Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Final Countdown

The title is a reflection of the fact that my life is framed by bad 1980s music. It also means today is the anniversary of the final two weeks of Kate's life in 2012, though not exactly. By calendar, the anniversary was two days ago, but that's not how I count the final days. Because Kate died on a Wednesday, and it was the Wednesday two weeks before she died that we were at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre getting the results of the ultrasound of her liver, which were very, very poor. And we knew then that the end was imminent.

I woke up this morning at 6:30. Had breakfast, fed the cat, prepared to head out to the gym before work, and then I realized I felt terrible. I went back to bed, fell asleep, woke up at 1:00 pm.

Oh, right, I thought then, today's the anniversary of all of that.

I can't even describe it. Well, I could, but I'm not going to. I don't want to.

Later, I heard the chatter of the kids in the schoolyard across the street, and I remembered hearing them four years ago, going out to the balcony and seeing Owen and his friends, and he waved to me. He was telling his friends that he thought his mother was going to die, and he was right. When we confirmed it for him a couple of days later, he immediately left the house, rounded up his friends and brought them to our house to hear the words for themselves. He was 11.

I'm taking the week of Kate's death as vacation this year. The past three years I've gone to work. Just tried to work through it. Last year, I left mid-day and spent the next day off as well. This year, I'm just not even going to try. But today snuck up on me.

Yesterday I was reflecting: "I can't believe the events of my own life."

Acceptance is supposedly the final stage of grief. I cannot accept. I'm not there yet.

*


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Eggs still bad for you

Is it okay to eat foods high in cholesterol now?

These docs say no (pdf).

I would tend to agree. Or, at least, I would prefer to remain cautious.

I have been reading up lately on the relationship between diet and heart disease. I'd like to have more knowledge, in order to feel more confident about my food choices.

However, the more I read, as often happens, the more I become aware of disagreements in medical opinions.

Except everyone agrees that vegetables are good for you. So is exercise.

So is avoiding stress, having fun, and being around people.

Those are the things to focus on!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

She Feels Like Jaime Sommers

In 2006, after she got her own place, Kate wrote a series of short stories. What follows is a fragment, an unfinished piece. One can only wonder where she would have taken it.

*

She feels like Jaime Sommers, going to battle with the fembots. She knows she will prevail eventually, but is scared of them none-the-less, in their perfectly coiffured hair, lacquered lips and clingy, sensuous clothing. She knows underneath their lovely hair and skin, they have a voice box and speakers, and lots of red and blue buttons.

They are the women around the cooler really, but she prefers the fembot moniker. She feels some days she might be able to actually hear their dulcet whispers if she strains, imagining that her inner ear has been surgically enhanced by mechanics, bionics. She wants, no, needs to hear. She needs to know. What is it that makes them dislike he so? Her strange differences? Her longer than normal nose? Her love of 1970s TV? Her addictions to Reese’s pieces, and green corduroy? How does this make her so different, really, than others who prefer Dolce and Gabanna, or Prada?

Just like Jamie Somers, who really only had Steve Austin to keep her company and of course, Oscar Goldman. And the doctor guy, Rudy Wells, but she has always speculated about his character’s motivations. Steve Austin had his issues with it too – As she has read online:

During her time of most intense involvement with the OSI, her relationship with Rudy Wells was also notably different than Steve's. Whereas Steve was occasionally distrustful of Rudy, and sometimes shown as impatient with, or even hostile to Rudy's medical tests, Jaime viewed him as a helpful ally from the moment of her resurrection. She was frequently in and around Rudy's lab, and generally more enthusiastic about the research obligations of being a virtually unique specimen.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Uzi

About a month before she died, Kate wrote to a friend of mine: "Mike is an angel, but with a big fucking Uzi in his back pocket just for me."

Still true.

(Is that an Uzi in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?)

Standing in the shower this morning I was thinking about being in the hospital with Kate after her mastectomy. Why am I thinking about this? I asked myself. What triggers these kinds of thoughts is usually the calendar. And, yes, it is five years ago this month, this week, possibly even this day, that we were at PMH and Kate was asking me, "I wonder where my breast is now?" I know, I said. It's in the lab (because it was; sent for genetic testing, something Kate had agreed to previously, to have her details recorded as part of some massive breast cancer study). It continues to exist, as a statistic.

The calendar is full of these triggers. Yes, I feel sad, but these moments tend now to make me more reflective than paralyzed. They are significantly distracting, though. I was trying to read a magazine article this morning, but I just couldn't.

I went home from the hospital that day and found in our mailbox a package from Kate's employer related to her long-term disability benefits along with her record of employment. They'd effective laid her off and instructed her to apply for assistance to the insurance company. The accompanying letter recommended making the application to the insurance company three months before her employment officially ended, but it had already ended (which is why they sent the record of employment). In other words, they recommended she apply for assistance roughly four months before they sent the letter; however, they forgot to attach the time machine.

I exploded.

I pulled out the Uzi.

Over the coming days I tried to work with HR to get this insanity addressed, but they didn't address it, so I wrote to the woman at the head of the organization, and she wrote back thanking me and directly senior management to address all of our concerns until we were satisfied. And in the end, it worked out. And the senior management thanked me for pointing out a flaw in their process, even inviting me to give advice on fixing their approach, so that others wouldn't need to go through what we had to go through. Fighting for sanity at a moment of extreme vulnerability.

This is what I was reflecting on in the shower. All that happened. Yes, it did.

I have note on my bathroom mirror. It says, "Take off your armor." I needed to remind myself to stop fighting. Don't live in fear of the next fuck up, just feel confident that whatever happens you can improvise and address it.

You attract more bees with honey, Kate would say. It was a reminder to herself, a fighter, too. A bruised warrior, I mean. She was scrappy, but she didn't always like that about herself. She wished for everyone peace and harmony.

I wish that, too, but sometimes you need hard edges and clarifying straight lines, so that peace does not become accommodation to injustice.

Some reflections on an icy Good Friday.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Later this year (September) it will be six years since Kate was diagnosed with cancer, and since then I've gone through a SERIES of hard, nay, RADICAL, transitions more difficult even than my teenage years.

That may well be a book proposal. Publishers, take note, I will not accept less than six figures. 

Changes? Like what?

How many times can you have the floor pulled out from you and still land on your feet?

First, cancer. Life with cancer. Of course, I was not the one who had the cancer, but cancer moves in and everyone lives "with" it. And cancer crashes with friends: fear, anxiety, dysfunction. And all the transitions along with it: pre-diagnosis, diagnosis, pre-treatment, chemo cycle, surgery, radiation, side effects, so-called remission, metasteses, what passes for palliative care.

Did I mention "pain management"? Know the term "chemo fog"?

Then, yes, death.

Then grief.

Then family reorganization. (Or did that come first? It happened awfully fast.)

Then grief. Then grief. Then grief. Then grief. Then grief. Then grief. Then grief. Then grief.

Anger. Anger. Anger. Anger. Anger. Anger. Anger. Anger.

Then get fat. Decide this can't go on. Drink less. East less. Lose some weight.

Heart surgery.

Decide this REALLY can't go on. New meds. New diet. New exercise plan.

Recalibrate life.

Again.

Lose more weight. Join gym. Seek better understanding of "good diet."

And lately, what is this? Something resembling a stable foundation for "the new order"???

Maybe. Only time will tell.

*

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Become a hobbit?

Cleaning out digital files at work, I came across something I wrote over three years ago. On January 22, 2013, apparently, because that's what the file was called. Oh, it was heartbreaking. It was less than a year since Kate had died. I was reflecting on 2012, and I was wondering, How does one go on? I felt caught in a purgatory. No way forward. No way back.

The good news is, I don't feel that way today. I feel remarkably "normal" these days, though I don't like that word. All of the places I've been have been normal places. Where I am now is just much calmer, way less tense, and it includes a sense of forward momentum.

It's that last thing that I lost in the depths of grief. It's something I've been thinking about lately. I was always aware of grief as a process of transformation. I tried to be self-conscious about it, but ... I should have known better. The transformation is subterranean. It happens when you're not looking, or as John Lennon said, when you're "busy making other plans."

My life is changing, and I'm still trying to figure out how. In the months after Kate died, my recurring fantasy was to sit in front of a fire and poke it with a stick. That was the speed my life was at. My other recurring fantasy was to move to a small town and just putter around. Basically, to retire. Go to the gym. Read books. Write. Putter around the garden. Become a hobbit.

For the longest time I had no other ambition for myself. My basic ambition was to look after the kids and ensure that that were okay. For myself, I wanted nothing. Even today I want little. But I can imagine wanting more. I've come that far, at least. When I go to the gym and run, I feel strong and healthy in a way that feels new, but is really just ... it's been a long time. Plus, in the last two years I've lost nearly 40 lbs (and had heart surgery).

The perhaps surprising news is, I still have the same kinds of thoughts. Even today on my lunch I was out for a walk and I was contemplating the sequence of events that led to Kate's death. I replay them, over and over, often. Is this preventing me from moving on? Move on, where? It's obsessive, yes, but it's less obsessive than it used to be. I can't imagine it ever going away. It's my new normal, and it keeps Kate with me every day. Surely not in the way she would have wanted, but I was also contemplating today finally getting that tattoo we discussed, right after her cancer diagnosis. We both wanted to get one, a marking of the experience.

Right now I'm thinking of a feather and one simple word: "Hope."

*

January 22, 2013

I want what I can never have, to grow old with my wife, her death eight months past, and the snow blows over her now where she lies yonder, the other side of the traffic lights and up the hill in the cemetery that's been "serving the community" since 1853, the sign says, I noticed this morning as I stood waiting for the bus to take me, late again, to my understanding employer, pushing myself through the waves of white light that still radiate through my brain and sear my pulsing muscles, as I ask myself again, and again, what is it that I want, that I can have, that I can aspire to, that will give me a reason to carry on.

Forty-four is too young to die, but worse happens. We knew that.

Two years before her diagnosis our friends lost their four-year-old son. His cancer took him in nine months. And we watched the trauma, awe-struck that this little one could be so self-aware of his leaving. And his being. Existence. Out of the mouths of babes goes the cliché. Wisdom. Life is for living. Each day is only one day long, each hour an hour, each breath a breath. Now is all you have. Live it.

At the end of the day, the day ends, and there you are, up against eternity.

Each week was worse than the week before. Each week was also, therefore, as good as it was ever going to be again.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ten Years After

My mortgage is coming up for renewal on July 1st. I asked myself, why July 1st. It wasn't a date that resonated with me. It wasn't the day we moved in to our place. Then I realized it had nothing to do with me. It was the day Kate took possession of her house, her post first marriage house, and we took over that mortgage when we got our place. I have inherited Kate's mortgage. She had a five year mortgage, then we renewed it for five years, so it's ten years after, now I will renew it again on my own. Ten years after her starting over. Hard to believe she is not here to reflect on that. I reflect on it, but I don't know what it means to be ten years after the end of her marriage. I'm not going to talk to the kids about it. So much water under the bridge. Me. I'm ten years after I met her (or will be soon .... September). Hmm.

Ten Years After - Woodstock