both disappointing my expectant page and myself. There is no passion in my soul right now. I am in search of something to do. Some small victory to achieve which will validate my existence. Any ideas? All I do is stare at Facebook, Twitter, and CNN. These are the tabs open on my browser. All I get from them is news and memes from friends on Facebook, trolls on Twitter, and bad news from CNN. Surely there is more to life. I am (only) fifty years old. Do I not have something else to contribute? The guitarist has gone away now. I am going with him. I cannot play it, but I can feel it. Do not come back to the band, play within yourself and without yourself and carry me along on your notes like a wave at the beach. I do not want to drown, but I do want to taste the life that sea water offers. I miss Lisa. I miss my life.

Thankful

As I wait for the anger and sadness to give way to acceptance, I’m forcing myself to look for any positives I can find in this situation. The pain of Lisa’s loss is still raw, and I cannot go more than a few minutes without feeling the immediate sting again. And yet it has almost been a month since she left us. Since I know that she would want me to move forward and stop with all the maudlin and lugubrious posts, I’m penning this piece in hopes of sparking some positive thoughts.

I am thankful for the (almost) 26 years we were married. Marriage is not the honeymoon. It is a process of learning to love someone while you both grow and age. Sometimes I was at my worst, and she was at her best. She still loved me. Sometimes she was at her worst, and I was at my best. I still loved her. Sometimes we were both at our worst, but we still loved each other. Again, it is understanding, accepting, and cherishing the quirks in a personality that allows one to love that person at their worst. You also don’t go into a marriage thinking that you can change someone. We all grow as we age. Change is part of life (as I’m learning). The greatest change I experienced after marriage was the knowledge that I was part of a team, a team against any obstacle thrown in our way. I say our way because it is understood that an obstacle thrown in front of one of us was an obstacle thrown in front of us, and we were determined to overcome (or embrace) it. I counted, and until death parted us, we were married for 9,489 days (7 days short of our 26th anniversary). In that time I think I felt every emotion one can experience toward a person, some good, some bad, but all toward the goal of forging ahead against seen and unseen foes. Whether it was an economic crisis, an emotional crisis, an employment crisis, or a medical crisis, we faced it together and won. We didn’t always win the battle against our foe, but we won the war of facing it together and moving forward as a team. That’s love. That’s marriage. That was Lisa and me.

I am thankful for my children. My kids are wondrous. To experience what they have been forced to face over the past seven years, and to do so without complaint and with the ability to succeed personally, academically, and physically is astounding. Consider this recipe: Start with the fact that you are a teenager, complete with all of the insecurities and body changes associated with that time in your life. Add to that the fact that you have been told that your mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Add to this mixture the fact that the local doctors don’t have a plan to fight her particular disease. Now blend that with the fact that you will be moving 2,000 miles away to start school in a different part of the country because that is where the hospital with the best opportunity to fight your mother’s disease exists. Don’t forget that you will be leaving all of your friends and everything you’ve ever known.  Combine all of these ingredients in only six weeks (only allowing time to pack up your home to get to this other, strange part of the country so you can begin school on time). Now concentrate on your studies while your mother undergoes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, your dog suffers a potentially blinding eye injury, and your friends go on with their lives independent of you. Follow that up with a move back home for your sophomore year. The good news is that you think your mother has beaten her disease. Nine months later, having finished your academic year, you find out that your mother’s disease has returned, and you will be permanently moving back to Texas to be near the hospital and that the metastasis now prevents a cure to her disease and that she will live on chemotherapy for as long as it is effective. Are you still focusing on your studies? Are you looking ahead to college? Can you see past Friday? Time passes, and you’ve done incredibly well in school and now face college. Now you move away from home to school, away from your mother who continues to endure standard chemotherapy and clinical trials and all of their horrific, systemic side effects. You don’t want to leave, but over the course of your first three years in school you pull down a 3.5 GPA in one of the tougher, larger schools in the country. Now the worst happens, your mother dies, and you are expected to continue with your studies in your final year of college. Distracted and disheartened, you continue to excel at school, all with an eye toward graduate school. I’m sorry, but that is a recipe for disaster for many teenagers. And yet my kids continue to flourish in this bizarre reality. And they do so with genuine love and concern for each other and love and concern for me. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am thankful for my family. My father died on November 17th. It has been an incredibly difficult year. Being 2,000 miles away from home is difficult enough. To hear about the pain my father was enduring at the end was awful, and yet, it was nothing compared to what my mother, sister, and brother saw being by his bedside. There’s only so much I could do from this distance. The pain I saw, when I visited, was inhuman. And yet, both my brother and sister, reacting differently (as my children have) brought their considerable talents to bear in aiding both my father and mother. My mother found a strength I didn’t know she had, and my father stayed strong and committed to his faith to the end. Since then, my family has turned their concern and care to my and the kids. Again, it has been an incredibly difficult year. I cherish their show of concern and the love they have shown all of us.

I am thankful for my friends. These past seven years have shown me an extended ring of friends cast as far away as the U.K. and as near as next door. It is truly a testament to Lisa’s personality. I have heard from so many of you that it humbles me. I also know there is an inner circle of Lisa’s confidants that has been charged with staying in touch with me and the kids throughout this healing process. Friends have offered so much to me, but at a time when I am lost and second-guessing myself, it is hard to avail myself of their generosity. Please know it is neither my strength nor a shutting out of good friends that prevents me from asking for help; rather it is my limitation right now of not knowing what I don’t know. Someday I hope to have a better handle on things, and when that day arrives, I am confident that this circle of friends will still be there for the kids and me.

I am thankful for my job. No employer could have been kinder to me throughout this entire process. My chain of command has been nothing but supportive and eager to help. The only time I got into trouble was when I worked too many hours from home, not too few. I never wanted it to seem that I was taking advantage of the situation to get out of some work. Rather, when I did work, it was both a necessary distraction and an opportunity for me to feel that I could exert some control over my spinning life. For that and for their generosity I am extremely grateful. I don’t know where the kids and I will end up after they graduate, but I will make every effort to show my appreciation for everything my employer has done for me by attempting to remain a loyal employee.

I am thankful for my health. The past four months have been extremely difficult. I have worked from home the entire time and sat at my desk at the foot of Lisa’s bed. I have worked and eaten. The yard went to hell late in the spring, and I have not spent any time there to tend to it. In short, I’ve gained some weight being so sedentary and worried. I am now on an austerity program that would make Germany happy. I will begin to take better care of myself as it was one of the main things upon which Lisa insisted. Feeling that I needed to be here for the kids once she was gone (and for a long time after that), I will work to become a smarter eater and take better care of myself.

It still hurts. My stomach is still in knots trying to process the fact that I will never see Lisa again. Every time something happens I want to reach for my phone, to call or text her about it. God, I miss her. After writing this, I am still angry and sad, but I am thankful for the time we had together, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for my job, and for my health.

Quirks

She had too many clothes

She drove like a madman

She was always running late

She was honest to a fault

She shoved her leg under me while I was sleeping

She drank Diet Coke for breakfast

She never put milk on her cereal

She put too many lights on the Christmas tree

She recited silly campfire songs

She was not perfect

Thankfully

It is the differences that make us interesting

It is the differences that attract us

It is the differences that can repel us

When we accept the differences in another

We call them quirks and learn to live with them

Now that she is gone, it is the quirks I miss the most

I don’t have too many clothes

I don’t drive like a madman

I’m never running late

I believe in the value of a white lie

I miss her leg under me

I now drink Diet Coke for breakfast

But I still put milk on my cereal

I don’t want to put up the Christmas tree

I miss those silly campfire songs

Because she was perfect to me.

Anger and Pain

When I held Lisa, I knew that two inches below my embrace, inside her lung, was a demon bent on her destruction. And now she’s gone. The demon won. Now all I have are pictures that can’t kiss back, photos of her long blond hair I cannot tussle; the dimples in her cheeks are now flat, photo paper and ink. I know this is the nature of all living things: we live, we die; but being three weeks out from that painful night, the shock is still palpable. God, I miss her.

I am still lost; second-guessing my every decision. “Zerrissenheit” still reigns. I have grown to hate nights and weekends. The structure of work provides comfort. But each night and weekend feels like the four walls of the house are closing in on me, and I can’t stand the silence. The television is always on or, and if not, music is filling the void once filled with her laugh. When will I be granted a good night’s sleep? 2:00 a.m. seems to have some subconscious awakening charm on my slumber. After that, the thoughts of the empty place in the bed next to me overwhelm me in the silence and the dark, and sleep eludes me.

Someone told me that I will come to appreciate all of the time we had together and no longer begrudge the time cancer stole. Speaking from experience, I trust this individual, but I’m not sure it won’t come down to my personality and not time to transform this anger. Is it the well-adjusted individual who ultimately finds peace? If so, my keel is not keeping the ship upright. And I do not think I have the personality (or capability for forgiveness) to right the ship.

Elizabeth I, to the Countess of Nottingham said, “God may forgive you, but I never can.” At this point, I cannot forgive God. Of course, we can hide behind the old analogy that we (humans) are not wise enough to see God’s grand blueprint, but right now I cannot help but to think that either there is no God (which is less painful) or there is one, but who is either capricious or lacks the omniscience attributed by humans. If I am wrong, then I will follow Maurice Maeterlinck’s advice when he said, “It is always a mistake not to close one’s eyes, whether to forgive or to look better into oneself.” I will forgive God as I look into myself. But right now the only thing inside me is anger and pain.

The Rose

DSC_0062_-_CopyOscar Wilde wrote, “A flower blossoms for its own joy,” and while he is one of my favorite authors, I disagree with this quote. Flowers can neither enjoy their own fragrance nor know their own beauty or the joy they bring to others.

As one last outing, Lisa wanted to go to the nursery to see the roses on Sunday. She had not been out of bed in almost two months, so the procedure we went through to get her there, with the wheelchair and oxygen tank stuffed into the car on a 90+ degree Texas summer day was daunting for me and the kids, it was punishing for Lisa. We had traveled no more than half a mile before she vomited all of the pain medication pills I had given her not ten minutes before. And yet she would not allow me to turn around. We were going to see the roses.

Of course, anyone who knows Lisa knows how much she loves her garden and her flowers, especially her roses. She researched and selected each one, labeled them with brass tags and spent countless hours pruning and tending to them. Like the rose in Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s The Little Prince, she loved each of them because of their pure beauty and the work she had put in each of them.

As I pushed her wheelchair through the rough, rocky terrain (and pulled the oxygen tank behind me) she stopped me to read about the varieties of roses and admired their beauty (as if she was looking to fill a hole in the garden). It was then that it dawned on me that she is just like a rose. There is no better description or personification in nature than the rose. She is a rose.

She is brutally honest and unflaggingly faithful. She reminds me of the quote from Alphonse Karr, who wrote, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses,” and the quote from Anne Brontë, who wrote, “He who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” Having her in my life has brought me thorns and flowers, but I would never have traded the former for the latter because one without the other would destroy the rose that she is.

Even now, after being brutalized by cancer and chemo, she can be seen in the poem of Robert Frost

“The rain to the wind said,

‘You push and I’ll pelt.’

They so smote the garden bed.

That the flowers actually knelt,

And lay lodged — though not dead.

I know how the flowers felt.”

And yet, while the rose is fading, she does not know her own beauty or the joy she brings to others, she is loved. She is a rose. She is my rose.