Saturday, November 21, 2015


For a long time after Kate died, I would notice the 23rd of the month. It was the day she died, of course, and every 23rd was some kind of anniversary.

I don't generally notice any more, but today I'm aware that the 23rd is coming. It's a six month anniversary. Three-and-a-half years.

Which doesn't mean anything in particular, except time is passing.

I could also say November is the anniversary of when she first started chemotherapy in 2010. It's also the anniversary of when we moved into this house in 2007.

It's also the anniversary of when we "locked in" as a couple in 2006.

Ten years ago ... well, we hadn't met yet.

One year ago ... I went to Toronto East General Hospital for an angiogram and learned I had three blocked arteries in my heart. That was Monday, November 24th. On Friday November 28th I went to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to have stents implanted, but they decided surgery would be the better option, so on Thursday December 4th that's what happened. Triple by-pass.

Anniversaries. Ripples of history. So what?

I was in London, Ontario, this week for work, and went out for a snack with a colleague after an event. We went to a chain restaurant, and I ordered the chicken wing special. Ten wings and a beer. It was terrible, and I vow that it will be the last order of chicken wings I ever consume.

I put the order into my food/fitness app and discovered the wings alone contained over 1,400 calories and more than 1,800 mg of sodium. I cannot eat like that any more. I slept poorly. I felt like crap. Even the beer was unsatisfying.

I lay in bed in my hotel room that night talking to Kate. The same old question. How did I get here? What should I be doing with my life? Is this all there is?

The previous night I had watched The End of the Tour (2015) in my room, the movie about a Rolling Stone journalist interviewing David Foster Wallace over a weekend in 1995. The next morning I tried to explain the movie to my colleagues (both women). "It's a movie about loneliness," I said. "It's a movie about being an educated, white male in his thirties, with creative ambitions and anxieties."

It's boring. Very. But compelling, too. In a train wreck way? I'm still not sure. I wanted to watch it because it's about DFW, and I've read his work (about half of it, but not Infinite Jest), and some of it I find brilliant and some of it I find dull as dishwater. The movie was a bit of both, too, but with DFW you seem to need all of it in order to get any of it.

Maximalist, is the adjective used to describe his work.

"Sounds existentialist," my colleague said, after I'd described the movie. Sure. It's full of stuff to ponder. Not entertainment.

I slept pretty good after watching the movie, much better than I did after eating the chicken wings.

Now I'm home, done travelling, and starting to think about the holidays. I didn't have a tree last year, since I was so weak post-surgery. I feel happy anticipating this year's tree, but tired and anxious anticipating the holiday rush-rush-rush.

The near impossibility of experiencing "the real" seems to be at the heart of DFW's work. The film captures this, as palpable in his day-to-day life. We are always performing for others, and participating in social norms that limit rather than expand connection. But to be self-conscious of these processes is another barrier to whatever possibility the simple and direct can provide.

So "23", does it mean anything? Not really. But sharing it does. We're here, now, together.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Trigger Warnings

The kids are here. Naomi has a friend over, and they are upstairs in her room laughing their asses off. Naomi just came downstairs and picked up a photo album from 2008. Now the laughter has increased. Owen is up there somewhere too (his room). Much quieter.

Back in the day, Kate and I would bemoan, Why won't the kids go play in their rooms? They wanted to be close to us, always. Now they are in their rooms, and the laughter is soothing, but it triggers me, too.


There is no place on the calendar without them. It is five years since chemotherapy started, the first week of November. Four years since it started the second time, beginning of October. Three years since the first fall without her. Two years since, Does it ever get better? One year since I went for a little stress test and a few weeks later, open-heart surgery, triple by-pass.

Naomi has the right idea, reaching for 2008. What a year that was.

In the past 18 months, I've lost 14 cms off my middle. I've lost over 30 lbs. I went to see my GP last week and told him I'm getting younger and smaller. "Most people don't," he said.

Hey, I'm not most people.

I'm sticking to my diet, my exercises, my meds. On that front, all is going well.

And the kids are alright.

So what's the deal with the trigger warnings? Living with loss, I guess. It's perpetual.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Never Events

I don't post much any more about medical things, but two recent articles are more than worth noting.

One on "never events," things that should never happen:
The other on home care in Ontario, a report by the auditor general:
Was Kate the victim of a "never event"? No. But stupid things did happen. Just not a fatal error.

Kate was a client of home care services at the end, and it was a chaotic mess. It was by far the worst "client experience" of her 21-month journey through the health care system with cancer. I have written many things about this before.

Some things happened that never should have happened. Other things didn't happen that never should have been neglected.

Nothing the Auditor General has to say surprises me in the least.

Take a hard look at home care services? This language is immensely too weak.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Once I made a reference to Kate about this short story by Raymond Carver, the title story of his collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. She had never heard of it. I couldn't believe it. So I went and got the book and read it to her. It was a much more humorous story read aloud than I ever would have expected.

This morning, as I was waking up, I was having a hazy dream, and I realized Kate was talking to me. I was thinking, Oh, this bed is comfortable, and then there was Kate telling me that I didn't need to buy that bed for her. Even though she was verbally verbose and persuasive, I didn't need to give in to her. She could have done with a lesser bed.

I haven't had a dream with Kate in it for a while, so I was pleased to "see" her. I rolled over, and then rolled over again. I had to get up. The kids were here. Needed to make sure breakfast moved along. I went downstairs, poked around in the kitchen, thinking a bit about the dream. It was nice, wasn't it? Then I realized, I didn't buy that bed for Kate. I didn't buy that bed at all. She had bought that bed before we even met.

Last night wasn't my birthday, but we had birthday cake for me because my birthday is Sunday and the kids won't be with me that day. My mother came over. We had a quiet night and some triple chocolate fudge cake. Managed to do so without blowing my calorie count for the day.

The photograph above is one of my favorites. My birthday, 2007. One month after our wedding. When I looked it up to post here, I realized there was a second from the same sequence. Posted here now, too.

Those were the days. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


I went for a run today along my usual route, which takes me south along Woodbine Avenue and then along the beach beside Lake Ontario. I have a route of about 3 miles that I've been doing regularly for a number of months.

Today was the first time I glanced at the benches along the boardwalk and remembered that it was right here, that bench, where Kate and I sat five years ago on the morning of the first day of school, the morning of the day she had a biopsy of her left breast.

Today I stopped my stopwatch and went and sat on that bench. I looked out at the lake. I thought of that day, not so long ago. Five years, it's nothing. But also, it's everything.

Later in September five years ago, on my birthday, I turned 42. That day found us in the cancer clinic at Princess Margaret Hospital, and the specialist confirmed that Kate had cancer.

This is the perpetual backdrop of my life now. It was strongly present with me today. As I continued my run I thought about what our life had been, what my life had been with her, how it has changed and how it hasn't, how cancer changed it then and how it didn't. How I have lost more than I ever thought possible, and how I want to reclaim things I feel I am due. And how that may never be possible. What is that feeling? Does it have a name?

As I was running I was imagining a short story in my head. Of course, now I can't remember any of it, except the feeling that it was good. It was about life after loss. Carrying on. I had been thinking that when Kate and I met we were both experiencing life after loss. She was six months out of her marriage, and I was four years after then end of my last relationship. Starting over was on both of our minds, but it isn't on my mind now.

September is also a metaphor for the beginning of the end. The last breaths of summer. The darkening of days. When I was younger I would say that the autumn was my favorite season. I guess I might still say that. I like the cooler air, the falling leaves, the breezes. I don't mind the melancholia either. There are great benefits in reflection.

In 2010, September bled into October and Kate underwent a number of tests but no treatment. Surgery was scheduled, but then cancelled. They decided to do the chemotherapy first, and that started the first week of November. The days seemed somewhat normal, except the swelling in her breast was growing and becoming painful. When the poisoning began, she was glad.

One regret I have from that period, is Kate wanted to get a family portrait taken, and the thought of it made me sad. I didn't want to think this was an "important moment" to capture forever, the end of an era. We would get through this. There would be many more opportunities for family portraits, but there weren't. Not like that. Not with us being almost normal, and Kate still with all of her long hair.

Sorry, honey. You were right, and I was wrong. Thank you for visiting with me on the bench today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I read something last week about grief, about waves of grief, about how they start out tall and frequent and over time diminish in strength and frequency, and I thought: Yes, that's true.

But what I was reading also said, the waves never stop, and I thought: Yes, that's true.

And so it goes, but it's a little more random than that.

Sometimes the waves are big, and sometimes small. Sometimes predictable, and sometimes not. The big waves are not all in the past, the little waves are not all one can expect of the future.

I had a thought recently that when I'm at work, I feel pretty normal. And not even pissed off about the pressure to "be normal." This isn't always the case, of course. I am often aware of not being normal, of being extraordinary, of talking to people and suddenly realizing that our basic assumptions about life, the universe, and everything simply don't align. And it's because I've left normal behind, and I refuse sometimes to pretend that I have any clue what others are talking about.

Because I don't. And I don't want special accommodation. I want others to understand that their idea of "normal" is nada. It's nothing. And if you cling to it, I cannot respect you.

This is kind of a dangerous approach to take to relationships, especially at work, but the universe has pulverized me, and I cannot pretend otherwise. Yes, I am still hurt, but this is who I am now, you cannot expect me to pretend that "normal" exists. It doesn't.

The sea is not flat, and it never has been.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


In October 2006, Kate and I had our second date. Our first had been at The Only Cafe, a bar on the Danforth west of Donlands that I had first visited in 1987. I wore these white running shoes. Kate wasn't exactly impressed.

The second date was at Ben Wicks on Parliament. It's now closed. I remember Kate laughing so hard she banged her head against the wall. Also, she ordered a hamburger and there was a glass fragment in it. She complained, and we got our meal free. She told me about a book she had read about in the New York Times. The concept was, a head cut off has enough "consciousness" to process a limited number of words. The book was short stories, imaging last words of famous heads chopped off.

Can I Google it? Let's see .... Ah, Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler (Chronicle Books,. 2006).

Nice. Let's get that on the record.

Kate also told me that night that a friend had recommended that she be "not too Kate." I told her that I wanted her to be herself. I always told her that. Too Kate? Impossible.

We'd had one date, and then she had invited me to her house for dinner. I declined. She got angry. Did I want to see her again? She wanted to be with someone who had no doubts. We said good-bye.

She called back. Apologized for being too harsh. Did I want to see her again? Yes, but let's go out. We did. Afterwards, we walked from downtown to my house, along Queen East. We sat on a bench by Jimmie Simpson Park.

We sat on my green couch, which is now behind me as I type this, the couch the kids lie on with the ipad. Kate and I sat on the couch, kissed. Did she want to go upstairs? Yes. We did, and we did. Yes. Lisa came to do her toe nails two days before she died, and said she remembered Kate calling her the next morning. "I've just had great sex," she said. (Oh, Lisa. What the hell?) But it was true. And we went to work together in the morning on the streetcar, me shivering from anxiety. She wearing the same clothes as the day before.

For the record, okay. There it is.


Today was the street party on Corley Ave. Lots of little kids. O and N with their dad. It was cool. I went out, but didn't stay out long. N had a playoff soccer game. I went to that. They lost. I came home, watched the Blue Jays lose to the Yankees. Felt sad in my bones.

I was going to write something about wanting to move, not wanting to move. Being unsettled. The perpetual conflicted, unresolved nature of grief. I want to move, I don't want to move. I go back and forth, sometimes minute by minute. I try not to think about it, but also I want to arrive at a resolution. I want to have a clear approach to my future. I think I just have to wait.

My emotions are conflicted. Sometimes strongly stay, sometimes strongly leave. My thoughts are simply muddled. It's best for the kids if I stay. It would be better for me if I were to leave, maybe. On balance, best to stay. But the balance is still a muddle.

Thinking about the muddle pushes me back to 2006. The vision. The dream. The hope. Is there any of that left? Are there any better options?

I think a lot about 2012. I think about the conversations I still want to have with Kate. As in, what am I supposed to do? What would you expect me to do? What is left of our deal?


And. That. Is. It. For. Now. (Not. Really.)


Get on up. (Keep going.)