Monday, May 25, 2015


This past Saturday was the third anniversary of Kate's death, unless it was last Wednesday. She died on the 23rd, but it was a Wednesday, the Wednesday after the long weekend. That's what it will always be for me.

But people tend to remember the date rather than the day of the week, and I received a number of nice messages over the weekend, people letting me know I was in their thoughts. Sunday was Owen's birthday, and that's what I wanted to focus on. Give him a day that was his alone.

In 2012, days before the end, I said to Kate, "Owen is worried that you're going to die on his birthday." She said, "Poor bugger." Then she told me to get out of the bathroom, could she have some privacy please. Absolutely.

We'd stolen a wheelchair from the hospital because we needed it. She couldn't walk any more. We needed it to get her from the bed to the bathroom.

Is that too much detail? No. It is barely anything.

Even though she was dying, I wanted to recognize Owen's birthday. I went out and bought him a bike. He needed a bike. I took him with me. We had no problem picking one out. He rode it that year, but not afterwards.

This year, I tried to go to work through last week and not book any time off. When the kids came to me on Thursday, Owen had a pretty bad cold. I kept him home from school on Friday and stayed home with him. I felt miserable. Today, I still feel pretty miserable. Heavy. Sad.

Naomi had dance recitals all weekend. Friday night, three on Saturday, two on Sunday. She went to all but one, and last night she was exhausted. I put her to bed around 11:00 and she said, "I can't believe Owen is 15." She figured when he was an old man, it would be, like, 2080. I said, "He'll be 100 in 2100." She wanted to know how old she would be. Ninety-six. She said, "I hope I live a long life. Oh, I don't want to think about it. I'm tired. Tell me a story."


This post is called "Four" because we have started the fourth year without Kate. It was the third anniversary, but it's the fourth anniversary of school ending without her, the fourth summer without her, the fourth Thanksgiving, Hallowe'en and Christmas.

This is the beginning of Year Four.

And the kids are so different. And next year will be so different again. I was remembering how in 2012 they came back to me and we spent our first nights alone, the three of us. We watched a movie on demand, and they chose: "Daddy Daycare." Haha.

I remember Naomi dressing herself up in her night stuff and getting cuddly on the couch to watch "The Amazing Race." A familiar routine. One of many we had. So few dependent on Mummy, it seemed. So strange.

As I've said before, some of those routines remain, and they are magic. "I'm tired. Tell me a story," is one of them. One of the best. And for that, I'm blessed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


One morning over the weekend I woke up ruminating on 2005. I don't know if this is a subject for this blog, because it's not a brysonorourke subject, only a bryson subject. In 2005, there was just me, not even the bloody cat.

Now it's me and the bloody cat, just the two of us most days, plus the kids other days.

Yes, in 2005 I was a single guy, home alone, renovating my little house, typing out short stories, working (as I do now) for the Ontario Public Service, one year away from meeting Kate, three years away from breaking up with my previous girlfriend, whom discovered shortly before the end of our relationship that she had multiple sclerosis.

When I woke up thinking about 2005, I thought: What does 2005 have to do with 2015? It's ten years later, but so what? The interval of three figures, though. It is three years since Kate died; it was three years since I broke up with Alison.

Is it possible the subconscious remembers? Is anything about the subconscious impossible?


Near the end, Kate asked me if her illness reminded me of Alison. I said it didn't, because it didn't. The two situations were unique and individual. But later I couldn't help but make parallels. But they are about me, not about her or her.

Breaking up with Alison was very difficult. Actually, the break up wasn't difficult, but moving on was difficult. We were together about two years, but we weren't married. I gave her a lot, and I helped her a lot, but I had not made a marriage commitment to her and ultimately we separated. She went to her parents house, telling me she had to. "It's too much for you."

She was right. I let her go. It took me years to get back to a place where I could trust and love again. In 2005, I wasn't there, but I was getting close. When I met Kate in 2006, I was ready, but not really sure if I was ready. I have found emails from the fall of 2006 that say exactly that. Kate, on the other hand, had blasted out of her marriage and knew what she wanted.


That's a certain portrait of us. Not a unit. Individuals.

Probably we should remember that more often, that we are individuals, each with our own story, not simply bound by the narrative of the two.

Today I was remembering how Kate offered to get a kitten near the end, because she wanted to cheer me up. I was sad. Overwhelmed. Six months or so earlier, I had tried to convince her to get a kitten. A crazy, chaotic idea to simply introduce a liveliness to our existence. Why the hell not?

But she said, no, and later I said, no, and we never got a kitten.

But I remember that she offered and that is wicked. I remember that offer as a supreme act of caring. I would do this for you, because I see that you need it.

That memory of love will sustain me for a long, long time.


I was remembering Alison over the weekend, too, more than I have for a long, long time. I don't know if she is alive or dead. But I still have her bathroom scales, and her stand-up fan, and a small table from Ikea that is now painted pink. When she moved home with her parents, all of this stuff became available and ended up with me.

There are a few other things, too. But mostly it's memories, and stories, and photographs of us. She was a beauty and I loved her. I say that a lot about Kate, but Alison, I loved you, too.

"You can write about this," Aly said to me, in one of our break-up moments. And I have. That's what I was doing in 2005. Writing short stories, containing scattered bits of our relationship. I haven't written about Kate, not in fiction. Our marriage, our love, our loss, has all been blogged.

Going back to 2005, however, take me outside of this blog, and outside of my marriage. Except Kate is the one who asked the question. "Does this remind you of Alison?" No. But it reminds me of loss, and the hard attempt to get over it.

And the hard attempt to look forward. To the future.


Sunday, May 17, 2015


Today is Sunday of the May long weekend, the 2-4 weekend, as it's known. Even though next weekend is the May 24th weekend, this weekend is the May 2-4 Weekend.

It's also the anniversary of the final weekend of Kate's life in 2012. Tomorrow night there will be fireworks, as there is every Victoria Day. I've been trying not to think about it, but of course that's impossible and possibly a bad idea, because I feel pressure building. Better to acknowledge it. Get it out in the open.

I'm typing this in the room where Kate died. I am looking out the window into our backyard, as she did. I remember Owen standing beside her imported hospital bed three years ago and asking her when soccer started. She didn't miss a beat. "I don't know," she said. "You're going to have to ask Daddy." Owen didn't miss a beat either. "Things are going to have to get more organized at Daddy's house," he said. (And they have.)

Days later, Wednesday, actually, the kids came home from school for lunch, and Kate died. The kids took their lunch down to the basement, and when it became apparent that "it" was happening, I went to get them. Naomi said, "I don't want to. It's too sad." But she went up the stairs, and we saw Mummy take her last breaths.

In that moment, it was peaceful. There was much around that moment, however, that was not.

I'm pretty sure that May will never be about anything else for me. The Friday before the long weekend three years ago, Kate and I were at Sunnybrook and it was a brilliant, warm, blue sky day, and everyone we met was happy to be heading into the long weekend. We waited many hours to get the result of bloodwork, so Kate could have a small dose of chemotherapy.

I have told this story many times before, but what else is there to say? The result was bad. Kate said, "I guess this is it." She knew the end was imminent. And everyone around us was happy for the beautiful day and the coming long weekend.

This past Friday was the same, and I tried to just go with it. Everyone in my office was happy and chatty. "Any plans for the weekend?" Oh, you know. Some gardening. Naomi has a dance recital. This year, I think I pulled it off. Nonchalance. In any case, I didn't say that I would be brooding over my coffee, remembering Kate's final days on this earth.

In fact, I have done some gardening. And I've moved some things around in the house, making change. Naomi had her dance recital (one of many) on Friday night. She did great. I managed not to cry. Working in the garden yesterday, however, tears did fall. The garden is such a potent symbol of Kate's dreams and ambitions for life and where I often meet her.

I felt cranky yesterday, and I'm sure the kids sensed it. They deserve my best self, but sometimes my best self is a cranky one. Nothing bad happened, but it wasn't a good day, either. Did I try to talk to them about this anniversary? My feelings? Their feelings? No. A couple of weeks ago on Mother's Day, I did, and they didn't have a lot to say. So this time, I kept my brooding to myself.

The kids went to their dad's house mid-yesterday, and I won't see them for many days now. The schedule for our life together changed after Kate died, and May is the anniversary of that adjustment, too. I am still adjusting to all of the colossal losses of May 2012, and I will be for a long time to come, perhaps forever. I believe it will be the latter. I believe I will never accommodate these losses completely, but I will also keep working a path forward in the spirit Kate desired for all, hope.

"Trust that whatever comes will come and you will face it with grace, and love, and be true to yourself. You will find a path. Be at peace with your life. Show the world the outward love you feel inside. Kiss, hug, cuddle. Tell your truths. Love your people. Repeat."  

(Photograph: Kate in the garden, May 2009)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

I had a dream last night. Kate and I were sleeping in a tree, on branches beside each other. I woke up and said I needed to get down. She said, "Okay, but I'm staying here. It's comfortable."


I have been thinking about adding to my post "Doctor, doctor." More specifically, I have been thinking about responding to Kate's post, "Interesting / not so very interesting questions" (Sept 8, 2011), which I linked to in "Doctor, doctor."

I remember sitting on our front porch with Kate in September 2011, and she told me her feelings, which led to this blog post. She was unhappy. She was angry with the pressure she felt and the attitudes she encountered that she felt were pressuring her to "get better," as if it was a matter of will power, as if she could if she just "bucked up," or "sucked it up," or just really wanted to.

I remember telling her, "I don't want you to feel pressured this way. I want you to feel relaxed and have health come back to you, and only after all of the pain is gone away will we talk about how you can go back to work. We will fight the insurance company and anyone else who expects you to do anything else, or get well before you are well, or ready."

Three weeks later she felt a hardness in her abdomen, and we went to Toronto General Hospital, and the ultrasound wasn't conclusive, but it pretty much was. The cancer was back and everything had changed irrevocably.


For me it's sinking in that everything has changed irrevocably, post-surgery. I have coronary artery disease. I'm trying to figure out what this means. The most frequent question is, "Have they asked you to change your diet?" As if, what? I brought this on myself?!

See, this is the connection to Kate's blog post.

As if it were a matter of will power. Hey, y'all. No. Grow up.

"They" have not actually asked me to change my diet, because diet is only one risk factor. As with Kate, my biggest risk factor is genetics, and I can't do anything about that.

I have been on meds to lower my cholesterol since 2004, when I was 36. So my cholesterol has been within healthy range for a long time. And I've been eating relatively freaking good too. Is there additional benefit I can get from making ADDITIONAL changes to my diet?

No one has asked me that!


Ah, there's the voice of irritation. I'm trying not to let it out. I understand where people are coming from. They ask legitimate questions. It's just (as they did to Kate, too). It's just that the legitimate questions are ... um, well ... stupid also. Naive. And was it Kate's job to set everyone straight? Is it mine? No. She didn't, and I won't.

Because there is no answer, really. These questions are in the rhelm of the medical unknown.

That's the hard thing. Our culture promises solutions. Just review the options and make your choice. Pay the fee. Voila. Solution. But the universe is full of mystery, and we've forgotten that.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 

- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio 

Shakespeare's wisdom holds true, perpetually. We should contemplate its consequences, perpetually.

This is where I hope to be spending my time. Perpetually.

I mean, forever.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Battle Not With Monsters

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche
"Beyond Good and Evil", Aphorism 146 (1886).

This is a new one for me, read it for the first time last week. It made me pause because I've spent quite a bit of time these past years gazing into the abyss. I've written how I felt like I went up against the edge of the void with Kate, and she went into it and took part of me with her.

Nietzsche quotation is a warning. I take it at full and face value. I would like to read the larger context because trying to contextualize it makes me think many different things.

Strangely related is the movie Lucy, which I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Scarlett Johansson plays a woman who, through a nasty complication, absorbs a large quantity of a toxic drug, one that expands her consciousness vastly. One could say she stares deeply into the abyss. She also only has about 24 hours to live and she seeks a way to pass on everything that she is rapidly learning.

At one point she's driving a car very fast through Paris with a passenger, who asks her to slow down because otherwise they will both die. She says, "It makes no difference." I thought, "The end is not the end."

Now I know it's only a Hollywood movie, but is Morgan Freeman ever wrong?


Had lunch with a friend on Friday and she said, "You used to talk about everything that you've lost, and now you talk about everything that you have, and it's basically the same thing."

Pretty much.

It's true that I've had a radical shift in perspective after waking up in the ICU following heart surgery. I'm much more likely to say, "I'm lucky to be alive," than I am to say, "I don't know how I can go on without Kate."

That doesn't mean I'm super happy about everything, or that all of my aspirations are fulfilled. No. It's just that for the time being my aspirations are pretty minimal, and I'm content with that.

Not battling any monsters right now.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Narrative Medicine

What the heck is narrative medicine? I don't pretend to know, but it interests me big time.

I have picked up a copy of Arthur W. Frank's The Wounded Storyteller, which seems to be seminal. (Also, the link above goes to Columbia University, a hub in the field.)

After she was diagnosed with cancer, Kate read Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor, and she was particularly drawn to the phrase:

Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

A quotation from Rita Charon on the back cover of my copy of The Wounded Storyteller goes further: "Perhaps health is a mirage and illness is a natural state of being."

I also must include here Kate's quotation from Virginia Woolf, reproduced earlier on this blog.

I see this idea, narrative medicine, as an opening, an invitation to explore, and also a fulfillment of a premise that Kate lived out through her blog, Auntie Cake's Shop, and that I've tried to continue "though the black humor," trying to hold onto my story, our story, sustaining continuity of meaning.

I wanted to say something about the final weeks of Kate's life and my disappointment with the palliative care team (again). I've said this over and over, but in this context of narrative medicine I think it rings loud (again).

That is, the story that the palliative care team was following wasn't the story that Kate and I (and the kids and the family and, well, reality) were part of. I tried and tried to bring the team into our story, but they didn't adjust quick enough. The community care coordinator was warning me that we would use up all of our nursing hours too soon and not have enough left at the end of the month, and I said we're not going to get to the end of the month, so I want it ALL IN RIGHT NOW, but that didn't happen.

Yes, this still hurts me a lot. Because now I'm in a story of having failed to complete Kate's story the way she deserved. But we all gotta move on from that as best we can.

We are wounded storytellers, all of us, every one.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Good Times, Bad Times

You know I've had my share
- Led Zeppelin

I'm so happy that spring has arrived, though the past couple of days the mercury has gone in the wrong direction. Even noted some snow about.

On Thursday I felt unwell and cast about for why. It's the anniversary of the week Kate went into the hospital for a week in 2012. An attempt to get to the bottom of things. She'd been hoping for stability and pain relief, but that hadn't happened.

I rode to Sunnybrook with her in the back of an ambulance. We'd asked them not to run the siren. It wasn't a bad ride up there. The two medics were young women: vibrant, chatty, full of life.  Of course Kate returned the energy.

They admitted Kate to emergency and then later in the day transferred her to the cancer ward, where they left her on a stretcher in the hallway because they had no rooms. I stayed well past the end of visiting hours, but eventually I had to leave.

I left the ipad with her and she was up, using the hospital wifi until the middle of the night, when a nurse told her off. Get some sleep. She took a selfie with the ipad that I didn't find until after she died. She's grinning into the lens. It's one of the most remarkable photographs of her, but I've never shown it to anyone. It seems just far, far, far too private. Even for me. It is Kate alone with herself.

I am always hyper-aware of these anniversaries, but less so. They can still shake me, but at a greater distance. I become more an observer of the shaking, instead of the shaken.

This week I wanted to say to Kate: the children have changed so much. It's only three years, and they are such different people. This is always the case with kids, of course, and these moments of observation shake me, too. These are the moments I miss Kate soooo much.

I miss the kids as little kids, too. But their growing forces me to grow, too. These lonely moments are rich as well as destroying. Good times, bad times.  Uh, huh.