Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Six months

I was checking emails this morning when the tears started. Of all things, it was one of those local ads where you can get something at a greatly discounted price on that day only. What were they advertising?  It was an old-fashioned straight razor shave with the hot towel and all.  This was something Vern had wanted to try and I never got him over there.  Regrets ... oh boy, what a tear trigger.  In the midst of this meltdown I realized that today was the 22nd.  Six months ...

The tears continued on the drive into work. Seemed like every song that came on the radio had a memory attached to it.  Why didn't I just take the day off? But I knew that wouldn't have solved anything. I don't do well on those 'days off' days.  So I wiped away the tears in the parking lot and headed into the office. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, a friend had suggested that I think of the 22nd of each month as a Memory Day by pulling out an old photo of when we were young and healthy. So that's what I did before heading off to work (and that's the photo above). This photo was taken at Vern's parent's home during the summer of 1969. We drove to Sandusky, Ohio to tell them we were engaged and I can remember how very nervous I was. All seemed to go quite well during the visit, but as we headed out to the car to leave Vern's mom shared her true feelings. "She's so young." "This is so quick." "Why don't you wait awhile?"  I remember fighting back tears as Vern assured his mom that we loved each other, we didn't want to wait, we wouldn't wait. And his dad actually spoke up to support us.  A really nice memory that did help me throughout the day. 

It's Nevada Reading Week and I had volunteered to read a book to a first-grade class this afternoon. The way I felt this morning, I was wishing I hadn't agreed to do this - but it ended up being a feel-good moment. I enjoyed reading to the youngsters and especially enjoyed the hugs I received. It was a really special time.

I received some wonderful Facebook posts today - and a very special email from a friend I met a few years ago on NPR's "My Cancer".  Michael said exactly what I needed to hear today.  

I did an anonymous 'random act of kindness' at work today that made me feel very good and I had my yoga class tonight.  So there were some high points in this day after all.

I guess that's what healing is all about.  Let the tears flow when they need to and yet enjoy those unexpected special moments that come along throughout the day.

I did just that over the weekend when I went to the Run Away with the Cirque du Soleil at the Springs Preserve. It was cold and very windy, but what a fun time I had with those Cirque characters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time ...

Vern was finally able to get back into his Mustang - May 2010

Some feel I had it better because I had a long time to prepare for Vern’s death due to his long cancer battle. Oh, but they would be so wrong.  There is no “better” … no matter how you become a widow, it is a horrid, very personal thing. I read the many stories of loss on Widowed Village and it breaks my heart. Some were widowed so very young and sudden, some young with cancer, little children left behind, long and horrible illnesses, long and loving marriages ended by cancer – all so different and yet the same.  It is impossible to compare one person’s loss to another.
Time … there was just never enough of it
Yes we had 4-1/2 years after cancer entered our lives, but there was no time for any real preparation for what was to come. It took everything I had in me to just keep my head above water … the caregiving was hard, he had so very many critical issues, sleep was rare, bills went unpaid, the house became cluttered, I gained a lot of stress weight, emotions were raw, I struggled to keep up at work.  And when times were better – like in the picture above – we really had no inkling that time was so very short. He would be gone just 4 months later.
Time … something we all take for granted
I suppose I did grieve during that time for what we had lost – Vern’s mobility was taken away and never fully returned, his pride was damaged because of the things he could no longer do, feelings were hurt when friends disappeared, trips we had planned to take were never to be – but was I spending time preparing for his eventual death … NO!  I had HOPE right up to that final day in the hospital – September 17, 2010.  Hope that one more treatment, another adjustment to dialysis, new doctors, more physical therapy … something would give us more time.
Time … I knew it was short
And then he was transferred to hospice.  But those who think I spent those 4-1/2 days asking him questions about mundane things are wrong.  It never occurred to me to ask if he remembered where I had put the safety deposit key or any other post-death obligations I might have to deal with. Those few days were all about love, plain and simple.  He wasn’t able to speak much, so the words he did speak were very precious.  I talked to him or held his hand constantly – I didn’t want him to have a moment where he felt alone … it was about precious memories, reminding him of the wonderful life we had shared, reassuring him of my love and that we would be together again someday. 
Time … nothing but time now
So where do I go from here?  I honestly don't know. I'm trying some things at my own pace. Trying to figure out what my future might hold. But this is hard, really hard. And it's easy to feel guilty about it. Why should I go on when Vern wasn't allowed to? How can I possibly be happy? Is it a betrayal for me to do things I enjoy? Who am I?  So many questions ... but now there's way too much time to try to figure them out.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

You look younger ....

A friend at work told me this week that I looked “10 years younger now that you aren’t caring for Vern“. The comment initially shocked me, and I started to respond in a negative way … but then I realized that she truly didn’t mean it to hurt. She knows how tough the past 4+ years were for me, and she was saying this because she was pleased to see me looking better, healing, moving forward. It was important that I just accept her compliment as it was intended and let it go.

Yes, I’m doing really well at work. I’m able to concentrate, to work hard, accomplish things, take on new projects, to talk and joke and laugh with co-workers. Hey - Dianne is back!

Well, THAT Dianne is back, the work Dianne … but the other Dianne - Vern’s wife, ummm, I guess I need to say widow - still has a ways to go.

I need to figure out who I am now, who I want to be, what I want to spend my time on - but I just don’t feel like putting a lot of effort into that just yet. I miss Vern and the life we had before cancer. And I even miss the life we had with cancer. I still need to wrap myself up in those memories awhile before I’m ready to try moving on to the next chapter.

This morning’s walk was the only time I got out this weekend. Shame on me for not enjoying the beautiful weather we had here. I feel good during the work week and that’s the only progress I need right now. The other things will come when I’m ready. I’ll say ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to others and just let things happen as they feel right.
  • I did the Pancreatic Cancer 5K Walk this morning and it felt good. I so enjoyed seeing my special friend all dolled up in her snazzy purple wig. What a beautiful soul she is.
  • I’m doing the Cirque du Soleil 5K Walk at the Springs Preserve next Saturday. Should get some fun pictures at that.
  • I’ve signed up for Camp Widow in San Diego this August. I debated about it for quite awhile, worrying that it’s going to be too much of a social event for me … that I’m too old to fit in with the other widows attending. But when chatting with a friend about it he just kept saying, “Dianne, you need to do it” to every negative thing I threw out there. And he reminded me that if the social part of the weekend doesn’t feel right, I don’t need to participate in that. Besides, I always have the option to just enjoy the beautiful city of San Diego. So I’ve registered, purchased my plane ticket and booked my hotel room.
How easy it is for those of us grieving to look like everything is just fine on the outside, while keeping our true selves hidden away. It’s like I’m two different people - but I really do think that’s ok for right now. This feels like the right way for me to do this so I’ll just keep plugging along. There’s always next week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Healing Memories

I wrote yesterday about the influence basketball has had on our life. It was nice to recall those special memories, as I've been stuck in only being able to focus on the long, hard cancer battle. 
Remembering all that happened during those very tough 4-1/2 years causes me to second-guess the decisions we made along the way - the should haves/could haves of the chemo and radiation treatments, kidney failure/dialysis, the doctors involved, the many infections, the unexpected challenges, the pain he endured.  I recognize that I can't change what happened or any of the decisions we made, and it serves no purpose to spend time dwelling on this. We did the best we could at the time and I'm proud that I was right there beside him through it all.

Perhaps recalling some of the wonderful times of our life together is a sign of progress in my grief journey ... or perhaps it's a result of the time I spent on Friday remembering Vern's time in hospice. A dear friend asked if I might be willing to share Vern's final days as she contemplates her cancer journey. I didn't share everything in our CaringBridge journal, but I was easily able to share those important details with my friend. The memories brought tears, but some much-needed healing for me.

The moment we were faced with the move to hospice, I felt divinely guided every step of the way. Our time there was very spiritual and I have not one regret from those final 4-1/2 days spent with Vern. He left this world with no pain, no fear and no doubt of where he was going, knowing how very much he was loved.

Sharing Vern's final days started out as a gift for my friend, but ended up being a very, very special gift to myself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March Madness

Vern's return to the T&M in March 2007
 Basketball was a big part of our life right from the very beginning. Vern was a high school basketball coach when we married in 1969 and he coached all of the years we lived in Michigan.  I kept stats for him, even bringing Jeremy to the games in his car seat where he would sleep in the midst of all the cheers.  When we moved to Nevada in 1982, he coached the first year at a tiny school about an hour outside of Las Vegas. It presented some major challenges, with road trips to comparable-sized schools taking many hours each way. I think we figured out he made less than 5 cents an hour coaching that year.  He was able to transfer to a school in town the next year and he gave up coaching to work at the new Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV evenings and weekends. Basketball remained an important part of our lives, as we followed our Runnin' Rebels to the NCAA championship in 1990. Such fun times and some great memories.

Vern's favorite sports were college football and college basketball, but there weren't many sporting events shown on tv that he didn't watch. I got used to the tv being on constantly and during the cancer battle I spent a lot of time watching sports with him. He enjoyed it and it gave us some nice times together. I wanted to get him back to Columbus so he could see his beloved Buckeyes play in The Horseshoe, but he just wasn't strong enough for that long plane ride. Instead, we were able to see Ohio State play USC in the Coliseum in September 2008. It was a real struggle getting him into that old stadium and maneuvering the many stairs, but he was so excited to be there. Well, that was before the game started.  Yes, we were there for that big blowout 35-3 loss.

Since Vern passed I haven't watched any sports on tv. I'm comfortable with the quiet. But now that it's 'March Madness' time I'm thinking I may need to watch some games. If it's allowed up in Heaven, I know Vern will be watching along with me!