Sunday, May 29, 2011

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Pre-Retirement OJT

This has been a pretty good week. I haven't accomplished many of the projects I thought I would, but I've been able to get out of the house a lot and have enjoyed myself. It's proven to me that I can be ok not working ... which I look at as 'on-the-job-training' for when I retire. The clock is ticking.

I got a pretty clean bill of health on Friday. There are a couple of issues they want to follow and I still need to schedule the appointment with the gastro doc to get the colonoscopy biopsy results. But it's nice to know my cholesterol is good (that was really a shock) and I don't need to be on any meds. They did give me a B12 shot, but I'm going to discuss that with my nutritionist on Friday.

I've taken the month of May off from the nutritionist. Too many things happened this month and I got myself into a funk so I decided to hang it up for a month. I went back to all of my bad habits and I'm ready to start eating healthy again. Maybe I can even take 20 pounds off before Camp Widow.

Camp Widow ... the name makes me smile and has made friends laugh when I mention it. No, we're not camping. It's at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina in mid-August. There are some fabulous workshops and it will be wonderful to meet some of the widows/widowers I've met online at Widowed Village. And who doesn't love San Diego?

Widowed Village ... if you're a widow reading this and you haven't yet joined WV, I would encourage you to give it a try. I just had a wonderful chat with two of my favorite widows: Tracy in Calgary and Dawn in Australia.  Isn't that fabulous that we can make connections with those who live so far away? We have so much in common and can support one another when we've hit a low spot along the way. It's a lifeline and I'm very grateful I found that wonderful place.

The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Post-It Note Tuesday

An 8 Month Update

Gosh, I didn't realize I hadn't posted anything but pictures here in over a week. Guess that makes a statement about how things have been for me. Lots of varied emotions at play, but I feel like I've risen through those dark clouds now.

I celebrated a birthday along the way ... the big 60.  I was actually looking forward to this one because of the retirement options turning 60 brings to me. I'm getting comfortable with the idea. Kind of looking at February 2012 as a possible date but, of course, things can change. Who knows what could happen? I haven't signed any official papers yet; I'll know when it's right (but it is quite nice to have the option available now). 

My sweet friend, Luci, sent me a lovely flower arrangement on Tuesday. I must admit that when I picked it up and opened the card, there was a split second I thought the card might say "I love you. Vern" since he always sent me flowers on my birthday. Luci wasn't happy with the way the arrangement looked, so I got a second bouquet delivered to the house on Wednesday. And then on Saturday, yet another!  Wow! Each one was better, but none of them looked like the photo on the website.  Makes me wonder what some of the flowers I've sent have actually looked like when delivered.

I had the follow-up spot mammogram, ultrasound and chest CTscan done. Had originally planned to pick up the report the following week, but the news about my co-worker made me feel that wasn't really important so I didn't bother with it.  Had my first colonoscopy last Friday; wasn't really as bad as I expected. So I'm figuring 'no news is good news' and will be meeting with the P.A. on Friday for the results of all the tests run.  I'm happy I followed through on finally having a physical; guess I really shouldn't wait another 7-8 years before I return to a doctor, huh?

Vern's butterfly returned!
 I attended the Nathan Adelson Hospice's Butterfly Release on the 15th. It was super windy, so I decided to bring Vern's butterfly home with me so I could release it in Vern's rose garden (that's the photo I posted here on May 15). He didn't want to take off immediately, but soon flew off high into the sky. Imagine my surprise when I came outside 2 hours later and found the butterfly floating around the front porch!  I ran inside to get my camera and he waited around for me to snap some more photos. It was a really special moment ... kind of like my sparkles ... that made me feel Vern's presence.

I've taken this week off work to get some things done around the house but my social schedule may have an impact on what I actually accomplish. I had a wonderful breakfast with my friend, Linda, on Saturday and a birthday lunch with friends, Joe & Luanne, today. Having lunch with my friend, Deb, on Wednesday to celebrate both of our birthdays and getting my hair cut and colored on Thursday. I'm happy that I'm feeling up to doing these things, so I'm not going to worry about it. These boxes will still be here whenever I get around to them.

Sunday marked 8 months since Vern went to Heaven. Time takes on a new dimension for widows. There are times when it feels like it just happened and those memories come flooding back. Yet other times it feels like forever since I held him in my arms. I think I'm making some progress, but it's still up & down with my emotions. And that's ok.  I've been doing the Silent Sunday photo posts and chose that picture because it always spoke to me. Vern loved his recliner and whenever I found him napping he'd have his hands clasped like that, like he was in prayer. And then, of course, his tv remote is right there next to his heart. That's a little private joke between us.

Separation is an illusion. Though your loved ones are not physically with you, they are with you spiritually and energetically. They live in you and through you. They are ever with you, as close as  your breath. When you are overwhelmed with missing their 'form', remember that their essence is woven into the fabric of you, now and foreverTranscending Loss: Understanding the lifelong impact of grief 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May I use a Widow's Card please?

This has been an emotionally difficult week. I've struggled to keep the tears at bay and have been consumed by an overwhelming sadness. I've felt so very alone, forgotten, left behind and I've had to acknowledge some emotions I'm not very proud of.  Perhaps I need to use a widow card.

I learned last Saturday night that a 49-year-old coworker had suffered a massive stroke. Joyce was in fabulous shape, ate healthy, looked wonderful, was so full of life, planning to retire early in January ... how could this happen? The damage was so severe she was moved to hospice - the same hospice Vern was in - and she passed yesterday. All of the emotions from those 9 days last September when Vern was hospitalized and then moved to hospice came rushing back to me. Everything. The good. The bad. The hurts.

The shock of this tragedy has had a major impact at work. Walking past Joyce's empty desk each day this week was hard. I've prayed for her, for her husband, her boys, her mom, her best friend and family. I know how hard it is to make the decision to move to hospice, even when there really is no other choice. I know how difficult those days in hospice can be for loved ones. And I know how very lonely it can be. But the outpouring of support for Joyce's family has been just amazing. Crowds of family, friends, coworkers have visited and posted on her Facebook page.

And that's where my embarrassing feelings come to play because this has reminded me of how very, very different my experience was. Only a handful of people came by to support me during those final days in hospice; and it was rare to have visitors during all of those hospital stays. We have no family here. What did we do to cause this? Did we send out some kind of signal that said 'stay away'? Is it me? Have I pushed people away? I thought I had put those hurt feelings away, but apparently they’re still hanging around very close to the surface. People seem to have completely forgotten that I lost Vern just 7-1/2 months ago in the very same hospice. The comments and questions I’ve heard this week have been difficult to hear. And when I’ve dared to share my true feelings I’ve felt just horrible guilt. How dare I bring this tragic situation around to me and my feelings?  How. dare. I.

If I could have, I would have signed retirement papers this week, walked right out the door immediately afterward, and headed off somewhere. Close down my FB page, leave my old life behind and go someplace where I know no one and these feelings would not come to play. But, of course, I couldn’t do that. There’s so much to take care of here first. I haven’t even cleared out his clothes yet; haven’t figured out what to do about his car or the wheelchair van; still have hospital-related things stacked up in the corner of the bedroom; messes everywhere that must be dealt with before I can even think of escaping. And then there's the paperwork. And the IRS. Yes, I'll be here awhile.

I know I promised to post my blog entries on Facebook, but I cannot do that with this one. I find it healing to write my true feelings out here. Once I put them in writing, it somehow takes away their sting. But I don’t want anyone to feel they have to DO anything, to feel badly about any of this, to think I’m asking for anything. It is what it is. It happened, it’s over, time to move on. If I don’t link it to FB, I won’t have to deal with any fallout. Coworkers and family have never posted here on the blog; a few post on FB when I've provided the link. My fellow widows and online friends are the only ones who post here, so this is safe. I expect that you will understand these feelings. So this post is just for me. It’s how I’ve felt this week and now that it’s in black & white I can shove these feelings once again back into my secret hiding place while I plan my escape.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Memories of what might have been

I could take this blog post title in a couple of directions. What I planned to write about today was May 7, 2006 ... but as I wrote that title it brought to mind how different things would be right now if Vern were still alive.  Let me go there first.

I will turn 60 this month. It's a milestone I was looking forward to, as it would have allowed me to retire from my job after 25 years and be with Vern 24/7. We had talked about it, had made some plans, were hoping that he'd feel well enough to do a little traveling - but, if not, then we'd just enjoy spending time together talking, reminiscing, maybe take some day trips, watching all those sports programs .... (ah, what we do for love). But now he's gone. My first thought was to just keep working. Why not? It fills my days, provides me with an excellent salary so I can afford to do things I might want to do, gives me plenty of days off (I do love the 4/10 work schedule that gives me 3-day weekends), and most days I really do feel I make a difference there. But my thoughts have been changing lately. If I was going to retire for Vern, why am I so quick to dismiss retiring for me? So I'm starting to get comfortable with the idea of retiring. I'm playing around with a date in my head. I promised myself when Vern died that I wouldn't make any really big changes during the first year. So I'll wait just a bit to make my final decision, but I'm beginning to like thinking about all the things I could do.

So now there are the memories of what might have been back on May 7, 2006. Well I nearly became a widow that day ... guess I actually was for a short time; but I didn't think about that fact back then. Vern had had his initial surgery 2 days before to remove what they could of that spinal tumor and repair his vertebral compression fracture. They put a titanium cage around his spine to stabilize it (oh - fast forward to the summer of 2009 when we learned that a screw in that cage had apparently moved and knicked his abdominal aorta, causing a leak which caused a pseudoaneurysm and endovascular surgery to repair it). But I digress ....  He was doing very well the day after surgery and we were hopeful that he'd be able to walk again and that chemo and radiation would push the cancer back. When I arrived back at the hospital the morning of May 7, I learned he had been moved to MICU - a good sign - but I had to wait for a few hours before they would let me in (they were very strict about the 11am entry time here).  I can still remember walking into Vern's room. His color was gray, he said he felt bad. I went out to the nurse's station and, of course, only one nurse was there. I was told Vern's nurse was on a break (!) but I proceeded to tell this nurse how Vern was feeling. Her response was that he just needed to have a BM (can you believe that?!); I asked that she send Vern's nurse in when she returned.  I went back into Vern's room to try to calm him, to massage his feet, to hold him - but he continued to complain of how badly he was feeling and even said "something is wrong". I went back out to the nurse and told her she had to come in to see him. She grunted and said she'd be in. When I returned to Vern's bedside, I went to the opposite side of the bed so the nurse would have first access to him. That's when I saw the bag from the chest tube was full of bright red blood. I ran out of the room screaming for the nurse and miraculously there were finally others on the floor. Chaos ensued. The vascular surgeon who had been in on the first surgery was there in moments. Four units of blood were administered stat as they prepped him and got the OR ready. It was like a TV show. I squeezed myself to the head of the bed so I would be out of the way but still able to touch Vern, so he would know I was there. And then they were off. 

I waited in the OR waiting room. A couple of hours later the surgeon appeared. He sat down next to me and touched my arm. Time stopped. He said that Vern had survived, but he nearly lost him. His heart stopped. He went into cardiac arrest and kidney failure. They had to use the paddles. And then he said he had to use his hands to massage Vern's heart back to life. I couldn't breathe... but then he said "I don't know how this happened, but he was given 4 units of the wrong type blood." What?!  He has a blood cancer! Are you kidding me?  But I said nothing for a few moments. I then asked if that would have an impact on his treatment. Dr. C said he was concerned about that and had consulted with several oncologists who all felt it would not. OK, I could breathe again.  I had to wait a long time before I could see him. He was on a ventilator and heavily sedated. The anesthesiologist came by. He told me it was miracle he was alive. Yes, a miracle ... a miracle that gave us another 4-1/2 years together.

I'm not sure why these memories are flooding back to me now. But I felt I had to write this out. Perhaps it's a way to finally put them to bed once and for all. Vern suffered so much, but through it all his spirit was strong. We were one in this battle. He had to endure the physical pain, but I was there to take away as much of the emotional pain as I possibly could. They were difficult times, but oh the joy was there, too. The realization that our love was strong enough to endure this, to fight this battle, to move past the mistakes and the medical personnel who should have chosen a different profession. Faith - Hope - Love ... and the greatest of these is LOVE.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

5 years ago ...

May 4, 2006 ... that was the day we first heard the word CANCER uttered. Vern had been having increasingly severe back pain for several months. He went to a chiropractor, was prescribed some pain meds, went to physical therapy - but it kept getting worse. He eventually got to the point he was having trouble walking and they did an MRI. I can still remember the phone call from Dr. J that evening ... "Hey man, you've got a tumor on your spine. I want you to see a friend of mine at 7:30 tomorrow morning."  We met with Dr. B who showed us the scans with the mass in the spinal nerve column. He said the tumor was metasticized from another cancer somewhere else in his body and he needed to be immediately admitted to the hospital for more extensive tests. They thought he probably had prostate or colon cancer and were not at all positive about his prognosis.  We were in shock, so we drove to a quiet neighborhood and parked the car to talk, pray, shed some tears and build up our resolve to fight this thing before checking into the hospital.

The next afternoon Vern had surgery to remove the tumor and repair the compressed T-11 vertebrae - and I was told he had Multiple Myeloma ... a blood cancer that attacks the bone marrow. The next 4-1/2 years brought so very many issues, many hospitalizations and multiple crises (a bleed out after surgery with 4 units of the wrong blood being given, rehab to regain his ability to walk, GI bleed, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, pleural effusion, chemotherapy, radiation, dehydration, c-diff, stage 4 pressure ulcer, colostomy, TPN, infections, malnutrition, kidney failure, dialysis, abdominal aortic pseudoaneurysm, endovascular repair, multiple blood transfusions).  Vern was so very brave and I was proud to be by his side the whole way. We were one ... and together we were greater than the sum of our parts.

I haven't spent a lot of time remembering that eventful day, but on this 5 year anniversary my thoughts have returned there. It was a tough battle - very tough - but it also brought us much joy as we grew even closer.

So where do I go from here?

"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand - and melting like a snowflake."  Marie Beyon Ray

I know Vern would want me to move forward. I can take steps forward, but there continue to be steps backward, too.  And I think that's ok, it's normal, there is no timeline for grieving. It will take as long as it takes (a line used by my bereavement buddy, John). So very true.